It is usually said that event managers are like swans – they glide around looking calm and collected whilst paddling away below the surface to ensure every aspect is as near perfect as can be. Running a charity event, whether it is a fundraiser, community event, or a conference or exhibition, is not dissimilar to running a small business in microcosm. It requires high level idea generation, planning and detailed management of a diverse range of aspects, utilising skills from sales and marketing through to project and financial management and logistical and health and safety delivery on the day.
So what are the top tips for delivering a successful event?
(1) Set objectives – an obvious starting point perhaps, but as event organisers, we have to ask ourselves why are we organising a particular event? Valid reasons may include generating income or pr, launching a new campaign, product or service, to promote the brand, or to impart learning. A critical analysis should ask what is it that a live event is going to offer that other marketing and information channels do not? As with all objectives, make sure they are SMART.
(2) Format and content design – once you’ve completed your feasibility study and determined that a live event is the best use of your budget to achieve your aims, an organiser need to consider the most appropriate format. For instance is it the intention to create intimate, niche events or large scale public events? What do you want the look and feel of your event to be? Is there a theme? If so, how are you going to ensure that the venue, speakers and ideas reflect the theme. Creating a diverse project team with the right skills mix will ensure elements from idea generation and creativity to practical logistical thinking, marketing and financial management are covered.
(3) Event planning – broadly speaking the events process falls into three categories – logistics, marketing and content. Every event will need a detailed project and financial plan, breaking down all these activities into timelines, resources and responsibilities, required to deliver the event. Financial questions to consider may include, how many attendees are needed to breakeven and how this impacts on cashflow. A contingency and risk management plan for all events needs to be implemented, and the higher the profile and larger the scale, the greater the contingency planning. Larger venues and local authorities are usually able to provide some guidance, however, if your event attracts large numbers of participants a dedicated health and safety consultant may be money well spent. Timing is the key here. Never underestimate how long it takes to get certain elements of the project completed and allow for slippage in the plan.
(4) Venue – this is probably going to be one of the largest costs of your overall budget and there are many issues to consider when selecting a venue. Is a purpose built venue required or could consideration be given to a neutral space, such as a warehouse or outdoor marquee, which could be used as a blank canvass and dressed? Or perhaps an unusual, outdoor venue would be appropriate? Some of the key issues to think about include cost and service delivery; what are the hidden costs such as, stewarding, traffic marshals, first aid provision, furniture, electrical supply and most importantly the catering? There are numerous venue sourcing agencies that can help you find the perfect venue and negotiate the best rates.
(5) Catering – along with the venue, catering may well be one of the most significant event costs and in my experience, the area likely to receive the most comments and feedback! Are the caterers tied to the venue or can you bring in your own? If you are using an established venue then the chances are you will be tied to their caterers. If, however, you are using a space such as a community hall or marquee, you may well be able to bring in your own caterers, but remember to include all of the on-costs – it’s not just the food, but chefs, waiting staff and of course kitchen space and equipment hire. What is your food and wine budget per head? How will you deal with special diets in a creative way? I hope that the days of vegetarian meals consisting of a melon starter and pasta main dish are over! Depending on charitable aims, sensitive consideration should also be given to the provenance of food, particularly important for animal and conservation charities where foie gras is a definite no and a large part of your audience may well be vegetarian and vegan and will be anticipating a creative and ethically sourced menu. Don’t be fobbed off with a standard menu and price. Tell the caterers your budget and ask what menus their chefs are able to create for you. Do you need an alcohol licence? Again an established function venue will most probably be licensed. If you are selling alcohol via a cash bar and using a non-conventional venue, an alcohol licence will be required, so allow plenty of time to apply for one.
(6) Logistics – other suppliers and contracts you may well need to negotiate and manage include signage, furniture, audio visual, flooring, crowd barriers, flowers, stewards, health and safety consultants, marketers, printers, designers, transport, insurance, portaloos, registration and box office and licences including alcohol and music. It is always good practice to obtain a couple of quotes for each required service but even with tightest of budgets care should be taken to think more broadly than pure cost when appointing a new contractor. Relationships are key to good service delivery and it is often a good idea to ascertain exactly who will be responsible for the onsite delivery of the contract, each suppliers’ contingency plan and what time they will be arriving on site. Asking when suppliers require payment is key to cashflow. No event organiser wants to be paying out for services before attendees have booked to attend and it is worth asking suppliers if payment can be made by installments to ease cashflow.
(7) Marketing, PR and Communications – don’t underestimate the lead times required to successfully promote the event and how long it may take for your message to filter through to ticket buyers. The type of event, target audience, internal resources and budget will dictate your marketing approach. However, for scale public events, finding media partners often prove fruitful, along with direct marketing and pr. Partners will view this on a commercial basis so think carefully about the opportunities you are able to offer and the audience reach, profile and monetary benefits for the partner.
(8) People – it should go without saying that people are your most important asset in delivering a smooth event – your own team, volunteers, venue, caterers and all other suppliers. If it is a fundraising event being organised, it is likely that volunteers will be utilised. Recruiting volunteers should be on a par to recruiting employees. Design a brief job description, interview and hold a detailed briefing session. Having a professional appearance, a ‘can do’ attitude and being able to think and take action quickly are key, so the overall event team should be chosen to reflect these qualities. Every attendee who comes into contact with your team needs to see the dream team in action!
(9) Delivering your event – so you’ve been planning meticulously and now the big day has arrived. Essential is the creation of a master event plan, running order and team briefing for everyone involved – your team, volunteers, all the suppliers, venue, caterers, security and any other relevant parties. Remember the complexity of many events mean that challenges may occur during the course of the event and this is when a strong, skilled and most importantly, well briefed team really comes into its own. Ensure that all team members know the decision making structure and what to do in an emergency.
(10) Follow Up and Evaluation – this should be planned well in advance of the event and take place immediately after the event to ensure all the good energy and goodwill is capitalised on and turned into increased business. As an organiser you will be elated (hopefully) from the success of your event and most probably exhausted and running on adrenaline so build time into the project plan before the event takes place. Decide what a successful event looks like – is it financial success? I would argue that events must always be financially viable both immediately and as a longer term strategy in the case of fundraising events by creating more donors and regular givers, or the number of attendees, or the amount of media coverage? If it is a fundraising event, then securing new donors and increasing and managing relationships from existing ones are paramount as part of the follow up.
So, by really thinking about your objectives, meticulous planning, a strong team of people and early follow up, should ensure a hugely successful event.
Debbie Hockham is Director and Co-Founder of I Am Networking, providing event management services to the charity sector. www.iamenterprises.co.uk