by Heidi Richards
Planning special events can be a cornerstone of your marketing program. Small business owners should and can be excellent hosts of special events. Typically events are created to showcase the product and services a business offers. Designed to attract attention, educate potential attendees, and supporters and the media, special events generally focus on a specific purpose with specific outcomes. A special event can include a one-time event such as the launch of a new product/service or a grand opening; they can include ongoing events such as party or fundraising partnership or to announce a special occasion such as an open house or holiday, which is the focus of this article.
When marketing a holiday you can capitalize on ones that already exist or you can "invent" your own the way the founders of the WECAI Network™ did when Virtual Woman's Day™ was created. Like many other holidays on the calendar, Virtual Woman's Day™ was born from an idea to honor an existing holiday - Women's History Month - and making it unique to the organization. The founders of the organization wanted to encourage women to learn more about Women's history and also connect with women around the globe which was the impetus to create Virtual Woman's Day™.
The elements of success relating to planning special events includes your planning team, your mission and goals, the tools you will use to plan and execute the event, where you will "host" the event (logistics), event marketing and public relations and event evaluation and post-event activities.
YOUR PLANNING TEAM
Do you need a team of staff/volunteers to execute a successful event? Involve your team in the planning. This core group will help develop the "theme, select the location, and determine who else should be involved. When planning the Virtual Woman's Day™ the founders looked at their membership base as well as experts who have participated in past events to help create a team of people with a variety of expertise and targeted circles of influence to help "spread the word" about the event. These people included technology experts, networking experts, marketing experts and leaders of other organizations.
Planning special events requires people who believe in the "mission or purpose" of the event and will work toward fulfilling that mission. Depending on the size and scope of the event, the team can consist of 2 members or several with varied expertise, a specific circle of influence and good organizational skills.
YOUR PURPOSE, MISSION & GOALS
Determine the purpose of the event. Is it to make money? Is it to increase awareness of the product or company or organization? Is it to celebrate a success or a milestone? It might be a combination of all three. Once you know the purpose, you can plan accordingly. Any new idea requires a list of goals and objectives in order to be a success. Where many organizations fall short is in determining the "mission" of the organization as well as failing to write down the goals and objectives. For instance, here's the mission of the Virtual Woman's Day™: "to bring together women from around the globe to network together, learn together and grow together."
The organization also described how it intended to accomplish it's mission. "We plan to do this by encouraging one another to share resources, promote our products and services, increase our circle of influence and have some fun in the process."
The objectives include:
• To host a memorable event via the WECAI Network™ Conference room.
• To expand our knowledge in areas of interest to women such as healthcare, marketing, networking and building strategic alliances.
• To promote women around the globe.
• To raise awareness and increase the influence of the WECAI Network™
• To "take life by the mouse" and have fun.
Create a Timeline! The timeline should include items such as; when programs are printed, when invitations/brochures should be printed and mailed, when to start the media or publicity campaign, when to order decorations as well as registration deadlines.
Checklists or "to do" lists should be used throughout the process and used to educate, track activities, and evaluate your events. Checklists should be designed to match timelines and checklists should be created by subgroups. All checklists should be retained for evaluation. While checklists are typically used for team business, "to do" lists might be created by team leaders and members as tools for preparing for and working through team meetings and event activities such as "the checklist for the meeting with a photographer or food/catering individual. Budget
Your budget should include all revenue opportunities (registration sales, tickets, donations, sponsorship, concessions). When applicable, the budget should also include expenses for printing, lodging, food, supplies, security, speakers, permits, insurance, postage and miscellaneous items yet to be determined. Because Virtual Woman's Day™ is virtual event the major expense is time. There's also "hosting" by an Internet Service Provider, software (Web conference room), communication expenses (such as phone lines), etc. Your budgets should include money available - both actual and in-kind (donations and sponsorships), any income from the event itself and any pre, during and post expenses. Logistics
Where is your event taking place? As mentioned in the Budget section, Virtual Woman's Day™ is an online event. It is taking place in the web conference room owned by the WECAI Network™ as well as on the Blog created by the founders (hosted on Blogspot.com).
Logistics also include the following:
Name of company or organization hosting event: The WECAI Network™
Theme - in this case Virtual Woman's Day™ is the theme of the event in celebration of Women's History Month.
Event date & time - which is March 15, 2007 from 8 AM until 8 PM Eastern Standard Time
Event Description - Virtual Woman's Day™ is a day-long celebration in honor of Women's History Month taking place in the WECAI Network™ Web Conference Room and on our blog. Women will be able to promote their products and services, show off their websites and learn 'best practices' from women who have found great success online via the conference room as well as via the Virtual Woman's Day™, blog.
Planned activities - Virtual Woman's Day™ has planned "showcases" which includes the first 27 women who registered are given 15 minutes to promote their products and services to attendees. Opportunities to network will take place throughout the day. There is also a song-writing contest - Women can submit an original song and have the opportunity to "showcase" their talent during our song-writing contest and win some valuable prizes (void where prohibited). And four guest experts are scheduled to talk about "attracting corporate sponsorships," health and wellness, marketing and branding and networking.
Marketing and Public Relations
Marketing your event takes unique expertise, extensive information and content on the potential audience, and the strategies you plan to use to achieve the outcomes you want from your event. You will need to answer the following: Who is the target market? What's in it for them? What's the message? What message will appeal to the audience?
You should also ask yourself - How will you measure the success of the event? By the number of attendees, by the amount of money raised, by the number of people interested in helping out with future events? By the media/community attention your event attracts?
How will you promote your event? What is the major objective of the publicity? Is it to raise awareness or attendance? Is it to build good community relations? If you do not have a media list, it is never too soon to start creating one. Whom do you know who works for local print, radio and television? Whom do you know who knows someone who does? WECAI Network™ is promoting Virtual Woman's Day™ on social networking sites, on blogs, websites, via media contacts, members, and via their global network of organizations (their circles of influence).
What's in it for them?
Do you plan to offer incentives such as discounts, or complimentary gifts to encourage attendance? The Virtual Woman's Day™ event includes "showcases" and experts sharing valuable information to expand attendees knowledge (also mentioned above), as well as giving away prizes every 15 minutes throughout the day. In addition, when women register they receive an automatic link to their website from the blog.
If you are planning a local event, drawing on the local community, find out if a local media guide or directory is published. Many newspapers have these resources, and so do many libraries. If it is a national event, look for national media directories for assistance. There are several to choose from. Two excellent resources include: Gebbie Press All-in-One Directory (1-845-255-7560), Bacon's Media Catalog (1-800-621-0561), and Bradley Communications (1-800-989-1400). These directories are available on disk or books.
The best marketing efforts have an evaluation process to measure the success of the effort(return on investment of time, talent and treasure). Your evaluation should include measurable goals, outcomes, attendee feedback and overall success of the event. Did it meet or succeed your goals? Did it meet the needs of your audience? Did it stay within budget? What would you do differently the next time? What would you keep the same? Would you do it again?
Remember to give "Thanks
Saying "thank you" should be considered as a vital part of planning and executing a successful event. Determine who needs to be thanked and remember to thank them in a timely fashion during and after the event. You can't thank people too much or too often.