Much of what I do is launching events. During the COVID pandemic, that part of my business died; you could not run an event even if you wanted. Now, there is even more market trepidation than ever about event launches, with additional costs and risks apparent. Hotels have increased their food and beverage pricing. Data privacy laws have made list-building more challenging. There’s diminished interest amongst attendees in traveling to the same volume of events as they formerly did. Given those factors, the risks associated with launching a new event are higher than ever.
However, the value of attending an in-person event is greater than ever. With more businesses embracing remote work arrangements, the benefits of providing a venue for in-person interactions has grown significantly.
Given the challenges, why would someone want to launch a new event now? The answer is that most existing events are lazy copies of what was done in previous years. But attendee behavior is changing and the expectations for an event are different. That mismatch between event delivery and attendee expectations represents a great opportunity to take business away from legacy events. But only if you plan correctly.
What are the ‘new’ steps necessary to launch an event that account for the new risks and opportunities.
2) Put your stake in the ground – Pick a prospective date and make it real. Specify available venue options, establishing your event’s ‘footprint’ in terms of both the content and the projected number of attendees and exhibitors. What’s the financial commitment required to secure that venue, including the hotel room blocks?
3) Write a detailed Event Resume – In this document capture:
• What is the event?
• Where and when does it take place?
• How many attendees/exhibitors are expected?
• Why it is compelling?
• For whom is it intended?
• What benefits will an exhibitor get?
• What benefits will attendees receive?
• How much will it cost for an attendee or exhibitor to participate
4) Build a budget – Develop a detailed budget that considers all aspects of the event, including venue costs, marketing expenses, speaker fees, equipment rentals, and staff requirements. Ensure the budget aligns with the current economic conditions and financial resources available to you.
5) Do a risk assessment and build contingency planning – Evaluate potential risks and challenges associated with the event, such as low attendance, travel restrictions, etc. Develop contingency plans to address these risks.
6) Develop a preliminary marketing plan – Develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to create awareness and generate interest in the event. Include all the various channels (e.g., social media, email marketing, websites, and online event platforms) available to reach the target audience cost-effectively.
7) Conduct true attendee testing – Here is where most organizers fall short with their research. What should happen is that you test the viability of your event with prospects in your database to confirm that your attendance assumptions are correct. Despite the means available to event organizers, too often they fail to market test new event ideas with their databases. And if they do test, they have no idea how to evaluate the results to determine whether to move forward. Last year I attended an event industry conference that included a panel convened specifically about event launches. All agreed that their launch decisions were based on a ‘gut feeling.’ How scary – and dangerous – is that? If you’re wary of such an approach and were to ask me how I would test market a new event idea, this would be my guidance:
• Send out an email blast to this list to confirm interest and gauge the strength of that interest.
• Ensure you have a great call-to-action (such as “to get more information when it’s available, click here”) in the email to ensure that positive responses are actionable. Note that a good result is a 20% open rate and a 15% click-to-open percentage. Anything better suggests you will attract enough attendees, while anything less suggests there’s insufficient interest.