Launching an Event in an Era of Higher Risk

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.

1) Define the event purpose – Clearly establish the purpose and objectives of the event, whether it is a conference, trade show, or any other type of gathering. That effort should differentiate how your event offers superior or more exciting ways to attract better participants or a greater number of participants than those events already in the market. Most new events merely mimic what exists already. Thus, they start at a disadvantage. Invest the time needed to ensure that your event will be different in meaningful ways, attract attendees and exhibitors, and will make money doing it!

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

The Event Resume should be self-explanatory. If a prospective attendee or exhibitor cannot determine from the document (without your additional assistance) that they should participate, then it needs further review and refining. Without its ability to sell your new event, your launch will likely fail. Building an effective Event Resume is difficult, but if you cannot (or will not) state your value proposition clearly and persuasively, your marketing outreach will be weakened – often fatally so.

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.
Given the above, you should estimate expenses in terms of room rental, audio-visual requirements, food and beverage, exhibit area, staff hotel rooms, airfares, related T&E, etc. Put those costs into a spreadsheet, together with projected revenues. This will determine whether 1) you can afford to do the event, 2) what your expected profits would be, and 3) the necessary investment and cash flow assumptions associated with producing it.

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:
• Develop a list of anyone who might have a legitimate interest in your        event. The larger the list, the better.
• 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.
8) Consider technology and digital options – Consider incorporating online or hybrid elements into the event to embrace a wider audience and accommodate potential travel restrictions. Explore suitable technology platforms for live streaming, virtual networking, and interactive experiences.

9) Do some exhibitor revenue testing – Pick the top 20 most relevant exhibitor prospects and have your best salesperson set up calls or meetings with each decision maker. Get feedback to confirm whether they would support the event financially. Compile the results to see whether your exhibit revenue expectations are real or merely a pipe dream. Develop compelling sponsorship packages that align with the sponsors’ goals and offer mutual benefits.

10) Refine the Event Resume and budget – Perhaps the preceding steps have suggested that you must adjust the concept for your event. Or you have discovered that initial revenue projections are overly optimistic. Redo the numbers and see whether they are still compelling for all the work it will take to get this going. Then look in the mirror and confirm that going forward makes sense.

11) Build a logistics plan – Plan and coordinate logistical details such as event dates, registration processes, attendee management, staffing requirements, audiovisual equipment, catering services, and transportation arrangements.
12) Launch! – If all the above testing and plan adjustments have confirmed your initial confidence, then it’s clearer that you should launch. But if the results are only neutral or something less, consider delaying the initiative until you develop a better approach. Or perhaps you should consider shelving this idea altogether and look for another.


If all these steps sound like a hassle, imagine how you would feel if you chose to launch without doing your homework and ended up with a turkey of an event.

Be brave! But be smart! Your unique position is your visibility into the future and your confidence in the data that supports that vision. So let that be a guide in your building something great. Good luck in your efforts!

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.