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Using business events as a communications tool

Glenda LeGendre Big

Interpersonal communications skills are becoming a rarity in the world of smartphones and expanded social media use. Planning in-person communications opportunities is now increasingly important. Event planning — a long-established communication tool for client acquisition and retention — should be an ongoing component to your organization’s marketing goals.

Events represent actual face-time experiences, not just random calls and emails. Because of the inherent value of your current and prospective clients, the best events are carefully planned ahead. The event could involve educational seminars on new programs, services or laws. Your guest speakers could potentially be derived directly from your client or contact base.

Strictly social celebrations and networking sessions are other great possibilities. Also, an industry-focused event, such as a technology update session, is an opportunity to support your clients’ growth without any direct requests for business, and it’s even a chance to build a relationship with prospective new clients.

As the hosts, all of these activities give you a chance to listen, network and generate expanded business opportunities.

What elements are critical to planning the optimal event? One approach is to form an ad hoc internal team before developing the actual event. The team could be either an intra-organizational support group or include professional event planners. Diverse segments of your organization should be part of the team to help gain internal buy-in and engagement.

Then, consider your goals, your budget, the program details, your best time frame and a preliminary list of prospective attendees. You want to be confident of a quality activity along with an interesting topic and venue for your invitees.

Finally, select one person from the team responsible for orchestrating the activity and its components. This role requires someone who exhibits business savvy, project management and creative skills. Choose a proven multitasker with enough time to handle the additional new role and who can offer great attention to detail and the flexibility to handle problems effectively.

Choosing an internal person to lead the team can be economical, but for larger events, harnessing the specialized support of external events planning professionals is clearly worthwhile. These firms bring current and additional creative perspectives to your plans, and will be able to share their experiences on costs, resources and venues.

In terms of marketing communications, modern practices should incorporate both traditional and social media tools to communicate before and after the event itself. This connected approach is called integrated marketing communications and includes elements of marketing, public relations, advertising and promotion, as well as social media.

A recent publication by three Stevenson University faculty members, “Event Planning — Communicating Theory and Practice,” by Leanne M. Bell McManus, Chip Rouse and Stephanie Verni (Kendall Hunt, 2016), fills a gap in educating event planners on addressing strategies and goals through communications. The authors encourage a working event script and timeline. Components often include development of invitation formats, programs, a registration table, photography and videography (to be used later for post-event social media and website enhancements), multimedia and lighting equipment, speaker support, and follow-up gifts.

Events can be an art and a science when it comes to invitees. Great care should be given not only to the program planning but also to the guest list itself. I recall an angry client who was not invited to a program because he was thought of as too important to attend. Much better to ask and let the invitee decline rather than assuming a lack of interest.

This is where the value of knowing your clients well plays a role. There is even strategic value to extending the event invitation.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Strategic Marketing and Communications and can be reached at glegendre@comcast.net


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