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How to balance your work and life as a professional event planner

With spring comes warmer weather, new flowers — and increased business for event planners. With the arrival of summer, people begin holding more events and thinking more about the ones they have planned. While most event professionals welcome the increase in business, it can often lead to longer hours.

Check out these five tips for help on maintaining a healthy work-life balance when the line between the two begins to blur.

Set Specific Work Hours

Flexible work schedules have been praised for letting people spend more time with family, see friends and attend local events. In many cases, though, having a flexible work schedule leads to taking work home. Without defined boundaries on their time, people sacrifice personal time for work-related tasks.

To reduce how much work bleeds into your personal time, set clear and regular work hours. You might not be able to work 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but it’s still possible to have regular (if not normal) hours. Schedule set times for administrative tasks, designate certain evenings or days for meeting with clients, and have an on-call policy for periods leading up to events.

Some event planners are hesitant to do this, because they’re afraid clients will react negatively. As long as work hours and communication policies are clearly communicated, however, most clients will be receptive and understanding of the need for set hours.

Say No to Personal Matters During Work

Once you have set working hours, it’s important to spend the time designated for work on work-related tasks. This frequently requires saying no to personal matters during your work hours. While it’s always important to be reachable in a true emergency, running errands, meeting friends, naps and chatting with extended family should wait until your personal time. If these things take you away from work, you’ll be forced to catch up during your personal time.

Give Yourself Personal and Sick Days

Event planners frequently have a hard time refusing personal requests from family and friends. Having the flexibility to help their spouse with the kids or see a friend for coffee is often part of the reason why people become event planners in the first place.

In order to make sure you can attend the events that are truly important to you, build a set number of personal and sick days into your schedule. Personal days let you take time off to attend a kid’s sporting event, see an old friend or get the car repaired. Sick days are for times when you aren’t well enough to work. Both will help you have the flexibility you want, while keeping boundaries on how much time you spend catching up with people or recovering on the couch.

Slow Down on Social Media

Social media can be an effective marketing tool, and it’s almost impossible to be a successful event planner without having a presence on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or other major platforms.

Rather than spending lots of time on social media, identify your essential social media tasks. Then, either outsource these tasks or designate a set amount of time to complete them each week. Your non-essential social media activity can probably be skipped without impacting your business too much.

Take a Vacation

Finally, make sure you have time set aside to take a break. Taking a vacation provides an opportunity to recoup, rejuvenate and reconnect. With the increase in business that spring brought, you may not be able to take a vacation over the summer. It’s not too early to start planning an end-of-season getaway, though. Having a vacation on the calendar will give you something to look forward to throughout this year’s peak event planning season.

Bespoke Team Building

A Little History

Team Building has become a cliché in HR circles. The concept of team work in industry really got legs with the emergence of the tech industry in Silicon Valley during the 1970s. The young rebels who founded HP and Apple, for example, discarded the traditional management protocols that had been handed down from the military after World War II. No more suits and ties, office walls and closed doors for these tech gurus. They imagined casually dressed team members living and working together in a completely sealed-off, self-contained corporate environment where everyone could work twenty hours a day, play basketball, dine, and take naps in complete harmony.

Starting with the traditional corporate structure of departments responsible for different functions and objectives (design-engineering-manufacturing-marketing-finance-etc.), the tech founders quickly realized that smaller work groups were needed to focus on specific features of each function. They needed tight-knit teams that worked closely together to accomplish definite goals in specified time frames. These small groups needed to function like the teams described by Coach Wooden at UCLA.

Initial Attempts

Team building was born. The task to come up with activities that would foster teamwork was immediately assigned to the HR department. In turn, the HR department searched the marketplace for anyone who claimed they knew how to build a team, and an industry emerged. Unfortunately, most of these so-called team builders didn’t know what they were doing. They created artificial games and other “fun” activities that were supposed to be metaphorical team activities meant to suggest real team dynamics. An entire industry that dealt in nothing but nonsense began to thrive in the vacuum created by the need for team building methodology.

A Unique Solution

Nonetheless, molding work groups into effective teams is still a major initiative in HR departments across American industry. Gradually, meeting planners were asked if they could integrate team building objectives into incentive travel programs.

To integrate the two apparently diverse objectives of encouraging teamwork while incentivizing and rewarding superior performance, planners at Premier Meeting Services have developed the following insights into designing effective team building incentive travel.

  1. Be sure to select perspective team members far in advance.
  2. Keep the team small. Never arrange team building incentive travel for entire departments.
  3. Through in-depth interviews and surveys, identify the shared interests of potential team members.
  4. Avoid all metaphorical exercises.
  5. Establish mutual objectives.
  6. Design real world activities that will engage, challenge, and edify team members – like sending everyone to flight school in Arizona or cooking school in Italy or golf school at Pebble Beach or participating in an international chess tournament in Russia or climbing Mt. Everest or saving child beggars from the streets of Calcutta.
  7. Plan experiences that encourage team members to learn from and about one another.
  8. Team building incentive travel must be both novel and exciting for all team members in order to encourage enthusiasm throughout the entire exercise.
  9. Finally, utilizing incentive travel experiences to build a team must be designed to enlist individual team member’s efforts toward a common goal by arranging a shared experience that fosters mutual enthusiasm, understanding, and trust.

Sustainability

When your next major event wraps, walk around the event show floor and notice the enormous volume of trash that has accumulated. Trash that you created; temporary exhibitor booths abandoned to the trash heap, only to be recreated at the next event down the road; handouts, maps, and registration forms mindlessly discarded on the floor of the venue now rendered derelict by the hoard you invited; a mountain of disposable food cartons, plastic water bottles and utensils, soda cans, and plastic bags growing in the center of the exhibition hall as the maintenance crew begins to clear the space for the next event.

Sustainability – Environmentally Friendly – Going GreenRecycling – Locally Grown – just New Age buzz words to most event planners. We nod affirmation but do little to help protect our environment. Convenience and cost are the buzz words we hear in our heads. Environmental erosion is a vague concept that most of us still do not believe is an imminent danger, and even if we hear enough about it to niggle a little concern, we don’t know exactly what we can do so we often put off action to another day.

A Mindful Walk

Take that walk around your event venue after your next event wraps. Invite some of your exhibitors and vendors to join you. Wallow for a few minutes in all the trash you created. Nothing I read or saw on media impressed me as much as that first post-event walk. I had no idea how much trash a major event could produce. I decided I had to assess the damage I was doing to the environment and take some steps to correct the situation.

Sustainable Event Management

The first step I needed to take was to define what I meant by sustainable event management. After a few hours of Google searching I came up with this simple definition:

Event planners practice sustainable event management when they incorporate environmentally responsible decision making into the planning, organization and implementation of an event.  

Pretty generic, I admit. However, for me, it was the necessary first step. In other words, I realized that I had to both assess at the planning stage and take action during the event to influence my event’s environmental impact.

During the Planning Stage

  1. Make sustainability a priority
  2. Set specific goals
  3. Appoint an environmental committee.
  4. Commission the committee to present exhibitors and partners with environmental choices like – Renting carpet rather than buying and discarding – publishing all literature electronically – avoiding disposable packing materials – erecting a green booth incorporating recycling bins/recycled carpet/reusable signs/etc.
  5. Recognize exhibitors and partners who follow environmental guidelines on social media and the event’s website.
  6. Offer financial incentives for environmental participation in such areas as material use – flooring – air quality – signage – collateral materials – shipping packaging – water use.

During the Event

  1.  Establish a green team
  2. Reuse plastic name tags
  3. Institute an event-wide recycling program
  4. Turn off A/C when breakout rooms not in use
  5. Utilize reusable linens and towels
  6. Shift written communications to e-mail
  7. When printing use double-sided recycled paper
  8. Distribute your post conference evaluation electronically
  9. Arrange car pools and mass transit where possible
  10. Use local organic food
  11. Stick to china and linen
  12. Use compostable disposables
  13. Provide water in pitchers or bulk coolers

This is how I started my environmental awareness. As you develop your sustainability programs you will probably go far beyond my humble efforts. The important thing is to make a start. Event planners can no longer ignore the environmental impact of major events.

Meetings… Critical Communications Zones

The Digital Age

As the digital age dawned, people began to feel that relationships could be forged and nurtured online, replacing face-to-face interaction. In addition, business trends like working from home and large global mergers were changing the de-facto way people interacted on a daily basis in large companies.

MIT’s Human Dynamics Research Group, recognizing the trend toward digital communication, conducted a study into the efficacy of the various modes of communication. Using sociometric studies, MIT found that “the most valuable form of communication is still face-to-face and that email and texting are the least valuable.” The study concluded that when humans come together face-to-face, the sum becomes greater than the parts, interactions multiply, organizations move to action, and ideas move forward.

Planner as Communicator

The ability to create effective events is now taken more seriously than ever. The event organizer in a company, association, nonprofit, political campaign, or the government has become one of the most visible jobs. Meeting and event planners have moved up to the C-Suite. Event and meeting professionals are seen as true strategists that understand how people gather, learn, and stay energized to interact and spread ideas. Senior executives realize that effective events create enthusiasm and energy. Effective events become the key to unique selling propositions for everything from commerce to ideology, and entertainment.

More Than Just a Get Together

The study also found that the communication benefits derived from the various types of face-to-face meetings and events often go beyond the intended benefits.

TRAININGS – Intended to teach new information – also provide a much-needed home office environment for large numbers of work-from-home employees.

CONFERENCES – Intended to gather like-minded people for a collegial experience – turn out to be the best environment for networking with new contacts.

GALAS AND FUNDRAISERS – Intended to reward and remind donors – are becoming an active point-of-sale for new constituents.

TRADE SHOWS – Intended as industry showcases – have become important consumer event festivals.

Each of these hidden added benefits are fostered by the design and execution of the event. Meeting Planners have become programmers of human interaction. With the event producer’s stated goals in mind, planners create an event framework as a starting point. Then, by carefully empathizing with attendees, planners fashion event details creating a unique environment that delivers the hidden added benefits.

Walking the Line Between Fun & Business at Your Company’s Incentive Trip  

To say that company morale is important is something of an understatement. Not only do happy employees translate to more productive employees, but occasional perks like incentive trips are also a terrific way to keep people loyal, so that one particularly bad day won’t immediately send them looking for a job elsewhere. However, it’s important to understand that the line between what is acceptable and what is not at an incentive trip is a very fine one, indeed. You want to give employees the chance to really unwind and blow off some steam… but not at the expense of your ongoing relationships in the process.

If You’re There For Business, Get It Out of The Way First

Depending on the nature of your company’s incentive trip, you may actually have a fairly business-filled agenda that you’re trying to accomplish alongside all of the aforementioned fun and excitement. Maybe your ideal situation is team building exercises and progress meetings during the day, fine dining and drinks at night.

If that’s the case, make sure you emphasize that you’ll be tackling all of your business needs FIRST before the fun begins. If people know that this aspect of the trip is a high priority, they’ll be able to pace themselves in terms of things like alcohol consumption throughout the event. At the very least, they’ll know that they need to wait until the last day of a multi-day trip before they can REALLY cut loose and let their hair down, so to speak.

Lay Ground Rules Before You Go

In many ways, walking the fine line between fun and business at your company’s incentive trip all comes down to one word: expectations. Your employees are naturally responsible (or they wouldn’t be your employees for very long), but having said that, people still need to know upfront what you expect of them so that they can react appropriately.

If you’re heading to a beach or all-inclusive resort that serves alcohol, for example, let people know up front that they’re still representing your company and your brand and that you would prefer if they didn’t get blackout drunk. That’s an exaggeration for comedic effect, sure – but it’s still important to give people expectations to work against so they have the chance to truly police themselves throughout the stay.

This also gives you the opportunity to establish consequences if things get too out of hand. People know what you expect AND what they can expect if things get a little too wild.

Lead By Example

Finally, perhaps the most important way to walk the line between fun and business at your company’s incentive trip is to lead by example – this is especially true if you’re in a position of authority. Simply put, you can set the tone just by behaving the way you want people to behave. The chances are high that people won’t order a drink at lunch if they don’t see you order one first.

In a way, the best advice for this situation is just to walk the line yourself. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want one of your employees to do and at that point, a large part of the hard work will have already been done for you. Depending on the nature of your team you may still have an employee or two who chooses to follow their own path, but these will be fairly isolated.

Retargeting

We try not to get too wonky in this blog, but now and then the evolving tech world imposes itself on even the least wonky of us. Event planners who resist the emerging marketing power of the internet are destined to become the brick and mortar retailers of the event industry. It took Macy’s and JC Penny too long to recognize the power of Amazon. As a result, brick and mortar retailers have almost rendered themselves obsolete. Just try to rent a movie at a Blockbuster or buy a book at a Barnes and Noble, and you’ll get the point. Event planners who embrace the marketing power of their websites and social media will be the Amazons of the event industry.

RETARGETING

In a recent article in Event Intelligence, Mitra Sorrells wrote a lucid summary of the latest internet marketing technology called Retargeting.

“If you spend any time browsing products from online retailers,” she writes, “you have likely experienced retargeting. It’s the term for that seemingly magical way that products you looked at – a coat on Amazon for example – suddenly appear in ads in your Facebook feed and on other websites you visit. Advertisers hope that by seeing that coat again and again, you will eventually decide to purchase it.”

EVENT PLANNERS

Usually people don’t end up on an event website by accident. If they visit your event website, they are signaling interest. “Breadcrumbs” is the term Aidan Augustine, co-founder and president of Feathr, a digital marketing platform, uses for bits of traceable data that Web users leave as they visit websites, or pages on Facebook, or use hashtags on Twitter.

Augustine explains that planners can track their website’s traffic, including visitor’s specific actions and patterns of behavior in Feathr’s dashboard, to get a clearer view of how people engage with their brand online. That information can be used to create ad campaigns directed at people who have visited your site but not yet registered for the event.

Once the people who have shown interest in your event have been identified, you can track them across the internet by placing ads on the sites they visit most frequently; pop-ups like, “Don’t forget XYZ event coming to Ft. Lauderdale in November.”

The process for ad placement is known as real-time bidding. Digital marketing platforms like Feathr coordinate that bidding through ad exchanges, which are online marketplaces that match advertisers’ criteria – who they want to reach and how much they are willing to spend – with websites that have advertising slots to sell.

“In a split second an auction takes place, and whoever wins at auction, that‘s what determines what ad loads on the website,” Augustine says.

UTILIZING THE EVENT WEBSITE AS A SOURCE OF REVENUE

In addition to using retargeting to promote their events, Augustine says planners can also create a revenue stream by charging sponsors and exhibitors a fee to have their ads shown to registered attendees in the weeks leading up to an event.

SUMMARY

When it comes to attracting customers in the modern age, the meeting and event industry is no different than brick and mortar retail – if we don’t constantly modernize our marketing techniques – we’ll be Sears before we know it.

What’s A “Pro” Meeting Planner?

 

When hiring a meeting planner what should you look for? Is there any distinction between a plain-old meeting planner and a professional meeting planner? What can you expect from a meeting and event planner? What exactly do they do? Is someone who can find a venue and arrange air travel good enough? Is a meeting planner just a travel agent?

BEYOND LOGISTICS

Over the past thirty years, meeting and event planners have evolved to the status of senior marketing executives. The meeting planner is expected to do much more than book hotel rooms. They are responsible for managing crucial, complex, and costly events for commercial and nonprofit organizations. If major events do not meet their objectives, organizations often fail.

A PROFESSIONAL SKILL SET

Meeting planners achieve the status of professional at Premier Meeting Services only when they have acquired the following skills through advanced education and on the job training.

NEGOTIATOR – Planners can design and execute highly complex events using multiple vendors only after learning how to measure success, create value, ask the right questions, identify common ground, and develop unconventional alternatives on the spot.

STRATEGIST – The professional meeting planner understands the elements needed to create a cohesive and comprehensive business strategy that ties together people, process, and purpose.

PROCESS MANAGER – Understands the basic principles of process improvement and learns how to fail fast and iterate better solutions quickly.

TEAM BUILDER – The planner who has achieved the level of professional at Premier Meeting Services knows how to build cross-functional, global business teams through a continuous improvement process utilizing variance analysis and evolving performance measurements.

HIRE ONLY PROFESSIONALS

When hiring a meeting planner to manage your next event look beyond venue selection, hotel accommodations, and airline tickets to the four skills above. These are the skills that elevate an ordinary meeting planner to a professional meeting planner. They are also the skills that will insure you a successful event.

The Annual Fundraising Gala

Nonprofit fundraising galas compete year after year in their respective markets for dates, venues, celebrity chefs, and big name entertainment.  In order to jump to the head of the line, event planners must constantly increase advertising budgets, push back preparation lead times, and develop a new invitation/response process every year. Unfortunately, these competitive techniques have become business as usual among experienced event planners. Creative thinking and constant innovation are required to remain competitive in the fundraising gala marathon that takes place every year in markets across the country.

ATTENDANCE

In the end, everything comes down to attendance. As the nonprofit event market has rebounded from the lean years of the Great Recession, competition for attendance has intensified. For example, on any given evening, some of the nearly 38,000 registered nonprofits in New York City – sometimes it feels like all of them – stage benefit dinner-dances, concerts, auctions, art shows, poetry readings, and theater performances. From the French Heritage Society at the Pierre to Lincoln Center’s affair at Alice Tully Hall, to the American Museum of Natural History’s fundraiser in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda donors are boggled by the choices. And they shouldn’t miss the Alvin Ailey Opening Night Gala Benefit, the ACRIA Annual Holiday Dinner, The Metropolitan Opera’s New Years’s Eve Gala, the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund Gala, or the Winter Antiques Show Opening Night Party all taking place within the eight weeks of the primary charity season. New York City is, of course, the most dramatic example, but you get the idea.

IT’S ALL ABOUT DRILLING

I asked the event planner at one of these New York City charities what part of the planning process she considered critical to attracting donor participation year after year.

“As I think about it, I believe the competitive advantage that has evolved for us over the years has more to do with how we understand and speak to the donor world than what color scheme we choose for the floral arrangements. Drilling down deeper into your donor list every season refreshes your invitation list and keeps your event alive year after year.

  • The day after an event wraps, we start reworking our donor invitation list. People move, retire, or develop new interests. We must know what’s going on and be ready to replace them with new stakeholders who have their own social networks that we can be exposed to.

  • We also try to develop new media partners every season. It isn’t a matter of simply buying new advertising in additional media outlets. Rather, it’s about finding media outlets that might become stakeholders in our nonprofit’s mission. The market is constantly changing and media outlets develop new points-of-view and become invested in new issues. We try to be aware of any shifts in media interest and align ourselves with media partners rather than simply hiring vendors.

  • Finally, we rewrite our story every season. Telling a new and exciting story for the entire year before your next event is the most powerful tool for renewing interest in your nonprofit’s mission. People are easily bored with repetition in a market that offers something new every day. Your story must be something new every year.”

Although New York City may be the most competitive fundraising gala market in the world, competition for attendance is fierce in markets across the country. An intimate knowledge of your dynamic donor list is critical to renewing your event each year. Drill down deeply into the local donor market and mine new donors with expanded social networks by utilizing a new media partner to tell your new story every year. That’s the secret.

You’re Invited

Back in the Stone Age of event planning, the 1980s and 90s, invitations were printed. Event planners were limited to selecting stock designs from a printer’s catalogue and customizing the copy to fit the occasion. Aaahh…the good old days. As time passed, the available designs became more varied and elaborate as each publisher competed for business. Rarely did planners hire a custom design.

THE COMPUTER AGE

Toward the middle of the event planning Ice Age of the 1990’s the marketplace became handy with computers and the internet dawned. These technological developments changed how clients, planners, designers, and publishers produced invitations.

  • Gradually the printed invitation gave way to the electronic invite. Design options were expanded, and the cost was virtually eliminated.
  • Companies like Evite, Paperless Post, and Minted began to handle the entire invitation process from integrating email lists to designing invitations, to sending them out, to collecting the RSVPs; one stop – efficient – mass marketing that seemed to solve all the invitation problems including bypassing the dreaded United States Post Office.

THE NOISE LEVEL

However, electronic invitations were not without certain shortcomings:

  • In the early days all email ended up in the intended inbox. However, as email became more sophisticated, spam filters and other sorting devises were invented and many of the new electronic invites were “lost in the mail”.
  • Because they were becoming ubiquitous, electronic invites began to be seen as impersonal and became less effective.
  • Finding themselves adrift in the email noise level, RSVP response percentages began to decline rapidly.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Gradually, around the turn of the century, graphic design studios began to offer custom printed invitation design services to planners engaged in high-end social events and nonprofit fundraising galas.

  • No longer confined to limited catalogue selections, planners and designers began to realize that the invitation could be designed as a powerful branding tool.
  • Invitation designers began to work with event designers to carry color schemes, logos, and event themes from the invitation through to the venue design, table settings, place cards, and floral arrangements.
  • Graphic designers were now designing invitations around an organization’s overall message or the specific theme of an event, or both.
  • Invitations were now becoming a powerful branding tool.

KEEP IN MIND

When hiring a team to design your next invitation, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Allow your designer appropriate lead-time. Last minute design assignments usually look like last minute design assignments.
  2. Be sure your invitation designer works closely with your event designer to ensure that your invitation is a branding opportunity.
  3. In the current economic environment, don’t let your design become too fancy. Donors are turned off by expensive invitation designs.
  4. However, donors won’t respond to stock invitations. The most expensive invitation you can send out is the one that no one opens. Strive to design for the so-called “happy medium.”
  5. People do not read – but they do scan. Emphasize design features over copy.

Avoiding Annual Event Ennui

Journeymen planners who sometimes plan the same industry event for twenty years or more are challenged to keep things fresh, interesting, and educational. How do you give attendees something to look forward to and avoid the boredom that sets in when a trade show or annual industry get-together looks and feels the same year after year?

Sometimes new product introductions or technological innovations provide planners with new content, but often they are limited to only incremental improvements that rarely excite the old pros in attendance. How can planners insure that annual events are fresh, interesting, and productive for all attendees?

ASK ATTENDEES

When you want to learn something, ask an expert. This simple rule is the answer to keeping annual events fresh and interesting. Ask attendees themselves how they enjoyed this year’s event, and what they would like to see next year.

EXIT QUESTIONNAIRE

The planning process for next year begins with this year’s exit questionnaire. After your annual event has wrapped, send an e-mail inquiry to every person that attended.

  • Be sure to include a reply incentive like a discount offer for next year’s event or a V.I.P. package.
  • Limit your questions to a maximum of ten.
  • Word the questions to illicit both honest and incisive answers.
  • SAMPLE QUESTIONS –
    1. What was your main take-away from this year’s event?
    2. What did you miss this year that you would have liked to see?
    3. What presentation did you find most useful and why?
    4. What break-out did you participate in?
    5. What would you have included in this year’s event if you had been the planner?
    6. What about the venue turned you off?
    7. What about the venue did you enjoy most?
    8. Was your travel to and from the event convenient?
    9. Did you achieve your goals for attending this event?
    10. Was the total cost of attending within your budget?

These questions are only examples. Usually when an event wraps you have a feel for what went well and what didn’t work. However, be sure your questions aren’t loaded with your reactions. Try to illicit candid replies that will help you design next year’s event with the attendee’s wants in mind.

MID-SEASON QUESTIONNAIRE

After the data from the exit questionnaire has been compiled and analyzed, you can begin to establish goals for next year’s event. After clarifying your client’s objectives for their annual event, it is time to see if they are in sync with the potential attendee’s goals. The only way to find out what next year’s attendee is hoping for is to ask. Send out a mid-year e-mail questionnaire and again be sure to include a reply incentive.

SAMPLE QUESTIONS:

  1. Are you planning to attend our event this year? Why? Why not?
  2. What are your goals for attending?
  3. Please rank the following priorities:
    1. NETWORKING
    2. EDUCATION
    3. SALES
  4. Do you prefer to stay at the venue hotel or at lodging nearby?
  5. What presentation are you looking forward to the most?
  6. What industry notable would you most like to meet?
  7. What extracurricular activity do you enjoy?
  8. Do you have any dietary restrictions or preferences?
  9. Who is your favorite performer?
  10. What is your maximum budget for this year’s event?

Again, the questions above are taken from a questionnaire for a specific event. Your questions may be quite different. Try to query likes and dislikes, goals and objectives, and circumstances that could limit attendance (budget-travel restrictions-health-lack of interest- etc.). When you compile the data, compare the goals of attendees with your client’s goals. Your objective is to put them in sync. If you do, all stakeholders will profit from your annual event.