Why produce an event?
Creating a successful event is much like creating a live, three-dimensional version of your association’s journal or magazine. Events create marketing opportunities for your association and an opportunity to spread awareness of your cause or services. You already possess many of the requirements of a successful event; you have delegates (your members), exhibitors and sponsors (your corporate sponsors or suppliers to your members), and speakers (your board and industry leaders). You also possess the knowledge, contacts and reputation within your industry, which is your key to success.
Use your skills
While organising events might be new to you, remember to draw on the existing skills of your association’s team wherever you can. Your Chief Executive Officer and board should lead the event and its content by leveraging their existing relationships.
Selling event booths is similar to selling pages in a publication – you are selling a defined space for a set price – however selling sponsorships can be more involved and may need a specialised approach. Be sure to provide your team with the training they require and support them through the learning curve. Publications can be leveraged to create lucrative new revenue streams through events; the trick is knowing how to do it well. I recommend using the same representatives to sell event space and publication advertisements to the same clients so that they are not competing with each other.
In-house vs. outsourcing
People who work or want to work in events are easy to find, but people that are reliable and good at what they do are hard to find. Over the years we have built an extremely capable and experienced team, but for inexperienced event organisers producing events in-house is a greater risk than outsourcing to a professional conference organiser (PCO).
The biggest cost of an event is usually the venue, which often includes catering, audio visual (AV) equipment and accommodation. Booking a venue should be your starting point and you should do this early. PCOs receive better deals because of their established relationships and reliability.
If you choose not to hire a PCO, a good way to keep costs down is to find a quiet time at a venue to book your event date. Huge savings can also be made by carefully managing catering numbers. You may not need to cater for everyone; the trick is making sure you don’t under-cater either – it’s a fine art. Many venues will offset room hire for catering so make sure you are well informed about your options.
Most importantly, make sure you receive all agreements in writing otherwise you may receive an unpleasant surprise later.
AV is very expensive and the first quote you get will usually include all the bells and whistles that you may not need. To reduce the cost, spend time going through the fine print and decide what you do and don’t need. If you are going to host a lot of events in one area purchase your own AV equipment as venues often charge as much as half the purchase price to hire it for a few days.
Opportunities and risks
All great opportunities come with risks and producing an event from your publication is no exception. Before you go ahead with an event you must consider the risks that the event poses to your association’s reputation. If the event was to flop how would this impact your association and its financial security? You don’t want to overstretch your resources or dilute your association’s brand.
However turning your publication into an event also brings fantastic opportunities for your association. You can diversify, grow and strengthen your association, and increase market share and power, which will attract and build a deeper relationship with members, sponsors and donors to increase your revenue.
Your publication and event can feed off each other. Your publication is the basis of your event – it provides you with your delegates, sponsors, exhibitors and speakers – as well as a very effective marketing tool, and your event is a marketing tool to strategically promote your publication. Make sure your Board members are visible at your event and create a marketing strategy to drive memberships and generate leads from the event.
Whether you integrate events into your workflow in-house or decide outsourcing works better, it is crucial to have a reliable and well-organised event manager from start to finish. If you decide to trial in-house, get some practice with a small event. This will allow you to test your market and evaluate your prospects. Be sure to look at your competition to see what they are doing and if there is an opening in the market for you to compete or to share.
In summary, hosting a successful event relies on:
Case study: The Australasian Society for Trenchless Technology
The Australasian Society for Trenchless Technology (ASTT) is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes non-disruptive construction techniques used for the installation and repair of underground infrastructure.
The ASTT wanted to provide information and further spread awareness about the value of trenchless technology, to attract an audience via a well-attended exhibition, and to deliver a valuable networking opportunity for members.
The ASTT partnered with Great Southern Press to draw on the success of its member magazine Trenchless Australasia, also produced by Great Southern Press, and produce a three-day conference and exhibition at Coffs Harbour Showgrounds, which would allow members and the public to experience first-hand the value of trenchless technology.
The event, Trenchless LIVE 2010, was a success with a sell-out exhibition and hundreds of visitors. In addition to a pro-trenchless technology development program, delegates enjoyed the exciting social program, including a cowboy western themed awards dinner complete with hay bales, a band and even a mechanical bull. Live demonstrations provided an opportunity for companies to showcase their machinery and sponsor the event.
The event was fully integrated with the ASTT’s print and online publications providing a complete experience for members and other attendees, and a co-ordinated message across the industry.