The perfect event should fill attendees with awe, and this requires rigorous research and planning, says Victoria Archbold
Is it just me or have you ever contemplated what super power you would have if you could? Thinking about it has made me realise that I’m actually lucky enough to possess one now. Like all event professionals, I make memories – moments that people recall with a warm thought, an emotional connection.
Never has generating such a response been more important, both personally and professionally, given we are all so time poor. It is not surprising, therefore, that for brands, events are among the most highly engaged marketing tools available. At Hearst, 80 per cent of our attendees spent four-plus hours at one of our events, resulting in 74 per cent stating they had a more positive opinion of the company, brand or product being promoted as a result of it. So, events are worth doing and doing well.
“But they’re so expensive!” I hear you cry. And, yes, they can be, which is why I recommend concentrating on every small detail, down to the necessities. If you must have an event, make it both superb and convenient. First up, venue. Broadly speaking, you can go one of two ways with this – either on brand and already fit for purpose or a white space that will need to be dressed – but for both you need to keep location, location, location in mind, because it really does matter. I was once invited to a wedding that required a weekend visit to a European destination that involved an airport, flight and five-hour trip up a mountain to accommodation that was another hour away from the venue. It meant that by the time I got there I felt stressed and exhausted. While the wedding was beautiful, dread quickly set in before the journey home, meaning my experience was topped and tailed by negativity. The location was fine for a week-long holiday but not a weekend event.
Next up is food and drink. Choose your caterer wisely. Find one who is able not only to provide a deliciously tasting extravaganza but also to serve it well. These days, we tend to Instagram food before we eat it! So, if it looks good, you’re guaranteed some extra all-important social credits. Add carefully crafted table and glassware that complements the overall style and theme of your occasion and, if you’ve chosen your caterers well, these should act as a canvas to their endeavours. You can also add theatre here: experiential food and drink can bring interaction to your event and create ‘talkability’.
Entertainment should be an addition and not an intrusion so, again, careful curation is essential. A venue choice should also take acoustics into account. For example, a gallery is designed first and foremost for art and in some cases if you try and stage a presentation or performance in one, you may find that sound bounces uncomfortably around the room, causing it either to be louder than planned or to lose its resonance. The same also happens when you add too many people into this type of space and the conversational hum becomes so loud it is hard to hear the person next to you comfortably. Luckily, this is easily solved either by noise-cancelling tactics used by your production company or adding in soft furnishings such as a carpet.
Entertainment should also be chosen with your guests in mind and not on your preference alone. Think about context. That DJ might be one of the most popular in your favourite beach destination when your skin is warm, your drink cold and you have the most magnificent sunset as a backdrop, but they may not have the same effect performing the same set at your next corporate bash. Likewise, be prepared to mix different types of entertainment and don’t be afraid to deviate from a plan if it’s not working. Stop the band early if they’re ‘killing it’ in the wrong way, ask the DJ to change the vibe or adjust the timetable slightly.
The hardest thing about putting on successful events is that preference is subjective. So, where possible, it is helpful to add personalisation – individually crafted invitations or place cards, a thoughtful welcome gift in a room where an overnight stay is required, an illustrator who captures a fabulous outfit in a keepsake sketch. For some VVIP events, you might go as far as creating a completely one-off experience from start to finish.
From the end result, let’s return to the beginning and the bigger picture. All elements of an event – from the venue, to the food and drink, the tablescape and entertainment etc – should represent your brand identity, the story of a product of service or frame an occasion. Execute this at each possible point, starting with the ‘save the date’ or invite to delivering an overall message or impression right from the first interaction.
To gain maximum value (or memories, if it’s personal) from your event, plan the amplification, too. Enlist the support of good photographers, videographers and social story tellers. Ensure their style suits yours. Brief them well to ensure that they do not miss a moment. In a business capacity, this guarantees that the effectiveness of your event campaign goes beyond the room. It is worth doing well, as research by the US Marketing Society has shown that people are more likely to trust content that is generated from an event by both the organiser and its attendees.
I love travel as much as I do an event. My experiences have given me much inspiration and also made me realise that there are many similarities between the two. Both are industries judged on the environment created, which is down to multiple moments of pre-planned orchestration and the service given by those who care enough to want to deliver memories. Perhaps we are all superheroes.
Victoria Archbold is managing director of events and sponsorship at Hearst Live. Responsible for creating multi-platform campaigns for events, as well as developing commercial partnerships, since her appointment in 2015, she has doubled revenues, launching multiple new trade and consumer events, and Hearst Live now connects with more than million people a year