event marketing

How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

I don't know about you, but I love events. I love attending them, of course, but also working on them behind-the-scenes. When I was an event marketing director, I was able to help create a dynamic experience for almost 8,000 people. And with my nonprofit and social enterprise freelance clients, it's still a blast to see an event go from concept to completion, resulting in smiling faces, sales earned, and money raised.

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of working with one of my favorite local organizations, Atlanta Dream Center, on their annual benefit dinner. I had been volunteering with them for three years at that point, and they were Signify's first, official client, so they'll always have a soft spot in my heart. Understandably, I was thrilled to be working with them on a professional level now, too.

At the end of the evening, we had quite a surprise—we had not only met the fundraising goal, but we had quadrupled the previous year's total! High fives all around!

However, I don't think it was an accident. After working on so many events over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.

So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

If you stumbled upon this post looking for the latest event planning tips and tricks, you might be a little disappointed. But, hang with me, I think you'll still learn a really valuable lesson, especially if you're a beginner to the event planning world.

You see, what I've found over and over again, across many contexts, is that while there are always shiny, new ideas to make your event look awesome, there is one element of event planning that should always get the spotlight.

It's the step that should never get skipped.

So, what is it? Strategy.

I truly believe taking a more strategic approach to planning the 2016 Atlanta Dream Center (ADC) annual benefit gala was key to its financial success.

Here's why.

A FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS

When I first started as a contractor for the benefit dinner, I was mostly working alongside the development director, who had been in the position less than a year. So, we were both newbies to the event. And even though the dinner was entering its fourth year, I felt like the event was still just trying to get off the ground. 

There was no established model to follow. The ADC staff had tried a few different formats, but hadn't really fallen in love with one yet. That gave us a lot of latitude without a tremendous amount of expectations, except for the fact that this was their largest fundraiser of the year. #NoPressure

There were a couple of things we immediately did to start off on the right foot. The first was to get organized. Those who had been in charge of the dinner previously were no longer with the nonprofit, so we had to conduct a treasure hunt for some of the assets because I really wanted to take a look at what had been done before to assess how effective it was, and ways to build on it.

Once we had them collected, my suggestion was that we move everything to Google Drive so all stakeholders would have instant access. This plan worked great, and allowed us to collaborate well. It also solved the problem of keeping everything in a central location should someone else leave in the future.

The other, main thing we did was set up regular planning and check-in meetings leading up to the event, which was about five months away. Some of those were just between the development director and I, and some involved all department heads for the organization that needed to have a say in aspects of the dinner. 

These two choices may seem easy, small, or inconsequential, but I promise you that they made a big difference in the tone and feel of the event right from the start. And everyone could feel it.

Never underestimate the power of being organized!

STRATEGY'S ROLE IN EVENT PLANNING

Now, we were ready to start the event planning process. And this is where strategy became the star player.

During one of our early meetings, the entire team was sitting around a table discussing the format, logistics, and what people liked and didn't like from previous years. I also started asking them more questions about who would be in the seats.

This proved to be a key moment because, not only should you ask this question every time you plan an event, but that year was a turning point for the organization. The goals for this dinner were bigger because costs had risen, of course, but they were also gaining a bigger reputation in the area.

Previously, it had been friends, family, and close partners who attended the event. That year, however, they wanted to target new individuals and corporations. Essentially, they were ready to broaden their reach.

So, we had to start looking at everything fresh for that year's dinner. What had worked in the past might not work for a new crowd.

We revamped the sponsorship package, added a lot of cold leads to the potential sponsor list, and changed the format of the event to be more forward-thinking and informative, rather than using "insider" language as they had done before.

This new group of attendees might not be familiar with the different ministries under ADC's umbrella, or know why the work is important, or understand how their donations can effect people and programs all over the state. It was a big opportunity, and we didn't want to miss it.

I also created::

  • Positioning language for the sponsorship package, instead of it just be a list of benefits, which helped people understand the what and why of their mission.

  • A formal sponsorship letter that anyone on the staff could use as a framework to solicit donations.

  • Talking points so that anyone who spoke about the dinner to a potential sponsor, donor, or ticket buyer could stay "on message," relaying the most important aspects of why the event was being held and what the money would go to.

  • The text for the website and email/print newsletters, so that everything was aligned and on point.

  • A marketing plan for them to see the event strategically from start to finish, even if I wasn't around.

  • A press release to get the word out about the event's success after it was over, which could bring more eyes to their work, resulting in even more new supporters, donors, or partners.

The ministry also began working on ways they could highlight their uniqueness, as well as how it relates to the overall mission of the organization. We needed to clearly communicate how everything worked together. And it turned out to be a very cool, experiential element of the evening that they now improve each year.

From the initial conversation to the wrap-up meeting, my goal was to bring a new level of professionalism to the event, and a fresh pair of eyes.

Don't get me wrong, their staff is outstanding at what they do, and they are relational to the core. (And a whole lot of fun!) But, like many small nonprofits, they struggled with systems and processes. Strategy wasn't the foundation of the event. 

(Note: Having an annual fundraiser because everyone else does or simple because you need money isn’t a strategy—or even a very good reason. Make sure you truly understand why you want to host the event before you put your staff through the pain of executing it.)

We made a huge amount of progress that year—and it showed. Yes, the final fundraising tally was fantastic, but those who had previously attended their benefit dinners also noted how different everything felt. They could see and feel the shift and intentionality, and they were really looking forward to the next one. That's definitely what you want to hear!

The staff also said that it was the most relaxed they'd felt at the benefit dinner. (<— Also what you want to hear!) Each person knew their role, and were able to connect with sponsors and donors throughout the evening rather than running around putting out fires and pitching in on last-minute logistics. 

One of the other things I suggested to the team was that we not only ask for donations at the end of the event, which was already part of the plan, but we give attendees other ways to stay engaged and build deeper relationships with ADC throughout the year. This was important both for the die-hard fans and the people who were new to the mission.

You don't want to have a great event and captive audience, and then just say you'll see them next year. You want to give them a clear next step, and make it easy to take.

Our answer was to have staffed tables and flyers available in the lobby while people waited in line for valet service. This move gave attendees options for getting more involved with whichever ministry struck a chord with them that night, as well as opportunities to further utilize their time, resources, and funds to support the nonprofit.

DETERMINING SUCCESS

It's absolutely true that sales and donations are important. Those things keep the doors open and the lights on. And it's equally true that people have planned events with far less strategy and still seen great results.

But planning a successful event can be seen so many different ways:

  • Hitting bigger sales and revenue goals

  • Increasing attendance

  • Not driving your staff insane

  • Letting you sleep easier at night

  • Allowing your tribe to take the right, next steps with your organization

That's why I think strategy is the key to making your next event more successful. It certainly worked for Atlanta Dream Center, and I think it will work for you too.

 

“‘Exceed expectations’ is an overused expression with few who can document occasions when they actually did exceed expectations. Kristi Porter is one who can point to the work she did with the Atlanta Dream Center and accurately state that she exceeded all of our expectations. You will be well pleased with the results achieved by bringing Kristi onto your team.” - Mark Northcutt, Atlanta Dream Center

 



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After working on so many  events  over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Ask the Experts: Understanding Your Audience

Each month, I invite guest contributors to speak about timely, relevant, and sought-after topics that are important for cause-focused organizations like yours to be aware of as you grow. For August, I've invited my friend, Jen Gordon, to share about uncovering the hidden desires of your donors and customers. Understanding your audience will be a key to your success.

Uncover the hidden desires of your donors and customers.

Q. What are the latest trends in your industry?

A. What I’m seeing lately is a trend toward companies identifying their marketing strategy first, and then outlining the tactics they will take to align with that strategy. By “strategy," I mean really digging into the hidden and unspoken desires of your prospect, and developing your approach to that audience around those wants.

In the past I’ve seen marketers using tactics like, “Hey, let’s send out a direct mail piece like the one I saw from XYZ organization.” Or, “Oh, let’s send an email campaign about our next fundraiser,” before truly identifying why their prospects would want to engage the content.

There has always been interest in the marketing world around the psychology of marketing, but today there is a lot more content readily available about the psychological drivers that cause prospects to take a certain action, to leave, buy, or donate. Nir Eyal writes a blog that focuses on consumer behavioral triggers and habits. Though most of his work focuses on software development, the concepts he teaches are applicable to any industry.

Q. What is the biggest mistake you see people making in regards to what you do?

A. One of the mistakes I have seen many times over the years of creating landing pages and sales funnels is that business owners may have a short-term plan or campaign they want to launch, but don’t have a clear roadmap for the year in terms of where they want to be in 30/60/90 days or six months, etc. They generally know what they want to achieve, but the path getting there is often unclear.

Right now, I’m working on a marketing calendar (with some inspiration from this SEJ post) for my own product, the Hope Deck, using Google Sheets, Google Calendar and Trello—all free tools!

Q. What is your best piece of advice?

A. If you aren’t trained on how to uncover your prospect, donor, or customer’s hidden, unspoken wants/desires, then find someone who is. :) Learning how to do this while working on the Hope Deck has completely changed how I connect to, and communicate with, my audience.

It has allowed me to understand how I can bring the maximum amount of value to my customers. I no longer assume that I am a part of my target audience, which I have done in the past. My mind is open to a wider range of problems people want to solve, and emotions they want to feel or not feel.

Q. What is one thing readers can do this week to improve?

A. Start figuring out what your audience really wants—not what they need, but what they want. I created a spreadsheet for the Hope Deck where I am in the process of identifying my customer’s unspoken desires. Don't get overwhelmed. Keep it simple to begin, and then edit or expand it over time.

Q. Anything else we should keep in mind?

A. The best way to uncover these hidden wants and desires is to actually talk to your customers or donors. I’d recommend recording the conversations, if possible, so you can review them later and pick up on details you may miss in the moment. Another option is to get them in writing through emails or surveys. You'll then use their language when speaking to them in your emails, social media, and any other communication pieces, so that it's familiar and relatable.

And be sure to ask them open-ended questions about why they choose to partner with, donate to, purchase from, or do business with you. Most of the time they won’t express their hidden desires outright, but you can infer from their answers what is important to them, and from there brainstorm motivation, emotional triggers, and things like that.


Jen Gordon is a momma, artist, and entrepreneur based in Atlanta, Georgia. For the past eight years of her career, she’s specialized in conversion centered design, working closely with marketers and business owners to increase sales by testing and optimizing their sales funnels. Her geeky passions include finishing stuff, brain rewiring, crafts of any sort, and anything Dolly Parton has ever said or sung. :) You can find her latest creative project, a collection of inspirational postcards, at www.HopeDeck.com.



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Start figuring out what your audience really wants—not what they need, but what they want. Uncovering the hidden wants and desires of your audience will be a key to your success.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Make It Easy For People to Talk About You

This month we've been talking about building your business, lessons to learn from, and making it look more professional. Today I want to give you one of my top tips for getting the word out about your organization, a new product or service, latest initiative, or some other big news you want people to know about.

Make it easy for people to talk about your organization, your latest initiative, a product or service, or your latest big news with this one, simple, but powerful tip.

I first heard about this strategy in an interview Jon Acuff did years ago with Connect Faith magazine. It certainly wasn't the focus of the article. It was just sort of a side note in the feature, but it stopped me in my tracks. I think I literally quit reading and exhaled, "hmmm," aloud. It was so simple, but so remarkable for me as an event marketing professional. I started implementing it immediately, and never looked back. It was an incredibly effective tool for the organization I worked for at the time (that they still use), and it's proven itself time and again for the clients I work with now.

So, what is it?

Provide social media samples and images for your network of influencers.

Let me explain. You likely write emails, blogs, and social media posts for your organization's latest, greatest, and next big thing. You spend a lot of time crafting exactly what needs to be said, sending it out to your database, and posting it on your social outlets. If you have a staff or board, maybe you even give them a nudge to forward and share it. You're excited, and you know they will be too. You're gearing everyone up to shout this message from the rooftops! Perhaps, if you're a real go-getter, you even send a reminder.

But after the launch, you look back and hear . . . crickets.

Few people shared the message.

They said they would. They were excited. They had every intention. But, in the end, time or writer's block or a Netflix binge got in the way.

They'll do better next time, right?

Maybe. I'm not usually a cynic, so it's entirely possible. But I'd rather you provide all influencers with sample social media posts and images to make it as easy as possible for them to talk about what you've got going on.

In the interview I mentioned above, Jon stated that when the events he was speaking at provided him with posts he could literally copy and paste on his social media outlets, it removed any barriers to his good intentions slipping away. 

Sure, you'd probably rather someone gush in their own words about your organization, but what's better: the slim chance that they might do it, or the high probability that they will? I think most of us would prefer the second option.

So, that's what I started doing and it worked BIG TIME! Awareness and engagement increased. Influencers thanked us for supplying them with exactly what they needed, and in the end, we reached more people, sold more products and event tickets, and gained a larger base of supporters.

What's an influencer?

This might all sound great to you, but perhaps you're asking yourself exactly who an "influencer" is and how you find one of these mythical creatures. Probably the purest definition from a marketing perspective would be someone with a large and established network. They influence crowds. These are usually big name folks. 

Maybe this is the person who started your organization, a spokesperson, a celebrity affiliation, well-known speaker, author, or personality, and people like that. To work with them on the level I'm talking about here, you'd already need an established relationship. It's highly unlikely that you can just email George Clooney and tell him that your organization provides relief to third world countries, and by the way, you have a new product coming out, and would he post it on Twitter if you wrote him the samples . . . Ummmm, sadly, probably not. (But if you try it, and it works, please let me know!)

In addition to the types of men and women with large networks, I believe you should also include all others already in your circle. The "low hanging fruit," if you will. After all, everyone has a network of some size. And sometimes grassroots movements are the most effective. So, be sure to include staff, volunteers or interns, board members, event speakers, and anyone who has a vested interest in seeing your organization or event succeed. When you've made it this easy for them, you might just be surprised who ends up sharing.

What should you include?

As mentioned, you should include pre-written social media samples and images. The three I am typically asked to write for include Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But you'll need to determine if those are right for you.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Make sure all pre-written text is the correct length for each outlet. For example, don't send people copy that should be Tweeted about, but extends well beyond the 140 character count. #annoying

  • Ditto with images. They aren't a one-sized-fits-all. Make sure you provide images that are correctly sized for wherever you're asking them to share.

  • Write it from that person's point-of-view, when necessary. At times, it may be fine for everyone to say the same thing in the same way, but with some easy tweaks on your part, it will be far more effective. For example, if you're sending these items to event speakers, write it as "I'm speaking at..." rather than just general event info. (Or include both)

  • Try writing two to five examples for people so they can use whatever fits their voice/brand, or can say different things at different times without just sounding repetitive.

  • Encourage people to customize the text for their own voice or brand, but don't expect it. Some will, but most won't.

  • Always provide a deadline or schedule, and always send a reminder. Again, people are busy, so if you're on a timeline, they need to be made aware of it.

  • Deliver it in whatever way works best for you and your crowd. This may be via email, Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Site, a hidden webpage, or something else. I would not suggest sending huge, mass emails, though. Segment the group as needed. For example, send an email to staff only, and don't include event speakers unless they are staff members.

Want to take it a bit further?

  • Include videos for sharing as well.

  • If the people you're sending these items to are also bloggers, you might even consider writing some blog posts they can copy and paste as well. (Don't forget images or video!)

  • Ask people if there is anything else you can provide them with for sharing. Maybe their website has a banner image that can be used, or maybe they have an email list and would be happy to send something out that is customized for them.

  • Host this "spread the word" kit on your website so that other fans can share it.

  • Include a "spread the word" kit or just one or two samples and images in confirmation pages and emails to event attendees. (Don't give them too many items or they'll get overwhelmed.)

Anything else to remember?

Hopefully, you're excited about this strategy. In fact, you're mind is probably already buzzing with the different items you can put together, and how you can utilize it for your next launch. I can't wait to hear about how it goes!

The other added benefit of this technique that we haven't really talked about yet, is that this strategy allows you to control the message. Maybe you've asked someone to share about your event before, for example, but they got the details wrong, or didn't make it sound very exciting, or just missed the mark somehow. This trick ensures that your message is said exactly as you wanted. No more guessing. (I have a PR background, so this this method means a lot! ;)

Before I go, I do want to give you one note of caution: use this strategy sparingly. You want to save it for important things, not a coupon for $5 off an next order. Definitely don't wear your people down, or they'll be less likely to share when you really need it.

Other than that, there are lots of ways you can tailor this strategy for your cause and organization. And if you find a way to improve upon it, let me know!



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Mobilize influencers, fans, and insiders to spread the word about your cause or organization. This one tip makes it simple and effective. Plus, receive other free and cheap marketing ideas for your nonprofit or social enterprise.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Ask the Experts: Event Planning Trends and Strategies

Each month, I invite guest contributors to speak about timely, relevant, and sought-after topics that are important for cause-focused organizations like yours to be aware of as you grow. For June, I've invited my friend and former co-worker, Kristi Collins from Coco Red Events to share about event planning since many of you are starting to prep and plan for fall events.

Event Planning Trends and Strategies

Q. What are the latest trends in your industry? 

A. As a foodie, I think my favorite trend right now is casual food, especially a Mexican buffet with fajitas and tacos. I mean, who doesn’t love queso? For dessert, we’re seeing more donut installations, pie bars, and bite-sized treats. Most cakes (wedding, birthday, or anniversary) are smaller with a statement design, such as tiers in geometric shapes, a colored glaze dripping down the side and marbled fondant.

For design, we’re seeing a lot of clients interested in a woodlands theme. Think muted colors like a dusty rose, ivory, and sage green paired with lots of greenery and other natural elements like moss, river rocks, and tree slices. I think a big reason why people are choosing to go this route is because it’s gender neutral and everyone can enjoy the aesthetic. And people always enjoy a good vintage piece. Whether it’s a farm table used as a dessert table or an old library card catalog used to display escort cards, these pieces will create more dimensions to the design.

Our clients are also moving away from the traditional photo booth with props, and opting for a Polaroid camera setup instead. Guests love it because they can take the photos with them, and our clients love it because it’s engaging. At the end of the event, we’ll gather the left over photos and save them for our client, who can turn them into a photo album. The photo album is a great keepsake, whether it’s a coffee table book for a newlywed couple or something to keep in a company break room for employees to flip through.

Q. What is the biggest mistake that you’ve seen people make in regards to event planning?

A. I think everyone should have a day-of coordinator for any event. And I’m not just saying that because I am an event coordinator. Trust me, I had someone coordinate my own wedding! I think it’s so important for our clients to be able to relax and enjoy everything that they’ve envisioned and worked hard to create. If you’re running around, making sure that everything is perfect, you will not have a good time. You should be able to mingle with your guests and enjoy yourself. Even if you’re DIYing your whole event, hire someone to handle the details and make sure that everything runs smoothly on that day. It’s worth every penny!

This is especially important at a fundraiser. Your guests are there because they believe in you and what you’re doing. Think of yourself as the brand ambassador and make yourself available to answer any questions that your guests may have. If they can’t find you to get more information about your cause, they are less likely to support it. We are there to make sure that everything goes off without a hitch and that you are able to reach your fundraising goal.

Q. What is your best piece of advice?

A. I think that people are naïve when it comes to the budget for any event. Many clients don’t know how much it costs to hire a good photographer, caterer, etc. so, they’ll spend money on little things and before they know it, they’re way over budget. My advice, choose your top three Items and spend the bulk of your money there. My top three are always food, music, and alcohol. I like invitations, but they aren’t the most important item to me. Now, if you’re a graphic designer or your company sells paper, the invitations are probably really important to you and that’s ok. Make invitations one of your top three. The important thing is to focus on what’s most important to you, and then build the rest of your budget from there.

Another great thing about working with an event planner is that we get discounts, which we pass onto our clients. A good event planner will save you several hundred dollars in various areas, covering some of their fee.

Additionally, if you’re just diving into the event world, be sure to cultivate relationships with other vendors early on. Find out how you can work together and offer discounts for your clients. Meet other like-minded vendors that specialize in your area and be sure to send them leads for dates that you have already booked. They’ll return the favor and help grow your business. The wedding and event industry is a small one, where everyone knows everyone else. Networking is so very important. Go to as many networking events as you can and start making those connections early on!

Q. What is one thing readers can do this week to improve?

A. If you’re an event planner or getting ready to plan an event, do some research. If I’m planning a company event or fundraiser, I always ask myself the following 5 questions:

  1. What is this company’s daily mission?

  2. What is their goal for this specific event?

  3. What brand-specific elements can we incorporate into the event? (Awards, logo placement, etc.)

  4. What is something fun and memorable that we can do during the event to increase brand awareness?

  5. Is there something that guests can walk away with that will keep the brand or mission at the front of their mind?

Q. Anything else we should keep in mind?

A. No matter what type of event you’re planning, it’s important to remember the story your organization or client wants to tell. When guests walk into the event, they should be able to look around and know who or what this event is for. Everything should reflect the brand or personality. That’s what makes your event stand out from everyone else’s. And most importantly, make sure that your guests have fun!


Kristi Collins has been involved with events for over 15 years. She has her BA in Musical Theater from Samford University. After theater, she went into retail, then coordinated events in the non-profit sector and finally found her calling in the wedding and social event industry. Kristi has received her Certifications in Wedding and Event Planning, as well as Social Media Marketing. She lives in Decatur, GA, with her husband, J.R., and her insanely cute dog, Toby.

Learn more about Coco Red Events.



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Event planning for nonprofits and social enterprises

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Building an Audience of 8,000: Marketing Case Story

One year ago this week, I was still the Event Marketing Director at Orange, and we were hosting 8,000 of our closest family ministry friends for The Orange Conference 2016. People come from almost every state, about a dozen countries, and numerous denominations to attend this event each year. It's quite the undertaking, and though I worked on other events throughout the year, most of my time was spent on this 12-pound baby (really big, sometimes painful, but worth the labor).

If you aren't familiar with Orange, they create curriculum, resources, and events for church leaders and volunteers. They do a lot of really amazing things, and if I may say, they put on some great events!

As #OC17 starts today, I thought it would make a fantastic marketing case story for us to examine. 

Photo Credit: The Orange Conference

Photo Credit: The Orange Conference

TWO SIDE NOTES

  1. If you'd like to watch the tonight's opening session on the live stream, visit Live.TheOrangeConference.com starting at 6:30 p.m. ET. This year's theme is "For Our Neighbors."

  2. I'm using the term "case story" because case studies are usually long, boring, and stuffed with stats. I wanted this to be a little less complicated and easy-going, so I'm utilizing that term, though I didn't create it. (I wish I had!)

GOALS

The major goals for the event are measured in:

  • Ticket sales, which include the current event and next year's pre-sales;

  • Product sales, which includes books, physical products, digital resources, lifestyle items, etc;

  • Social media metrics, which is tracked using a software;

  • Attendee satisfaction, which is assessed both through social media, comments the staff receives, and a post-event survey;

  • Next steps taken, which can include things such as lead cards filled out, emails given, downloads of the conference app, and things like that. Ideally, this is something you want attendees to do at your event to continue the engagement after it ends.

TACTICS

As you can imagine, an event of this size requires a lot of time and effort to promote. Here are the major ways we did that:

  • Internal email list including curriculum partners, previous attendees, and some partnership lists

  • Mailing list which includes the same as above, plus a purchased list.

  • Text system. We were able to send text messages throughout the year to those who opted to receive them.

  • Social media, mostly consisting of blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat

  • Facebook ads

  • Ads on internal sites

  • A social media tool kit that our speakers, fans, and attendees could utilize to spread the word for us (which included both images and what to say)

  • A signature line in staff emails

  • Cross-promoting at other events, both Orange's and events where they had a booth

  • Blogger network consisting of bloggers who were Orange fans, across the US

  • Advertising on relevant blogs and websites

  • Print ads (Yes, those still work too!)

  • Press release

  • Partner e-blasts

  • Google Ads

STRATEGY

Yes, there are a boat load of items mentioned above, especially for those of you who are the only employee, or running the show with a small team. But again, all of these things occurred over a year's time. And many of them happened on a regular basis. There wasn't just one ad or one blog post or one mailer. 

The pricing for the event was broken into five major deadlines, including the pre-sales on-site at the current event. Prices, of course, increased as the event neared. This brought in early revenue and helped us plan. Additionally, these distinct time frames gave me windows of time in which to promote.

It's also very important to understand how your audience plans to spend their money. For example, we had two major deadlines to focus on: opening day and the February deadline. Opening day, of course, because we had the lowest prices and offered a bonus (early breakout registration) that was very desirable to our attendees. And everyone gets excited during an event launch. The February deadline was incredibly popular because many churches just had their budgets renewed with the calendar year, and we also offered curriculum credits, which enticed current and prospective curriculum partners. So, those two factors meant that I spent most of the marketing budget promoting those two deadlines.

RESULTS

  • Every year, attendance for the event increased. We were very blessed in that way. When I started in fall 2010, there had been 4,300 attendees at the previous conference. And in 2016, there were about 7,400 at Orange Conference, and 500 at ReThink Leadership, a simultaneous event for senior pastors across the street. Those senior pastors came across the street for OC main sessions to spend time with their teams.

  • With increased attendance, social media reach also increased each year, resulting in about 2 million impressions in 2016.

  • Product and ticket sales also increased every year, but I am unable to share those numbers.

  • I read through every OC survey that was filled our during my time there. I was, obviously, responsible and accountable for sales in the marketing department, but I really wanted to know what people thought about the event. Did we meet their expectations? How could we improve? What made a difference? Why did they come to our conference over another? Overall, the feedback was incredibly positive. This was our signature event, and we tried to do everything with excellence. Of course, there are always people who didn't enjoy the event or different aspects. That is to be expected. But the key is to have a good filter for yourself when receiving negative comments to decide if it is valid, or if it is out of alignment with the mission. Sometimes it's just based on personal preference.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

No matter what size of an organization you're currently at, there are some lessons to be learned:

  • I was my own department. But I certainly didn't do everything! Other people took care of the graphics, social media management, logistics, etc. Only myself and I think two others actually worked on the conference year-round, and I was the dedicated person for promoting it. It was an all hands on deck situation as the conference got closer, but when you are well organized, have good systems in place, and have others to support you, it's a testament for what you can accomplish! (It's not too late to spring clean!)

  • To plan and execute a successful event you must have a marketing strategy in place. You can't just wing it. For much smaller events, you don't have to work as far in advance, but you still need to understand the ins and outs of how you're event will come together. Effective marketing also helps get people in the doors! The more the merrier, right?

  • Outline your goals first and foremost.

  • While I listed many tactics above, I'm certainly there are a few you can choose from to start implementing for your next event.

  • You might be surprised to learn that our marketing budget didn't dramatically increase even though our attendance did. I was very used to working for small organizations with small budgets, so I utilized as many free avenues as possible. Additionally, we focused on getting people to bring larger teams to OC, rather than finding more churches to come. The latter is a much better way to concentrate your energies.

  • If you're event is just getting started, you may not have previous feedback to work with. If that's the case, start by sending a survey to your email list and social media followers to gain insight. You can also try asking people you know who fit your ideal audience.

  • Don't skip over the "next steps." You need to know what you want your attendees to do when they leave. You need to decide on how you want them to stay engaged with you after they walk out the doors. Waiting for emails about your event year after year isn't going to cut it.

  • Adding "surprise" and "delight" to your marketing efforts is always encouraged. People attended The Orange Conference to learn about family ministry, understand the trends, get information on how to do their jobs better, and connect with others. But they LOVED anytime we were able to surprise and delight them! There is even an entire main session dedicated to fun at OC because the brain gets a little overloaded during all the learnin' that a conference brings. These concepts also help endear you to your attendees.

REMINDER

If you'd like to watch the tonight's opening session on the live stream, visit Live.TheOrangeConference.com starting at 6:30 p.m. ET. This year's theme is "For Our Neighbors."

FINALLY

I love events. I've been planning events since I was in junior high! I guess I was always destined to be a part of them in some way. I get so excited by attending conferences and events, and I enjoyed creating a great environment for others. I'd love to help you with your next event.



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Building an Event Audience of 8,000 people. The Orange Conference Marketing Case Story

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.