Putting the “Special” In Your Special Events

"A holiday or an already established competing event has the potential to ruin your event."

By David P. Kowal, APR

Increasingly, corporations and other organizations are learning that special events can play a valuable role in any public relations program. They can help an organization improve its image, create publicity and communicate directly with its target market.

If properly executed, special events can yield major returns. But many special events aren’t properly executed. Inadequate planning, which is usually accompanied by an inadequate budget, can ruin an event. The following advice will help to ensure that your special events are every bit as “special” as they should be:

Think strategically. Special events should be integrated into an overall public relations or marketing communications plan. Like any tactic, events should be used strategically. They should target a specific audience, and be designed to meet specific marketing goals and objectives.

The better an event fits with your corporate mission, the more likely it will be to help you accomplish your marketing objectives. It may be appropriate for a property management company or developer, for example, to develop an event that will raise money to build housing for low-income or homeless families.

Think long term. Events take a great deal of time and effort. One-time events are appropriate to highlight an accomplishment, such as a grand opening or the completion of a major renovation. Otherwise, it is best to hold the same event annually. An event needs time to mature and reach its potential. That often takes several years.

Partner with a charity. Linking your event with a charitable organization can help your company as much as it helps the charity. One example of effective “cause related” marketing is Avon’s breast cancer awareness campaign, which has raised millions for a worthy cause while boosting the cosmetic company’s image.

If you are making a significant donation to a charity, ask for something in return. The charity should help you to promote your good work. It may also provide volunteers to help out at your event.

Choose an appropriate theme. Choose a theme that succinctly captures whatever marketing message you are trying to convey.

Budget enough money. If you’ve never sponsored a special event before, start by developing what you believe to be an appropriate budget – then double it. Even a simple, no-frills event is likely to cost about $15,000. Major events will cost six figures or more and can take an entire year to plan.

Develop a punch list. Start with a list of activities, including everything from scheduling speakers to buying promotional items. Assign responsibility for each action item and set deadlines. Make certain that participants take their assignments and their deadlines seriously.

Check the calendar. Make certain there are no conflicts. A holiday or an already established competing event has the potential to ruin your event. If you’re expecting press coverage, schedule the event at the right time of day (early afternoon is usually best, depending on the media you are trying to attract) and on the right day (avoid Fridays and weekends).

Invite many, expect few. Depending on your event, it is probably crucial to invite all local officials and VIPs, clients, potential clients, press and influencers. In most cases, only a small percentage of the people you invite will attend, but those who do not attend will still feel good about being invited.

Don’t just send out invitations. Have someone on your staff make follow-up telephone calls or hire telemarketers to make the calls for you.

You may even find some of your competitors attending, whether they’re invited or not. If so, be a gracious host, but have enough staff available to keep an eye on them.

Get help. Organizing an event is time consuming and difficult. One faux pas can ruin the entire event. That’s why it is best to seek professional help from a public relations firm or consultant who has experience organizing events.

David P. Kowal, APR is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at kowal@kowal.com.