Event planning is full of logistics and execution is the name of the game. However, the best corporate event planners know that starting with a solid strategy is what makes a corporate event, whether it’s a 20 person customer advisory council or a 10,000 person user conference.

So why don’t more event planners develop a strategy before the planning begins?

  • Ugency. Usually, by the time we get the basics from our corporate event sponsor or client, there’s less time than we’d like to plan an event. We need to start getting things done to have any hope of meeting the deadlines!!
  • Fear. ‘Strategy’ is a word loaded with connotations. It sounds like the realm of executives and consultants, and we don’t know where to start.
  • Laziness. Developing a strategy can be a lot of work, particularly coordinating agreement between multiple people. It’s easier to do it by making:
  • Assumptions. We’ve been doing this event planning thing a long time. When we get our initial information, it’s easy to jump to conclusions based on experience.

No matter what our reason is – even a tight deadline – a corporate event’s outcome will suffer if we skip this critical step. And although it takes plenty of work (and despite what consultants would have you believe), strategy is not rocket science. Developing a solid strategic foundation for your corporate event is as simple as answering the 5 Ws.

1 – WHO will attend your event?

To drive the right attendees to your corporate event, you need to understand who you want there. And with the fierce competition for an attendee’s time – other events, work, and personal commitments – you also need to understand who will be most interested in your event. At the intersection lies your target attendee profile.

Ask yourself:

What are the firmographics (i.e. –  industry / job functions)?

  • What is the ideal seniority level? In what circumstances, if any, are you willing to accept someone outside of that seniority level?
  • Are you inviting only particular accounts to your event or is it open to anyone who meets the attendee criteria?
  • How many people do you want to attend your event? Do you want a feeling of exclusivity or a more-the-merrier conference?
  • If you’ve run this event previously, what were the characteristics of ‘successful’ attendees?

Be sure to have solid reasons for your answers. Consider developing A-, B-, and C-list target attendee profiles for which you can accept registrations if attendee goals are not met by specific dates. For example, if by one month before the conference you don’t have X amount of A-list attendees registered, start marketing to B and C-list.

2 – WHAT is the purpose of your event?

The purpose of your event is the Big Picture reason you’re holding it. For corporate events, that purpose will generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. Education and Awareness (i.e. – user conference; thought leadership event)
  2. Lead Generation (i.e. – tradeshow)

Once you decide on the purpose, develop your company’s top 3-5 goals (use SMART goals; link leads to a worksheet).

Now for the secret sauce: repeat the same goal process but this time for your attendees. Put yourself in their shoes: What do they want to do and learn on-site? What do they want to take away from the event? How do you want them to feel walking away vs. how do they want to feel? What action should they take after the event? What will their ROI be (don’t forget that even a ‘free’ event costs your attendee time)? You may want to turn to an advisory panel to get these answers.

There should be significant overlap between these two sets of goals, but you may be surprised what you turn up once you look at things from an attendee goal perspective.

3 – WHERE should you hold the event for maximum attendance?

Location, Location, Location – we all know that adage! Location matters when you’re trying to draw attendees to your event. The country, state, city, and venue can all mean the difference between boom and bust.

This one’s easy because you can let data drive your choice. Analyze your database to find out where the majority of your target audience is located. From there, make sure whatever city you select has easy access and a decent population density within 500 miles (if possible, less is even better).

Venue access should also be easy with plenty of hotel accommodations nearby. And don’t be afraid to stand out! A unique venue can make all the difference in an attendee remembering your event. The architecture and atmosphere of various modern museums, restaurants, bars, historic hotels and buildings, and other creative spaces can lend a special feeling to your corporate event that you won’t get from a generic hotel conference room. It may also cut down on decoration needed (and budget). Check out these previous blog posts on venue selection: Venue Selection: Avoid the Gotchas, Negotiate these 10 Things with Event Venues.

4 – WHEN will the event be most successful?

As mentioned before, competition for your attendees’ time is fierce these days. When you choose your date(s), make sure to do your research. Look into conflicting events that could draw your crowd away. Consider holiday schedules and take into account seasonal standards in your industry that might lower attendance (for example, end of year close is notoriously busy for accountants, so December or June may not be good times for a financial conference).

Think about your attendee’s work life and how much time they can take away from the office for a conference. Can you expect executives to spend all day, every day for a week in meetings? Maybe ½ day or 1 full day is more realistic. There will never be a perfect time, but find the time that will fit with as many of your attendees’ schedules as possible.

5 – WHY will they attend your event?

And last, but most certainly not least – what makes your event different from other events in your industry / competitors? Standing out from the crowd is essential to capture attention. Why will people choose your event over other events out there? What is the attendee experience you want people to have? How do you want them to feel when they leave and how will you achieve that?

While answering these questions and gaining consensus from all of your project stakeholders may not be easy, it’s an achievable and worthwhile undertaking that will set you apart from your corporate event planning peers. More importantly, it sets you up for a wildly successful event both in the eyes of your client/event sponsor and attendees.

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