Special Events: Five Lessons Learned the Hard Way

If you are a public relations manager and are charged with planning a special event for an organization, it is critical that you take the time to plan all of the details and know what success will look like at the end of the production.

Photo Courtesy of event-visions.com

Throughout my 20+ year career in the field, I have been fortunate enough to work on large-scale events that drew hundreds of thousands of people to the city of Detroit.

I have also been fortunate enough to lead and plan hundreds of smaller corporate events and press conferences for both nonprofit organizations and a Fortune 10 company. What I have learned over the years is that even though the scope and scale of the events I have planned have varied greatly, there are many similarities that span the spectrum of event planning. Here are five tips to consider as you undertake the event challenge:

Determine why you’re doing it

What are you trying to accomplish? And more importantly, who are you trying to appease with your special event? It may be a news story that you want published in the media. It may be to advance a political cause or relationship. It may be to communicate a message you want to send to your key stakeholders or customers. Whatever your goals, it is important that you are clear in your mission. Often times, you will have multiple goals you need to address at an event, and the only way you will have success is if you understand the end result and plan every detail to support that goal.

It is also important to recognize that most people are busy and don’t have the time to attend an event for the sake of attending an event. Everyone involved has a mission and a purpose for their actions. Take the time to analyze the draw and craft an event that appeals to your most important audiences.

Press Events are not for the press

So often, executives want to create press conferences to get their message out – new product launches, communicating positions on a topic or issue, or to raise the profile of the organization or cause. Many have visions of packed red-carpet events with cameras flashing and reporters flocking the scene. The reality is that the media today are gaining their content from the Internet or from other sources. Most media outlets don’t have the time or the staff to send to cover an event to get the story. Once you understand this, you can focus on getting the story out at the right time and in the right manner for your media targets. You can also then focus your energies on the other key stakeholders that you can influence during that one-hour time slot.

Make sure you send your press advisories out at least two days ahead of time, and make follow up phone calls to key reporters to make sure they are aware that the event will take place and to ascertain their interest. It could be that you provide all of the news ahead of time with the agreement that they will hold the news until after the event takes place. Once the event does happen, make sure you send a full press release to your media list and make another round of follow up phone calls to encourage them to cover some aspect of your story.

Because I feel that press events are not really for the press, I strongly recommend that you take the time to hire a videographer to shoot the event, so that you have at least one camera in the room, and you can use the footage to post to your website or to send to media outlets that need ready-to-use footage. This will help create a press conference image at your event in case the press doesn’t show.

The Dry-Run is Critical

The day or night before your event, schedule a dry-run with all speakers and players at your event. This will give executives a chance to read through their speeches and practice speaking in front of the microphone. It will also give them a chance to answer some tough questions, in case they arise, and you can work with them on how to appropriately respond. If your executives can’t physically attend the dry-run, then meet with them one-on-one as early as a week prior to your event to go through the speech and to let them know what to expect on-site.

Have at least one or two volunteers or staff members who will work the tables attend the dry-run. They can set up their space, set up the name tags and run through how they will quickly and efficiently check people in at the event. They can also use this time to check spelling on name tags. They need time to work through those details in advance. Often times, guests at an event will judge their experience based on the check-in process, so you want to make sure that it’s flawless.

Dry-runs also help you ensure that your technical equipment is working. Test the microphones, your video equipment, and your Power Point presentations. It’s the only way to ensure that the technology will work for you.

Fill the Room

As I mentioned earlier, the event is not typically about the press. It’s about the many other stakeholders you can influence and reach at the event – political leaders, customers, civic or community leaders, business leaders, employees, or even retirees. Make sure that your invite list encompasses all those audiences that are important to the organization and the cause.

Again, many people, including the executives that you are supporting at your organization, will judge an event by how full the room looks and feels, and if they’ve had a chance to interact with and mingle socially with important people. For these reasons, choose an event space that is slightly smaller than the number of guests expected. And make sure you have enough people to fill the space.

Follow up is Key

Successful special events do not end when the event comes to a close. It is merely a launching pad for future activities. Even though you are exhausted from your accomplishments, the real work begins after the event. Make sure you send a thank you to all of the people who attended the event from your executive, along with follow-up materials on your organization, its products or services. Send a letter and the materials to the people who were invited but could not attend. Use the invite list and the attendee lists as a basis for future communications.

It’s also a time to send the full press release and photos or video footage to the press who could not attend. Make follow up phone calls to report on the success of the event and to try and plant seeds for follow up stories.

Write special articles for your internal publications so that employees and retirees are informed on what took place. This material can also be used on your website or your other modes of communication with a broader external audience.

In this day and age, where communications is mostly electronic and impersonal, special events can play an important role for organizations to reach out and personally touch key audiences that are critical to their business. As a public relations manager in charge of an event, you are empowered to turn something that could be a static, stand-alone event into a broad, far-reaching event that has long-term benefits for your organization.

Lisa M. Tepatti
Tepatti Consulting Services
Guest Blogger
With more than 20 years of public relations, marketing and communications experience, Lisa M. Tepatti launched Tepatti Consulting Services in 2004. She has worked in corporate, as well as nonprofit arenas, with specialties in philanthropy, communications, program development, and special events management.



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