Pound the PAVEMENT. Sell your heart out. (Eventology 3 of 5)

Always Be Closing
Coffee?! Coffee is for closers only.

(This post is part of a 5-part series. Check out the overview if it’s your first time here.)

So you’ve got the perfect place for your event, and and you’ve seeded the story with some great VIP’s and a really intriguing hook. Maybe your VIPs are enough to fill your event with people — and if that’s true, ignore this post and get yourself a pina colada instead.

Otherwise, you now have to fill the bleachers. It used to be that all you needed was a guy with a soapbox and a megaphone to scream your event to people — but that’s illegal in many places now…

The blogs and popular media are rife with stories about how using technology and social media and text messages can convert an otherwise challenging task into the press of a few buttons. Shenanigans. While it’s true that the occasional mix of zeitgeist and personality can carry a viral campaign — its tough to engineer in a scalable or repeatable way. The vast majority of successful events that I studied for this post got their people the old fashioned way: by selling them.

Gina Jagtiani of eventiveworld.com concurs. Forget wasting time and effort on so-called “uncommon” methods, she suggests. Just promote your event in any possible way. Perhaps it’s a common way for a reason, because it works!

Run through this checklist, and see how many tickets you’ve sold by the end.

1. Ask your VIPs to spread the word. Tweet it out, post on their bookFace, blawg it. Email their newsletter or community list. Take all the easy wins first.

2. Spread the news through all your own social channels. For corporate events – include LinkedIn too.

3. Make it a great deal. If you have sponsors, give away some of their stuff. If not, get something bigger and nicer to auction off. Spice in benefits to the attendee like access to cool people or broader incentives like benefit to the community. At the end of that, if you’re selling a $10 ticket and also offering $20 in giveaways and a raffle-ticket chance at something bigger, all while helping the community — that’s a winner.

4. Pipeline and follow up. There’s nothing worse than not having sold enough tickets AND running out of people to talk to about it. How do you get people to sign themselves up for your pipeline?

When Rebecca Zhou was out promoting Raise Cache, she made sure to build her list. First, she stopped by the New York Tech Meetup — one of the largest natural gathering places for her target audience, and offered free tickets to the first 10 people who shared a message about the event online. In exchange for 10 tickets, she got 300 people posting and discussing the event — many of whom ended up buying a ticket.

Second, she set up a brilliant plan to raise money for her cause and build pipeline with the same stone. People were encouraged to teach Skillshare classes and donate the proceeds. In the process of a few people teaching great classes, hundreds more were involved as students — most of which ended up donating more to the cause or buying tickets.

When that’s not enough, renowned expert Judy Allen and author of  Event Planning The Ultimate Guide is a fan of harnessing the media to bring people  larger more public events. If you’re event is private, you probably don’t want to spend the effort getting onto the front of the Times.

Pitching the media doesn’t need to be expensive either, even though things that feel expensive can be sexier for the press. For example, one bridal expo used the draw of having a wedding cake covered in over a million dollars worth of diamonds at the event.  The cost was minimal but the coverage was maximum.   The cake designer got to showcase their talents, the jeweler got to display their wares and the major hard cover costs were insurance for the gems and security.  Win-win-win.

You might be feeling pretty smug now that your event is really coming together. You got a great place, pulled in key members of your community and sold a bunch of tickets — but we still need to make sure we stay in the black. Stay tuned.

(Note: This post is part of a 5-part series on events and party planning. Jump directly into a subtopic here)

  1. Its all about the CUSTOMERS, baby. Venue selection & the Deal.
  2. This is more INTERESTING than whatever else you’re doing.
  3. Pound the PAVEMENT. Sell your heart out.
  4. More MONEY, less problems. Keep your event ROI-positive
  5. Event as a startup. TEAM matters.

Want to be the first to know when the next posts come out? Sign up for the mailing list!

My many thanks for the superstars who helped me pull this together:

  • Judy Allen – event guru and author of 10+ books, including Event Planning The Ultimate Guide
  • Rebecca Zhou – Hackstar, UI/UX designer and self-taught event planner extraodinare behind Raise Cache
  • Kelsey Recht – Founder and CEO of Instevent – making event planning easier through expertise and technology
  • Gina Jagtiani – Veteran event planner in NYC and New Orleans, Founder and CEO of eventiveworld.com, and social media empresaria

This is more INTERESTING than whatever else you’re doing. (Eventology 2 of 5)

Please come to my party, the cast of Mad Men will be there.
Please come to my party, the cast of Mad Men will be there.

(This post is part of a 5-part series. Check out the overview if it’s your first time here.)

Cancel all your plans. This is going to be huge.

The single worst thing you can do for your event is make it feel missable. Hum-drum. Pedestrian. People who miss your event need to have a little dent in their life because of it. They’re going to miss business opportunities. They’re going to fall out of the know. They’re going to spend their nights alone and unhappy.

If you can convince people of any of those things, its on like Donkey Kong.

The best way to do this of course, is to have an event concept that is so unique, on-point, and surrounded by a pool of less interesting events for people to pick from. In a month where the NYC Fashion/Technology communities had some happy hour meetups and email conversation, Rebecca Zhou gave us a spectacular runway fashion show with a charity umbrella. #RaiseCacheWasAwesome #NoOffenseToAllMyOtherPplThrowingEvents

That’s not always an option. And besides, people love networking events and beer. The challenge is surviving the inbox long enough to get the yes.

That leads to this post’s takeaway: the most straightforward and repeatable way to get people to come to your events is through proper guestlisting and early press.

Guestlisting: How many lists do you make for your event? Hint: the answer is not just one.

I got a lot of different answers on this one, and I think the right answer is around 3. (Note: my favorite answer to questions with numerical answers)

1. VIP List – These are people who are so amazing, that bringing them there will make OTHER people want to come to your event. So influential that their email/tweet/fb-poke will make a material impact in your marketing. So beautiful that you want to put them on the flyer. You know what I mean. People who, in the context of your event and in the eyes of your attendee, merit celebrating.

Real VIP’s however, tend to be busy folk, and under constant barrage of fun and interesting events to go to. These guys have so many prods, pokes, and requests coming their way, that they may not even get to your VIP invite until after your event! A lot of good that will do you. You have to rise above the noise.

When Rebecca Zhou was putting together her list of favorite people for Raise Cache, she knew she wanted the most popular VC’s, hotshot entrepreneurs, and interesting bloggers to be there at the front row (or walking down the runway!). So did she send an email invite? Of course not. They hand-delivered beautiful boxes that had personalized tshirts. For novelty and fun value, the VIPs had to RSVP by tweeting a picture of themselves wearing the shirt! Whimsical, unexpected, and a source of promotion for the event as well. Crush it.

2. Primary Invite List – The people you want to invite. Chances are, this is the list you have already. Just make sure you don’t break any fire codes there champ.

3. Fallback List – This is the list you start pulling from in case too many people from your primary invite list are unable to attend. Its plan B, the bench. Judy Allen, author of  Event Planning The Ultimate Guide, notes that what is important is the timing of sending out invitations as no one wants to feel – due to the time the invitation is received – that they were on Guest List B.   More detail on this is obviously in her book.

Early Press:

Long in advance of the event, you don’t want to give away the punchline — just the trailer. Its not a strategy for everyone, but if you’ve got the hustle or contacts to sneak a hint of excitement into a news hit or popular blog, it could kickstart ticket sales in a major way.

Sell the intrigue. Who are your awesome headliners? Sexy sponsors? World-changing goal?

I’m told discounting works, but instead, how about selling tickets for more money? Early buyers are more likely to be into what you’re selling. Sell premium tickets that come with a great gift bag, exclusive access, distinguished service or some other funsies. I would pay for that at a terrific event.

Don’t get too comfortable just because you’ve locked down your venue and secured your VIPs. We still need to get everyone else to RSVP.

More unexpected promotional ideas and a whole series on PR are forthcoming.

(Note: This post is part of a 5-part series on events and party planning. Jump directly into a subtopic here)

  1. Its all about the CUSTOMERS, baby. Venue selection & the Deal.
  2. This is more INTERESTING than whatever else you’re doing.
  3. Pound the PAVEMENT. Sell your heart out.
  4. More MONEY, less problems. Keep your event ROI-positive
  5. Event as a startup. TEAM matters.

My many thanks for the superstars who helped me pull this together:

  • Judy Allen – event guru and author of 10+ books, including Event Planning The Ultimate Guide
  • Rebecca Zhou – Hackstar, UI/UX designer and self-taught event planner extraodinare behind Raise Cache
  • Kelsey Recht – Founder and CEO of Instevent – making event planning easier through expertise and technology
  • Gina Jagtiani – Veteran event planner in NYC and New Orleans, Founder and CEO of eventiveworld.com, and social media empresaria

Its all about the CUSTOMERS, baby. Venue selection & the Deal. (Eventology 1 of 5)

(This post is part of a 5-part series. Check out the overview if it’s your first time here.)

FACT: You cannot throw a party without a place to throw it in.

The venue is the first thing people see when they get to your event, the space they will spend the event in, and the infrastructure for all the fun stuff you might want to do. Like a karaoke foam battle or motorcycle bullfight. Or maybe just a DJ. Whatever.

My friend Kelsey Recht, the CEO of Instevent, knows how important venue selection is to a successful event. She says that you want a place that’s going to be the right size and an interesting destination, so that people will want to show up and then feel like they are in the right spot. The vibe, acoustics, staff and all have to be right for your crowd and your brand.

Long time event planner and my friend Gina Jagtiani, CEO of Eventive World, points out that the venue is running a business. The venue wants to sure that they’ll make money — Venues will often negotiate different type of contracts depending on the type of crowd you will be bringing in. They may do a happy hour and sponsor it partially or fully themselves. There’s many options that can be negotiated for them as long as they would be making more money on that night if you weren’t throwing an event there.

This means, while you have lots of goals: create a fun experience, build your brand, protect your reputation, create value for sponsors, and maybe more that can join forces to make you feel conflicted — the venue has just one: money.

Your negotiation with the venue will be your first major challenge.

You’re seated at the negotiation table, which is probably the bar at the venue, or maybe their office. You’re a novice (or else probably wouldn’t be reading this) and they’re the pro. You’re starry eyed because you really like the space, but for them its another day, another dollar.

You want the space, and will have to pay for it somehow. This is usually split into a one or more pieces – each of which is a lever you an push or pull to get the deal you want:

Rent – I’ve found that most people assume that renting the venue must be the biggest cost. Not true. A wink and a smile are usually enough to squeeze down or even totally eliminate the rental costs of the spot. The venue doesn’t care. They make a lot more money on

Food / Drinks / Staff – In most cases, the venue will not let you bring your own food, drink, or basic staff (servers, etc). You have to use their kitchen or their caterer, their bar with their vendors, and all their stuff. This is where an innocent per-person fee explodes into thousands of dollars. But you’re no rube. Ditch their structure and offer a simpler setup like a

Guarantee – Promise a flat dollar amount that you’re going to hit. Any less, and you’re on the hook. Any more, and its gravy for the venue. Everybody likes gravy. In fact, every single time i’ve dealt with a venue (disclaimer: usually bars for smaller events) they are so risk averse that they will take a guarantee that works out to 1-2 drinks per person.

And if you’re really worried? Instead of basing your guarantee on the full number of people you expect, sandbag it a little bit. Pro tip from Kelsey of Instevent – Always guarantee a lower number than you anticipate.  You can add people to the event easily, but you can’t take them out without a contentious discussion.

Tickets/Cover-split – if you’re a total boss or dealing with a small venue, you might be able to get the venue with no risk. No rent up front, no guarantee on the back – just a split of revenue on ticket sales or door fees. #midwid

Value – Really squishy and not always applicable, if you can sell the dream to the venue, they might accept that parts of your event are good enough for them to pull some costs off of the table. For example, if you’re going to generate a lot of good press for them, or bring in high-value VIPs.

Side Notes: Stuff to ask for – in case you’re selling the dream and they are buying it. Ask for the world. Ask them to sponsor your event (why not?!), get drink specials, VIP tables, EVERYTHING. Take it all! Bonus points if you take specials that you can turn around and offer to your own VIPs like guest bartending or DJing spots.

The esteemed Judy Allen, event planning guru and prolific author of 10+ books on the topic including the new and all-inclusive Event Planning The Ultimate Guide shares a telling story:

I was once putting together an event for a top financial company who wanted to bring international VIPs to a private evening event and their goal was to create an event that would spark interest and keep their guests there for the night interacting with their staff instead of having them go off to attend their competitors events.   The venue chosen – a cutting edge high tech entertainment complex – had just opened weeks ago and that had great appeal as aside from opening night festivities no other private events had been held there as yet.  The first virtual Olympics was designed for the event and that held interest as well.   Guests came and never left and the evening was a tremendous success and the company hosting the event was the talk of the industry function the next day for introducing something so innovative and fresh.    Normally event planners would not use a venue for that intricate an event that close to the opening of the venue but I had also created the opening night gala and knew the capabilities of the venue, its staff and my team.

 

When its all done, make them sign on the dotted line and bask in the glory of your negotiating prowess.
Get it done! #midwid
Once you’ve set the spot and the date, don’t rest too much. Now we’ve got to start telling people to show up. Stay tuned for the next post in the series, and join our mailing list to be the first to know!
PS. Basics on the venue itself: It’s not rocket science that you’re going to want a nice enough place that’s convenient enough to get to and get around. It’s easy to lose sight of the basics, so i’ll throw some down here. There’s plenty of insight on  this stuff around the web, so i wont really rehash.

Location / Capacity – A tiny spot is great for a small number of people and more intimate, uh, networking. A cavernous place creates a more ethereal atmosphere but will need to have more people and will be much more expensive. In addition, people have to get there, so try to make that easy. 

When Rebecca Zhou was planning Raise Cache, she knew that the event could be bigger than NYC if she let it — so they set up free buses for friends in Boston and Philadelphia to make their way to the event in NYC. People loved it! Obvious, but only in retrospect.

Setup / Floorplan – Nothing sucks more than a party that has a gigantic pillar blocking your view of the stage, or a room-to-bar ratio that pretty much guarantees you will never get served. If you get sponsors and they want to set up a booth, you can bet they won’t be happy if the booth is in a useless or invisible spot

Vibe / Brand – There’s a huge difference between Whiskey Blue in Midtown East and The Ainsworth in Flatiron. Actually, maybe not.

(Note: This post is part of a 5-part series on events and party planning. Jump directly into a subtopic here)

  1. Its all about the CUSTOMERS, baby. Venue selection & the Deal.
  2. This is more INTERESTING than whatever else you’re doing.
  3. Pound the PAVEMENT. Sell your heart out.
  4. More MONEY, less problems. Keep your event ROI-positive
  5. Event as a startup. TEAM matters.

Want to be the first to know when the next posts come out? Sign up for the mailing list!

My many thanks for the superstars who helped me pull this together:

  • Judy Allen – event guru and author of 10+ books, including Event Planning The Ultimate Guide
  • Rebecca Zhou – Hackstar, UI/UX designer and self-taught event planner extraodinare behind Raise Cache
  • Kelsey Recht – Founder and CEO of Instevent – making event planning easier through expertise and technology
  • Gina Jagtiani – Veteran event planner in NYC and New Orleans, Founder and CEO of eventiveworld.com, and social media empresaria

EVENTOLOGY: Top 5 steps to throw a ridiculous party

Party Ridiculousness

(Note: This post is part of a 5-part series on events and party planning. Jump directly into a subtopic here)

  1. Its all about the CUSTOMERS, baby. Venue selection & the Deal.
  2. This is more INTERESTING than whatever else you’re doing.
  3. Pound the PAVEMENT. Sell your heart out.
  4. More MONEY, less problems. Keep your event ROI-positive
  5. Event as a startup. TEAM matters.

When is the last time you threw a really memorable event? When is the last time you even went to a really memorable event? What’s the last event you even remember enjoying?

We’re suffering from an epidemic of events that are merely ‘meh’, and too many of us have just gotten used to it. Whether you’re planning something as simple as a few friends hanging out to something as complex as a massive fundraising gala extravaganza, there are probably a bunch of things you can do better — and it’s easier than you think.

And, this being the holiday season and all, why not kick off my new blog with a series on partying down?

You will only find this useful if you’re interested in creating unforgettable experiences. If not, well, the next blah happy hour is at the bar next door.

Want to be the first to know when the posts come out? Sign up for the mailing list!

Curious yet?

We’re going to follow in the footsteps of my friend Rebecca, who until just a few weeks ago, had never thrown an event. But anyone who went to Raise Cache is not likely to forget it or stop talking about it for a while, including yours truly.

So how do you get from ‘wanting-to-throw-an-event’ to ‘just-threw-the-sweetest-party-ever’? I’m so glad you asked.

It all started when Rebecca found herself in an argument over whether the tech scene in Silcon Valley was better than the one in Silicon Alley. NYC #ftw obviously here. She she asked herself ‘what sorts of stuff happens in NYC that is hands-down better than SF?’ – Finance, media and fashion. No arguments there. What do we need to make the NYC tech scene better? Talent. Raise Cache was born as a way to showcase the best of what NYC has to offer — and in the process raised over $100,000 for HackNY.

One of the biggest lessons learned? Once you have your goals laid out,
1. Keep your customer in mind – It’s too easy to get caught up in either your own personal predelictions for your event, or else the lazy road to the easy party. Even if you’re not charging for your event, imagine your attendee as your customer. Why is your event something they want? Why come to your event and not just lay on the couch?

Rebecca first tried to pull core fashion companies and the big banks in as sponsors (more on that soon), but they didnt really understand why HackNY is awesome or what they would gain by showing up. They weren’t the customer. So instead, she pulled in the amazing people at Edition01 who donated an amazing DKNY one-of-a-kind piece and the luminary Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures who walked the runway carrying an “Occupy” sign. Relevant sponsors + community involvement = happy people and awesome event.

Once you have your customer in mind, how to make them want to be involved?
2. Sell unmissable intrigue – Rebecca could have thrown a dinner-and-a-show fundraiser, but where’s the drama in that? Inspired by the showmanship and extravagance that make gallery openings, theatre specials and nightclub galas spectacular and provocative, something more interesting had to happen.

Not only did this mean that all the details from the bathrooms to the snacks to the doorman have to be carefully designed, but it also meant that the very means of getting the word out required the team to –
3. Do something unexpected – Its table stakes these days to spam emails to your list or your group’s members about an event. As a result, we all constantly have 20 open facebook event invites, and an inbox full of spam — none of which I get to or take seriously. Cutting through the noise takes a strong message and brand consistency, and of course, the element of surprise.

In addition to bringing a personal touch to all the communications, the event hit all the relevant channels for her customer (see above, keep the customer in mind) at once. By launching with the right press,  speaking at the right event (NYTM), and launching the website all at once, they got 10,000 hits and sold a nice chunk of tickets the very first day.

It’s nearly game time. You found a spot, are getting the word out, and even selling tickets and sponsorship. The costs are going to start adding up fast if you dont
4. Watch the bottom linelike a boss. Event planners consistently say that even with the best plan, costs tend to come in just a little higher than expected. If that gets matched up with sponsorship or ticket sales a little lower than expected — we have a problem.

Rebecca knew that flexibility and hustle go hand-in-hand. She had forceranked lists of her biggest expenses, like drinks, lighting, and options at the venue. Each was set up to be scalable — so in case you end up with less cash than expected, there’s already a sliding scale for what gets dropped without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Finally, no one man or woman is an army.
5. Execute with a great team – Great events are never thrown by just one person. In fact, it is much more like starting a little company than it is merely sending a few emails. Spectacular execution creates unforgettable events. If you don’t have all the skills (most of us don’t), fill in the gaps while building your team.

The community who loves your event may be willing to help in work or in kind. Low cost help or free interns may be available for an interesting experience. A cofounder/coplanner could give you a shoulder to cry on when things don’t go your way.

——–

Ultimately, events are supposed to be fun. Hopefully knowing what to do can make planning them fun too.

Want to be the first to know when the posts come out? Sign up for the mailing list!

My many thanks for the superstars who helped me pull this together:

  • Judy Allen – event guru and author of 10+ books, including Event Planning The Ultimate Guide
  • Rebecca Zhou – Hackstar, UI/UX designer and self-taught event planner extraodinare behind Raise Cache
  • Kelsey Recht – Founder and CEO of Instevent – making event planning easier through expertise and technology
  • Gina Jagtiani – Veteran event planner in NYC and New Orleans, Founder and CEO of eventiveworld.com, and social media empresaria

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Victory

Do or do not. There is no try.
-Jedi Master Yoda

This is a blog about crushing it. I love the best of the best, especially in business practices, gadgets, ideas, food, technology and inspirational people. I’ll be collecting them from all walks of life and laying bare the inner workings for you right here.

Tuck in your bib and get ready for:

  • Best practices in throwing a great party
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