Special Events

Strategy for Success

SPECIAL EVENT COMPANIES are the poor relations of the marketing family. They get the scraps left over from public relations and advertising firms, which gobble up most of the corporate marketing pie.

But the event industry can win a place at the marketing table and grow fat in the bargain, say Linda Surbeck, CSEP, and Tiffany Danley, CSEP, CMP, two event industry veterans. All it takes is changing one word in your title-from special event planner to special event marketer.

The second step for new event marketers: expanding your sights not only to serve more corporate clients, but to serve your corporate clients more. Surbeck and Danley have been championing this idea, most recently in atwo-part seminar at The Special Event '99 in Orlando, Fla. "There's a lot of bus iness out there beyond the one-time event," Danley says. "We're talking about serving clients for a long time."

Surbeck, founder and president of three event-related companies including Master of Ceremonies in Louisville, Ky., calls their approach "strategic event communications." Simply put, it is the use of special or promotional events over a set time period focusing on a specific audience to reach specific goals. These goals can range from boosting sales to educating the client's employees to increasing vendor loyalty. For a fee (about $5,000), Surbeck's firm will develop and draft an event marketing blueprint to meet those goals.

For example, Surbeck created a one-year plan for a bank that was going through a merger. She conjured up a unification theme-"Let's All Band Together"-and designed a package of events and promotions to carry it through. For each quarter, she planned activities such as sales conferences, award banquets and open houses, all on a musical motif.

Did the unification theme pay off? "In two years, the bank's credit card department went from 30 employees to 3,000, and we had them working together smoothly," she says. The shift to offering strategic marketing to clients has paid off for Surbeck, too. "We've gone from staging one to two events per client each year to putting on six to seven events," she says.

Part of what makes the marketing plans work, says Danley, founder and president of Success Unlimited in Orange County, Calif., is that you become a partner with the company in the process. As a result, your firm is vested in its success.

When courting a corporate client for event marketing, Danley makes sure she knows as much as possible about the company. She reads the firm's annual report and all the news in the business journals and even buys stock in her public clients. This preparation adds credibility when she makes her pitch.

Danley notes that many of her peers find it difficult to call on the executives at a corporation. But don't be shy, she says. "People are really looking for what we have to offer."

Marketing experts note that an important aspect of selling your firm as a partner in a client's success is demonstrating your effectiveness. After creating event marketing activities for a client, you should be sure to evaluate your program's effectiveness, they advise.

Results can be measured in areas such as increased sales, an expanded customer base or improved staff knowledge on a specific subject. It's important to set the baseline and what change you think you can achieve. The results will help you not only evaluate your own effectiveness, but plan your marketing pitch for a client's upcoming year, Danley says.

Surbeck says that she relies less on a written evaluation report, more on constant verbal feedback with her clients. "To quantify anything that's this elusive and emotional is difficult," she says. "But one thing for certain it does for us as event producers is give us a tremendous amount of business."

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