Special Events
WINNING AT THE CORPORATE EVENT GAME

WINNING AT THE CORPORATE EVENT GAME

Many companies jump into holding business functions without considering what their competition has done, is doing and will be doing, and the caliber the business functions will take on. It is important that companies don't repeat what others have done or they risk coming away being professed as second best — as followers, not leaders, in their industry. Not knowing what your competition has done and how it was received can have an adverse effect on the success of your own business-entertaining venture.

For example, in the financial industry, automotive industry and pharmaceutical field, there are a number of companies trying to encourage the same pool of potential customers to do business with them and only them. Companies want the top stockbrokers, dealers or doctors in their individual areas to attend their event — and hopefully only their event — and not be enticed to attend their toughest competitors'. They want to create, through their strategic event design, the opportunity to spend quality time with these individuals one on one and devise a means to secure their future business upfront.

DON'T DUPLICATE

In order to do this they need to look at what type and style of business function will hold the most appeal for their target audience and sway their customers to spend time with them exclusively, especially since a number of these events take place around the same time. If the company representatives cannot convince their customers to attend only their event, at the very least their function will outshine the competition's. This is why it is essential not to risk duplication of destinations and event elements.

The same thinking applies not only to destinations and your choice of resorts but also to key event elements such as top entertainers and speakers. If your customers have already enjoyed seeing them, it would be dicey as to whether or not they would make the time to attend what in their eyes is a repeat performance, while placing themselves in a situation where they know they will be solicited for sales.

What sets your business function apart is not the amount of money you have to spend but how creatively you tap into your customers' senses. For one company, securing the rights to hold an exclusive golf tournament on a course many of their participants had only dreamed of playing, with the added bonus of being able to play with several top celebrity golfers, was the pièce de résistance that had their customers signing up immediately.

Another company's representatives decided that low-key sponsorship for a new event that appealed to families in their market areas would bring them the brand awareness exposure they were looking for, be something their competition had not done and tie into the innovative image that was a fit for their company. Sponsoring an event such as WaterFire, a free public arts event, would accomplish something similar. WaterFire is an experience that began in Providence, R.I. It combines water, fire, music and performance and is set up on three rivers. It takes place several times each month from May to October and draws crowds of up to 60,000 per event. The fires are lit at sunset and are put out at midnight. Gondolas can be rented to provide a closer view and add a romantic air to the event. A corporate sponsor could invite families on a private boat charter to enjoy the magical spectacle and have a captive audience or, if the area permitted, set up a tent and hold a private dinner followed by the show.

IT'S WHO YOU KNOW

It's all about knowing your target audience and what they may have experienced in life or through your competition's events. Extending an invitation to a casual cruise when your competition is offering something unique, such as WaterFire, may not bring you the return on investment you are looking for to meet your company objectives. This same philosophy can be applied to the smallest events and the largest, most extravagant ones.

One of the main benefits of successfully setting and executing new business function and business entertaining trends is how it can fast-forward the positioning of your company and product in the public's eye and within your industry. It can open the door to new opportunities and growth and change consumers' and colleagues' perspectives. Invitations to your business affairs will be eagerly anticipated and sought after.

WHAT DO THE OTHER GUYS DO?

In order to become a leader in your industry, maintain your position and become a driving creative force, you must stay on top of what your competition is doing, become knowledgeable about successful events other industries are holding and be well aware of hot destination and event planning trends. You can accomplish this by creating a competitive analysis checklist that is custom-built to your company requirements around the DRIVE event design program I have created.

In order to drive results and get to where you are going and growing through bold, inventive business functions and business entertaining, you first need to map out your directional route — past, present and future for both your company and your competition — and keep DRIVE creative design organization principles in mind:

D Define
R Research
I Innovate
V Visualize
E Execute

Define

Define what has been done and is being done with regards to business functions and business entertaining in your industry. Industry publications, the financial pages and even gossip columns are a good source of what types of business events are currently taking place. Note if the events taking place in your industry and in others are receiving favorable feedback. You can set up both Google Alerts and Google News with specific keywords or company names to keep you apprised or hire the services of a clipping company to monitor news and magazines for you. Sales representatives can also be a wealth of information, not divulging names of who is doing what but sharing what is being done in a general sense.

Research

Research what other industries are doing. Event planning trade publications and trade shows are a wonderful place to begin. Professional event planning associations also have educational seminars, trade shows and monthly meetings that members and guests can attend. Hotels, venues and event planning suppliers are also an excellent basis of knowledge. While they will not tell you who has done what, they will share creative concepts with you that they feel could work in your industry. And it is acceptable to ask them if they have handled others in your industry and if any of your competition — kept nameless — will be in the same facility at the same time or immediately before or after.

Innovate

Don't be afraid to try something imaginative that you know will delight your guests and help you to realize a return on your investment. Sometimes this means breaking into new frontiers — such as space — but now, even that has been done in several different manners and by very different companies. If you are going to take on such a challenge, then you have to do it well and work with those who can help you create and pull off your vision.

Visualize

Visualize how changes in your company's product line or services can make news and be brought to consumer attention through the media and business functions for maximum effect. For example, one car rental company now offers hopped-up classic cars to rent. They teamed up with a car manufacturer and together they launched their new venues at a major product launch event. Media coverage was extensive and effective, timed just at the beginning of spring.

Execute

Execute your event using everything in your arsenal. In business, creative thinking (right-brain thinking) is visual and required in sales, marketing, research, business development and planning. Knowledge-based thinking or logistical thinking (left-brain thinking) is more linear and verbal and a major part of day-to-day business operations, customer service, execution and delivery. The crafting of business functions and business entertaining to produce desired results requires mastery of both creative thinking and logistical thinking from the planning stages onward.

AUTHOR BIO:

Event planner Judy Allen is president of Toronto-based Judy Allen Productions and the author of several books on event planning. This article is excerpted from Allen's newest book in the event planning series published by John Wiley & Sons — “The Executive's Guide to Corporate Events & Business Entertaining.” For more information, visit www.wiley.com.

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