EVENT COMPANIES THAT hitched their wagons to the fast-rising dot-com stars of the late '90s, only to discover them crashing like meteors soon after, at least learned an important lesson: It's folly to put all your eggs into one basket when it comes to clients. Marketing your services to new customers in a variety of categories should be a vital part of any strategic business plan. Businesses currently flush with social events can step into the brave new world of corporate clients. And those strong in corporate business might want to expand into the social or nonprofit party realms.
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
Nothing beats the individual approach to marketing when it comes to opening new doors, according to marketing consultant Elaine Doran, principal of E.L. Doran Public Relations and Marketing in Studio City, Calif. “Make that individual introduction to a prospective client by inviting them to attend an event you are doing so they can see what you do,” she says. “Then follow up with yet more individual contact via letter or phone call.”
Doran recently arranged for client McCormick & Schmick's Restaurant in Pasadena, Calif., to host a mock wedding in order for local event planners to get a firsthand peek at the venue's catering/banquet expertise.
She adds, “One company I'm really impressed with locally, Someone's in the Kitchen Catering [Tarzana, Calif.], always sends a personal holiday greeting with a beautiful message that's very memorable. They also send a great newsletter with recipes and party tips so you'll keep their services in mind.”
But practicing the personal touch in order to generate new business doesn't mean you always have to go it alone. “Don't be afraid to partner with competitors to enter new markets,” Doran advises. “One of the best avenues into new business is to approach nonprofit organizations to offer to contribute your particular special event service for an upcoming event. You may not be the only special event vendor there, but board members tend to be very loyal to supporting those who support the nonprofits when they themselves are searching for vendors for their own corporate events.”
GIVE TO GET
Rebecca Carter, owner of Carter Brown Catering in Oakland, Calif., is a firm believer in extending a little well-directed generosity in order to get new business flowing. “We get incredible exposure by donating our services to fund-raisers in the Bay Area, particularly for schools and AIDS groups,” she says.
Carter narrows down the many requests she receives to those groups she's interested in for their social event potential, and reinforces the contacts she makes at nonprofit events by mailing at the start of each season a recipe postcard featuring an eye-catching fruit or vegetable scene.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Event Lab Event Management in Minneapolis found new fields to mine by investigating the many corporations and associations coming into town for trade show and convention events. They didn't stop at asking to handle after-show parties. They invited companies also to consider using Event Lab to design their trade show booths for maximum corporate brand impact. Becky Harris, CSEP, CEO of Event Lab, explains, “The booth is themed to look like the party they'll attend after the show to give it some excitement, some consistency in theme and message.”
She cites a recent project for Pillsbury for which Event Lab built a log cabin, complete with stone fireplaces, on the trade show floor to coordinate with a Northwestern Great Outdoors-themed party the company threw for attendees. Harris advises that event planners look to convention and trade show floors for opportunities to fulfill “not only catering needs, but upgrades in linens and props to make a company's booth stand out from the rest.”
Columbus, Ohio-based EventCo Productions is also looking for new business angles, says executive producer Gary Bias. “A customer may call for parts and pieces, but we cultivate them. If they ask for A, we find out if we can supply them with B or C as well.”
Collegiate events are a new area the company is pursuing “because schools always need new angles to attract alumni dollars,” Bias says. Strong marketing tools help the company's case along. He adds, “People need to see [what we do] and experience it. Seeing an array of video clips representing the wide range of events we have handled helps stimulate the client to buy.”
REASON TO CALL
It's any company's dream to have new customers calling on it rather than vice versa. Craig's On The Table, a Newport Beach, Calif., catering company, gave prospective clients a great reason to contact the company by instituting a complimentary venue placement service called Haute Spots. “It's a way to give back to companies looking for the right special event site,” says Dawn Barker, director of sales, “and it's a win-win situation. It helps generate business for the venues we've used successfully in the past and for other vendors such as florists. At the same time, it boosts our profile in the special event community.”
SET IT OFF
Positioning your business in the minds of new customers by spinning off a separate division geared to a particular market niche can help your company branch out more effectively. Capers Catering of Boston is launching an as-yet unnamed new subsidiary of its business this fall to handle corporate catering requests exclusively.
Says Emma Roberts, president of the eight-year-old firm, “Because corporate lunches tend to be more sandwiches and salads rather than high-end fare, we felt it was important to have a separate identity for this market. We plan on supporting this new division using direct mail, advertising and direct sales to potential clients.”
RESOURCES: Capers Catering, 781/279-5100; Carter Brown Catering, 510/645-4640; Craig's On The Table, 949/515-8336; E.L. Doran Public Relations & Marketing, 818/763-6330; EventCo Productions, 614/481-2122; Event Lab, 612/321-0122; Haute Spots, 949/642-1819; Someone's in the Kitchen, 818/343-5151