What’s the difference between an influencer and a decision-maker--and which one are you at your organization?
An influencer is one that shares valuable thoughts and ideas but does not have the authority to make a final decision. A decision-maker is one who understands an overall plan and its objectives and has the authority to make a decision.
I strongly believe that event and meeting planners can move from being influencers to decision-makers by simply taking the initiative. Through detailed research and smart planning, planners can make this transition by demanding answers to the following five questions from their executives when planning their next conference, product launch, special event or networking experience:
1. Who is the audience?
Who is the target audience to which you are trying to appeal? What do you want them to get out of your program? Are you surveying them for feedback to assist in creating your agenda? Does your CRM allow you to pull the correct audience type in order to effectively market to them?
Focus on the key element that makes events and meetings successful: the people. Taking just moments to nail down key information about attendees can make an immeasurable impact on your ability to plan successful events or programs that meets their specific needs.
2. What is the objective?
What outcome is management expecting from the event or meeting? Is it to generate motivation to sell more? Is it to create excitement for a new product or service? I am often amazed at the size of budgets for a conference or an event while the objectives are very broad.
Understanding the objective will help you and your team create response vehicles inside your program to gather necessary information from your audience related to your products and services. Do not leave the conference room without understanding the target audience or targeted objectives.
Once you have the objectives, write them down. Make them visible in your office somewhere. Share them with every team member working on your program. Make sure that every dollar you spend on the program supports the objectives and is reaching your target audience.
3. What is the messaging or theme?
Once you get agreement from your executive team on both the target audience and the objectives, then begin to frame your messaging.
What messages resonate with this group? Try not to overcomplicate it but rather simplify your message with a tagline. Create a supportive theme. Try engaging a graphic designer either in-house or through a freelancer.
Design some themes that integrate with your brand and carry a tagline to support your messaging. Bounce your theme past a few contacts within your target audience. Find out if it resonates with them. If not, ask why. Then, use all of this feedback to adjust your theme and present to your executive team for approval. There is nothing worse than a theme, logo and tagline that fall short on-site at a conference or event. And, even worse, I have listened to executives onstage question the theme meaning in front of attendees.
Be sure to acquire executive buy-in and then integrate that theme in everything that you do (website, signage, stage design, PowerPoint or Keynote presentation slides, marketing materials, on-site agenda, networking events and more).
4. Is the time frame realistic to deliver?
I have had the opportunity to witness meeting and event planners being told they have only a few weeks to pull off a conference or large-scale event. It takes weeks just to acquire the previous points I outlined in this article surrounding audience, objective and theme. It surprises me that corporations are willing to spend so much money to rush through an event only to be disappointed that they did not achieve their end results due to a simple lack of preparation.
If you are managing a full-scale national sales meeting, you need many months--ideally 12 to 18 months or more. In today’s world of a rebounding hospitality market, it is difficult to even find a venue that supports your objectives and audience size in less than six months. Your venue should support your objective and company brand.
Don’t rush to book, or you will experience poor results on your survey following the program. Again, be strategic here and educate your executive team on why a certain property supports your overall plan.
5. What is the budget?
Finally, this is the most important question to ask. You need a realistic budget to be successful.
I often find the challenge here to be that most executives do not truly know the cost of large-scale conferences or events. Your job is to educate them. Put together a rough budget. Estimate cost of airfare, hotel, food, creative services, transportation, stage production and networking events.
Not sure how to acquire this information? Leverage your strategic partners to help you. Rather than wait for a budget number to be delivered to you that was created behind closed doors with very little practical insight, create a detailed one with a little room to cover overages. Present it and prepare to educate on the numbers based on your research.
One last brief comment on leveraging your strategic partners:
Do you have strategic partners or vendors? A strategic partner is one that would like to sit in on meetings with management to acquire the answers to these questions. A vendor simply wants you to use them for a tactical project.
A strategic partner will challenge you and, if allowed, your executive team on your audience, objectives, messaging, time line and budget to help ensure your success. Many strategic partners will even assist in creating the budget for you and if desired, will assist you in presenting your plan to your executive team.
Remember, you will encounter mistakes along the way. But those mistakes will be minor if your plan is solid and you have answers to the five points listed in this article. Going through this entire experience will help you gain trust from management and move you from being an influencer on your events and conferences to one who owns the decision-making progress on future programs.
Tom McCulloch joined Minneapolis-based MetroConnections in 1998 after having been a customer for almost five years. As chief marketing officer, he is responsible for strategic marketing and sales oversight. In his current role, he oversees brand management over marketing communications channels, maintains and communicates outlined service offerings in each service center, and oversees market research and customer service.