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Harris Schanhaut, CME has been managing conferences, meetings and events for over twenty years in diverse industries including automotive, medical, travel, technology, financial, pharmaceutical, wellness and manufacturing.
Harris has been published numerous times in trade publications and been a speaker at industry events since 2003. Schanhaut was also a co-chair on Meeting Professionals International’s Greater New York Chapter within the Strategic Partnership Committee which was named Committee of the Year, on the Board of Directors of the Trade Show Exhibitors Association until July 2009 where he received the President’s Award for service.
MO: What are the most common issues your clients encounter when it comes to planning events?
Harris: There are several repeat issues that surface across virtually all companies for whom I’ve produced events.
Most frequently is the lack of clear, measurable objectives and exactly how they are to be reported. This is a more critical piece than many realize, especially in these financially interesting times. The key stake holders should be involved at least in the inception and reporting phase of every event project. Once the agreed upon objectives are in place, the event experience should be tailored to meet and exceed those targets. What good is it to say we were able to touch 1,500 people with striped pants when the key stake holders were interested on those with red hair? Other points about metrics: 1- They should tie back to overall corporate objectives. 2- Be comparable to the metrics used to gauge other existing marketing programs. 3- If possible, have the measurements based on the way these key stakeholders’ performance is measured. If someone is allocating funds from their budget to do events they could use elsewhere, I am going to do everything possible to ensure after the event has been completed and the final analysis is in, these key stake holders can readily see that they made the right financial decision.
Another typical challenge is not involving all critical personnel on their end. While almost always the core team has a good grasp of their internal requirements and processes, many times there is an “expert” from another department who has some marginal involvement with similar functions in the past and their opinion is highly regarded. Not having their input from the beginning can lead to last minute changes, significantly increased costs, reduced satisfaction, disruption of other processes etc.
Not speaking in the audience’s language can lead to dramatically reduced results. The thought of “if we build it, they will come” most often does not work. You have to research the demographics of the audience and deliver your message in the template of what is important to them. They may come if they have to, such as in an internal event, however their minds will be elsewhere and you won’t obtain the ratings for the event that you want.
Another issue which surfaces often is lack of timely response. Most of a company’s staff is not focused on producing an event and some critical contributors have many other things on their plate. It is important to identify these people and work with them closely or have them suggest alternates to provide the needed input.
MO: What advice would you pass onto a company producing their first event?
Harris: A deep discussion needs to take place as to why at this time they have decided to do an event. What is it they are planning to obtain it? Is an event the most cost effective means for them to obtain the desired results? You don’t want their first event to be disappointing. They may never do another. Be realistic about potential outcomes. It is better to “under promise” and over deliver. If possible, I always prefer to have the client have a taste of a parallel experience before making the commitment. If you are doing an event for client “A” and your prospect “B” wants to do a similar event, ask client “A” if a representative from prospect “B” can look in.
MO: What are some tips for planning a business event on a tight budget while still looking professional and having a big impact?
Harris: Quantity and quality doesn’t always go hand in hand. The question is do you want to make an amazing experience for a few or a watered down experience for many? I had the opportunity to do a private event in conjunction with a trade show for a company with a stellar reputation. We could not skimp on the experience; otherwise it would degrade the brand. Their competition were “dumping their vaults” to do events for several hundred people. Having just a small fraction of their budgets, I opted for a very small, very high end event. The sales teams and I virtually hand-picked the attendee list sending out 100 custom-made, three dimensional, elegant invitations with an bit of mystery and ½ of a gift included. That lure was successful. We obtained what was planned. 18 C-Level prospects and 6 C-Level very pleased existing customers. That was 6 years ago. I am still in touch several of the attendees, many of whom sent personal thank you notes.
MO: What are some ways that companies can measure the success of an event? If the results are less than favorable how can they improve their chances for success the next time around?
Harris: There are many ways to measure an event’s success. It is essential to drive back to the reason for the event: Are we trying to raise awareness, change perceptions, increase teamwork, encourage sales people to perform better, drive sales etc.? One of the key elements is to measure an event in a parallel method as other marketing programs are measured. This way, comparisons can be truly objective. When it is time to cut budgets, you want no question as to the effectiveness of your event programs.
For one company I set up a weighted measuring system with a dozen criteria to measure the effectiveness of their trade show program. Some of the criteria included; the estimated number of people touched by the press obtained from the event, number of tier 1, 2 and 3 customers/prospects touched, how intense the competition was at the event, how relevant the specific solutions represented that were germane to this audience were as compared to the core solutions as defined by corporate objectives, quantity of qualified leads, etc. Of course the cost of the event and any sales resulting from it were factored in. Other ways to measure events can include pre and post event surveys to measure changes in awareness, perception and knowledge, estimated cost of space obtained in relevant trade publications obtained from press interfaces at the event. Based on the results of measuring one company’s events for a year, I was able to reallocate funding, taking on almost 20% more event projects, touching three times the number of key decision makers at no additional cost to the company. As corporate initiatives change over time the measurements and the weighting of them should change with them.
If the results of a past event are less than planned, the team should carefully go over the event from top to bottom. Were all the “pieces in place” as planned? Was the messaging and signage in product-speak or developed specifically for this audience in their language? Are there changes in the market causing the issue the lack of achievements? Are there surrounding issues such as weather, political climate, competition, transportation issues etc.? Are the Sales teams not pushing themselves to surpass goals because the incentive trip reward is not enticing for them? Lastly, were the objectives realistic, i.e. did you expect to obtain 1,000 leads from a trade show with 800 attendees?
MO: What are some trends in the event planning industry that you’re excited about?
Harris: The use of technology is exploding. While I am excited about the potential of what “event apps” can do to heighten the experience, the technology has yet to mature. There are so many platforms which may inhibit all willing participants from being able to use your app, so they might feel left out. Additionally, this has to be relative to the audience. It is less likely you will have people downloading your app at an AARP conference than you will at an IT user group event.
While the following may seem relatively minor, I feel the impact is large. The use of LED lighting has many positive traits. They are relatively small in size, very low use of power, last a very long time and are much more versatile than conventional lighting elements.
Styles of décor, floral and food and beverage come and go. More important than being up on the latest fad, is once again thinking of what resonates with your audience and works with your branding.
Being socially responsible and utilizing renewable materials is a very good thing, as is the reduction or elimination of paper. Most materials can be provided electronically more quickly and at lower cost. Incorporating a charitable function helps bring the group together and feel good about their involvement. Selecting a local non-profit to work with can make a big impact. Here again you have to resonate with both your audience and the charity. If the non-profit needs a helping hand cleaning up an area and all your people want to do is donate, the two may not be a good fit. On the other hand, if your people don’t mind “getting their hands dirty”, it can also be a great team building experience.
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