5 Old-School Tactics for Marketing Your Events Offline (That Still Work)

Offline Event Marketing Strategies

I will be the first to say that it’s easy to get carried away with all the great ways to promote your events and/or your events business on the Internet. Tactics like marketing via search engines, email, social media and blogging have become so popular that we often forget that there are proven offline marketing tactics for events just waiting to be used.

And before you roll your eyes and say “thanks but no thanks”, think about these stats for a minute.

  • Only 8% of internet users account for 85% of clicks on display ads. (Hubspot)
  • The average click-through rate for paid search in 2010 (worldwide) was 2%. (Hubspot)
  • 60% of all organic clicks go to the organic top 3 search results. (Hubspot)
  • When it comes to email marketing, events have the lowest click-to-open ratio of any industry (at 7.66%). (Smart Insights)

Although most online event marketing tactics still provide a great return-on-investment (just look at the stats here), the results above show that, as more and more people market their wares and their events online, there is more and more competition for people’s eyeballs and there is more online noise that potentially drowns out your message.

So if you find yourself looking for other ways to supplement your Internet marketing efforts – or if you want to explore other ways to reach an audience that may not be looking for you online – here are five time-tested, old school offline event marketing tactics that are worth trying.

Word-of-Mouth

Before there was Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ to spread the word, there was, well, PEOPLE ACTUALLY TALKING TO EACH OTHER. But how, you ask, can this be? And what magical fairy dust did you sprinkle on people to get them to actually talk to each other either face-to-face or on the phone about your event?

Well, let me get past being overly sarcastic and say that this is where coming up with great reasons to attend your event works wonders. For example, people are more likely to spread the word about your event when you have booked an amazing speaker or entertainer. Or when you are offering an exotic and interesting menu (foodie culture is thriving right now). Or when they were so enamored by last year’s event that they tell everyone they know that they would be a fool to miss this year’s event.

Basically, you will get great word-of-mouth both offline and online if your value propositions and event drivers are worthy enough to stir up interest. However, you can also reach out to influencers in your industry – those people who are well-connected and have the ability to influence many others – and see if they will talk up your event to anyone and everyone they interact with. You may need to entice them with free attendance or some spiffs, but it’s always worth reaching out to them and asking them to spread the word for your event, especially if your event theme or focus is in their wheelhouse.

Direct Mail

This tactic started to fall out of favor about 15 years ago when email marketing campaigns became so easy to implement and so inexpensive. And by inexpensive, I mean about 100 times less expensive than direct mail.

But cost isn’t everything. An oversized postcard may cost $0.30-$0.50 per recipient, but when you consider that response rates for sending direct mail to an existing customer average around 3.4% compared to 0.12% for email, then you start to see the value of direct mail.

In addition, because so many people have jumped on the Internet and email marketing bandwagon over the last 10 years, the volume of direct mail that your potential attendees receive has dropped dramatically, making your missives much more visible in their literal, tangible inboxes. It’s this tangibility of direct mail that makes it so valuable for appealing to attendees for everything from conferences to weddings, and it’s why many marketers still use it to market events (often in combination with email because you reinforce your message on multiple fronts).

Another great thing about direct mail as a valuable offline event marketing tactic is that it’s also easier to implement than ever before. Local print shops and mailing houses will bend over backwards to land new customers, and online printing companies like VistaPrint  and PrintPlace provide good discounts and fast service on postcard printing and direct mailing.

Promotion via Other Events

Often the best place to promote your upcoming event is at another event with an audience similar to your event. First, the people in attendance have proven that they enjoy devoting their time to attending events. Second, they probably are on the lookout for other similar events, so this is a great time to plant that seed in their head about your event.

So how do you reach out to these people? For starters, contact the event organizers and see if they are open to any type of cross promotion between events. See if they are open to mentioning your event from the stage and allow you to either say a few words or set up a table or booth to promote your event. And even if this costs you some money for booth space or advertising, you can hopefully more than recoup your costs by registering as many attendees as possible on premise at the event.

Another thing to ask is if you can distribute flyers or inserts to the event’s attendees or include them in the show “bag of goodies.” Again, this may cost you a little in printing and design costs, but it puts you in front of a receptive audience who may be very interested in your leave-behind.

Associations/Organizations

Marketing through professional associates and organizations is usually a game of negotiation. Often they have an audience of members who are very receptive to the communications and recommendations they receive from the organization. And very often they also have a need for money to fund their own events and membership offerings.

This type of marketing works best when the focus of your event and the goals of the organization align. For example, if your event is a fundraiser for a local animal shelter, your local veterinary association may be a great partner to seek out for cross promotions (vets with sizeable disposable incomes can make wonderful donors). Usually, once you have found common ground with the organization, the horsetrading begins, so you should decide what you are willing to offer. It could be more cross-promotion agreements. Or a donation to their general fund. Or discounts for their members. But whatever you decide to give away, what you must get in return at minimum is inclusion of your event details in at least a few of their member communications (and the more mentions the better, because marketing is vastly more effective when people see your message repeatedly).

One thing to remember about partnering with associations or organizations for your offline event marketing efforts is that both parties need to see value in the relationship. You may need to go back to this partner again if you have a recurring event or similar events, so you want them to get as much out of the relationship as you do.

Speaking Engagements

Many people in the events industry are naturally fluid public speakers and wouldn’t think twice about taking the stage to promote their upcoming event. In addition, you or your colleagues may be asked on occasion to speak on a topic that is familiar to you.

On these occasions, you may want to ask the event promoters if you can also promote your upcoming event at some point during your speech or presentation. At times the occasion may not be appropriate for such promotion. Say, for example, you are managing a bridal show; it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to promote your show if you are MCing a wedding that you have planned. However, if you are asked to speak at a local club or industry event about the latest wedding trends, you may want to ask if you can also mention your bridal show and make that part of the negotiation for appearing.

The great thing about speaking engagements is that you are instantly seen as a person of authority and a subject-matter expert, and so the things you mention at the podium are given more consideration than if they were uttered by a random stranger.

So try out these 5 offline marketing tactics for events when you are looking for fresh event marketing alternatives, and let us know if you have any good suggestions of your own in the comments below.

4 Ways to Make “Event Management by Committee” Work

Event Management by Committee

No event plans itself. And very few successful events are due to the efforts of just one person. In fact, great events are practically always the result of the combined time, passion and abilities of many dedicated managers, planners and vendors … not to mention the impact of guests and attendees.

So we have established the fact that it usually takes a team – including event planners, managers, staff, volunteers, vendors, venues and caterers – to pull off a successful event. Each person or contractor has their responsibilities and each contributes to the good of the whole. That’s the ideal scenario for every event professional.

However, when it comes time to make decisions for an event, sometimes a committee or team tasked with making decisions collectively can muddy things and, in the worst cases, cause things to come to a grinding halt.

Back when I worked in advertising, we had a saying: “No great novel was ever written by committee.” The gist of this is that great creative works can only come from the singular minds of inspired individuals, because most things done by committee get diluted due to clashing visions and/or the desire to appease the opinions of many.

A very similar thing can be said about the management of events. Yes, you need the input and assistance of your team and your stakeholders, but in the end you also need a leader who has the authority to make decisions that are true to the goals and vision of the event.

Many organizations (and especially non-profits) embrace a consensual approach when it comes to decision making, and this often extends to their events with an event management by committee approach. The intent of this is noble, but all it takes is two strong personalities who adhere to opposing positions and you have conflict and a potential logjam.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to find consensus, but do you really want to come to consensus on each of the hundreds of decisions, both large and small, that are involved in planning every event? Do you want to get caught up in debating the minutiae when you have bigger fish to fry (and potentially bigger debates)? And, as much as you like each other, do you want to risk those friendships and the success of your event? Instead of accepting these risks (as remote as they may seem … and they always seem remote at the outset), why not take a few precautionary measures to help ensure they don’t occur.

Next time you are faced with event management by committee, here are 4 steps to take to give you and your team the best chance of planning a successful event.

1. Choose a leader first.

Before you make a single decision, before anyone has an opportunity to disagree with each other, elect a leader who, in the case of major disagreements, will be the calming and directing voice in the room.

Now, the title of this position often matters quite a bit because of the personalities and egos involved. So you may need to call this person “chairperson,” “chair,” “moderator,” “speaker,” “presider” or any other title that is palatable to everybody. You should also consider to choose a second-in-command in case the leader is indisposed or cannot make a meeting.

This person’s responsibility is not to run roughshod over everyone or make decisions willy-nilly but to make sure everyone gets their say and is heard and that decisions are made in a deliberate and organized matter. The leader should be a great listener, a good arbitrator and a person that the entire committee respects.

Another thing you should establish at this stage is giving the leader and/or event planner the authority to make smaller decisions for the event. Although it’s understandable to put major issues in front of the committee, the small things really shouldn’t require group signoff, as long as your overall goals are clearly defined (that’s next).

2. Collectively agree on a vision.

Your first order of business after a leader is selected is to outline the overall goals and vision of the event, as these will guide the committee and the leader in making decisions. Among the things that you should consider at this time include:

  • Main objective(s) of the event – Including organizational, financial, educational, etc.
  • Your intended attendees and audiences
  • Event theme
  • Locale (geographic area where the event will be held)
  • Budget

By agreeing on these early on, you give your leader the ability to guide the committee based on the overall goals of the event. Basically, this helps prevent you from getting sidetracked down the road if one or more committee members go off-message. The leader keeps you focused and on-message.

For larger events, this also helps protect the event’s brand. Just like a brand manager at a company is the caretaker of the brand’s image, message and perception, the committee leader is also the brand leader for the event, making sure every decision hews to the overall brand and vision.


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3. Always be true to your event’s audience.

As a marketer and ad agency executive, I always felt that I was not serving my client well when I did not make recommendations that would guide them to a better relationship with their audience. So I would call out my clients when their decisions were based on their own personal opinions and not on the desires and needs of their target market. Basically, I felt that they hired me to look out for their brand and to serve their target audience first, because by putting their target audience first, I was doing my utmost in serving their brand and their organization.

The same goes for event management. Every decision you make should be made with your prospective guests and attendees and mind (well, unless your target audience is your committee and your organization is very dependent on their largesse, and then, well, I don’t envy your position, because then you are trying to serve two masters).

The leader will still get resistance and pushback from committee members who are basing their ideas and arguments on personal opinions that do not always align with the best interests of your audience. It is your job to remind the whole group of your audience’s wants and preferences and that decisions should be made with them in mind. You may not win every argument, but by sticking by your audience, you make a very strong argument that is difficult to refute.

4. Funnel your external communications through one or two people

Once decisions are made and it is time to communicate them to other team members, contractors, vendor, volunteers and outside parties, it’s also important to have one or two people be responsible for these communications and following up on them. Here’s the reasoning behind this…

Doling out certain responsibilities to designated committee members is unavoidable and usually a great idea so no one person is overburdened with tasks. But what you don’t want are situations where multiple people are calling on a vendor because then you have potential duplication of efforts and miscommunication. It’s much easier to designate a single contact person (or two at the most, who are working together closely and in constant communication with each other) who is responsible for all external communications or for designated areas of your event or vendors.

Believe me … nothing is worse for a vendor than to have multiple people calling or emailing you about the same thing, requests coming from different directions, often conflicting with each other, and you have to guess who is really in charge.

Have more tips regarding event management by committee? Provide them in the comments below.

17 Kick-Ass Event Planning Blogs (That You Should Be Reading)

Best Event Planning BlogsWe love providing great, useful content for event professionals here at the Convene @ Planning Pod (as well as creating useful event management applications and tools), but we also love reading what other insightful industry gurus have to say. A great thing about our industry is how open people are and how willing they are to share, and it shows in the quality of the event management blogs and resources that are freely provided.

With that said, we wanted to take a moment to share with you 17 of our favorite event management sites and event planning blogs that we consult (okay, more like devour) every week.

One caveat … our passion here at Planning Pod is helping event professionals – from event planners and designers to event venues and caterers to non-profits and organizations – be more productive and efficient in how they manage their events. So most of the event blogs and websites we follow have to do with the business end of the events industry (think sales, marketing, PR, HR, productivity hacks, legal, event management strategy, psychology of event management, etc.). There are thousands of wonderful event and wedding design blogs out there like Style Me Pretty  (and sites that list the best event design and wedding planning blogs ), but we will focus here on event management blogs and sites.

Event Manager Blog

Week in and week out, Julius Solaris and his team are possibly the best in the industry at creating truly useful content for event pros. There is really no fluff on this site … just down-to-earth, useful tips and tactics from seasoned event planners, managers and pros. Plus they frequently offer special e-books and guides like their recent Event App Bible, their Good Event Registration Software guide  and the Social Media for Events e-book . Must-read stuff … nuff said.

Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections Blog

If I want to hear a seasoned veteran share his insights about what it takes to create a successful conference … if I want a thinking person’s take on great ideas, tactics and strategies for meetings … I go straight to Jeff Hurt’s Midcourse Corrections Blog. Here you aren’t getting pretty pictures of the latest floral designs or great wedding gown ideas. Instead, Jeff shares thoughtful, strategic advice on the nuts-and-bolts of planning and managing meetings and conferences, and any event planner would benefit from his sometimes unconventional insights (take a recent post on using triple-loop thinking to improve your events) .

Event Planning Blueprint

If you run an event planning business, Melanie Woodward has got some great ideas for you. Melanie was once a stellar event planner but now uses her powers to help other event planners build their businesses. And the great thing about her Event Planning Blueprint blog is that she offers proven business strategies and tips based on real-world experiences and applications. And, if you want a great example of how to use video in your own blogs and social media, take a cue from Melanie, who is a video guru.

Grass Shack Blog

Mike McAllen has been blogging since 2003, and just browsing through his blog’s archives is a treasure trove of tips and ideas from a truly innovative thinker when it comes to planning events and meetings. And as great as his posts are, his podcasts are even more interesting and full of ideas. The personal voice he lends to his posts as well as his vast experience planning and producing events makes his blog a must-read.

Endless Entertainment Blog

If any event planner, event venue or professional wants a blueprint on how to successfully use content marketing, look at the team from Endless Entertainment. They do an amazing job of sharing content that event planners, event marketers and even event clients would find useful, and they also do an awesome job of keeping their finger on the pulse of the Web and sharing useful sources and ideas that they find tucked away in the corners of the Interwebs.

Conferences That Work Blog

If you don’t know the name Adrian Segar, now is the time to get familiar with it, because he may be one of the most inspirational writers in the events industry. Many of his posts may not be long, but they often contain unique ideas from other industries and academia that shed light on challenges we all face in the events industry. A great example is this post comparing event evaluations to how Chinese censors absorb feedback from citizens … a very worthy read, as are all of his personal and illuminating posts.


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Smart Meetings

An all-around great news and resources site for the meetings and conventions industry. Smart Meetings offers lots of great news and updates on venues, hospitality, travel, cuisine, event technology and event industry data and statistics, plus they also offer resources for connecting event professionals with venues. And they feature lots of contributions from industry notables with interesting perspectives.

TechsyTalk

Want to know the latest on event tech? Liz King and her crew have you covered. Not only is Liz a kick-ass event planner and the force behind lots of informative event technology forums, but her TechsyTalk Web site has loads of great insights and tips on what is happening in event technology and how the latest innovations can help you work and live better.

Preston Bailey’s Blog

Preston Bailey has the perfect sensibility and perspective as a blogger and is the consummate event professional. Many of his posts cover all sorts of tips and advice specific to weddings (and any wedding planner would be remiss not to absorb each and every one of them), but he also has many posts that expand on how to excel in business and in life. I find his posts a breath of fresh air.

BizBash

From decor ideas to venue updates/reviews to food trends to event planning tips, BizBash covers it all, vibrantly and in full color. I enjoy their site for a couple of reasons. First, they always have a fresh take on all kinds of topics. Second, they are as timely as any event-related site around. Third, I love their sincerity and desire to inform. Worth keeping on your weekly reading list.

PCMA Convene Magazine Blog

From one of the premier professional associations in our industry comes a blog that always inspires every month. The cornerstone of this blog is great convention industry coverage, giving readers an insider’s look at industry trends and developments and insights into what they mean. A great place to see what other convention mangers are doing and what’s working (and what isn’t).

EventBrite Blog

The folks at EventBrite do an amazing job of generating lots of great posts every week on a wide variety of event management and planning topics (in fact, I am jealous of how much great material they crank out, as I know personally how much effort it takes to come up with even one worthwhile, informative post every week). They serve a variety of event professionals and their posts reflect that diversity.

Mindy Weiss Blog

Like I said before, I’m not the type of event professional who spends much time browsing event and wedding style blogs (my passion is on the business and management side of events). Setting that aside for a moment, though, I am simply amazed at Mindy’s sense of style and her passion for design (especially event design). Many event/wedding blogs simply overwhelm with galleries and galleries of stylish wedding shots, but Mindy is one of the industry influencers who sets the trends you see in all those other blogs. For great design ideas, visit her site first.

BusyEvent Blog

Another great blog about the business side of the events industry. What I love about the BusyEvent blog is both the perspective they have as event technology providers. They know what challenges event professionals are facing and focus their posts on addressing these challenges and issues. However, I also really like their regular roundups of recent event-related articles that caught their eye.

WeThink – eTouches Blog

eTouches has been serving event planners and professionals for over a decade and it shows in their blog posts. Their posts very detailed, providing those special insights and “little things” that make a big difference when it comes to successful events. Even better, many of their articles cover the business and management side of events and provide a perspective you won’t find in many other event blogs.

Kapow Events Blog

Here’s another event management and planning company that gets it totally right when it comes to blogging and useful content. The team at Kapow Events provides frequent posts on a variety of topics, from sales and marketing tips for event professionals to the latest (and coolest) venues around the country. Their advice is always very hands-on and easy-to-implement, and since they are actively planning events in 11 cities in the U.S., they have a great sense of the zeitgeist in the events industry.

Event Industry News

If you want to know what’s happening in events on the other side of the pond, Event Industry News is the place to start. Besides having comprehensive news on the European events industry, they also have interesting coverage on event branding, event tech, venues and more.

So what are your favorite event management blogs and event planning websites? Share them in the comments below.

Event WiFi – How to Get It Right and Avoid #WiFiFail

Event WiFi Tips and Best Practices
© Bred2k8 | Dreamstime.comWiFi Hub Photo

These days, pretty much everyone assumes that they should get a wireless connection anywhere, anytime, even in the strangest places. Case in point … recently I was hiking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with a friend who shook their phone angrily and cursed up-and-down that they couldn’t get a signal 10 miles into some deep, remote woods. Simply put, when someone can’t get a connection, expect fireworks and mass hysteria.

This goes double for events, where guests, attendees, exhibitors, vendors and contractors all expect the wireless signal to be omnipresent and strong. You won’t hear a peep from them when things are working fine, but expect lots of irate social media posts when people are experiencing slow load times, getting booted off the network or can’t even access it.

Event venues know secure, fast event WiFi is critical to the success of your events, which is why WiFi for events is the second most profitable service that venues sell (guest rooms are still easily the most profitable). And many event venues are really stepping up to the plate when it comes to upgrading their event WiFi infrastructure so it can handle the bandwidth required for large crowds with multiple devices.

With that said, here are the important points every event professional needs to know when assessing the WiFi needs for their events.

Never, ever rely on cell phone towers or standard WiFi in hotel common areas to carry the load for your whole event

This is a rookie mistake that even most rookies avoid, and if you go this route, you are only asking for anger and bile from your attendees. Don’t try to save money and skimp on WiFi coverage if you know your attendees are going to be relying on it to stay connected and participate at the event. Instead, include dedicated event WiFi coverage as a line item in your initial budget and explain to your clients of the importance of dedicated WiFi for events such as theirs.

Assess how people will be using devices/technology and how many users you will have

These days, even wedding guests are on their smartphones and thus require a solid wireless connection, and their usage pales in comparison to larger events or events in the tech industry, which could grow into the hundreds or thousands of megabits per second (Mbps – a standard measure of data transfer).

The first order of business is to determine how many actual users you will have – this includes attendees, vendors, contractors, exhibitors and event staff. A good rule of thumb for determining how much bandwidth you need is to allow for 8-12 Mbps per 100 users for high-usage groups and 2-3 Mbps per 100 users for lower usage groups.

So how do you determine whether your crowd is high- or low-usage?

You first need to look at who will be your users of technology and how much will they use. Are your attendees just going to need WiFi for general usage (like Web browsing, social media, apps)? Are they going to be loading low-resolution or high-resolution video (which sucks up tons of bandwidth)? Are they going to be super users who have lots of devices and open applications that are bandwidth hogs? The type of event and types of attendees are definitely things that you will need to asses upfront.

In addition, there may be other users who require more bandwidth than attendees, like your AV or IT staff as well as your vendors and exhibitors (who also may be streaming lots of video at their booths).

Any mission-critical applications that attendees will need to use during the event (like event-branded apps, bidding apps or polling apps) will also dictate bandwidth needs, and you will also need to accommodate for peak usage times (like during breaks when people check their email and phones or during keynotes when users are asked to use their devices to participate).

Finally, you also need to consider how many devices your users will be using at the event. Many people at conferences and trade shows have a smartphone, tablet and computer in tow and may be accessing the WiFi on all three devices simultaneously (for those of us with three hands). For example, if you have a conference-type event of 800 attendees, you may need to plan on 2,400 simultaneous connections. Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and event WiFi providers have the ability to limit the bandwidth of individual attendees or the number of devices they can simultaneously use, so that is something worth considering to keep costs down.


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Map out your event WiFi footprint

Do you want your WiFi to cover the entire span of your event, both inside and outside? This could get expensive, especially if you have a lot of square footage, some of which may see less demand for a wireless signal.

A good rule of thumb here is to deploy WiFi where you know you will definitely need it – like conference//breakout/session rooms, hallways, lounges, trade show floors and expo halls. Also, what some event managers do is to create a specific WiFi hotspot that has lots of bandwidth, and they direct heavy users to these areas.

Part of determining the event WiFi footprint is where you or your WiFi provider will place access points. An access point is a device (usually a router or relay) that enables Internet access for an area of approximately 3000 sq ft. Each access point usually can serve from 50-100 people, so make sure that your venue’s access points can each handle at least 50 people.

Negotiate and purchase WiFi far in advance

As mentioned before, WiFi is the second most profitable service event venues and hotels offer, and even though there are outside vendors you can potentially use, the markups for WiFi for events tend to be high across the board.

You have the most negotiating leverage early on when you are at the beginning of planning your event and are negotiating all your contracts with venues and vendors. This is the time to purchase WiFi bandwidth, and it will never be less expensive than at this time. And it’s always better to buy more now at a better price than find out at the last minute you need lots more bandwidth and pay crazy high rates.

Which brings us to negotiating WiFi terms and rates. First, you need to make sure your provider has enterprise-level hardware and systems and not consumer-grade stuff … the routers you get at Best Buy simply won’t do and aren’t built for the kinds of traffic we are talking about here.

In addition, check with your provider to see if they offer Dual WiFi. Older WiFi platforms were built on the 2.4Ghz frequency, while newer systems accommodate both 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz – hence dual frequencies. The old 2.4Ghz frequency can have a weak signal and is prone to interruptions due to interference, while the 5.0Ghz frequency is supported on most newer devices, can penetrate walls much better and is more stable.

You also need to know what your provider’s backup plan is in case there is an outage with the ISP or the main pipeline goes down. And you should always negotiate into your contract that the provider gives you a final usage report after the event concludes. With this report, you can see how much bandwidth your event used, how many users connected to the WiFi and the average connection speeds, giving you great information for planning the same or similar events in the future.

Make connecting to WiFi easy for users and keep tabs on them

At the event itself, your attendees’ first instinct will be to access a wireless signal from their cellular carrier, and they may be in for a bit of shock when they realize that thousands of others are trying to do the same and their device is operating at a crawl.

So to avoid this, make sure to publicize in all materials the WiFi Network Name (also called an SSID) and, if necessary, password. Make sure to make the WiFi Network Name intuitive (like an abbreviated version of the event name) so that it is easily recognized in a list of networks, and, if you must require a password, also make it simple, short and intuitive (not lots of caps and symbols). You should also post the WiFi Network name on posters in very conspicuous and high-traffic areas and provide clear, non-techie instructions on how to access the network.

Finally, you should keep tabs on how your dedicated WiFi is functioning at the event and if there are any outages or issues among users. A good tactic here is just to monitor your social media feeds and look for your event hashtag with the #WiFiFail hashtag in posts.

Have more ideas? Include them in the comments below.

The 5 New Rules of Event Technology

Five New Rules of Event TechnologyIf you haven’t noticed, the second era of event technology innovation is well underway … and actually, it’s exploding and rewriting the rules of what event professionals should expect from event tech.

Over the last 3-4 years, we have seen an unprecedented number of new technologies and great ideas coming to life that are already improving how event professionals manage their data and their events. And what’s more interesting is that these technologies are both improving on previous technologies as well as expanding into new areas.

Just think about it … not only are there better event management software solutions, event registration platforms and event apps, but you are starting to see really interesting innovations in new areas. Social media walls and eBeacons that transmit localized data to on-site attendees will soon be the norm. Electronic check-in will soon be used at weddings and social events as well as at conferences. Hell, we are even seeing great alternatives to microphones (how about using an app as your mic) and real-time polling (raising hands is so last year).

During the first era of event tech innovation – the late 1990s and early 2000s – the events industry saw massive improvements in specialized, computer-based software for event management/planning and hotel/venue management. During this era, we also saw the first online event software applications for things like event registration/ticketing and event marketing.

So what makes this new era in event technology innovation so different? And why should you care?

Here are 5 critical things you should to keep in mind as you evaluate event tech tools.

New Rule #1 – Simplicity and easy-of-use is in (and complexity is out).

  • Big benefits – Shorter learning curves; faster adaption of technology by all team members
  • Potential drawbacks – None, really

The previous era of event tech innovation was defined by software and applications that looked and felt like PC-based software from the 90s. And it also took after those familiar software apps with a fair amount of feature bloat and clunky user interfaces with too many dropdown menus and hidden functionality.

In addition, back then only larger companies and event businesses could afford software and applications due to the hardware and technical requirements in installing and maintaining those applications. As such, enterprise software that had tons of features and tons of complexity was more the norm.

Now, event pros simply don’t have time to read manuals and spend hours and hours in training sessions to learn how to use software applications. We are used to the ease and simplicity of smartphone apps. We are accustomed to user interfaces that are intuitive and self-explanatory (thanks to Apple). And we want to put new event technologies into practice immediately so we can start seeing the benefits now.

So if you are struggling to understand or learn a piece of event software, just know that there is usually something else out there that does the same thing that is probably easier and more intuitive. And you should really never again have to read a manual or consult with your IT department to figure out how a piece of technology works. It should be intuitive and have enough self-help tutorials and support resources that you can quickly learn the software on your own.

New Rule #2 – (Almost) everything is online.

  • Big benefits – Automatic software updates; no software installation or maintenance on your computer/server; automated data backups
  • Potential drawbacks – Limited or no access to data if you aren’t connected to the Internet

PC-based software is no longer the norm as most of the popular event management software applications are online. This isn’t surprising, as online software-as-a-service (SaaS) has dominated software development across the entire software industry for most of the last 10 years.

While some people are still accustomed to storing all their programs and data on their computer, there are a few big reasons why Web-based event software and technologies are the future.

  1. Your data is usually backed up daily by your software provider, so your data is still intact if your computer is destroyed/compromised or your hard drive dies.
  2. Most online software companies are constantly innovating and updating their application, and you usually get these updates and improvements without paying upgrade fees.
  3. You never again have to load, install, or maintain software on your computer.

Yes, with online software you may not be able to access your data if you aren’t connected to the Internet; however, high-speed access is better and more ubiquitous than ever. And, yes, if your data is in the cloud, there is always the possibility of it being compromised by a hacking attack. But you have the same risk with your data installed on your Internet-connected computer. So all these things pretty much cancel each other out.

As online software evolves, the pluses of using it will continue to outnumber the minuses.

New Rule #3 – Data and software access across all devices.

  • Big benefits – Anywhere, anytime data access; data portability
  • Potential drawbacks – Screen size limitations on smartphones; limited functionality for certain applications

10 years ago, smart phones were still glamorized cell phones. 5 years ago, smart phones and tablets gave us cool apps and games plus mostly reliable on-the-go Internet. Today, smart phones and tablets give us anytime access to lots of data wherever we are.

How did we get here? First, cell phones and tablets are now powerful computers in their own right and can process lots more data than in the past. Second, cell networks have more bandwidth to pass more data along. Third, telecom companies have figured out how to compress more and more data into data packets. And fourth, the Web browser technology on cell phones and tablets is so superior than what was available even a few years ago that you can do so much more on these devices now.

Event software companies are taking two paths when it comes to making their applications and data available on tablets and smartphones:

  1. Native app versions of their software for Apple and Android devices; or
  2. Mobile Web browser versions of their software that you can access through the Web browser on your smartphone/tablet.

And both options are viable because of the advances in mobile Web browsers to load and display data.

New Rule #4 – Consolidation of tools/features (i.e., more all-in-one applications).

  • Big benefits – Data and tools all in one place; don’t have to pay for lots of separate tools
  • Potential drawbacks – Included tools may not have all the features you need

This new rule also follows a larger trend in the B-to-B software industry, in that many businesses do not want to maintain accounts with multiple providers for all the tools and applications they require. The reasons for this are both convenience and cost.

Simply put, it is more convenient to have all the tools you need and all your data inside of one application. And it is usually much less expensive to pay one provider for many tools than many providers for one-off tools.

As for the potential drawback mentioned above, sometimes a specialized tool may have more features than the corresponding feature/tool in an all-in-one software suite, so you should make sure to adequately compare the options available to make sure the features you need for each tool are included.

New Rule #5 – No more long-term financial commitments

  • Big benefits – Ability to change providers based on your changing needs; never again be held prisoner by a provider
  • Potential drawbacks – Portability of your data from one provider to another

In the past, year-long contracts and software service agreements were the norm. And although some providers still do business this way, this is no longer the norm.

The trend in the broader software industry is to provide online software that is on a month-to-month subscription, and we are now seeing this in the events industry (sometimes with an option to sign up for a year-long subscription at a discount).

The benefits to event professionals are that you can now change providers quickly if your current provider no longer meets your needs, and you are not tied into a long-term contract and bound to a provider you don’t much care for.

However, one thing you need to be aware of is that even though you can more easily move your account to another provider, moving your data to another provider isn’t nearly as easy. The reason for this isn’t necessarily because event software providers want to make it difficult to you move (although it may seem like it) but more because of the technological constraints of porting data from one database to another database that is completely different.

To properly port information, there needs to be as close to a one-to-one relationship between fields in one database to another, and since there really is no standardization between databases in the events industry, it is difficult if not impossible to export all your data from one provider and port it perfectly intact into another provider.

To be honest, very few industries have such data standardization, so you should consult with prospective providers first to see how much of your data you can export and in what form in case you need to change providers.

What trends are you seeing in event technology and event management software? Provide your feedback in the comments below.

When your event clients give you tough love … listen

Event Client Feedback and InputIt’s hard starting your own business from scratch, building it from nothing, generating stable revenues, getting an office, bringing on employees. And even if you love it, even if you have an undying passion for it, you can always feel the pressure to keep up with the competition, to keep growing, to keep learning, to keep pushing forward.

And if you don’t run your own business but work for an event-related business like a hotel, venue or caterer or work for a larger company or non-profit, you still take pride in what you do and (usually) in who you work for, and you want to do your best and help your organization and everyone around you succeed.

If you’re anything like me, your own sense of self gets tied up into your work. Your work and your business become part of you, because essentially they are. They are an extension of you and how you want to make your impact on the world. And so, embedded within your business and/or career is a strong sense of pride in what you have done and what you have created.

And this sense of pride is what makes us so defensive when clients start providing lots of feedback and input about how we do business. Most customers are well-meaning and polite when they provide feedback about your products and services, but some of them can be rather direct, and a few can be downright rude and mean.

This is where a thick skin can make all the difference for you and your business, because you cannot control how other people think or how they behave. You can only control your reaction to their behavior.

Granted, sometimes it hurts to get feedback and criticism because it feels directed at you. Like I said earlier, our egos are wrapped up in our businesses and careers, so how can this not feel like criticism directed at you. And when it is conveyed in a negative or belittling way, then it becomes even harder to not be defensive and tell the person to F-off.

When I receive pointed feedback and criticism of our event management software, yes, my first reaction is to say to myself “Good god. We’re giving you something that didn’t even exist 5 years ago, and we are listening to our customers and making improvements every week and doing our absolute best to provide a great product and experience. What the hell else do you people want?”

It’s fine to say this to yourself, but then take a deep breath and dispense with the emotion of the situation, because all you should really be interested in is if their feedback is valid and if it would help you improve your product or service.

Here are the three most important things to remember about customer feedback:

1. Even the meanest, nastiest, bitchiest feedback you ever receive will probably be useful.

At some point we all get to experience the wrath of an unhappy customer. It may be someone who was never the right fit for your product/service. Maybe everything that could have gone wrong with their event did. Or maybe they are just eternally unhappy and treat everybody they encounter like crap.

In the past, they would usually unload on you online or in an email. But now with the advent of social media, they may also vent all over Twitter and Facebook. And because it isn’t face to face, they may say things that they never would to your face. This all makes it even more difficult to both diffuse such a situation as well as gain some useful input.

But sort through all the bombast and profanity and you may be left with some very valuable advice. You just have to remove the emotion from what is being conveyed to you and look for the facts.

Fortunately, most feedback is delivered in a sensitive fashion as constructive criticism, but even then it is always a good habit to remove yourself emotionally and look at what they are saying analytically and rationally.


One way you can make clients happy is by having the tools you and they need to make sure their events come off without a hitch.

Planning Pod offers more than 2 dozen easy-to-use event management software tools in one convenient place to help you manage every detail of your events. Try Planning Pod today for free >>


2. Receiving feedback and criticism means that people still care.

Put it this way. If your product or service were so crappy, if you were such an awful person or business, then the client wouldn’t bother to give you feedback. They would just never call you again, stop doing business with you and possibly badmouth you whenever the opportunity arises.

However, because they are coming back at you with ideas, feedback and input, it means they still care about you and want you to improve. Sometimes it may not sound like it, but their comments are really tough love. They are telling you the things you don’t want to hear, and it’s hard to hear these things, especially when the volume is turned up.

People get emotional about things they care about, so the fact that they may get a little emotional when providing feedback is also a good thing. It means they are invested in this and want to make it work.

Feedback and criticism are always better than apathy and silence. The former make your business better; the latter leave you clueless and possibly penniless.

3. Resist the urge to ignore criticism and find ways to channel it into making your business better.

It’s always easy to discount someone’s opinion when they are screaming at you. You might find yourself saying sometimes, “Yeah, they’re obviously nuts and irrational, so why listen to them?”

But instead of instantly pretending the whole conversation never happened, instead look to see what parts of it are useful to you. Does the person have a legitimate gripe? Do they have a point? Is there a good idea in there somewhere? And have you heard this from other customers before?

You see, sometimes it takes a figurative slap upside the head to get us to attend to something that has needed fixing for some time. And it could come in the form of a come-to-Jesus conversation with a client who isn’t 100% happy with what you offer. So leave yourself open to this possibility and you may be surprised as to the content of their message once you look past the tone of it.

So how do you deal with tough love from your clients? Let us know in the comments below.

11 clever tricks for dealing with difficult event clients and customers

Dealing With Difficult Clients and CustomersIf you have worked in any service-based business, you have encountered difficult customers, and event planners, event venues, caterers, florists and other event professionals certainly have their fair share of them.

When it comes to difficult event clients, there are several types:

  • The Know-It-Alls – They could do your job as well as or better than you could if only they had the time.
  • The Never-Happys – It’s almost like they were born with a special gene that makes them sour and whiny about everything they encounter.
  • The Polite-and-Pickies – They will be exceedingly nice and then politely nag and badger you so much that you wonder how they don’t have permanent strangle marks around their neck from all the people they annoy.
  • The Last-Minute-Changers – Everything is great right up to (and even past) the deadline, when they decide to make dramatic changes, causing a panicky fire drill for you and your team.
  • The Type-AAAAAs – They must be appraised of everything, looped in on everything, monitoring everything, at all times, in all circumstances. Like having a helicopter mom as a client. (Why five A’s? Because four just didn’t seem enough).
  • The Price-Is-Always-Negotiables – Some people think that services are vapor and that, unlike a physical product that has fixed costs, there are no true fixed costs in providing a service and hence lots of room to negotiate (basically, they have difficulty seeing value in your time). A less severe but just as annoying variant is the person who assumes that the first price you throw out is always the highest and is always negotiable; they are difficult to deal with, but great to have along when you are car shopping.
  • The Fighters – Some people are uber-uber-competitive and believe that everything in life is a fight, an argument or an obstacle to be overcome. You’d think most Fighters would be men, but actually it’s about a 50/50 M/F split.

Sure there are other variants of these, and all of us probably have tendencies towards one or a few of these unfortunate traits. However, some of us have them in spades, which can potentially cause problems when it comes to how event professionals can best serve these high-maintenance customers.

So here are a 11 simple but powerful strategies you can use when dealing with difficult event clients like the ones above.

1. Walk away early
Often it’s not hard to get a read on a prospect and quickly assess if they are going to be difficult to work with (with the exception of the Polite-and-Pickys, who will be very nice to you at first and then start their wheedling later).

In your first conversations with a prospect, if you can already tell they are going to be a nightmare to deal with, cut the cord now before they become a client. It’s so much easier to say “We don’t have the bandwidth (or resources) at this time to work with you” or “We’re all booked up” now than to fire them later and deal with refunds and he-said-she-saids when things are more complicated.

Oh, and do your competitors a favor and don’t refer these customers to them. It’s better for karma to take over at this point and let the universe decide who gets to work with them. Things always seem to even out.

2. Listen actively
Some high-maintenance customers often know they are high-maintenance and will tell you what they want and expect … good for them and for you. Others may be more cryptic or have no self-awareness how much aggravation they can cause.

So from the outset and in your first meetings, ask lots of questions and then let them talk. And while they are talking, repeat back to them what they are saying to you and take great notes. When they are done talking, summarize to them what you have heard and let them make any corrections at this time. When the meeting is over, send them the notes and have them approve them.

This way, you gain an understanding of exactly where you can anticipate difficulties, and you also have a record you can refer to later on to repeat to them exactly what they told you they wanted. Granted, this doesn’t work so well with Last-Minute-Changers, but that’s also why you should make sure to charge them out-of-scope and/or late fees (more on this later).

3. Set the ground rules of the relationship
Many high-maintenance clients are like small children, in that they need a set of rules from the outset that dictate the terms of the relationship. Yes, you definitely need to have them sign a contract, but this goes beyond the contract to things like…

  • No phone calls after 5pm on weekdays and on weekends.
  • All phases of completion require signoff.
  • Once decisions are made, they are final barring any force majeure (basically, something the equivalent of a hurricane has to hit to make a change after a certain point).

And so on. You set the ground rules upfront so they know what they can and can’t object to later on. Fighters will constantly battle you like a 2-year-old because it’s in their nature, but they also often respect someone who lays out the boundaries of battle. The Never-Happies, well, probably won’t be happy with any rules, but that’s par for the course with them. Set the rules anyway and they will begrudgingly follow them.


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4. Anticipate their demands and act accordingly
This starts with Active Listening and then follows through as you get accustomed to how they operate. Soon into the relationship you will start to see a pattern in how a demanding event client will behave, and at that point you need to start anticipating their demands and providing solutions even before they start demanding things.

For example, Type-AAAAAs need to know what’s going on at all times, so prepare update sheets for them or, even better, use a tool like Planning Pod where you can share limited access with your client so they can peek in and see progress for themselves (I know, shameless plug, but we do have great resources for helping you appease demanding clients).

5. Show them the added value
Some people will just squeeze you and squeeze you (Price-Is-Always-Negotiables, Fighters, Polite-and-Pickies especially) until there’s not much profit left. So instead of submitting and giving them discounts or add-ons, explain to them the value that is already built into your standard pricing.

This may require a more itemized proposal as well as walking them through everything they will get in the price, but it will be worth it when they understand the great value they are getting for their money. You may even want to compare your pricing to other competitors to show them they won’t really get a better value elsewhere.

6. Throw in some spiffs that don’t cost you much time or money
The Price-Is-Always-Negotiables, Type-AAAAAs and even Know-It-Alls will always drive a hard bargain, so leave some spiffs in your back pocket that you probably would have already included in the original pricing. This way, they feel like they successfully negotiated for more services, and your costs won’t increase or your profits won’t decrease.

A good example is if you have a event management software program that runs easy-to-generate reports. It takes you a few minutes to run them off and send them, but it seems like a lot of work to your customers and they think they are getting a better value.

7. Change the conversation
Most of these difficult client types will often get hung up on a certain item or deliverable and not let it go despite your best efforts to negotiate and/or reassure. Once you are at the point where you are no longer willing to negotiate, bend or appease, it’s time to change the conversation, because you are done talking about it and there’s nothing more to be said.

At this point, you simply say “Unfortunately there’s nothing more I can do about this matter, but here are a few things that you will find encouraging.” And then you show them some of your accomplishments and progress in working on their event. Basically, this is the “shiny bauble” tactic. Wave the shiny baubles (i.e., victories and finished tasks) in front of them that you know will get their attention, and move the conversation onward.

8. Overwhelm them with politeness…
It’s hard for difficult customers – even Fighters, Never-Happies and Know-It-Alls – to get angry with someone who refuses to return fire, and even harder for someone who is so overly polite and nice that it drains all of their vitriol.

In the past, I’ve treated this like a game where the object is to deflect their manipulative tactics (because all they are trying to do is manipulate you) and return it with a smile and a kind reply. Often they don’t know what to do with such kindness in the face of their anger or disappointedness. And once your politeness has brought their emotions down, you have a better chance of reasoning with them.

Note: It is especially fun to try and out-polite The Polite-and-Pickies crowd … they often don’t know how to deal with someone more polite then they are who isn’t caving in.

9. …But be firm
Like setting the rules of the relationship ahead of time, firmness displays to your difficult event client that you are no pushover. Most of these demanding client types prey on your desire to please and accommodate your clients. This is a great trait to have on your part, because any good event professional wants to make their clients happy.

However, there’s making them happy, and then there’s making them so happy to such an extent that you are tired, frustrated and losing money. So you must be kind but firm in all your dealings with them.

Also, for Fighters, Price-Is-Always-Negotiables and Type-AAAAAs, they usually respect someone who will stand up to them and will be easier to deal with after you have stood your ground.

10. Tell them why not
Earlier I mentioned about explaining your thought process to a demanding client who won’t accept your decisions at face value and trust you. And at the center of all these issues with difficult clients is usually trust … they just have a hard time turning over the reigns to another person and trusting them with something as important as a big meeting, wedding, conference, fundraiser, party or other type of event where they are on the hook if things don’t go well.

Well, if you have tried everything else and can’t change the conversation, then you finally have to tell them why what they want to do isn’t a good idea. Often this conversation starts out with two words: “Yes, but…” Basically you tell them that you can do what they are asking, but if you implement their idea then the following unfavorable or undesired things will occur.

You are basically outlining the consequences of their proposed actions, and you should tell them that they hired you for your expertise and it is your job – in fact, your professional responsibility – to look out for their best interests and to help them achieve the goals they first expressed to you regarding their event.

If they decide to ignore your advice, you have two choices: make the best of the situation, or fire them if the decision is so horrible that it will seriously impair your ability to pull off the event or damage your reputation.

11. Bill them accordingly
This may not sound like a strategy for dealing with a difficult event client, but it really is. Because most of us come to resent people who do not trust our decisions or our intuition, who are always second-guessing us and who require massively more time to deal with than our other clients.

What can help salve that resentment is billing them for all the extra time and bullshit that they put you through, because at least you feel like you are being (almost) fairly compensated for your time and efforts (as unappreciated as they may seem at times).

Thankfully, 95% of clients aren’t difficult whatsoever and are a joy to deal with, and with some patience and effort, most difficult client relationships can be saved.

Have any feedback on difficult clients yourself? Leave it in the comments below.