If you’ve spent any time scrolling up and down this page, chances are good you’ve seen a giant call-to-action for IMPACT Live 2018.
This, our biggest in-person event of the year starts tomorrow, so, as anyone in event marketing might suspect, we’re already well on our way planning for next year.
That’s right — as one conference door closes, so to speak...but you won’t have to wait a full year to see what we have planned.
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I’ll be sharing my event marketing plan and secrets (and most likely some mild freak-outs) with you as we go. Just consider it your event marketing how-to guide — all happening in real time.
So, grab your virtual lanyards, individually wrapped mints, and tiny notepads and let’s begin.
4 Questions to Ask Before Building Your Event Marketing Plan
With so much to plan, coordinate, oversee, and execute, the technicalities of how to plan a big event can be totally overwhelming.
But as Julie Andrews has been telling us for the past 50 years, let’s start at the very beginning.
Like everything, starting an event plan without a vision is the best way to set yourself up for failure.
It’s crucial that your team—and your organization—are in full agreement about the concept for the event and the measures of success before you get started, so you can ensure everything you do is working towards these.
Below are some key questions to cover in this initial phase. Though they may seem super basic, if you don’t nail down the answers early on, you’ll find making progress will be that much harder:
1. What is the overall concept? What do you want to achieve?
Before anything else, clearly define (and record in a document everyone can regularly access) what it is you want to accomplish at your event and what tone and takeaway you want to provide your attendees.
This is easier, of course, if you’re planning a recurring event, like IMPACT Live, but it still merits a conversation to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
2019 will mark the third IMPACT Live for our team, but because it is so fresh and so many of us (including myself) are new here, it was important to discuss our goals and overall vision of what we want next year’s event to be.
If you’re attending, much of what you’re going to see this week — the single-track event packed with a hearty mix of legendary keynotes and brilliant IMPACT speakers — will carry over into next year, but that’s by design, not default.
Having that level of intention is crucial to setting the big picture of the conference up for success.
2. Who will attend? How many people do you want there?
This decision especially has an impact on your promotion tactics and schedule.
Is the event for clients/customers or members only?
Is this an industry event that widens the scope of your usual audience?
Is the event open to the public?
If your event is limited to clients or customers, then chances are you’ll already have a good estimation of how many people will participate. If you’re planning an industry conference, on the other hand, a broader scope of attendee means a wider promotional net.
Neither approach makes promotion easier or harder, but knowing how each is different will directly affect how you set the promotional tone and cadence going forward.
The size of your event and the attendance goals you set also have a direct impact on the type of space you’ll need, your budget, and how much time it all will take to plan.
Shockingly to some, however, it’s important to note, the size of your event doesn’t necessarily mean planning it is any easier and neither does a long timeline. I’ve seen marketing teams devote 18 months to planning a 300-person conference and then pivot to plan a 1,000-person event in just 6 months. It’s doable, though I personally wouldn’t recommend it.
Overall, the back-to-basics question of “Who will attend?” helps set expectations for many of the other more complicated pillars of your event. Our attendance goal for IMPACT Live 2019, for example, is 1,000 people, doubling the size of this year’s audience.
That means that we’ll need a much bigger space, a much bigger budget, and a larger promotional window. Knowing that from the beginning makes expectation-setting much easier (and our monthly check-in meeting much, much more pleasant).
3. How will you measure success?
You might be driving for a total number of registrants, trying to hit $100K in profit, or working to convert 30 new customers. Whatever your success metric is, make sure the team has total buy-in and a regular reporting structure to monitor this along the way.
Even if your goal is something like increased brand awareness, drill this down into a definitive numerical goal that you can actually track progress towards.
For our event, we’ll be meeting monthly to report registration levels and review the budget as we go. Our measure of success with this isn’t monetary, but we still need to make sure we’re watching our spending; those pipe and drape costs get out of control quickly!
And it’s not just expenses that can get away from you if you don’t have your metrics set.
Without knowing what the goal is or having any way to measure it, you rob your team of being able to celebrate the smaller milestones along the way.
A team that knows its goals and has the ability to know when those goals have been hit (or when to course correct if the numbers aren’t being met) is a stronger, more actionable team.
While planning for this year’s event, the IMPACT team has used Databox dashboards to keep the rest of the organization up to date on where we are with our numbers.
In a single screen, we can see the number of registrants by ticket type, the amount of revenue this equates to, and myriad other essential metrics.
Note: On my to-do list for later this week: setting up my dashboard for 2019.
4. What is your timeline?
When it comes to planning and marketing an event, the only guarantee is that you’ll always be up against the clock.
Regardless of the context, there are several obvious logistical issues that go with event planning — you need to have a place to put people (book a site), feed them (find a caterer), and give them stuff (because it’s all about the swag bag), but you’ll also need plenty of time to create buzz, book speakers (and allow them time to promote on their own), set the agenda, and the million other things that need to get done.
Make sure that the overall goals of attendee and revenue numbers are feasible within your timeframe, as well.
(And if they’re not, either change your goals or your schedule. Better to listen to the data—or your gut—early on than to realize a pivot was needed well after it’s too late.)
The importance of this cannot be undersold.
While most of us in event marketing understand this (most likely by learning the hard way), there are many more well-intentioned people out there who think it can all be done at the last minute. It’s up to those embedded in the events team to communicate the time needed clearly and to set expectations accordingly.
This applies just as strongly to the early days as it does to the last few weeks when that sense of urgency creeps in.
Smaller milestones and deadlines can help keep the team motivated and reaching toward interim goals instead of procrastinating (not that we’d ever actually do that!).
The milestone set for this first phase of the 2019 timeline (aside from a few important logistics that have to get done) is to get 200 registrants by October 1. Knowing that, we’re launching registration later this week.
So, What’s the Plan?
As of today, we’re exactly one year away from raising the curtain at IMPACT Live 2019.
Our team met two weeks ago to get fully aligned with our concept and goals.
(Note: These had been discussed prior to me joining the team and booking our site—yay!—so it was essential to meet again and reconfirm the plan.)
Our goal is to double attendance for 2019, which means we want to have 1,000 inbound professionals at the event next August. The audience will be a healthy mix of our clients and other people in the industry as obsessed with digital marketing as we are and we agreed to measure success by the number of registrants, which will be reported on in monthly meetings.
With these critical basics in place, the next step is to launch the new conference during this week’s festivities.
I’ll cover the logistics involved in an event launch and some early results in the next post. In the meantime, I’m off to set up a registration table. If you’re headed to IMPACT Live 2018, I’ll see you here in Hartford!