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8 Event & Meeting Rules From Marketing Pro David Rich

The veteran event marketer shares his tips on developing event strategy and culture, stakeholder involvement, and the importance of interactive design.

By Claire Hoffman September 8, 2015, 7:15 AM EDT

Photo: Dan Hallman for BizBash

David Rich is the senior vice president of client services at George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, one of the country’s largest event marketing firms. Rich founded the agency’s groundbreaking strategy practice, and now leads one of the agency’s top 10 accounts. Prior to joining the agency he was the first manager of event marketing strategy and marketing at EMC Corporation, a data storage technology company. He splits his time between California’s Bay Area and Boston.

1. Enroll all stakeholders early in your planning process. Develop your strategy in collaboration with all stakeholders right from the start and before you get into design and activation mode. In events, ideas seem to pop up all along the way towards execution. There’s no hope of staying on target without full agreement to the strategy because otherwise, there’s no way to evaluate the ideas that arise. Consequently, decisions will be made by executive privilege, not strategic fit. People take apart things created by others and protect what they’ve had a role in creating.

2. Clarify objectives and goals. If you don’t know why you are doing an experience marketing campaign or an event, why do it? Write out your objectives and express them with numerical goals so you will know what success looks like. Not knowing what success looks like to all stakeholders is a recipe for failure.

3. Develop not just a strategy, but a power strategy. There are lots of ways to achieve a goal, but developing a statement of how you will achieve your aim with the greatest amount of power at the lowest possible cost means you will hit the twin targets of efficacy and efficiency. Hitting them makes you a hero. Getting a lot done at too high a cost invites discussion of how the money might have been better spent. Getting nothing done at low cost is an invitation to find a new job.

4. Align all creative decisions to strategy. Think of experiences and events as millions of details taking place over thousands of seconds, all of which are either opportunities to stay on target or to stray off strategy. A well-developed strategy without a sound creative plan that brings it to life yields a failed event. So evaluate every detail of your creative plan in the development phase against the strategy before approving it. If any detail isn’t tightly aligned, kill it before it has the chance to kill your event.

5. Design to the culture and needs of the audience. Think of yourself as a bridge builder, building a connection between organizational objectives/goals and audience needs. What does your audience need in the way of an experience to be motivated and enabled to act on your objectives? Run a focus group work session, or if you can’t, put yourself in the shoes of your audience when developing creative ideas. Aim to give them an experience that will help them see themselves as potentially bigger heroes in their own stories—if they heed your call to action. If you do that successfully, they will move mountains for you.

“Think of experiences and events as millions of details taking place over thousands of seconds, all of which are either opportunities to stay on target or to stray off strategy.”
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6. Focus on interaction design first, environment design second. Sure the environment is important, but since “for every action there is a reaction,” the design process has to start not with what the experience will look like, but what will the action be like. That’s the center point. Let that drive your process, and the look, feel, sound, pace, taste, etc. will naturally follow.

7. Measure the outcome. How else are you going to know how well you have done? This is different than measuring the output. Satisfaction of the attendees is measuring the output; they either liked or didn’t like the event. You need to know that—but more importantly, you need to know whether the experience moved the audience to the perception or action that satisfies your objectives and goals.

8. Sell your results back to your stakeholders. Create a presentation that starts with the success results, and then remind them at the end that this all happened because of three things they enabled: clear objectives and goals, a powerful strategy, and fidelity to that strategy in creative development and execution. This will build the right habits with your group of stakeholders for future endeavors. If you’ve approached executing these rules with the right amount of diplomacy, you’ll be in high demand.

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