Who says an event has to be limited to one location? With remote work on the rise (plus a looming recession), multi-city corporate events have proven to be a viable option for companies that want to bolster company culture and celebrate their employees around the country—without the high price tag.
This is something that boutique event planning and designing firm Glow Events has seen of late, including in 2023. Owner and CEO Melanie Zelnick, whose company is based in San Francisco, says this type of event strategy has been prevalent among Glow's tech company clients, and that it originated from the unpredictability around COVID-19 safety.
"In the summer of 2022 we started hearing talks of recession," Zelnick says. "[Clients] were finding they can save a ton on their budget by not paying for employee travel. A lot of companies have now cut employee travel budgets completely, and they're only asking employees to travel when necessary—which would include internal employee events."
Zelnick adds, "To accommodate the new policies that are in place, we're now seeing events more regionalized, which are more budget friendly for our clients who have employees scattered across the U.S."
When Glow Events produces multi-city events—and it already has several on the books for 2023—they often take place on the same day and involve four to eight different cities, with guest counts ranging from 50-2,000. It's a logistically challenging but incredibly rewarding endeavor, Zelnick explains.
"It's looking like the regionalized events are going to be a continued trend," she says. "It's something we're seeing more and more of, and they're really fun for our team to plan."
Curious to take on one yourself? We know it can seem daunting, so Zelnick assisted in curating tips and takeaways—with anecdotes from two Glow-produced to-dos—on how to plan multi-city events...
1. Start with a cohesive design.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but Zelnick says it's the most important starting point. Glow is known for its focus on design, and when it was tasked with producing a produce-inspired multi-city event for a big tech client—held in San Francisco, New York City, Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.—they leaned into a theme of vintage European disco for all six events to help make them feel cohesive.
It came down to small details, such as using the same linens, floral designs, and signage. "We first designed the largest event, located in San Francisco," Zelnick says. "From there, we sourced venues in the satellite cities to match the overall design to make everything feel cohesive". She adds that across those six events, attendees were "drinking a similar signature cocktail, eating similar types of food"—and even enjoying similar types of entertainment.
2. Strategically source venues that lend to those designs.
For this produce-inspired event, Glow sourced venues that leaned into that vintage, romantic feel. "For the satellite events, if we had sourced venues that didn't match the main design, such as something ultra-modern with clean lines or a ballroom space, we would have had to add significant budget to make each event have a similar aesthetic," Zelnick explains. "Whereas if you source a venue that already matches the theme, you can use what is already existing and supplement as needed."
Strategically sourcing venues that fit with the theme—including, in this case, Pier 27 on San Francisco's Embarcadero—can often help planners stay within budget.
"You use what's already existing, including the house furniture and decor, and then add in florals or linens to really bring the whole vision to life," Zelnick says.
3. Filter your client communication.
On the logistical side, Zelnick says it can be easy to overwhelm a client when you have multiple planners working on multiple events spanning the country. "When working on multi-city events, you have to strategize how you're going to filter communication to your client," she explains. "We typically have three or four different planners working on one multi-city event. It's not appropriate to have three or four planners ping one client with questions, so we have come up with processes internally to streamline communication."
Try assigning a point person who is in charge of collecting questions and concerns, and then presents them to the client for answers in one cohesive email or call.
4. Get creative with how you make connections between the events.
Glow recently planned a multi-city event for Opendoor that had employees toasting to the real estate company's 50th market. And one creative way they made connections prominent across parties in San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, and Phoenix was through a live photo stream. Custom photo booth backdrops were also created, so every city had a similar backdrop for revelers to snap fun photos.
"We had a company help us out with creating a live photo stream, where guests could take photos toasting the same signature cocktail at the event, and then their photos would populate live on the screen at the event," says Rachel Lewis, Glow Events' associate director, who spearheaded this event. "Even though the multi-city events happened within a day or so of each other, by the last event especially, everyone had their photos circulating for their colleagues to see. It was a way to connect everyone."
Keep scrolling for more peeks into Glow's multi-city events...