We recently planned and managed a successful fundraising event Fashion Blooms for Pacific Autism for our client Pacific Autism Family Centre. If you have ever considered going into event planning or public relations for that matter, it is important to know how to juggle. No, not like a circus act or in a multi-tasking capacity (they say multi-tasking is not the most productive any way). It is the ability to manage several moving parts and make sure that it is progressing with your supervision. Do not expect to move mountains on your own. It takes a good team and incredible suppliers to make a great event.
Here are a few preparation tips and realities if you consider dipping your feet into event planning, which can be applied to project management too.
The Good: Event Preparation Tips
Ask the right questions, which is all of them
When you first conduct a discovery meeting with your client, list out all of the questions you need to know and think you need to know. Seriously, this is your opportunity to go into the minute details from the complexity of the décor, to the music style, to yellow or blue napkins. No question at this time is redundant as it will help with shaping and executing the rest of your plan.
Work with the client, not for the client
If you don’t ask, you won’t know. If the client gives you liberties to make executive decisions on supplier contracts on their behalf go for it. More often than not, clients know they can be the bottleneck in the decision-making process (that’s why they hired you!) so it’s best to set expectations and manage up. Establish deadlines for your clients to give you answers and follow-up with what you need from them to move forward.
Create a work-back schedule
A work-back schedule starts from the event day and works backwards to your project start date. Fill in all of the deadlines and details that will pertain to your internal team as well as the client. For example, specify a date when you need to secure the colour scheme in order to move forward with other items, such as decorations. This is a continuously evolving document, similar to a Gantt Chart, so make sure it is always being updated.
Delegate event responsibilities
You aren’t superhuman and the more you micromanage, the more you will look like a chicken running around with its head cut off. Surround yourself with a team that is great at supporting on multiple levels, such as, sourcing vendors, creating floor plans, and executing small projects. Essentially, you want a team that can take an idea and run with it, so they can do their job without needing to find you for the answer.
Establish strong supplier relationships
A good event planner will have strong supplier contacts and this is normally built-up overtime. You will have your ‘go-to’ decorator, musician, audio/visual team, and florist, but sometimes they are not always available, which is why having a list is essential. Keep connected with your suppliers as they are your strongest supporters. I’ll explain why a bit later.
The Bad: The Event Realities
Someone is taking care of it
If you think someone is taking care of it, the most likely answer is that they are not. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. It takes 5 minutes to give someone a call or shoot over an email. It’s better to find out sooner, rather than later if a task still needs to be done.
Always have a Plan B
People are not joking when they say always have a Plan B. This is where those supplier contacts come in handy. Imagine this, you get to the venue, everything looks beautiful, but the yellow flowers your client requested have turned into orange flowers. [Cue Psycho horror music] First off, don’t panic. You know your ‘go-to’ florist Lucy always has an array of flowers available. Give her a call, place an immediate order, and no questions are asked. This is also a reason to avoid ‘bossy’ behavior. There are hardworking people behind-the-scenes pulling strings for you. Don’t ever take that for granted.
If all else fails, make it work
As much as us perfectionists would love for events to run 100% smoothly all of the time, it never does. You have to accept that unforeseen things will happen and if you have back-up plans in place and tolerances, then guests will not notice. You have to remember that the majority of guests attending events have no idea that yellow flowers were supposed to be in place of orange flowers. These are subtle nuances that are between you and the client. Put things into perspective for the client on what is a ‘make it or break it’ for the event. If you manage these expectations, your client will be satisfied. Just don’t lie to them or blame it on the supplier. The onus is ultimately on you.
This isn’t some Clint Eastwood film, so there really isn’t an ‘ugly’.
Like a project, event management is satisfying because you get to see the end result of your hard work, which truly makes it worthwhile. That’s why a lot of my role is project-based, from event planning and proposal writing to awards submissions and digital marketing efforts, I get a chance to take in a successful event, closed business, an award win, or website conversions.
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