Event Marketing: A three-step system for success

(Editor’s Note: This is the unabridged version of an article that ran in the June 2010 issue of Boating Industry. That story, which had to be shortened to fit the space available, appeared on p. 27.)

In the marine industry, the most common form of event marketing is boat shows, but “events” go much further than that. Event marketing includes, but is not limited to, poker runs, demo events, fishing tournaments, open houses, clinics, races, charity functions, owners gatherings, etc.

Event marketing should be a key aspect in an overall dealership promotional plan and for many dealers, the key effort that positions their brand directly in the face of the target consumer more than any other communications effort.

WaterTop Unlimited has been involved with a wide range of marine event projects over the past 20 years, ranging from massive public relations campaigns with big-name celebrities, large-scale on-water demo programs, B2B efforts, owner adventure rides, watercraft races, made-for-TV competitions, and many more – all with varying objectives, but ultimately to spread a specific brand message and induce a consumer reaction. We have learned a lot over the years and no matter what kind of event we produce — no matter how big or small — there are enough similarities to inspire us to use a basic formula when approaching each project.

The three basic formula components are strategy, production and effort. The strategy is the idea behind the project, while the production is the operational aspect. And the effort ultimately defines the success of an event.

Event strategy
The project must have a clear objective and defined goal. An event sends a message to attendees, and it is key that the message must leverage your existing company branding and remains consistent with other forms of marketing communications.

An event may be focused on a specific aspect of the business or a specific product, but the overall tone and message – from a visual, audible and human interactive standpoint – must all “look, say and feel” the same thing. So, be consistent.

The first steps in any event are to define the objective — why and how will the event help the business and brand? This is the creative part of the effort, and it drives everything else.

The second step is to lock in the location and the dates, the earlier the better, and that goes for every aspect of the project. With adequate advanced notice, you minimize costs and stress and maximize the opportunities to leverage the event and all it offers. So get the event on peoples’ calendars, ASAP. The details can be filled in with time, but letting people know the event is happening is crucial to getting them there.

Event production
Producing a good event should be easy by the time the actual event happens, but it can be a very daunting task if a proper plan is not in place.
I heard a very simple philosophy from very successful salesman once: “Plan your work and work your plan.” That statement can be used for almost anything in life, and it is dead-on for event production.

But simply planning an event isn’t good enough. Pre-planning is crucial. And the “pre” part is the key. That is why we “square” the P in our formula.

Planning is the basic objective from an operational standpoint and must be steered by the strategy in every phase of project development.
WaterTop builds a project grid for every effort, using a simple Excel document to keep track of the project and to help plan the work. A line is dedicated to every possible aspect of the event, including a description, who is responsible, what the company is providing or supplying, location, cost, comments and colored status cells: “to do” in yellow and “done” in green.

This list includes everything from pens, banners and traffic cones, to rooming lists, meal orders and media buys. It is a basic checklist, no different than making a list for the grocery store. If you work your plan and go through your list, by the time you walk out the door you are done.

There are a lot of ideas and a lot of good ones. The difference between a good idea and that idea’s fruition is the effort required to make it happen.

Again, each project has its objectives, but regardless of the goal, each project should be kept simple from the start. “Fancy this” or “extra that” just adds complexity in addition to the possibilities of something going wrong. And, it can steal time from planning something much more crucial.

“The devil is in the details” is true, and WaterTop is a big believer that the details are what differentiate your events from others, but it is key that the basics are covered 100 percent, first, and the details second.

Exuding effort
Effort extends beyond the planning to the people actually on-site at the event. I have seen great events fail to deliver because an organization did not “work it” or put in the effort to make it successful. After the planning is finished and event day has arrived, a full commitment is make or break. Proper staffing is crucial — the right number, the right attitudes and the right knowledge.

The staff must be informed of all the key aspects of the event. They are the event representatives, and they need to be able to answer questions and be engaging to attendees. Energy has to be as high for the last person leaving as it was for the first person arriving. The personal interaction makes the biggest difference.

Many times events are not leveraged to ensure maximum value. People enjoy events and the media like covering events. Let the local newspaper, TV news stations, local Web forums, and social networks talk about the event. Promote it heavily before hand and just as strongly afterward. Take a lot of pictures and video if possible. This allows the event to live on and reach a larger audience beyond those who actually attended it and adds value to the effort.

Send it to the media again if they weren’t on hand and post it on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and as many other outlets as possible. This will make those who didn’t show up feel as if they missed something, and if done properly can make it look like the biggest happening in three states!

Finally, don’t forget: Great events are remembered, but so are the bad ones. Do things right and event marketing can have an incredibly positive impact on your business. Simply follow the formula.

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