How to launch a successful live event: 7 crucial steps

Many publishers are venturing into live events – whether paid conferences or large scale paid or free exhibitions – as an additional source of revenue, providing their audience with live content and networking, and sponsors with the chance for face to face conversations with senior decision-makers.  But planning a launch event can be daunting: how can you ensure that you attract the right audience, deliver a good experience and satisfy commercial sponsors?

In 2010 I co-founded the Specialist Media Show, an exhibition and conference which I evolved for four years, then sold to a trade association, working with them to develop into new events.  Here’s the lessons I learnt the hard way about what makes a successful live event – I hope you find them useful.

1.     Defined target audience

Be laser-focussed on who it is you want to attract to the event – don’t make the targeting too broad.  If you have sponsors in mind, consider who is likely to be in the market for their products and ready to make a decision. If you are a publisher you should already know the audience, so take the time to talk to them about their main concerns and problems, and how a live event might be able to help them find solutions.

2.     Clear, unique proposition

Once you understand the problems your audience face, you can explore how an event could deliver solutions.  Might they be inspired by leaders in the market sharing their successes, or would they gain more from a “warts and all” case study from a peer?  Do they want to know more about emerging technology and new techniques, or meet with a range of suppliers and services?  Are they keen to make new connections with like-minded peers, or provide training and development for junior staff?  Check out competing events – there’s no point duplicating what’s already out there as most calendars are already crowded.  Work out what your “unfair advantage” might be – access to unusual speakers, proprietary research, exclusive news and product launches.

3.     Sponsor support

Partnering with a small group of sponsors well in advance provides financial security and can also unlock new research, key speakers and valuable marketing databases.  This will also clarify the target audience and “blue-chip” sponsors can elevate the perception of an event.  Listen to their advice, but make sure you stay in overall control of the content.

4.     Symbiotic venue

Select your venue at least a year in advance: this is a crucial decision.  Location and ease of travel will dramatically affect numbers, and the style of a venue helps brand your event: slick and modern or traditional and relaxed.  An audience that attends many events can get jaded with the “usual suspects” so a fresh venue can add interest.  Good technology back-up is vital, and you are ideally seeking a venue team who will work with you to develop the event.  It’s always easier to work with the layout of space than to build a bespoke environment – so let the venue’s arrangement help shape your programme.  I used a venue-finding service – Trinity Event Solutions – and can highly recommend them.

5.     Sharp, relevant content

To persuade busy people to take a day out of their diary to attend your event you need to build the authority in your subject.  Existing publishers have a distinct advantage here, but even they need to create a specific content hub for a new event, and actively promote interviews, research, profiles, previews and hot discussions around the themes of the event.  If it’s a new market, it’s almost essential to launch a dedicated online content hub to build credibility and explain your proposition.  Plus, content-driven email marketing is far more effective than the deadline and offer-focussed hard sell.

6.     Bespoke service

Live events are personal, and an organiser needs to make sponsors, speakers and participants all feel like VIPS.  Invest the time with sponsors to plan their activity, steer them away from overt selling, and identify activities that will showcase their skills and knowledge to the right audience.  This means a bespoke approach with each sponsor.  Coach speakers in the audience profile, what they are looking for, and uncover the themes they should be covering at the event.  Think through the attendee experience from first communication to arrival and right through the day.  How can you make it easy for them to learn from the content available and make valuable connections with others at the event?

7.     Obsessive planning

Start planning earlier than you could possibly imagine.  Think through every minute of the event day and work out the risks: tech issues, overcrowding, schedule clashes, overruns, poor visibility or sound, catering and more.  Start marketing at least six months before the event.  Keep thinking about how to create fresh content and promote it to the audience.  Communicate regularly with sponsors and partners and keep briefing the on-the-day team with every detail.  Then when the inevitable crisis occurs on the day you will have a back-up plan.

It all seems daunting, but a live event is invaluable in deepening relationships with key players in your market, establishing your brand as an authority and spotting new trends and emerging technologies.

If you’re planning an event launch, I’d be very interested to hear your experiences, and happy to advise on how to make it a great success.

About the author:  Carolyn Morgan has launched, grown, acquired and sold media businesses across print, digital and events.  She has programmed several highly regarded conferences on digital publishing and advises publishers on their digital strategy.

If you’d like a chat about how you can reinvent your publishing or media business for the digital age, or launch complementary live events please get in touch.

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