Five essential elements to organising an excellent event

Concourse at Sage Gateshead prior to Eat! Events have always been part of the PR practitioner’s tool kit but if you’re new to organizing them or are ready for a refresh, here are some handy hints to make your management skills top draw.

1) Be clear on your objectives

Always make sure you know exactly what your event needs to achieve and on what terms you’ll be evaluated. Only by knowing what the desired outcomes are can you design something to suit. This includes setting out who your audiences are and running through the faithful what, where, when and why checklist.

2) Plan like a pro

A pro knows exactly what can and can’t be done and will step away if there isn’t a reasonable timeframe to work within. Consider the different stages right through from ideas to budgeting and logistics and you can see why even smaller events usually require a good three months of planning from start to finish.

Add time in for all the elements you have to handle. If you’re responsible for exhibition materials, entertainment, comperes, invite list management and overseeing sub-contractors, your schedule needs to be realistic about when each of these elements can be delivered.

Always keep in mind who it is you’re targeting. For example, when organising something for the media, be thoughtful about publishing deadlines and avoid clashes with big events that might dictate editorial agendas.

Logistics is the big one. You need to think about a wide range of things, from room layouts and floor plans through to capacities and sight lines. Understanding how people behave and what they need to feel comfortable is important to help the event flow.

3) Roles and reporting

If the event is a sizeable one, create a core planning group of people you trust. Clarify roles, actions and deadlines to avoid key tasks slipping through the net and have regular updates to ensure everything remains on track. This includes building in time for regular reporting and a debriefing session after the event to share feedback and learnings.

4) Get your governance right

Risk assessments, contracts, insurances, health and safety, permissions and licences all form part of the event management process and can easily be missed. Making sure you have covered all these things and considered issues such as transport and accessibility greatly reduces the likelihood of something going wrong on the day.

5) Publicising the event

If your role also includes publicizing the event, there are additional considerations to factor in.

Media relations offers a great way to spread the word but don’t forget social media as well as self-publishing via blogs or even broadcasting via YouTube or Vimeo.

Hashtags on Twitter can be a great way for people to join in and allow those people unable to attend to follow proceedings from the comfort of the office or home.

While photography is usually on every event planner’s list, apps like Periscope and Meerkat offer video streaming for during the event and are also worth taking into consideration where resource is available.

Event organisation isn’t as easy as it looks, but practice makes perfect and there’s always the option to work with an experienced hand until you can do it alone. Crack the detail at planning stage and you’ll be set for success, not to mention grow in confidence. Any doubts, there are plenty of event management companies around so get the experts in.

A variation on this article first appeared on Hiscox's business blog in August 2015.

Make 2015 the year you enhance your leadership skills. Here’s how.

IMG_6887-1.JPGEver wanted to enhance your leadership skills? Decided 2015 is the year to do it? If so, Seth Godin’s Tribes should be top of your reading list. If you've read Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers and found that of use, think of this as a turbo-charged business version.

The thrust of Godin’s book is that it only takes a shared interest and a way to communicate to turn a group of people into a tribe. Provide a purpose and the tools to achieve the group’s (highly defined) goals and you’re on your way to being a successful leader.

According to Godin, all that’s needed to lead is the desire to make something happen.

Here are my top ten quotes from the book to whet your appetite and get you started:

1)   Technology is just an enabler, it’s all about people

Before the Internet, coordinating and leading a tribe was difficult. Twitter and blogs and online videos and countless other techniques contribute to an entirely new dimension of what it means to be part of a tribe. New technologies are all designed to connect tribes and to amplify their work. But the Internet is just a tool, an easy way to enable some tactics. The real power of tribes has nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with people.

2)   A changing status quo brings opportunity to marketers

Marketing used to be about advertising, and advertising is expensive. Today, marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.

3)   Anyone and everyone can lead

Tribes give each of us the very same opportunity. Skill and attitude are essential. Authority is not. In fact, authority can get in the way. Leaders don’t care very much for organisational structure or the official blessing of [wherever] they work. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organisation works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

4)   It’s about quality of fans, not quantity

Too many organisations care about numbers, not fans. They care about hits or turnstile clicks or media mentions. What they’re missing is the depth of commitment and inter-connection that true fans deliver. Fans, true fans, are hard to find and precious. Just a few can change everything. What they demand, though, is generosity and bravery.

5)   Don’t let fear of failure stop you leading and innovating

Fear is hardwired. It needs to be drowned out by a different story…the story of success, of drive, of doing something that matters. It’s an intellectual story about what the world (or your industry or your project) needs and how your insight can help make a difference. The essence of leadership is being aware of your fear (and seeing it in the people you wish to lead).

6)   Embrace discomfort (the best quote in the book in my opinion)

Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable.

-       It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers.

-       It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail.

-       It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo.

-       It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.

When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed. If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.

7)   You can’t please all the people all of the time

Great leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realise that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could ever be.

8)   Don’t lead when it’s not from the heart

Sometimes it may make more sense to follow. Leading when you don’t know where to go, when you don’t have the commitment or the passion, or worst of all, when you can’t overcome your fear – that sort of leading is worse than none at all.

9)   Leadership is actually simple

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.

10) Good communication is key

What’s helpful is to realise that you have a choice when you communicate. You can design your products to be easy to use. You can write so your audience hears you. You can present in a place and in a way that guarantees that the people you want to listen will hear you. Most of all, you get to choose who will understand (and who won’t).

Hopefully you’ve found this useful and if you do find yourself ready to lead a tribe, grab the book and look up Godin’s five things to do and six principles for creating a micromovement. I won’t share them here but I’ve seen them put into practice and they really work.

Happy reading!

Catching up with Yousaf Khalid

Yousaf Khalid speaking at an IPA/SEO London event It's been a while since we've caught up with a leading light in marketing and PR so we approached Yousaf Khalid, group managing director of e>erythingd.fferent to find out more about what makes him tick. This is what we discovered...

Q What attracted you to marketing as a career? A I think it was the idea of being able to persuade people to buy or think differently about a product or service. That insight, creativity and media could achieve that was fascinating.

Q How has the industry changed since you’ve been in it? A It seems everything took longer to do before; the strategy development, the creative and the production process but in reality the only elements that have got quicker are the media and production. Twenty odd years ago everything was being physically taken from the agency to the publishers - now, because everything's electronic, time has disappeared. The other aspect is the choice of media for channels; previously it was regional press, national press, outdoor, radio, cinema and DM/door to door. Today is just a little bit different to that with social media - the most important aspect being that brands are no longer in charge of what’s said about them. They still have large enough budgets to outgun social networks but only if they are being authentic. When things are going wrong then no budget can compete with social media. I guess the final point on this would also have to be email, I began at a time when there was a phone on your desk and that was it but now there’s this screen you’re sat in front of pinging emails all over the place (like I'm doing right now!)

Q Tell us 3 things that people wouldn’t expect to discover about you. A That’s a difficult one as I’m not sure I know myself! And that’s not a cop out!

Q You talk about Different actually being different. Tell us how this is true. A It’s something in our genes, our upbringing and our life experience that we challenge the status quo by seeing things differently. It's true because you just need to see our work for Barker & Stonehouse, Benfield Motor Group, Charge Your Car, One North East and the various health campaigns for smoking cessation, Hepatitus C, fire prevention and alcohol abuse. And we aim to go through this process with all our client partners to establish an ownable space for the brand to sit in order to make it memorable in people’s minds.

Q Your graduate recruitment scheme is arguably a national exemplar. What was the motivation for this? A As I mentioned before technology is really changing the way we consume product and service information and the industry itself has an average age of 30. We felt the best people to understand this change were people that had grown up with it so the scheme was all part of our recruitment strategy which has really been successful for us.

Q Time to spill. What’s the worst thing that has ever happened on a client project? A I can’t think of something that’s entertaining at least that I’ve been involved with but one of my colleagues in the days when we carried around large presentation cases rocked up to a pitch and had a moment. The team arrives at the meeting place on time (which is an achievement in the creative world), gets out of the car, opens the back, pulls out the cases and pops them on the road before picking them up and heading off to the building where the presentations are being held. Unbeknownst to him when he puts his case on the floor it acts like a pooper scooper for a doggy deposit. So anyway he and the team confidently stride into the meeting looking to impress. Hand shakes and introductions over, the case comes out and hits - or should I say scrapes - along the shiny new boardroom table and deposits the contents collected earlier right in the middle. Quite an impression!

A What makes you irate? A I guess because we living in such changeable times it has to be a closed mind, when people either don’t or can’t see that the world has changed and our industry needs to keep up with those changes to stay relevant.

Q You have clear views on PR - what do you think the PR industry does well and what does it need to do better? A PR is in a great position to own content in the social media space but too often it uses stunt driven tactical solutions rather than ideas based in their clients' brands.

Q What one thing do you always have in your cupboards? A Recently it has to be protein shakes but before it was always Jaffa Cakes.

Q Tell us your best joke. A It will have to a silly one that I can remember because anyone who knows me knows that I can’t tell a joke because I’m laughing too much! So here goes. Man walks into the doctors and the doctors says what can I do for you today. Man says well doctor I’ve got this steering wheel stuck down my trousers and driving me nuts! Boom-boom! I'm not sure if I want you to keep that in!

Eye tracking research - could it help your business?

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 11.56.36 For most businesses, an online presence is arguably one of the most important things to have, frequently being the first port of call for customers and stakeholders alike. With this in mind, both start up and established businesses set aside precious budget to ensure their websites are full of relevant information and the latest technical features. All very well but few sites are tested before launch which means they may look good but not be of much practical use. In short, if you’re not converting visits into sales, there is probably a good reason for it.

An interesting product that can help with this is Eye Tracking, offered by North East research agency Other lines of enquiry North, which combines technology that records eye movements with additional interview data to give an insight into screen-based media activity.

As applicable to on-screen advertising and sponsorship campaigns as it is to video and TV, when testing website usability eye tracking data effectively shows how users look at a web page before choosing to click on a particular item or link.

Fiona Raglan, founder of Other lines of enquiry North, explains: “Taking a very basic example, your special offer in the right hand corner may be bright orange and flash because that’s where you want people to look and click, but it might be an icon centre left that is catching attention and distracting customers. If the job in hand is to buy something, that’s potentially a big issue.

“Eye tracking can be helpful when your website really needs to deliver ROI or if you need to test various design layouts. It’s also great for establishing the best placement of online banner ads.

“Numerous outputs and statistics can be generated from this type of research. Visual data includes heat maps, gaze plots and cluster analysis - a great way to display quite complex analysis and also really bring presentations 'to life'. Ultimately, for a small spend at the outset, businesses can save a lot of money in the long run.”

Certainly an interesting concept that can potentially radically change your content layout for the better.

Of course, like other organisations Other lines of enquiry North also offers a direct response service from website users. This involves web visitors being given a job sheet (much like a discussion guide) that asks them to complete various tasks, from finding an item and looking for something complementary to logging in and buying something. As they progress through the workbook, respondents talk through what they are doing as well as any issues via a microphone and their screens are recorded, which helps highlight the things they don’t understand. The process identifies what they like and don’t like – critical when easy navigation is the key to achieving both happy customers and quick sales.

As Fiona says: “Businesses want to understand what people think of their website, why no one has clicked on their promotions or how they can make their products easier to find. This methodology allows companies and brands to improve the online customer journey and delivers some very powerful data, particularly when used with the Eye Tracking service.

“Although we can provide help at any point, businesses most benefit when the research is carried out up front. In this way they get their website right first time, which avoids them having to spend more time and money having to amend things while sales are being lost.”

Research and evaluation are often elements of the marketing process that organisations find it hard to budget for. In fact, both are key to getting the greatest ROI from your spend because they inform activity and ensure it is resonating with your target audiences. Whether you’re a web design agency, in film production or advertising, or an organisation that wants to ensure its online presence is working as hard as it could, what Other lines of enquiry North has to offer is well worth a look.

Use customer insight to build your business faster

Image from Whether you have a product or service to sell, it is crucial that you are clear about your potential customer base.  While what you are offering may have wide appeal, you don’t want to spread yourself too thinly with your PR and marketing so narrow down your audiences by identifying who is most likely to buy from you and target those groups.

By doing your research at the outset you could save yourself a lot of time and money and will build up a stronger customer base that proves to be more valuable in the long run. The question is: when thinking quality not quantity, what sort of things should you be taking into consideration?

There are all sorts of ways of generating customer insight, from market data and demographic studies to industry reports and trends.  The best bet is to start with the internet and check out relevant industry bodies, which host a wealth of useful information that can inform activity. Always speak directly to those you think would be interested in what you have to offer, either on a one-to-one basis or via focus groups - people are often very willing to share their views and you’ll soon know whether your product or service is of interest or whether you need to go back to the drawing board.

Essentially, any product or service is there to solve a problem so ask some key questions.  What challenges are your potential customers facing?  What are their priorities?  How can you help?  By knowing the answers to these, you can build up a set of reasons as to why potential customers should be talking to you and not your competitors. Compelling messaging and differentiation is vital to a successful marketing strategy.

Think about particular times of the year when your product or service might be more in demand.  For example, seasonality could be significant for consumer products, while professional services such as accountancy will probably see a surge around tax deadlines or financial year ends. All of this should be reflected in your marketing activity, directing exactly what you say to whom, why, when and how.

Once you have identified your customers, target them in the most effective way possible.  A scattergun approach will rarely yield great results so instead examine the range of tactics available and decide on a handful which will offer the best return and make the most of your budget and resource.

Some things you might want to think about include advertising (although this can be costly), networking, conferences and exhibitions, PR, direct mail, cold calling, sponsorship and social media.  All have different merits and a combination of these will probably be most effective but you must ensure that you allocate an appropriate budget and dedicate the time needed to get the most from your efforts.

Look at other creative means to reach new customers.  Is somebody offering a complimentary product or service that you could team up with to cross-sell?  Perhaps consider an incentive to attract new customers, such as a discount off a first purchase, an introductory trial of your service, product sampling or other competitions and promotions to get people to try your product.  Think about a referral scheme to encourage existing customers to recommend you to others.

Whatever tactics you opt for, make sure that you have some means by which to measure their effectiveness.  A balance is needed between giving things time to work and knowing when to switch direction and try something new.  Get feedback from new enquirers about how they heard about you and use this information to channel your efforts into the activities which are bearing the most fruit and drop the least effective ones.

Always remember, it is much harder to gain new customers than it is to get repeat business from existing ones so whilst it is essential that you continually attract fresh clientele, look after your current customers. They deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty and the extra effort will have been well worth your while when you look back at the end of the financial year.

Could a 'pop-up' top up sales?

With Christmas fast approaching and slow high street sales, retailers may well be wondering how to generate some buzz and shift more stock without incurring high advertising costs. They should look no further, for a pop-up store could be the perfect way to boost the bottom line.

A trend that first appeared in the US back at the turn of the millennium, the number of pop-ups shops has increased over the last decade having finally been recognized by many across the UK as a quick way to create additional demand and even generate column inches. Escalating the popularity of the pop-up has been the recession – with the increase in empty retail space, landlords have been more inclined to make space available for short periods on agreeable terms making it a cost effective option.

When you look at it closely, moving a company out into the community in this way is common sense. Although the fact that brands traditionally use PR and marketing to drive footfall at stores and online will never change, those now enjoying the greatest success are also taking their businesses to where their customers are, making access to products easier, simplifying the purchase process and introducing new people to what’s on offer.

Pop-ups also offer other benefits, for example businesses looking for a new home can significantly reduce the risk of failure by testing a new location in advance.

Lisa Mitchell, owner of Escape Boutique in Whitley Bay successfully launched a pop-up sale shop. She said:  “We have a store featuring two distinct fashion lines that include clothing, footwear and accessories for stylish working Mums and the trend-conscious over 50s.

“We secured a second building this summer with a view to opening a menswear store in Spring 2013.  With a full season to wait it seemed an ideal opportunity to open a pop-up shop. Primary reasons were to clear end of lines from previous seasons, promote the Escape Boutique brand to a new customer base and raise awareness of new menswear store, building the momentum for its opening in the New Year. It’s been a brilliant move for us and we’ve not looked back since.”

With good planning and a relatively small amount of budget, pop-ups are ideal for introducing customers to the ‘brand experience’. Samples and give-aways can be handed out, products can be tested, tickets for events can be sold and music and the shop environment can all be used to create positive associations. What’s more, pop-ups don’t have to be housed in a bricks and mortar environment but can be mobile. Buses and vans have many times over been used as moving showrooms, making it easier to target areas with lots of consumer footfall and keep the tills ringing consistently throughout the year.

With clever thinking, pop-ups can generate significant media interest too. As far back as 2003, Ebay saw the potential for exposure and successfully used the concept to reposition itself away from its ‘flea market’ image. Using only items purchased through the online auction and shopping site, it challenged six interior designers to furnish a New York penthouse. All the items could be bought from the website for a week following the competition after which the penthouse closed, having fulfilled its objectives and opened the brand up to a whole new customer demographic.

Despite all the positives, pop-up shops should nevertheless be treated with some caution. As with any PR and marketing activity, they need plenty of consideration and should only be implemented as part of a wider strategy.  The concept also needs to be financially viable. Although offering plenty of opportunity, there are costs attached with taking and dressing units as well as publicizing them and there is always the possibility goods won’t sell.

Always weigh up the options, however with careful planning and clever choices where locations and products are concerned, there is no reason why the right pop-up shop couldn’t end up being a real Christmas cracker for the retail trade.