About Tom Crawford:
Tom is a 20-year marketing and sales operations professional (see his LinkedIn profile here). He thrives on helping small companies scale and large companies become more effective by implementing customer-centric processes. Six of his years were spent with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) building processes that allowed the corporate events marketing team to scale. Prior to AMD, Tom held leadership positions in sales operations and customer service, which provided him the foundation to tackle event operations. Tom holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational business management from Pepperdine University. Living in Austin, Texas, Tom loves to cycle, camp, explore new restaurants, and spend time with his family.
In part 2 of The Evolution of a Corporate Events Team, Tom Crawford goes into detail on exactly how he was able to change the processes in place to create more efficient and successful events. Take a look and you are sure to learn a lot of tips that you can take back to your company.
Selling the Model
There were significant challenges in selling the model to stakeholders. Many were satisfied with the current model and had no motive to change. The front-line stakeholders, those who directly engage the event team for help, were happy with the current service because the event managers did not question their objective; they were just told to order the napkins. Additionally, stakeholders just love to be involved in the creative side and did not see why an event team should be engaged in that part of the event planning.
Many of the front-line stakeholders were administrative assistants that felt they were experts on creative event strategies because they planned a few dinner parties or small conferences. Other front-line stakeholders were product marketing professionals that felt they understood “event marketing,” and honestly felt that event planning was part of their job. Still others welcomed the new team, as it was one less activity they had on their plate. The new team allowed them focus on their product marketing priorities.
The challenge was to sell the skeptics.
This had to be done by gaining their trust and convincing them that the event team members are experts in event marketing capable of enhancing the level of events and, at the same time, manage the costs effectively.
Much of the groundwork was done by first gaining the support of the stakeholder executives. Meeting face-to-face and listening to the executives’ needs and expectations from an event team was critical. Preparing and sharing a proposed model with a rational business case and letting the executives provide input to the model was a key element of the process. Once the executives supported the model, the challenge turned to the front-line stakeholders. This was a slower sales process and, over time, the team was able to gain trust by providing added-value with strategic and creative consultation, as well as managing tactical tasks, deadlines, and expense control.
Event Assessment Cycle
At the same time the model was being developed and presented to the stakeholders, effort was directed at identifying the events in which the company was participating and the level of participation. All events were assessed based on current and planned marketing campaigns, targeted launches, product marketing objectives and corporate objectives. The result was a tiered list of events recommended for participation including level of participation and recommended budget for that level of participation. Quarterly, the event plan is reviewed and modified based on corporate dynamics. Collaboration with sales, marketing, PR, executives, and other stakeholders is imperative to the success of the event plan.
One of the keys to event success is having the proper skill sets. The ability to provide strategic event guidance to the stakeholders is, and will always be, critical. The existing staff was good at tactical activities, but lacked the strategic mind-set stakeholders required. A change to employ that mind-set was needed. The team evolved to a set of program managers that are able to provide strategic and technical consultation. It is imperative that the program managers truly understand how to apply marketing concepts to events. These program managers work closely with the stakeholders to help them develop the strategy, metrics and the creative approach for each event based on the goals and objectives of an event.
To ensure quality and repeatable experiences for stakeholders, participants and attendees, processes are critical. From analysis of potential events to executing the plan; from budget allocation to paying a supplier; from the request for event services to the post-event review, processes were developed, written and implemented to aid in evolving this corporate events team.
Discovery meetings, planning meetings, and post-event reviews all have defined agendas to better facilitate information exchange and promote efficiency. A budget model allows event managers to track proposed and actual expenditures to available budget. An activity and task tool helps event managers track deadlines. An event database centralizes data for the team. Data is available for past events and provides event managers with a knowledge base for repeat or similar events.
Coming from a culture that judged success from how participants and attendees “felt” about the event and how many people attended, metrics can be a scary thought.
“You mean, I now have to measure success?!”
The challenge is getting the stakeholders to stop and think about what they really want to accomplish at the event. To start, they have to be able to articulate the goals and objectives. Statements begin as simple as “get sales leads” and get as ambiguous as “promote brand awareness.” Not good enough. Stakeholders have to be able to put numbers to their statements and create a true metric. The key is to define it, measure it, and report on it. That is why the first discovery questions are, “What do you want to accomplish?” and, “What are your goals and objectives for this event?
Today, metrics can be developed for return on investment (ROI) and return on objective (ROO). They include measurements of budget to expense, thought leadership, promotional value, cost avoidance, cost savings, and lead generation. Reporting is formalized in a detailed report with an executive summary and dashboard for stakeholder executives. This information allows stakeholders to make solid business judgments about participation the following year. And, don’t forget that not only does the event get measured, but a post-event survey is sent to the event stakeholders to measure the quality and success of the event team.
Event Supplier Domain
Anyone can find a cheaper t-shirt, coffee cup, or golf ball… anyone can find a cheaper service, but does that single purchase for that single event contribute to the overall cost savings of the company? Considering missed volume discounts, missed rebates, costs to manage brand compliance, and costs of supplier training by using multiple suppliers for the same services… no. After a process of bidding, evaluation, and negotiation, in which the stakeholders participated, a domain of suppliers was developed. These preferred suppliers became the backbone of the event execution process. Where a service is required that can not be fulfilled by suppliers in the event domain or other established domains, a business case is presented for review.
So now that the people, processes and metrics are in place, what gets reported? The team created a number of tools and dashboards to report progress and enable them to have data at hand for review meetings. Examples of reports are: event calendar, budget to actual performance, overall cost avoidance and savings, numbers of events, personnel workload, and stakeholder satisfaction report card. To further the cause, an internal website was created to provide information about the team, its skill sets and services. The site allows stakeholders to enter requests for event support. Further self promotion is done using monthly newsletters with editorials on future and past events and includes helpful event planning information. The newsletter also provides an opportunity for stakeholders to share their own perspectives about the events.
It Takes Patience and Persistence
Now, all this did not happen overnight, and it continues to evolve. Yes, I did wake up one morning and reflect on the evolution and accomplishments. But this change occurred over a four-year period of planting seeds, executive selling, gaining trust, modifying the model, and conveying the mission. But the vision remained the same, and success was truly realized.
So, what was gained by this methodical evolution?
The evolution did not begin with a charter to reduce costs, but rather to get control of the processes and improve inefficiencies. In fact, resources were needed to provide added-value and a quality experience to our stakeholders. Through existing budgets, program managers were able to be funded. These folks were critical in helping build the relationships with the stakeholders. Employing skilled program managers on the front-end of events increased productivity through earlier planning, less fire-drills, less do-overs, and more effective communication. Their skills fostered positive relationships with stakeholders and allowed them to better connect the audience with the event and company campaigns. Skilled event managers, employed through an agency specializing in event management support, further added efficiencies by bringing industry best practices to work.
By consolidating event spending from throughout the company, reduced spending was realized. These preferred suppliers provided discounts and rebates based on volume. Intangibles, such as relationships that suppliers have with venue partners truly benefited the organization. In a short time, this model and related processes provided greater visibility of events being executed throughout the company and the amount being spent on events. The assessment and measurement process identified events that could be better executed and ones that should be reduced in scope or eliminated from the portfolio.
Call to Action
If you are looking to go down this path or a similar path with your company, here are a few insights that are sure to help:
- Know your stakeholders… both the executive level and the front-line managers who have been used to working on the events. Understand their needs and expectations. They are in a great position to help sell your vision to executives… or to kill it.
- Design collaborative processes. Involve your finance, legal, and procurement departments. Don’t forget about the branding, folks; show them you support their processes. In return, you might get more freedom in executing contracts, processes, and transactions.
- Select good people. Are you looking for strategic minds or tactical hands? Don’t try filling a strategic role with tactical hands. Bring on people that have the expertise required to make the team successful.
- Select good suppliers… ones you can trust and have a proven track record in their expertise. Find suppliers that act more like partners than vendors. Don’t forget to discuss intangibles. And, don’t forget to look inside your own organization for specific expertise you can leverage.
- A vision is no good unless it is shared. Share the vision up and down the ladder. The vision you share will be the one developed from your collaboration process with your stakeholders. You may have come into the organization with a high-level vision, but now your vision is clearer after collaboration. Now that you have dialed in on the vision, share it with the executives in your organization. Share it with your peers, your suppliers, your stakeholders, your customers and your team. Be your own evangelist and share it any time the opportunity presents itself.
I’d like to hear about your event model. If you would like to share your model or strategy to approaching events, please feel free leave a comment below!