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By Kiran Patel

Editor's note: Kiran Patel will speak further on this topic at the Beijing event “Generating Return on Investment Through Effective Event Marketing” on April 25, 2016.

Events can be costly in terms of time and financial resources. However operating an effective event strategy can also be highly beneficial for your business if executed well. For an event to be successful, it requires significant effort to not only organize but to ensure adequate generation of return on investment (ROI). ROI generation and measurability is particularly relevant given the squeeze on marketing budgets caused by both the evolution of marketing practices and a more challenging and competitive business environment globally. But if well planned and executed, your event can generate the return desired.

Case study: sponsoring a charity ball

By using the British Charity Ball and LehmanBrown’s involvement as an example case study, I will illustrate how to capitalize on running effective events as part of a community-driven marketing strategy. The British Charity Ball is a large community event in Beijing with over 750 guests, run largely by a combination of LehmanBrown staff and volunteers who donate their personal time and whatever resources are available toward making the event a success. Last year the British Charity Ball raised over RMB 400,000 for our two selected local children’s charities. Additionally, it also provided great marketing opportunities for the event’s partners and sponsors. LehmanBrown is a leading sponsor of the event and has engaged substantial partners such as British Airways, Standard Chartered Bank, Tesco, BMW, Mini, DHL and Airbus among numerous others in recent years to support the activity.

Being a part of this event has multiple benefits. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and charity forms a major pillar of LehmanBrown’s marketing strategy, because it benefits the community, creates conversation and awareness of the challenges that a charitable cause is operating within and raises brand awareness of LehmanBrown. Being able to attach a company’s name to an event that is full of positive social outcomes develops significant goodwill towards the brand. Additionally, the event attracts high-profile figures from the business and diplomatic communities in Beijing, enhancing opportunities for all event stakeholders to capitalize.

Pre-event preparations

One thing to keep in mind when scoping out an event is to actually plan for ROI and to structure the event accordingly so as to allow for maximum benefits. Whether this is information on attendees, an opportunity for networking or even just building on brand awareness, events can easily burn resources if not properly managed and if goals aren't clearly defined.

The key to a successful event is to start planning as early as possible, allowing at least 16 weeks preparation time. For the British Charity Ball, it takes the team at least eight months to plan and deliver the event. The next most important consideration is budgeting and this needs to needs to lay out clearly where revenue will come from and the expenditure. A buffer zone of 10 percent is recommended to cover any unforeseen expenses and safeguard against risk of losses.

Suppliers and partners are a critical aspect of an event, especially in the case of the British Ball being a nonprofit event geared towards fundraising. Choosing the right partners is important to achieve shared objectives and as the organizer, you should be prepared and willing to compromise and work with them. Remember that they want to achieve ROI as well!

Deciding to stay in-house or outsource

This is a key question that the event planner needs to decide upon. Being able to carry out certain aspects of event planning and delivery in-house helps to minimize costs, but often companies, particularly smaller businesses, do not have the resources or expertise in-house to carry out professional design, production of collateral or large-scale event management. When deciding on an outsource partner or event production house, it would be prudent to first assess their capabilities, connections and access to resources that will add value to the event.

Marketing can make or break an event. Identify your target audience and then figure out how you will get the word out. You may even want to contact the VIP targeted attendees directly. Using tools such as social media, blogs and media partners are ideal mechanisms to cascade your promotional content. Creating an atmosphere of hype around the event can work wonders but remember to also keep the event branding consistent throughout the process.

Depending on the size of the event it may be a good idea to create dedicated phone lines, email accounts and websites. Something that can help establish an online presence is obviously critical in the modern world. As for takeaways, at LehmanBrown we have a soft toy that is branded with our company logo and built into all relevant events that we organize.

At the event, stay engaged

On the evening, seamless execution is paramount. You should ensure that all staff and volunteers are clear on their tasks and well briefed with a structured rundown and timeline to adhere to. Also, it is of fundamental importance to build up a rapport with the venue staff, as it will improve communication and allow for a collaborative atmosphere when encountering any problems. Be prepared for the unexpected as while your guests might think everything is going well (hopefully!), from your perspective as the event organizer, you must be ready to improvise if necessary.

As the event progresses, you want to start capturing leads for your business. Prizes, incentives, casual and more prearranged meetings are all good ways to make connections. Make sure you try to communicate with as many guests as possible to subtly promote your company’s brand. But most importantly, you need to actually join in the mingling, actually get in there and do meet and greet activities; the guests are in large part coming on the basis of your company’s invitation.

Post-event follow-ups

Gaining business cards, email addresses and basic information is all well and good, but once the event is finished, you need to initiate follow-ups. Organize meetings with your prospects, take them to lunch or grab a coffee together. These are all basic but effective ways to develop your potential leads into customers. A follow-up marketing release is great, advertising how successful the event was and how much money or goodwill the event achieved for charity. Also don’t forget to thank your supporters. Make sure that they benefit so that next time, you can get them on board easier. You can also conduct data analysis on information captured. Examine who attended the event; you could do a demographic study on who came as well as updating your database. All this is information that can be used at a later, but not if it isn’t captured. Capitalize on your investment, generate some ROI through new customers, new networks and enhanced brand awareness. It's important to do a comprehensive follow-up because if you have this information, you’re in a position to be able to go back to your management and show what the event activity has contributed to the business.

Finally, the last step in event marketing is to debrief thoroughly and you should conduct a post-event wrap-up with the planners and all stakeholders involved. This is vital in ensuring that you identify the key areas of improvement, seek open feedback from your partners on the activity and use this information to improve and secure the long-term future of your event activity.

Good luck with organizing your events!

Some final tips

1. Hire a good photographer/videographer – You want to be able to capture the event and be able to resell it in the future. The goodwill gained is an asset.

2. Permits/visas – Make sure that all logistic loose ends have been completed. There is nothing worse than planning an event and then finding out just prior before that the band you’ve hired can’t get into the country, your insurance policy for performers not comprehensive, the catering hasn’t been secured or you don't have the relevant clearance from the authorities and inspectors.

3. Do a Pre- & Post-Event Stock Take – Make sure that all items have been accounted for.