9 Steps to Strategic Events
Approaching your event programs strategically allows you to be more proactive, navigate organizational challenges and drive greater value to the business. It helps you deliver more impactful experiences and achieve greater efficiencies within your organization.
Being strategic doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s about taking some time to step back, do your research, get everyone on the same page so you can make smarter decisions together. Here are nine steps to help position you as a leader in strategic events.
1. Understand the organization. The first step is toward strategic events is to identify all of the organizational constituents who have a stake in your event marketing activities. People like:
- Sales and marketing leaders
- Brand managers
- Product leads
Identify their unique needs and priorities and document them for reference. What are their biggest concerns? What areas of the program warrant their input and support? Moving forward, you’ll know who to seek input from and keep informed throughout the event planning process.
2. Learn the business. Now you need to learn (or freshen up on) elements of the brand and business that impact event marketing. Audit internal business and marketing plans to make sure all of your decisions are grounded in the objectives and priorities of the business. Answer questions like:
- What are our primary business objectives?
- Which audiences or markets are we targeting?
- What are our overarching marketing priorities?
- What marketing campaigns or sales initiatives do we need to align with?
This research will also give you a foundational understanding upon which to consult with your stakeholders for developing strategic events. Interview relevant individuals identified in Step 1 to collect a diversity of perspectives that will inform your event strategies. You’ll gain deeper insights into the business and, at the same time, assure stakeholders that their voices have been heard (which can mitigate political pushback when you share strategic direction).
3. Focus on the audience. Next, get to know your target audiences on a deeper level, as events should always be designed with the audience in mind. Immerse yourself in the needs and behaviors of your targets with information available internally though audience profiles, marketing analyses, past experience, etc. Fill in information gaps where needed with:
- Customer interviews
- Target audience surveys
- Industry publications/research
- Insights from industry experts
Then, segment target audiences and document their event attendance journeys so that you can better understand their expectations.
4. Position yourself as a consultant to the business. This step is focused on changing the perceptions of your role— moving from an event implementer to being seen as a strategic leader. Start by clearly defining and communicating your role to key stakeholders, explaining what you are (strategic and proactive) and what you are not (tactical and reactive). Establish credibility by demonstrating an understanding of the business, experience in the industry and expertise in the world of event marketing. Describe your responsibilities as they relate to strategic event planning and the organization at large.
5. Make data-informed decisions. Drive event channel performance by integrating data in your event strategies. Useful data can come from from online research, customer surveys, competitive analyses, industry benchmarks, past event performance, etc. By relying on data, you take guesswork and subjectivity out of the equation and enable smarter decision-making. You can integrate data in a number of different ways, such as:
- Event participation: Instead of participating in an event because the sales team thinks you should, use an evidence-based approach to guide your participation decisions. Score each event against a common set of selection criteria and collaborate with your stakeholders to rank events accordingly.
- Content approach: Use event attendee demographics to inform your content and messaging decisions. Consider other inputs too, like industry trends, audience interests, competitors’ messaging and brand credibility (i.e. the topics your business can credibly speak about).
- Staff selection: Outline the key qualities you want to see in your event staff and use as grading criteria in your staff selection process. Assign a score to each criterion (try: 1-5) and calculate scores for each staff member to rank and identify top candidates.
6. Provide standardized tools. Standardized tools and templates not only streamline processes for efficiency, they help you deliver more consistent brand experiences. Tools like strategic planning documents (e.g., event briefs) and measurement instruments (e.g., attendee surveys, lead evaluation questions) bring consistency to planning and evaluation efforts, and will help the rest of your team think strategically as well.
7. Share best practices. One of the simplest but often overlooked strategies for improving your events and processes internally is best practice sharing— communicating tips and lessons learned by other people in and outside the business. Sharing things like planning checklists and promotional email templates with other members of your team are simple ways to boost effectiveness and efficiency. Set up an internal process for information sharing and act as a repository for the organization. Then, collect and share best practices with other event marketers in the company. Guess what? This will also reinforce the perception of you as an expert and thought leader when it comes to event strategy.
8. Measure your events. Effective event measurement can help you protect and grow event budgets, and inform continuous improvement. Develop a standard approach that can be applied across your event program, allowing you to consistently track performance, develop benchmarks and compare event-by-event results. Include objectives and metrics tied to business value - that can demonstrate the many ways your events impact the business. And, survey your event staff and attendees to gauge the event’s impact and performance.
9. Communicate and evolve regularly. Once your strategies are set, get everyone on the same page by publishing guidance and socializing it to appropriate stakeholders. Make sure your team keeps this guidance top of mind and uses it as a reference point for all event decisions. When major strategic concerns arise, you can point back to your documentation and remind stakeholders of the strategies they agreed to. At least once a year, you should also revisit your strategic process and adjust your guidance as needed. Since event strategies are grounded in the business, brand and audience, they will necessarily evolve based on the changing nature of these areas. Talk to stakeholders again; review company objectives; see what’s changed with your audience. Look at the performance data you’ve gathered throughout the year and research current industry trends to ensure that your strategies are still relevant and effective.
While we’ve summarized how to approach events more strategically with these 9 steps, it’s also useful to realize that any one of the steps will be helpful. This isn’t an all-or-nothing approach and doesn’t even need to be linear. Start where you can and then expand wherever possible. Good luck!
Posted by Lyndsay Merbach | Request as a Speaker
Strategist and explorer. Lover of sudoku. Energized by coffee, learning and smart people. Typically found outdoors.