Event Marketing – How to Plan an Event

This post, Event Marketing – How to Plan an Event, reveals a managed, repeatable process for selecting, designing, developing and executing successful marketing events.

A recent study by Forrester Research reveals that B2B marketing budgets will rise 6% in 2014 and represent 4% of company revenue. Prior to 2008, Forrester notes that marketing budgets ranged between 5-10% of company revenues.  The largest line item in marketing budgets, other than headcount, is for events such as trade shows, conferences, industry events and seminars.  The Forrester study also revealed that in 2014 30% of B2B marketers would choose to decrease event spending while 21% would increase spending.

The question is “Why?”

Events are no different than most things in life, especially databases—you get out of them what you put into them.  All too often companies do not have a proper annual planning process and everything is a fire-drill – a surefire recipe for failure.  Maybe this scenario sounds familiar:

  • A marketing plan and budget are submitted
  • A dollar amount and headcount are passed back that may or may not have taken the plan into account
  • The people to programs ratio is out of whack — either there is not enough money for programs or there are too many dollars for the few marketing program managers to manage
  • Someone in the organization fires an email with a link to a show that “we have to be at”
  • The show is in less than a month and was not on anyone’s radar
  • A scramble ensues to get a PO, secure floor space and “own the show”
  • Some poor Marketing Programs Manager is offered up for the slaughter
  • The space is small and in a remote location
  • Promotion is too late and few meetings are secured
  • Booth traffic is light
  • The signage and demo are generic
  • The show is a disaster and everyone blames Marketing

Unfortunately, the above situation happens anywhere from frequently to occasionally – yet it should never happen.  Yes, that’s s easy to say but  luckily now it’s easy to accomplish.  The first thing to do is raise awareness of the dollar spend to the executive level (hopefully Sales & Marketing can agree this is important enough to carve out time to address this once a year and provide updates quarterly).  Second, the stakeholders need to be identified and engaged both individually and as a group to contribute to events.  Third, a process must be in place to evaluate all of the ideas for events so that it does not become a popularity contest.  Fourth, the appropriate resources need to be applied to ensure the event’s success.

It’s Step 3 where most organizations fall down and events tend to gravitate toward the practice of “show-up and throw-up.”  To that end, it’s necessary to build an event marketing selection criteria model.  Here’s one approach to building such an event marketing model.

Event Marketing – How to Plan an Event: Understand the Objective

The first question that needs to be answered is why should the organization attend this event.  Event marketing expensive in terms of the dollar outlay because they also include:

  • The cost of travel and entertainment
  • The cost of the headcount to plan and execute the events (remember, Sales Reps cost the company about $1800 per day fully loaded)

Event Marketing - How to Plan an EventHere are some reasons organizations may want to attend an event:

Brand – it may be a good forum to launch a product, for an analyst, press or influencer briefing.

Customer Acquisition – events can be good forums for increasing awareness.  Other times, if the event is very targeted and the vast majority of attendees are in the organization’s sweet spot, then it may be a great opportunity to build a targeted database of companies and titles / roles that are of interest.  Other times the focus may be on demand generation. If so, the event’s success will be dependent upon the ability to set up meetings with qualified prospects before the event.  In addition,  an event may be a good opportunity to connect with a companies currently in the sales pipeline in order to push the deal along or close it.

Market Intelligence – most events are a rich minefield for industry and competitor knowledge.  Keynote speakers and overeager product managers often communicate  comments and/or graphics that provide insight which  may not have otherwise been learned.  In addition, walking the show floor and either asking pointed questions (agreed, there may be badge issues),  standing behind someone who is asking good questions or watching a demo can be a great way to build knowledge.

Takeaway – ideally, the objective for going to a show falls into one or several of these categories.  It is important to identify a weight for each criterion and then establish a level of importance for each criterion so that the list of events can be prioritized.

Event Marketing – How to Plan an Event: Know the Relevance

Next, it’s important to drill down on the objective to ensure that the event in question is relevant.  Specifically, here are some areas and questions from which to drill down:


  • Will there be a critical mass of analysts, influencers and press at the event that the organization has a relationship with or would like to have a relationship with?
  • Will it be possible to secure meeting times before the event?
  • Is there meaningful and relevant information to share?
  • Does the organization have a strategic communications plan to move analysts, influencers and press to at least a neutral and ideally positive opinion of the company so that they recommend your product?

Marketing Event Planning - RelevanceCustomer Acquisition

  • Based on the show demographics, will there be a critical mass of suspects, prospects and or customers?
  • How many companies attending are in the sales pipeline?  In lead status?  Are targeted but not in the prior two groups?
  • What type of sponsorship level is available and how can it best be exploited?
  • What type of speaking slots are available, is someone on staff an ideal fit for the slot and is that person available?
  • How far in advance will one be able to obtain the list of companies and/or attendees?
  • What else is going on at this time period (end of quarter, an event the same week or week before or after)?

Customer Retention

  • Is there a critical mass of existing customers that are attending this event?
  • What is the relative importance of those companies attending (high-level executive(s), support issue, impending renewal)?
  • How long has it been since there was executive contact with this customer?
  • Is it possible to have a private meeting or dinner with selected customers?

Risk Threat

  • Will there be a strong competitive presence at the event?
  • Is a competitor making a major announcement?  Oracle used to sometimes attend events simply to create some noise – i.e. distraction — when a competitor had a major announcement.
  • Is there any uncertainty in the market about the organization’s commitment to the market?

Event Marketing – How to Plan an Event: Your Ability to Execute

Is the organization ready, willing and able to make the commitment necessary to have a successful event?  Specifically, will the key tasks be addressed?

Event Marketing – Pre-Event

  • The target audience needs to be identified in terms of companies and contact information from the internal and external sources that will drive promotion
  • Resources have to be available, competent, resourced and trained to schedule meetings at the event
  • Bandwidth needs to be available to support show logistics (PO through tear-down)
  • Planning meetings need to happen with all stakeholders at least once a month, quarter or year before an event, depending upon its size
  • Training on the message, assets and demo needs to occur before travel to the event
  • The promotional period needs to be sufficient to schedule meeting (weeks for managers, a month for a director and a quarter for an executive)

Marketing Event Planning - Ability to ExecuteEvent Marketing – In Motion

  • Competent, trained and sufficient staff are needed to effectively and efficiently handle event interactions
  • Clear, clean, consistent communication of key messages is key
  • Synchronized, holistic and on-message communications should be delivered through social media
  • Flawless execution must be the rule at the booth, in panels, speaking slots, etc.

Event Marketing – Post Event

  • All leads are loaded into the sales force automation and marketing automation systems
  • All leads are scored for prioritization
  • Leads are routed to appropriate channels in a timely manner
  • The lead follow-up process established before the start of the event is executed
  • Nurture paths are executed
  • All assets specific to the show are re-purposed via  the website, through emails and/or syndication
  • Starburst the companies that leads were generated from to reach out to targeted titles that were not at the event or that you did not interact with
  • Social media programs
  • Track and measure performance of the event
  • Make appropriate commitments for the next occurrence of this event

Planning an event is at least as complicated as planning a large wedding—while nothing is rocket science, the number of tasks, the level of detail and the compressed timeline is a breeding ground for mishaps.  At the end of the day, B2B sales reps will agree that well run events include meetings with the right people in the right companies in order to increase the velocity of the sales pipeline.  For marketers, it is imperative to establish a managed, repeatable process for events and then to optimize that process.

Company mandates for Marketing include accountability and intelligent spending as those are directly correlated to strategy, structure, staff, systems and processes.  Take a step in the right direction to set the organization’s marketing function and individual marketers up for success by instituting a process for selecting events and flawlessly executing events.

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