Marketing your events and marketing your event business are two completely different challenges. And they require different skill sets. Check out this article by special events guru, Howard Givner that perfectly breaks these differences down.
For this exercise, focus on marketing your business. How do you do it? It can be tough to know where to start. It’s hard to convince new clients to pick up the phone and book you for a gig. I’ve spent a lot of long hours pondering this challenge. I even went to back to school to figure it out! And though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, over the years I’ve learned some valuable lessons. And along with my partners, I managed to start and grow our event production company to a little over $2 million in annual revenue in 5 years. Here’s how we did it.
1. Differentiate early
We started our company in 2007 in New York City. Simultaneously the most exciting and daunting of places to be a new business owner. There were literally hundreds of other event planning and production companies doing essentially the same thing as us. Same essential tasks, same overhire labor, same equipment. What set our company apart?
For us, it came down to people. We quite simply, had the best damn pool of managers and crew from which to draw. The teams we hired were efficient, professional, and incredibly talented. Our clients knew that no matter the challenge, our people would be well prepared to handle it.
It’s necessary to find this point of differentiation early and plant your flag in it. Okay, you might say, a lot of companies hire talented people. How can that be the sole thing that makes you stand out?
One word: deployment.
We created a freelance/employee model that extended our sphere of influence. We chose to keep a small internal team and hire freelancers for the majority of the work. This meant that everyone who worked for us would potentially be working dozens of other events during the year.
But we still treated them like employees; training, development, W-2s, etc. Even if someone worked with us for a day. We showed respect and trust in his or her abilities. Suddenly, we’ve got a few hundred busy, talented event workers bouncing around the city, talking about us, our culture, and our work. Our people became our biggest marketing weapon.
2. Get over yourself
Something that event managers forget all the time? Hiring is a big deal for a client. It’s not a pair of shoes. He or she is putting a HUGE amount of trust in you. Depending on the importance of the event, the client may be putting his or her job in your hands.
When I first started Tinc, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why clients weren’t hiring us. I’d been freelancing myself for several years in the city and I knew for a fact they were frustrated with their current production management partners. I later found out a simple truth. No matter the frustration, the end result (a successful event that met established benchmarks) was enough to keep them entwined.
It wasn’t about not liking me. It was about the inertia that develops after finding a partner that works well enough. Even if it’s a struggle. It becomes more difficult to upset the status quo the longer it stays in place. The devil you know, as the saying goes.
3. Figure out what you can’t do
This is a good practice for anything. Services you don’t provide, internal processes you outsource, etc. In terms of our marketing, we chose to ignore traditional advertising. We didn’t have the money anyway. We also didn’t get too invested in SEO (search engine optimization) and a website. It wasn’t an avenue we were super comfortable with and we had so much else on our plate that we didn’t have the time to devote to learning. Of course, nowadays there are SO MANY more tools and companies that make these processes easier and cheaper to tackle. And if we starting our company today, SEO and localization would be near the top of our list.
4. Build relationships
We needed clients and we weren’t getting them online or a marquee. We needed to focus on getting one client and building a relationship with him or her. From there, we’d be able to scale. We tried to think about the hiring process from the perspective of the client.
We kept coming back to the idea that we (an event production/planning firm) are NOT an impulse buy. Even for a small budget event. The client is researching options, maybe taking meetings or requesting a handful of event proposals. The only way we were going to qualify for the job was by building a relationship with each client. We wanted to be the first company a client thought of when an event came around.
And as mentioned above, this is local business we were doing. We had to be easy to get a hold of and easy to engage.
5. Find your one thing
At Tinc, we experimented with a variety of ways to build this trust and familiarity with potential clients. It came down to two core goals.
- Provide something of value
- Don’t ever stop
We began by building a monthly company newsletter. We used a simple mailing tool and sent it out to our network.
Here was the key. In the newsletter, we never advertised ourselves. Not once. Instead we provided commentary on the industry. What was happening, where, and what we thought about it. We wrote educational blogs, interviewed colleagues about breaking into the events world, and posted photos of our recent work. Of course, we now know this is a pretty common and popular type of marketing called inbound. But at the time, we were just trying to execute on our goals.
It was fun. Way more fun than cold calling or hard selling. We did this every month and were relentless about adding anyone we’d meet to our list. Every business card we swapped, every email address we exchanged got the newsletter.
For 2 years we got nothing out of it. But eventually things began to change. After two dozen or so mailings and with over 1000 people on our list, we began to get replies to nearly every mailing we sent. Not hundreds, but always a handful. Many were some version of this.
“Hey Ryan, Great to hear from you. Sounds like things are going well. You remind me, I have this project coming up. Not sure if you guys even do this but I thought I’d check anyway…”
One new client. Then two. Suddenly, we had more work than we could handle. We needed a better internal system to become more efficient (hence the path to creating Propared began, but that’s another story). All from this single tactic. It didn’t happen overnight. But what will? We accepted that this business is personal, built on referrals more than anything else. If we had to dig in for the long haul, we may as well have some fun doing it.
By the end of 2012, our revenue had grown to over $2 million annually, while producing around 400 events. Oh, and this was with only two full-time production managers. Over time, we’ve added to our offerings. We run summer internships for aspiring professionals, we host networking events at Fashion Week and elsewhere, and more. But it all comes back to the same ideas; provide something of value, build trust, rinse, repeat. And be prepared for it to take a while to bear fruit.
Event managers, how do you market your services? Share your methods with us in the comments below.