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Big Versus Small Events

The most bang for your buck

Brett Wilson’s annual Garden Party. Photo by Darren Kershaw.

When it comes to successful event planning, there are several factors to consider. And while there are many event planning companies in our city, some are key players when it comes to organizing some of Calgary’s most popular and well-attended events. These events range in size from big to small, but they all have one thing in common: clients want the most bang for their buck.

“When planning an event, whether large or more intimate, the most important question is ‘what is the purpose?’” says Adrea Wirl, manager of marketing and events for TransCanada. She explains it’s important to establish what the client is trying to achieve. “Are they trying to educate, influence or entertain? What types of conversations need to happen at the event? And how should the attendees feel at the conclusion of the event?” These answers will ultimately drive the size of the event.

Jocelyn Flanagan is the founder and CEO of e=mc2, an event and conference company with three locations in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Her company’s mission statement is “…to create, connect, and inspire. To deliver purposeful, innovative experiences that matter.” In order to achieve this mission, Flanagan says it’s important to ask the right questions. “Every event has its own clear and identifiable objective. As event professionals, it is our job to dive deep into learning everything there is to know about the objective(s) and to help our clients determine the metrics they will use to measure the successful outcomes.”

Once the objective is established, says Flanagan, it’s the event planner’s responsibility to collaborate with their client to determine what the event should look like, how broad of an audience should be in attendance, and what activities will be included in the overall experience.

Meredith Trueman and Juliane Farinazzo are event directors and partners of Calgary-based Bijou Events, a boutique events house servicing clients across North America that aims to create avant-garde experiential events through a structured approach using progressive digital technology, highly-regarded project management skills and trendsetting decor. They echo Flanagan’s comments and believe that when working with their clients, whether to host a small or large event, there are several things to consider as there are pros and cons to both. Clear communication between event planner and client during the pre-planning stage is a crucial element to executing a successful event.

“It’s very important to understand our client’s goals, the product or service they are trying to showcase, and their expected ROI for each event,” says Trueman and Farinazzo. “Small events are very popular right now as they allow clients to target a specific audience, produce an exclusive and intimate setting, and create important one-on-one time with key stakeholders. That said, if a client is looking to increase brand awareness, then a public event is a great way to gather a large group and showcase a particular promotion, product or service.”

Of course, money remains a key factor when planning an event, be it large or small. One of the first questions asked, says Trueman, is: what’s the budget? She explains that understanding the dollar amount that a client is comfortable spending on an event helps to manage expectations and brainstorm interesting ways to create an exceptional concept without breaking the bank.

“With the downturn of the last few years, clients are more reluctant to spend their budget on events if they don’t see a measurable ROI. For large public events, personalized vouchers are a great way to track if customers are coming back and cashing in on the promotion. Data collection is also important in large events to ensure employees can follow up with guests and allow for a second, more personal point of contact. It’s impossible to speak to every guest at large events, so this provides an opportunity to ensure every guest receives information and is made to feel important,” explains Trueman.

What if a client is unsure of how much money to spend on an event? Trueman says Bijou Events is always prepared to provide a detailed breakdown of what different types of events may cost them. “More often than not, clients have an idea in mind of what they want and it’s up to us to provide creative and inexpensive solutions to give their event that ‘wow’ factor. A great way to increase your budget without opening your bank account is to find key sponsorship collaborations that will add value to your event and fall in line with your brand. This type of collaboration allows both you and your sponsor to benefit and share some of the costs.”

Flanagan explains that if the message of the event is to promote corporate social responsibility or launch a product to the masses – then a larger audience is the appropriate direction. “This equates to a smaller per-person costs, with equitable rewards. On the flip side, if the message of the event is to showcase high-end service to C-level executives, then a much more intimate affair is required. This obviously equates to a much larger per-person cost – but with the goal of a much larger reward.”

These days, fundraising-type events seem to be on an upward trend – the idea is to host an event that not only provides a fun, social experience, but also allows guests to open their pocketbooks and show their generosity. Darren Kershaw, owner of Special Event Rentals Calgary, Western Canada’s largest and best-equipped event rental company, says there is a huge element of giving when it comes to some of Calgary’s largest and most popular events. Examples include Brett Wilson’s annual Garden Party or Tundra Oil & Gas’ Stampede Party, both of which raise money for some very important local charities. Attendees are prepared to have fun and raise funds at the same time.

“Leaving the function feeling better about where your time and money is going is a larger focus now for events. The senses, such as the music you hear, the smell of flowers or food, the lighting and colours, coupled with the company’s branding and image are what seem to be a focus,” says Kershaw.

According to Flanagan, “Now more than ever a clever combination of thoughtful event strategies is needed. It is important that a company thinks about mixing innovative meetings, social, philanthropic and client-building events in their strategy. Budgets should be in alignment with the anticipated reward and using a reputable, certified and professional event agency can ensure measures are met and stakeholders and guests are given the experience that matters to each of them. At the end of the day, it is not about spending more money – it is about spending the right money in the right places for the right reasons.”

For Trueman and Farinazzo ensuring bang for your buck is no doubt important, however, it is equally important for all events they produce “to leave attendees feeling inspired and ready to spread their memorable experience with our client through all their social media channels.”

When it comes to discussing the biggest bang for your buck related to large or small events, Wirl says, “It depends on what the client hopes to achieve. If you don’t know that, you’ll miss the mark every time!”