Five steps to creating a great client event

In PR, as in journalism, tight deadlines can sometimes help get the best out of people.

On this occasion, the challenge was to create and host an event for our global data management client Acxiom, complete with a full social media campaign and writing a white paper from scratch. The theme was Big Data. The big problem was we only had six weeks from idea to implementation.

So in a busy agency environment, how can you plan and prepare a smooth, well-attended event in such a short space of time? The event white paper, “Big Data, Big Deal”, sets out a five-step approach to dealing with that business issue; here’s our own five-stage approach to creating a compelling event:

1)      Pick a hot date: Sticking a pin in a calendar isn’t the right way to get into people’s busy diaries. Our initial date was snaffled by a rival data company, coincidentally on exactly the same subject, which left us just a week to play with before the summer holidays and the Olympics – but it worked.

2)      Positive focus: Lots can go wrong when you’re working to such a tight timetable, and people have opposing viewpoints about venues, content, numbers and who to invite. But create and stick to a plan, and break that down into daily activity the client agrees with, and you can turn frenzy into focus.

3)      Divide and conquer: Partnership with the client and team organisation are the keys to success. Agree tasks by playing to people’s strengths. Who is better at finding and organising the venue? Who can approach potential speakers? Who will pay the invoices? Make sure work isn’t being duplicated or – worse – the teams are talking at cross purposes.

4)      Content is king: It’s crucial to make compelling content the centrepiece of your event. Is the subject original, unique even? Are the speakers tried and trusted? Have you got additional collateral such as a white paper that people can take away or the sales team can send to non-attendees?

5)      Pray: Okay, maybe that’s a bit much, but on the day of the event there’s precious little you can do to make sure people who said they’d turn up actually come along. What’s crucial is getting attendees’ thoughts via a feedback form, following up with those who didn’t make it and debriefing the team so you can include your guests’ observations to iron out the creases next time.

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After many hours of toil, finding the right venue to suit everyone – Kettner’s in London’s Soho – dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of the white paper, drafting invitations, organising welcome packs and setting up Twitter accounts, there was no more that could be done to get people to turn up.

It was showtime. It was also the hottest day of 2012, in a building dating back nearly 150 years complete with Victorian wooden panelling. Not to worry; the weather wasn’t the only hot topic of the day, as Virgin Media’s Jeremy Williams kicking off the day with fascinating insights, at one point compared dealing with Big Data to “eating an elephant with a spoon”. Acxiom’s Matt Hollingsworth continued the debate with a presentation based around the white paper and David Reed, editor of Data IQ, wrapped things up with a view on how big data can be used to make the irrational rational. There was also plenty of audience debate about why and how Big Data can be used.

Live tweeting is certainly a powerful way of creating noise before the event, including and updating people who couldn’t attend, and even swapping comments with those at the venue (tweets still ongoing @AcxiomUK #bigdataUK). All in all, the client was pleased with the turnout, the attendees gave the content the thumbs-up and we all breathed a sigh of relief that everything came together.

There were many learnings from the process of creating an event that will hopefully stand us in good stead for the next one. But if any one thing stood out, it was that short deadlines are something to be embraced if you focus on the right things.

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