Most chamber professionals, regardless of job description, find themselves doing something involving chamber events at some point. But what do you do if you are now the number one point person heading them up? Those are some big shoes to fill and there’s a lot of stress in handling tight deadlines, getting people registered, and landing sponsorships so that you can do more for each event with a limited budget.
If you’re wondering just where to start, keep reading for some of our best chamber events management ideas.
Getting a Handle on Chamber Events: Begin at the Beginning
Where to start?
There’s so much to handle when it comes to running chamber events. For organization’s sake, let’s assume you have a few weeks between the time you first take over the role of chamber events person and when you actually have to start working on your first event. If that’s not the case, get through the first one using the knowledge and tips from the previous events person and then begin implementing this course of action.
Review Past Event Analytics
It’s important to know what last year’s event expenses and return were. From there, you’ll be able to set logical and attainable goals for your next event. You’ll also be able to see areas for improvement.
- What sponsorships were offered? Are there others you can think of that might be more lucrative?
- What were the attendance numbers? Do you want to maintain them or is there room for growth?
- Is there a return on investment? Is the chamber making a profit when you factor in staff time spent?
It’s also good to understand everything that has been tried before as well as any practice that has been abandoned. If there are proper notes and analytics on each event, review them thoroughly. If not, speak to those involved. For a 360-degree view, you’ll want to speak with chamber staff, sponsors, attendees, and vendors.
Begin the Hard Conversations
Now that you’ve assessed the data and reviewed the notes, you likely have some impressions of the events. Is there anything in the list that no longer seems feasible? Maybe there’s too much of a time investment for too little return or maybe your attendee numbers are dropping every occasion it’s held. Review, make some decisions, and then speak to the people involved.
You may find that beloved chamber events no longer serve the mission of the chamber. If that’s the case, you may want to enlist the help of another group in finding that event a new home. But beware of sacred events. There are some events your chamber may put on because of community goodwill. Before canceling any event, make sure you understand the background and supporters it has. Even events can be political. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be canceled or transferred to another stakeholder, but it’s good to be aware of its stalwart promoters.
Give Some Thought as to What You’ll Measure
After you’ve decided that your events make sense for the chamber, flesh out the goals behind each and what the key performance indicators of success will be. They will not be the same for all chamber events. For instance, a networking event has very different goals than a member appreciation luncheon. Know the target attendee of each event, what they expect from it, and what the chamber expects. After charting each of these, decide how you will predict and track success.
Now that you know the indicators of success for each one of your events, take a look at the event technology you have. Are you currently handling RSVPs manually? Could you be doing it more efficiently with tech? Although there may be an upfront cost with some technology, assess the efficiency factor and what it will allow you to do in less time. For instance, if you’re currently setting up a mail merge for name tags and checking them off a list before printing them off manually, you may be able to save a lot of staff time by selecting a program that prints them for you automatically based on RSVPs.
All time saved equates to money. Staff can now concentrate on other activities because they no longer have to do something like manually print name tags thanks to technology.
Talk with your membership person as well. There may be overlapping interests. For instance, providing them with insight into which events members participate in may help that person during renewal times. The cost of event technology may very well be worth the investment if it also improves member retention.
Vendors are some of the most important people in events and having good relationships with them will ensure you’ll get the best service and deal. Some companies will donate services and food to the chamber for promotion value or as a sponsorship. If you’re going to ask a business to supply something for free, or even at cost, ensure that you are clear about what they will get out of it. You’ve analyzed the numbers. Tell them who attends your event and how the vendor will be showcased. Include specifics of how you will promote them.
Since we’re already talking about building relationships and vendor contributions, it’s fitting to talk about sponsorships as well. Anything you want to subsidize can become a sponsorship but the best sponsorship packages will be specific about returns, analytics, and sponsor expectations. Be creative when suggesting sponsorships. Make sure they’re inline with the mission of the sponsoring company. What can you bring them? What access can you provide to their ideal customer? How will you measure and show them success?
Remember sponsorships are not a direct exchange for money. For instance, if you want a company to sponsor your tablecloths and those table coverings cost $200, the sponsorship is not $200. Sure, they’re paying for the tablecloths but they’re also paying for the exposure. Add the cost of exposure in and then show them what they received for their investment.
Recruit a Standing Army of Volunteers
Unless you are a very unusual type of chamber, you’re likely hosting many events over the course of the year. Instead of recruiting before each event and scrambling to get people to help, create a standing army of event volunteers. This is easier than one might assume because it’s likely there are many people in your community who want to be involved in events but don’t have the experience to become an event planner. Go to your local college or school with a hospitality program. Ask for people who want opportunities for their resumes. Another place to look is with your hospitality members and large companies that may have corporate event planners. These folks may be interested in helping out even if it’s just making a few calls to their vendor contacts for you. Consider creating an events committee so you always have someone who can help out.
Assess the Surrounding Environment
Sometimes you can be doing everything right but your event is still not producing and sponsors just aren’t interested. When that happens, take a look at the surrounding community. Maybe the problem with your golf event is the fact that now there are five other major golf outings you’re competing with throughout the year. Maybe your networking event isn’t working out because most of your community is a bedroom community and a lot of the businesses are located outside of city limits making breakfast or lunch networking difficult. Take a look at what else is going on and make any necessary changes to your events. Sometimes simply changing the time or the time of year can bring new life to your recurring event.
Employ Social Media
Most people these days are on social media, particularly Facebook. It’s time to start creating events and using targeted advertising on social media. You also want to use social media to get people excited about chamber events. Post pictures from the previous one. Post trivia about past events. Add reminders about registration. Share pics of food and planning stages. Events can provide tons of content for your social media profiles.
With social media, interaction is the goal. Invite people to tag themselves in pictures or create captions for funny shots. Share blooper reels and video of your staff getting ready. Use video or go live during food tastings and ask people what looks good. Crowdsource pieces of the event that you could go either way on such as potato salad or side salad and ask your audience to vote. Get people involved in the preliminary planning through social media and you’ll not only sell more tickets you’ll also improve the number of people who see your posts because of the increased interaction.
If you don’t understand social media or how to target an audience, this article is a good start as a social media resource.
Create an Annual Event Schedule
Create a master schedule with all of your chamber events and the event planning process necessary for each one so that you’re always looking at the big picture. It’s an easy way to see the master plan and understand how leftover materials may be used in future events or multiple sponsorships can build on one another for maximum exposure.
If you’re new to chamber events the best thing you can do for yourself and the chamber is to get a handle on the analytics and specifics of past events. Once you host your first event, take time to debrief with the team, sponsors, vendors, board, and members. Assess what was successful and what you can do better next time. Every event should be a learning experience.
This article is part of our “Now What?” series, designed to help new members, new chamber staff and new board members get up and running to be an effective part of your chamber of commerce as quickly as possible.
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I’m in Charge of the Chamber Social Media Job. Now What?
I’m in Charge of Chamber Events. Now What?
I’m in Charge of Chamber Membership Development. Now What?
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