This blog post has been long awaited … and the reason for this is that for a long time I’ve seen quite a few examples of event strategies that are not strategies at all, so this post is my take on a true event strategy.
Why do we need an event strategy?
We all know that events require resources: time, money, manpower, and it’s getting harder and harder to attract an audience. This means that we as event professionals need to up our game and show our executives that spending time and money on events is worth it.
The ultimate goal of any MICE event is to change the behavior of our attendees – no matter if it’s to keep them loyal (retention), to encourage them to buy from us, to teach them something about our company or product, or whatever our goal is – and event professionals must show the people in charge that they understand that they’re in the business of events and not only in the events business. We should demonstrate that we know how to focus our efforts and resources to make an impact and obtain a result that can be measured.
How do we do that? By bringing events a few floors up to the c-suite!
But the c-suite only speaks strategy, so why not kill two birds with one stone? Develop an event strategy that aligns with your corporate strategy so that your events support your brand. Then your attendees or clients don’t see one thing and feel another: They experience that your company ‘walks the talk’ – and that underlines the perception of your brand as well as you as an event planner and supports the change of behavior for the attendees.
So, how do we develop this event strategy!?: By thinking strategically!
To understand strategic thinking, we should first look at how strategy is defined.
What is a strategy?
In their dictionary, Oxford Languages define strategy as “A plan of actions designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”, while the famous (former) Professor Henry Mintzberg said that “The most successful strategies are visions, not plans”.
We can translate that into a strategy being: An overall vision for our long-term goals that considers all influences and shows us the way forward to our desired future. The key words to notice here are ‘overall’, ‘long-term’, and ‘desired future’.
It might be easier to understand what a strategy is, if we look at what a strategy is NOT.
What isn’t a strategy?
According to the two professors Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Stanford, and Donald Sull, MIT, a strategy IS NOT
- a lot of buzzwords
- a financial projection
- a mission or vision
- a full checklist
- a peptalk
- something very comprehensive and complex
A strategy is also NOT tactics or operations either!
I often see tactics confused with strategy, but while strategy is the overall plan, tactics are the required steps to fulfill that plan – and that’s an important differentiation, because while strategic means long-term, broad perspectives, and few details, tactical means looking at things with a narrower perspective and a shorter horizon.
Strategic thinking is key
So, back to the strategic thinking. Based on Henry Mintzbergs research we distinguish between strategic thinking and strategic planning. Strategic thinking is what brings us to top level, what shows the c-suite that we understand the business of events. It is also the way we make all our event efforts connect to support the overall corporate visions. Strategic planning on the other hand is what the word says: Planning.
Though strategic planning is based on analysis, it’s nevertheless close to the tactical level, and we want to move up to strategic thinking to get a seat at the table and prove the value of our business events. It’s no longer enough just to nail the logistics.
But how do we move on from here? To develop a true event strategy, you have to start by looking at your corporate strategy first.
Align your event strategy with your corporate strategy
Remember, events are a form of communicating and part of your corporate brand: Everything you say and do with your events points directly back to your organization. So, you have to make sure that there’s a coherence between your events and your brand: What do you want to achieve with your events to support the corporate strategy?
If you can’t answer this question without any hesitation, then you shouldn’t have those events!
In other words, the event strategy is not a strategy for each single event – it’s not a concept, a manual, a set of KPI’s, or a road map, but a strategy for all your events.
As mentioned above, a strategy is an overall vision for our long-term goals that considers all influences and shows you the way forward to your desired future – and that goes for the event strategy as well, and you match that vision with your corporate strategy.
How to create an event strategy
Creating an event strategy is a process that requires research, input from stakeholders, data collection, etc., and it can’t be developed on the basis of a blog post, but here’s something to start with: The 5 elements that I believe should be included in your event strategy.
- Objectives. It should be an executive decision to always design an event based on an objective: Why do we have this event? Always establish the objective before deciding on the event, and make sure it aligns with your corporate strategy and brand and the reason your company or organization exists.
- Coherence. Create a coherence in your event portfolio, and make sure your events cover all corporate strategic focus areas. Find synergies from one event to the next – learnings, partnerships etc.
- Resources. Establish that you have the right resources and competencies at hand – that goes for money, time, manpower. You want employees with the right skills as to not cut down on any event knowledge and give your attendees a bad experience … and having the right people makes the work more efficient.
- Corporate principles and policies. Your event strategy should reflect your overall principles such as sustainability or inclusion (and so many more – that depends on your company or organization).
This fourth element is also where you decide on your event design principles: Event Design Canvas, experience design, Meetovation, or maybe something completely different.
- Measuring and reporting. Do you know if your events create a return on investment? If not, now’s the time to get started on calculating the ROI – that is crucial to prove the value of your events. What are your goals and how do you report on them?
These 5 elements is not a complete list, but it is something to start your event strategy off of. Just remember that developing a strategy is also about deciding what not to do, which direction not to take!
First steps towards your event strategy
It might seem overwhelming to develop an event strategy, but I promise you that it’ll be worth it, so just go ahead and start working on your strategy. You could start with the 5 elements above … just sayin! 😉
And if you want to take baby steps towards an actual event strategy, I have this advice for you:
- Stop talking about logistics! Instead, address how your events support your corporate strategy. You need your c-level executives on board for the actual event strategy, but they’re not interested in logistics. Event professionals need to show we understand the business of events.
- Start thinking strategically! I know, that’s the hard part and the part that requires the most change, but it’ll be worth it. After thinking strategically comes planning strategically.
Good luck on developing your event strategy – have fun with it … it is actually fun!