How to Guarantee Your Next Startup Event Is a Hit

Steve Jobs at D8 ConferenceAll too often events are just a fabulous way for companies to waste money. But if you play your cards right, producing an event can deliver huge ROI for your business with little overhead.

Even top technology companies focused on virtual communications rely on in person events. Steve Jobs’s keynotes were legendary, and a cornerstone of Apple’s product launch and marketing strategy. Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference positioned the enterprise software newcomer as the leader in cloud computing and nurtured their essential developer ecosystem. TechCrunch made half its revenue from startup events. Twitter and Facebook throw numerous events to woo advertisers. Expert web marketers including HubSpot, Moz and Twilio are now investing heavily in developing their own marquee events.

If these companies needed events to get the word out, yours probably will at some point too. But how do you make sure you don’t waste your limited marketing budget on the next Pets.com-style extravaganza?

Over Invest In Recording Your Event

If you do your job right, less than 1% of your event’s audience will be there in real life. Thanks to social media, blogs, the press and live streaming, the people in the room can help you reach many more people in your target market.

Hire at least two (just in case one screws up) professional photographers. I know you’re thinking everyone now has a camera on their smartphone, but they’re not focused on taking great photos. You’ll want high quality photos to distribute to any press covering your startup event, tag on Facebook and feature on your website. Since you’ll invite customers, prospects and star employees, it’s important to make them look good.

If your event has content (a speaker, panel, etc.), it’s best to live stream so people in the room and watching online can all discuss it on Twitter in realtime. If not, hire a videographer and an interviewer. Shooting a series of videos at an event where everyone’s together is much cheaper than arranging separate video shoots.

Finally, invite journalists, bloggers and people with large social media followings to attend who might find something worth writing about. At the least you’ll probably get a tweet. We’ve had hundreds of press hits for Muck Rack and the Shorty Awards from journalists we invited.

Get A Space Slightly Smaller Than You Need

Imagine you book a room meant to fit 80 people and 100 show up. There will be a ton of energy in the room, and you’ll have great momentum for your next event. Now imagine your competitor got the same 100 people attending their event, but they booked a venue meant for 200 people. Same number of people, huge failure. Humans are very bad at estimating absolute numbers of people, but it’s immediately apparent how full a room is.

One caveat: Don’t push this too far and violate fire codes. A couple of years ago @FDNY won a Shorty Award so the New York City Fire Commissioner came to the show to accept the award. I nervously joked with him and said “I hope we’re within the fire code limit.” He smiled and said, “Oh, we checked. We checked.” The show went on.

Let’s Get Drunk

Live events are chaos. If you think professionals can ensure everything goes off without a hitch, just ask the organizers of Super Bowl XLVII who endured a 22-minute long power outage. A lot of things, many of them out of your control, can and will go wrong. Speakers may be boring. The caterer’s food may taste bad. Key people may come late.

Whatever you do, never ever ever run out of booze. Getting this right will erase most if not all other mistakes in your attendee’s minds.

There’s a lot more you’ll have to do to plan an event that has a huge impact, such as curate interesting content, invite the right mix of people and choose a standout venue. There’ll be what seems like a million moving pieces. But if you keep these three rules top of mind your event will deliver results.


About the Author: Greg Galant is CEO of Muck Rack:

  • Has held a series events with NBC News, AP, LA Times, Wired and Boston Globe
  • In 2010 was named one of the “Best Young Entrepreneurs” by BusinessWeek
  • Mentor at TechStars helping entrepreneurs with marketing campaigns, pubic speaking, and content distribution

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