Building a comprehensive event strategy is like creating a blueprint for success. It ensures every aspect of your event, from beginning to end, is finely tuned to achieve your objectives and foster alignment among your team and stakeholders. But what’s the difference between an ordinary run-of-the-mill event strategy and an award-winning one? Well, we gathered thought-leaders from Slack, Lenovo, Lattice, and more to find out just that! In this article, they share their insights on what they think makes an award-winning event strategy and what you can do to make your event bigger and better. Let’s dive into it…

Jenny Lynam, Head of Strategic Events EMEA, Slack

Jenny Lynam

Head of Strategic Events EMEA, Slack

What’s the goal? Why are we doing this event? Is it to drive awareness in new markets, generate a pipeline for sales, or get more developers on your platform? Whatever the reason, ensure the goals are defined early, agreed upon with all key stakeholders, and consistently referred to in the lead-up to and after the event. Events without a focus can lead to poor ROI and, despite the amount of work that goes into them, fail to deliver for the business.

Address what your customers want, not what you think they want: Listening carefully to the person you are building this event for is key to creating a thoughtful and impactful experience. While you may perceive a two-day all-singing, all-dancing conference as what your customer wants, in actual fact, a virtual two-hour condensed experience might actually fit into the schedule of that CIO you want to connect with. Listening carefully and thoughtfully will guide you to the right experience.

Collaboration is King.

Events of any scale cannot come together successfully without an aligned team. Build that alignment early by creating a shared vision for what success looks like and clear roles and responsibilities. People want to feel like they are on a winning team, so ensure any accomplishments from the event are shared and highlighted, as well as contributors calling out for their part to play in it.

Use your tools wisely.

As someone with an EMEA-wide role, my teams are consistently made up of primarily remote colleagues. Collaboration in this context is also fostered when we use the most up-to-date tools available so people can do the important work, not the busy work. I could not do what I do without Slack. It allows me to quickly gain alignment and work faster and more efficiently. Some of our most recent product releases have been game changers, including Slack AI, Lists and Huddles. I also regularly use Miro to simulate that brainstorming environment, which can often be challenging in a remote environment.

The work starts at the end of the event.

One of the most challenging aspects of event planning can be keeping the momentum and focus once the event wraps, but this is really when the work starts. Remember those KPIs you agreed with at the beginning? Well, now is when we make sure they are hit. Developing a consistent reporting framework, such as 30, 60, and 90-day check-ins, and fostering stakeholder accountability will ensure that you are on the right track to hitting those goals.

Gerilynn Marburger, Director of Global Events, HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Gerilynn Marburger

Director, Global Events, HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise)
(Successful) Event Marketers wear many hats.

Every event manager wears multiple hats—sometimes we are detectives, other times sociologists, often psychologists, and always accountants. Getting into the customers’ minds and providing the information they seek are vital to any successful event (and event marketer).

Ask the right questions.

Detectives are investigators who look for clues, collecting this information to formulate a viable outcome. As event marketers, we must look for clues. We analyse our audience, explore their motivations for attending, and discover where they come from and what they want to get out of a trade show or event. The key is finding out what a customer wants and giving them that.

A sociologist is an expert in human society’s development, structure, and functioning. A sociologist observes group demographics – who will be in attendance, age/gender/race, level of business acumen, and their specific interests. Events/content should be geared to the persona whenever possible to heighten the customer’s engagement.

A psychologist studies cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behaviour by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and their environments. What is the makeup of our audience – introverted or extroverted? Would they enjoy an intimate dinner with the CEO or a raging event with a band, trivia games, and a tequila bar? How far are they travelling to the event – overseas (schedule a mellow first day) or a short trip (let’s hit the ground running!)? Millennials or Boomers? Blind dinner in a panic room or a curated meal by a Michelin Star chef.

An Event Marketer must employ all these emotional intelligence skills to shape a successful event. Plan through the customer’s lens, and you will always triumph.

P.S. The accountant role is self-explanatory—stay on top of your events budget!

Content is Key.

Event Marketers creating content wear the same hats as above. Like F2F events, your content must be compelling. Be a detective – WHAT do customers want to learn about? Be sure and give them that, repeatedly. You then need to assess HOW the customer wants to receive content. Sociologist time! Which platform, best time of day, optimum duration, how much time do they have or want to devote to gaining this knowledge, and are there any outside dependencies?

Lastly, content must connect emotionally to customers. Put on your psychologist hat—HOW does this knowledge make them feel? Empowered or more confused? If the answer is confused, you need to fix something immediately! Again, find out what the customer wants and give them that. If a customer is looking for a deep dive into AI, don’t serve them content on sustainability! They will walk away disappointed, and you will be left with worthless and unsatisfactory metrics.

P.s. The accountant role is self-explanatory – stay on top of your comms budget!

Remember that your audience gets invited to EVERYTHING, and the C-level attendees, especially, are highly scheduled and in demand. The better you anticipate the customers’ wants and needs through curated events and compelling content, the higher the registration and audience conversion rate.

“Go forth and prosper.” —
Gerilynn Marburger 2/28/24

Tavar James, Global Head of Field, Event and Partner Marketing, Riskified.

Tavar James

Global Head of Field, Event and Partner Marketing at Riskified

There are a few tips and tricks floating around the industry that can help you develop a winning events strategy or even an impactful one. It’s important to understand where your business thrives in the current climate and which tips are relevant at this point in your strategic journey. Here are a few tips that I find to be universally true no matter where you are in developing your strategy, and here’s to hoping they get you closer to a win:

Understand your audience. No, I mean really and truly understand your audience.

Too often, we adopt industry trends just because they’re a trend, and we do not really see how they fit in our events portfolio and our audience(s) profile. It’s important to take the time to really understand your target attendees. This can be accomplished through taking pre and post-event surveys, using digital metrics to track behaviours, monitoring different engagement levels and unpacking your demographic data. You want to understand your audience so that your messaging resonates and your experiences captivate. Lean into testimonials, advisory groups, and other attendee data to meet your audience where they are. This feedback also makes your DEI efforts that much more organic. Focus on the impact and not just the impression.

Executives should know it, like it, and, dare I say it, love it!

Understanding how your executives view your events strategy can dictate how you move when getting their buy-in. Some executives believe in it and understand it. Some executives only know of it so they can approve it. You want your executives to know it, like it, and almost love it. The more your executives buy-in to your events strategy, the easier it is to make it holistic. And we all can agree that the more holistic your events, the higher the probability that they’re a hit. So what does that look like? Well, what role do your executives play in your events? Are they a face of the brand in your outreach and marketing? Are they just addressing the audience through a keynote and then on their way to the next event or back to the office? Are they participating virtually or in person? Are they hosting smaller focus group sessions to really connect with the attendees? During networking events, are they working the room and forging relationships? I’ll tell you this: your executives will perform best at your events when they love it and are not just approving it or getting a briefing a few weeks before the event. How you get your executives to buy into your strategy varies from company to company, and there are many write-ups out there that provide guidance on this, but the key is to get them invested beyond just the dollar. Captivate them so that their energy translates into their behaviour onsite.

Expand your success metrics.

This one has been circulating in the industry for a while now, and it’s a good one. The broader your measures of success, the closer you can get to a winning strategy. In other words, focus not only on ROI (return on investment) but also ROO (return on objectives). When planning with your key stakeholders, there’s going to be a splitting of the seas. Your go-to-market teams will be more focused on ROI. Your marketing and product peers will likely be more focused on ROO. Both are important and should be given equal attention. There are many components to an event that feed your objectives and not so clearly feed your investment. One would argue that ROO is the short-term win while ROI is more so the long-term win. One of the ways you can find a balance between ROI and ROO is by treating each and every event as a campaign or sub-campaign to a broader campaign. The life of the campaign is longer than just the actual event dates, which, by default, expands your success metrics. Encompassing both of these categories will help you tell a more compelling story about the wins of your events portfolio. If you tell the story right, it will tie back into that executive buy-in as you develop future strategies.

These tips include some of the lower-hanging fruits, such as DEI, sustainability, partnerships, promotional journeys, etc., but those components are a bit more on the experience side. While a “win” can sometimes be subjective, the tips I’ve shared are just a few that can help develop the foundation for a solid events strategy and, by default, provide a broader canvas for activation and experience.

 

Jenn Artura, Event Business Consultant and Fractional Leader, Jenn Artura Consulting LLC.

Jenn Artura

Event Business Consultant and Fractional Leader, Jenn Artura Consulting, LLC.
Creating event strategy.

Events are a critical asset to your business and the most powerful tool for driving growth, creating super fans, building culture, forming connections, and creating brand affinity. So don’t skimp on strategy and just hope for the best.

What is it, and what is it not?

An event strategy should answer the questions of what and why. It forms intention and determines what an event, program, campaign, or experience will do an what it won’t do. It’s the outcome that aligns with business goals and then informs objectives linked to actionable tasks. It includes defining goals, KPIs, and success metrics that feed it.

In its most simplified definition, an event-led strategy is the lens through which decisions are made about time, resources, budget, and the quality of the experience.

A well-thought-out strategy that aligns with business goals and has clear objectives gives everyone involved clarity on what is expected of them. Without strategy, we risk depleting team morale, burning resources, wasting money, and jeopardising relationships with our audiences – employees and customers.

Don’t skimp on discovery.

Answering your event strategy’s “what” and “why” must include internal and external input from key stakeholders. Event leaders must be ingrained in the business, understand the organisational strategy and business goals, and align events to deliver on that strategy. This requires consistent, ongoing communication with cross-functional team leaders and executives.

Organised stakeholder input can occur in various ways, including 1:1 meetings, steering committees, QBR’s, group sessions, and cross-functional think tanks – but they must be focused, and the input results must be transparent. You may not find alignment at first, so you must balance against data, insights, market research, competitive research, and economic conditions to define further.

Don’t feel intimidated by strategy! This is the time to challenge the how. Ask the questions, review the data, seek input, enlist help, and apply the needed focus upfront.

It’s for them, not you.

External validation of your strategy MUST include input from your intended audience. Ask; don’t assume you know what your audience wants. When you’re building your event portfolio strategy, create a process where you can get audience-specific data not just on personas and segments but on the people themselves. Understand their behaviours, beliefs, and values and what is important to them. Get external validation upfront through advisory boards, curated assessments, focus groups, think tanks, executive briefings, conversations, etc.—this outreach is critical and should be revisited often.

Know, feel, do.

Think about what the audience wants, what they want to know, what they will need to feel to do something, and what actions they will take as a result. Events are incredibly powerful because when we invoke the right emotions, we inspire others to act, driving behaviour. Each time the event is remembered, it invites those feelings back repeatedly- reliving the experience for a lifetime. Think about some of your favourite experiences. Are you smiling right now? Now think about one of the worst events you ever attended and why. Yuck. So, let’s identify what our audience needs to know, feel, and do.

Outcomes.

Think with the outcome in mind and how you will determine both success and failure. What does great look like? Define your goals and build your measurement criteria to address them. Don’t get caught up in overanalysing or measuring things that do not matter against success criteria. Remember that you already have stakeholder alignment on business objectives and goals, so stick to measuring relevant outcomes.

Framework.

Now, you connect the dots between business goals, stakeholder input, and data points and apply a “human-centred lens” to form a strategic framework.

This framework is the blueprint for executing the strategy for your event portfolio. You will use this “lens” to decide what you do and don’t do throughout the planning process. The framework informs everything throughout the planning and execution, with a strong focus on the human elements of the experience. For example, suppose one of the goals is to create shared advocacy between existing customers and prospects. In that case, we must design an environment of belonging and trust with spaces that allow serendipitous and spontaneous conversations. These feelings must be woven throughout every aspect of the event, inviting attendees into the experience.

The Red Thread.

An excellent event strategy is an intentional 360-degree experience that surrounds your audience through a series of connection points—not a single event in time. The “red thread” is the narrative that connects the dots across gatherings in person and virtually. It’s the GTM approach woven through all aspects of events, influenced by corporate vision, values, product positioning, demand generation, sales strategies, etc. It links conversations across business units and, most importantly, for the audience year-round, not just one event interaction at a time.

And have fun—this is not easy. Its strategy is a formula and a science that takes practice, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to see it all come together and the impact we have on people’s lives!

Rachael Kenny, Events Marketing Manager, Lattice.

Rachael Kenny

Events Marketing Manager, Lattice

In the world of marketing and branding, events have emerged as a powerful tool for connecting with audiences, building relationships, and driving business growth. However, orchestrating successful events goes beyond logistical planning and execution; it requires a winning event strategy. From setting clear objectives to solid communication with stakeholders and collecting the correct information, Event Managers can maximise the impact of their events and achieve tangible business results in an ever-evolving landscape.

Goals: Be crystal clear on business, sales, and marketing objectives and KPIs. You should connect the annual event strategy to at least one key marketing goal and set annual or bi-annual KPIs (as well as event-by-event), so you and senior leadership are aligned on what success looks like for the event program. Tracking and reporting these metrics helps maintain C-suite buy-in and feeds into the business strategy for overall success.

Focus: It’s important to align your event calendar with the business needs and wider marketing campaigns and content strategies. If there is a focus on new business/customer retention/community for that quarter, whatever it is, program events that can support the teams in hitting that target to match. That might mean hosting more events of a specific format, focusing on certain locations the sales team need growth in or partnering with new organisations to expand your brand awareness. To create space for flexibility in the planning cycles, program your flagship events for the year, then allow space quarterly to adapt to any changing business needs.

Teamwork: Work closely with the sales, partnerships, and customer success teams. Ensure they are fully briefed, have all the collateral they need, and are bought into your event program. These teams have a direct relationship with your target attendees or sponsors. Personal invites see a much higher level of engagement than marketing emails. Ultimately, you need them on your side for event success and to help you get people in the room to deliver on your strategy.

Stakeholders: Make sure you know who your key stakeholders are and get their input and buy-in on your vision early. It helps keep the process smooth if you know how much input they wish to have, what decisions need to be run past them and what their expectations from the event are. I find it helpful to have a stakeholder from each team in the business that’s involved in the project, so you have an owner that’s responsible for success in their area, e.g. the head of sales, to set targets and keep track of their team invites to prospects and report on progress. This saves time as individuals will already report to their team leader, so adding an extra metric for that quarter is a lesser change to day-to-day activities.

Data: It’s great having a strategy and idea of what success looks like for your event calendar, but without the data to report against the metrics you set, it could all go to waste. Work closely with suppliers and agencies to build touch points into the event design to allow you to seamlessly collect the information you need. When you set the KPIs at the start of the project, this is when you outline what data will feed into reporting against them and outlining this ahead of time gives you the opportunity to build those touch points into the experience and make your life a lot easier post event.

Daniel Curtis, CSO, emc3.

Daniel Curtis

CSO, emc3

To create a “winning” events strategy, the first thing required is a definition of success, which is agreed on by all interested parties.

As the agency our job, in the most simplified sense, is to help our clients achieve their goals, but often, those goals are not explicitly defined before the event brief or RFP is sent out into the world. Any internal misalignment which is passed onto the agency will result in wasted time, miscommunication, dreaded re-briefing, and a general sense of frustration. In our position as an external objective partner, we are able to collate the ideas, hopes and dreams of our clients and help them sharpen up their brief/s to include clearly defined KPIs and goals. Once this is done, we can start work, but to do so preemptively is to court trouble.

Once we are working on a project, one of the key challenges becomes keeping all departments in sync so that they are all pulling in the same direction. If we are the sole partner, then this is relatively simple. Our department heads will have regular core team meetings to make sure that design, production, content, logistics, etc., are all updating each other as the scope shifts or external factors change the focus. There are sometimes occasions when we are working alongside other agencies or with the client’s own internal resources and, in this instance, the quality of those relationships and communication channels with our counterparts are the deciding factor in the success of the event.

Another important consideration is the audience. The more information we have on audience expectations, as well as feedback from past events, the more we can fine-tune the little details which make all the difference.

For example, we were tasked with delivering a conference for a new client for about 2,500 PAX, which had the usual set-up of a general session, breakouts, expo, networking space and off-site dinners. We designed a networking space with lounge seating, which could also be used for meals and breaks so that we could make the expo space “sticky”, which was one of their goals. When we delivered our first design, the client pushed back on the lounge seating, as they believed their attendees always expected to sit at a more formal table for their meals. We redesigned the space to have a mixture of lounge seating and round tables, as we wanted to see if this was actually the case or if this was just what they were used to. When the show went live, we surveyed the space to see which areas were more popular, and now we know that while some of their audience prefer formal seating, a large proportion of them are open to change. This data point is priceless in building a clear vision for next year’s event.

It is essential that due time and attention is given to collecting and analysing feedback on all areas of the process, from the briefing, through pre-production and delivery. Every area of the event and every decision could be improved but without an open and honest conversation about them, mistakes and misconceptions can be baked into the next year’s event.

Janie Gibson, Director of Event Management, KnowBe4.

Janie Gibson

Director of Event Management, KnowBe4

Honing your strategy for planning successful events is like crafting a secret recipe for an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re organising a large corporate conference, your organisation’s presence at a tradeshow, or an intimate networking event, your strategy can make or break the event.

First, define what success looks like for your event. What do your attendees want to get from the event? What are your organisation’s goals for the event? What does the attendee experience look like from recruitment all the way to post-event follow-up? Set S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) objectives to guide your planning process and measure your event’s success.

Second, be transparent! During our most recent planning cycle for our largest customer event, we opened up the proverbial event planning curtains and showed our steering committee what goes into an event. From the price of coffee and internet to the stage design and session planning, they got a front-row seat to exactly what it takes to pull off a major event. This sharing (or sometimes oversharing) allowed all our stakeholders to feel included in the planning process and made it easier for us to gain support around deadlines and ownership.

Third, set expectations. This goes for your internal stakeholders, your steering committee, and even your event attendees. Create and manage a project plan with resources allocated and ownership agreed upon. Have a regular cadence for meetings where you can be open, honest and ask for accountability. Let your attendees know what to expect at the event. Having a 90’s dance-off? Let them know so they can bring their parachute pants!

Lastly, listen! One of the planners on my team always says that feedback is a gift. Not only do we collect feedback from our event attendees and exhibitors, we do deep dive debriefs from all stakeholders and teams that were involved in the event. And most importantly, we take that feedback into consideration when we start planning the next event.

Remember, you’re not just an event planner; you create memorable and impactful experiences that resonate with your audience and support your organisation’s goals.

Jon Wolff, Global Events Manager, Lenovo.

Jon Wolff

Global Events Manager, Lenovo

1) Setting goals and objectives.
2) Knowing the target audience.
3) Realistic budget.
4) Measurement plan.
5) Knowing our internal stakeholders.

The analogy here is the road trip and our event strategy being a combination of the above five items. Crafting a successful event strategy is like embarking on a road trip with a clear destination in mind.

Just as a roadmap guides travellers, setting clear goals and objectives serves as our endpoint. Understanding our target audience is like knowing our passengers—it shapes our route and experiences. Setting clear expectations ensures everyone understands their role and outcomes.

Additionally, having a budget is like fueling up our car—it determines how far we can go and what resources are available. A measurement plan acts as our GPS, tracking progress and guiding adjustments along the way. Milestones are like road signs, marking our progress and keeping us on track.

Lastly, involving internal stakeholders is akin to having trusted co-pilots, providing support and collaboration throughout the journey. By linking these elements to our roadmap analogy, we emphasise the strategic importance of navigating the event journey towards success.

With our events strategy in hand, let’s buckle up, hit the road, and ensure our next event journey becomes truly memorable!