Follow our advice and avoid the common pitfalls that can catch out even the most experienced of event organisers.
1 SET A BUDGET
Setting a budget is easy. Sticking to it is the tricky bit. Inexperienced planners come a cropper by not keeping on top of the small expenses, which soon add up to create a scary surprise. Don’t fall into the trap of spending on no-shows. A 20% drop-out rate is quite normal for events, so book for fewer than you invite (though negotiate a good rate for last-minute ‘yeses’).
What’s most important to you? Lots of flowers, or lots of booze? A grand venue, or a first-rate AV? Make a list of what you need, in order of importance. Then be prepared to make sacrifices in the less important areas.
3 KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Remember, you’re not creating an event for your MD; you’re creating an event for your guests. There are too many horror stories about venues being chosen for their proximity to the boss’s house, for instance. Think about what the majority of your guests would like, and plan around that.
4 ASK AROUND
The internet is a great resource for finding venues and suppliers, but not as great as your friends and acquaintances. If you’re thinking of booking a firm, ask around to see if anyone knows about them. Use the Square Meal Venues & Events forum (squaremeal.co.uk/forum/venues). If you organise lots of events, then get on Twitter (we’re @squaremealvande). It’s invaluable for sourcing advice and deals.
5 KNOW YOUR POWER
Times are tough out there, with a lot of suppliers chasing business. Insist on a designated account manager – a single point of contact is a necessity, not a luxury. Ask how many events your suppliers have been involved in within the past month. If it’s less than two, there’s probably a good reason. Find a balance between accepting their advice and being pernickety – bad suppliers will try to guide you down the path of least resistance to make life easy for themselves.
6 BOOK AHEAD
You could hang on for a last-minute deal, but most event companies offer good discounts for early bookers. You’re also more likely to get what you want when you give more notice. Take venues, for instance: popular alfresco spots tend to get booked for summer dates by mid-March, while the best Christmas venues can be gone more than a
year in advance.
7 BE FLEXIBLE
If you’re looking for a bargain, book during quiet days or periods. Mondays and Tuesdays usually offer better value than Wednesdays or Thursdays. Instead of a Christmas party in December, why not delay it and pick up a bargain in January, the ‘dead’ month for event suppliers? Another option for a Christmas party is to book an afternoon event rather than an evening do. Lunches are cheaper (though everyone will appreciate the afternoon out of the office) and there’s a definite cut-off when people can be left to their own devices and the corporate card can head for the hills.
Your budget shouldn’t be a closely guarded secret. Be upfront and approach suppliers that are above your budget – they’ll often be prepared to do a deal, especially if you’re booking for a quiet period. Increased spending means better rates (which is why it often makes sense to use an established event organiser, who is booking suppliers all the time). Finally, be reasonable. Driving costs down is one thing, but go too far and it’ll create ill-feeling between you and your suppliers, putting paid to lasting relationships. Aim for added value, such as free soft drinks or extra staff on the night, rather than huge discounts.
9 TRY DIFFERENT FIZZ
Don’t write off sparkling wine and inisit on Champagne. An expensive cava is often more palatable than a cheap Champagne. Think about presecco or even more leftfield fizz, such as Bellavista Gran Cuvée from Italy’s Franciacorta region (which often beats Champagne in industry tastings). The New World is another good bet for some convincing Champagne-a-likes. English fizz such as the award-winning Nyetimber is increasingly highly regarded, but not cheap.
10 TAKE TIME TO CHOOSE
Don’t just pick a ‘hot’ venue and shoehorn your event in. Think about what type of event you want to put on and pick the venue to match that. A grand Victorian ballroom might not be ideal for a hi-tech product launch. And why spend a fortune decorating a venue if one exists already with the right look? Don’t be scared by a high headline price either. Costlier venues will usually have a more switched-on events team and should be able to offer great added value, making them cheaper in the long run.
11 PLAN THE ARRIVAL
Lengthy queues for the cloakroom will put guests in a bad frame of mind from the word go, ditto the wait for name badges. If lots of people are expected to arrive at the same time, have extra staff on hand to avoid bottlenecks. And make sure there are drinks waiting on the door. Cocktails may look great but not everyone appreciates them, so provide fizz, water and a non-alcoholic choice too. Bottled beers should always be on hand – you may not like them, but they will definitely be requested. For a networking event, try to have greeters ready to provide introductions.
12 TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
Sample both food and drink before committing to a caterer. Good suppliers should offer a tasting as a matter of course. If a venue has a party booked in, ask if you can sneak along beforehand to see what the space looks like when prepped.
13 TINKER WITH TAX
Staff events are tax deductable. All companies and departments can offset £150 per employee per year against any event, including teambuilding and Christmas parties. It’s worth dropping a gentle reminder to your finance director of this fact if he or she is being tight with the purse strings.
14 BAG IT
Filling a goodie bag is a fine art. Don’t waste money on useless tat, and think carefully before having your company’s branding stencilled on anything cheap. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Everyone appreciates posh bathroom products, or good quality chocolates, or a mini bottle of fizz. Even a bottle of water and some reading material for the way home go down well.
15 DON'T SKIMP ON FOOD
Remember, you’re the host. If you’ve asked people to give up their time, you have a duty to feed them. At evening events, many guests will have come straight from the office and won’t have eaten since lunch. Hungry guests aren’t happy guests. Consider bowl food over canapés – it’s more filling and usually cheaper.
16 CONTROL THE SPEAKERS
Everyone’s been to an event which has been spoiled by multiple, dull speeches. Lay down the law to any speakers, as far as you can. Set them a strict time limit, especially if there are more than one. And do insist that they prepare. Nothing annoys guests more than a speaker droning on interminably without making a point. Waffle is rude.
17 SPELL THINGS OUT
Make sure your guests have all the information they need in advance. A map is a good idea and you should always include the full postcode, as many guests will be navigating by smartphone or TomTom. Be clear about dress codes too. If jeans and trainers are unsuitable, tell your guests in advance.
18 CHECK THE DIARY
A simple one this, but often overlooked. What other events are happening on your chosen night? Will you be chasing the same guests as another function? Always check the sporting fixtures, particularly the UEFA Champions League. Men are likely to dodge an event if, say, Manchester United are playing Barcelona. If it can’t be moved, or it’s too late, consider making a feature of a clash. For summer events, why not screen Wimbledon?
19 ARRIVE EARLY
You need to ensure that you’re on site well in advance of your guests. Check everything from the sound system to the lights. Enter the venue the same way as your guests will, and test your door team with a tricky question or two. Are they creating the right initial impression? Can anything be improved? Have the timings worked out and does everyone know them off pat? Continue to spotcheck things throughout the evening, right down to the loo roll in the ladies and hand towels in the gents.
20 THE GETAWAY
Nothing’s more frustrating than wanting to escape a party but having to queue at the cloakroom. Be prepared for the exodus. If you want the party to continue, make sure you’ve arranged to be on a guest list somewhere appropriate, preferably nearby. Remember: your company could be held liable if something happens to an employee on their way home from a staff party, so don’t shirk on booking cars.
WHY USE AN EVENT ORGANISER?
There are plenty of first-rate event organisers out there. They’ll know the true cost of everything and will know what works and what doesn’t, as well as saving you time by handling all the correspondence between the venue, caterers and other suppliers. More importantly, they buy in bulk and have ongoing relationships with suppliers, so can get you better deals.
ON THE NIGHT
Although getting drunk is clearly a no-no, do allow yourself to enjoy a glass or two towards the end of the event, once you’re confident that everything is under control. Don’t think that you’re not allowed to enjoy an event just because you’ve organised it all. Life’s too short!