Award-Winning Excellence!

Although we’re not ones to play our own trumpet, when the fanfares come from other people we think it’s OK to share the news.

To this end we’re delighted to announce that Merlinsoft Ltd’s ‘Merlin’ solution has been proclaimed the UK’s Best Visitor Attraction Admission Systems Supplier by Lux Life Magazine!

Following the judging process, the Lux life panel stated that all at Merlinsoft have shown “evidence of extensive expertise within a given field” in addition to “dedication to customer service and client satisfaction with an ongoing commitment to excellence and innovation”. We’re pretty happy with that assessment!

To try out our award-winning solution, either download a fully-functional demo from our website (click Download Demo on the home page) or try our new online Sitebuilder utility.

What Happens Next?

In the days after an event it’s easy to rest on your laurels and bask in the afterglow somewhat. Why shouldn’t you? An awful lot of work went into it and it’s nice to no longer be ‘on the clock’ for a while.  If you can muster up the energy, there are a few things that you can do to get even more from your efforts.

Social Media Promotions

Thanks to all the great photographs you took, the members of your social media team (which is quite possibly longhand for “you”) have a load of material to work with. If you didn’t get chance to do it during the event, retweet the messages people sent out with your hashtag – it never hurts to show how well it went after the fact and helps build a buzz of interest for the follow up event (oh, you didn’t think you were going to do another one?). Don’t forget to tag people in the images you distribute via your social media channels. If you had a guest speaker or a star turn, thanking them through your social medial channels is a great way to get reciprocal promotion as they’re always going to retweet messages from happy customers.

Email Followups

If you have another event to promote, of course you’re likely to want to contact attendees of your previous event. Who wouldn’t? However, it’s always worth sending out an email saying thank you with no sales material attached. It’s good to talk, right? Creating a space where the photographs you took are uploaded to makes a lot of sense too. It works as a thank you (people love seeing if they or their friends/colleagues appear in your photographs) and, once again, it provides another reason for people to keep on talking about the event.  

The Next Event

Is the thought of doing all that work again filling you with dread? Let’s hope not, because having done one event, the next one is always much easier as, even if you don’t realise it, lessons will have been learned. Whether the event went swimmingly or didn’t quite meet your expectations, things will have happened, or opportunities will have presented themselves, that allow you to make any subsequent events that bit better or run that little bit smoother.

A debrief is a fantastic opportunity to make sense of everything that happened. There will be some things that you thought were a good idea that proved ultimately unnecessary – they can be cut from future events, making them even more profitable; other things will have occurred to you during the event that you wish you had done at the time. Getting all these things noted down somewhere will help towards making the next event even better. Even if you’re convinced that you’re never doing it again, jot it down anyway – the days after your event are the perfect time to reflect upon the positives and negatives and you might be surprised how many transferable learning opportunities the experience will have provided.

Making the Most of the Day of Your Event!

Once the day of the event is upon you, all your hard work is over, and you can finally relax…

No, sadly not!

Having put so much time and effort into the planning and preparation of your event, making the most of the day itself is vital.

Ensuring that your event runs smoothly is obviously important – thanks to your efforts, though, this should be safely in hand.

Welcome

Making the right first impression will set the tone for your event. Having unnecessary queues, poor signage and inadequate refreshments, for example, are all avoidable – make sure they are avoided. Sadly, people are often more likely to shout twice as loudly about something they did not enjoy than something they did. If you’re event requires delegate badges and bags, taking the time to sort these into easily navigated piles will pay dividends. If badges are arranged alphabetically, letting delegates know this will help greatly. It’s a staggeringly simple touch, but one which gets overlooked and wasted time upon entering the venue makes the kind of impact you don’t want and can easily prevent.

Event photography

Providing that permission has been given to take photography at your event, getting great quality images for use on social media and follow-up marketing is a great way both to remind visitors how great the event was and to make sure those who didn’t attend realise what they missed out on! Hiring a professional photographer can incur significant expense (and will eat into your profitability) – modern smartphones have excellent cameras and often serve to make guests feel much less self-conscious.

Social Media

Encourage guests to share their experiences of the event – especially any photographs they might take during their visit. The use of a hashtag can be helpful, but make sure you have researched it first! Many large brands have found out to their peril that the hashtag they have adopted has already been used by others – and not always for things they’d like to ally their brand with! Including the year can be helpful in ensuring that the hashtag does not become diluted by other unrelated events or campaigns.

Setting up a large screen with a live twitter-feed (for example) will often encourage visitors to tweet about your event. It can be a simple as connecting a television or projector to a laptop with a view of the hashtag as it appears on the Twitter website. These things don’t need to cost anything, but can give you a real boost in terms of maximising the potential of your event.

Steps To Event Success: Promotion

Thanks to the work you’ve already done, you’re crystal clear on:

– Who the event is for

– Where to hold it

– When to hold it

– What date/time to hold it on

Fantastic! People are going to flock to your event and it’ll be a roaring success. Let’s start thinking about the follow up, right?

Well… not quite.

There’s one thing we’ve done dealt with yet, but it’s a pretty important one: promotion!

How will all these wonderful guests know about your event?

In-venue marketing

If you already have a venue – perhaps you’re a visitor attraction, for example – you’ve obviously got a head start. You can promote the event on-site via posters and promotional material so that visitors will be aware of it. Existing customers already like what you’re offering enough to visit your attraction, it’s just a question of making sure they know about the event you’re seeking to promote.

If you don’t have a venue and are holding it elsewhere, there’s a strong chance that the venue has an events calendar and will have opportunities for you to market your event on-site. Liaise with your contact at the venue to ensure that your event is on their calendar and maximise any space you have available to put up posters and the like. It’s obvious, perhaps, but worth noting: find out what their policy regarding posters is before you get any made up – there’s nothing worse than having a load of beautiful A1-sized posters, only to discover that their display cases only accommodate A2!

Digital marketing

Use your social media channels and SHOUT ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING. Use any online presence you have access to: websites, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. If you have an email list, use that. Yes, there’s a fine line between under-utilising your networks and relentlessly spamming potential visitors, but people who follow you or who have subscribed to your newsletter, for example, are interested in what you do: tell them!

Factor in the cost

With all your marketing activity, don’t forget to take into account the cost implications. Most of the things will cost money (even in an intangible sense – time is, quite literally, money, where staff resources are concerned!). If you don’t take into account how much your marketing and promotional activities cost, there’s every chance that your apparently profitable event will actually have exceeded its budget without you realising it!

Timing

As with all the other aspects of your event, timing is key when planning your marketing activities. There’s no point advertising something before the tickets are available. Drumming up interest is great, but your efforts are wasted if you can’t include a call to action with your marketing activities. Ensure that everything you do has a clear instruction “Tickets available now! Visit our website!” for example. Hitting the window of opportunity isn’t rocket science, but missing out will mean that your event never has a chance of leaving the ground.

Steps to event success: Project Management

You know what your event is: in addition to your “5 Ws” you also appreciate how market forces relate to event success. What next?

Project management

You don’t need to be part of a team working to put on a festival for thousands of people to need strong project management – if you’ve ever planned a birthday party, for example (especially a children’s birthday party!) then you’re already steeped in the world of project management!

Organisation as delegation

Whether you’re part of a vast unit of multi-skilled individuals or you’re the lone pair of shoulders upon which the responsibility for everything falls, delegation is key. How can you delegate if you’ve got nobody to delegate to? Simple: outsource. To return to the birthday party analogy: if you’re employing somebody else to make the cake, for example, you’ve outsourced it. The same goes for any event. Marketing materials, decorations, refreshments – these are all examples of things that often get outsourced.

Ticks in boxes

To ensure that everything gets done (and gets done on time) you need to prepare a comprehensive list of all the things that are required to allow your event to run. I can’t stress the word comprehensive enough here. Never make the mistake of thinking “I’m sorting that out so I don’t need to write that down” or the even more fatal “I’ve always got that with me so I can leave that off the list” – if you’re going to the park for a picnic and you know that picnic blankets live in the back of the car, you’re fine, right? Oh, but what about when you took them out to clean them after the ice-cream debacle at the beach? Did you remember to put them back in? Forgetting things that you need on a day out is annoying and lamentable; forgetting things that you rely upon for an event you’re hosting is calamitous and, most significantly, preventable!

List everything

Now you’ve listed everything you need, attach dates to them. If your decorations have a lead time, factor that in – and then add more time. To ease last minute stresses, work to an absolute minimum of double the lead time required by your providers. If they need 2 days to have things turned around for you, leaving it until 4 days before you need them will introduce additional stress that you don’t need – get them done as soon as possible. If things need collecting, factor in the time it will take for that to happen; if some of the things you need are perishable (food, for example), ensure that you have sufficient storage for these items and try to avoid storing them for any longer than you need to. It’s pointless getting floral table centres for your bridal event 2 weeks before the day because they’ll have wilted and died long before your guests turn up!  

Accountability

Finally, make sure that it is abundantly clear who is doing what. Never leave it to chance or allow any space for people to say: “but I didn’t realise that was my job!” Project management involves ensuring that you know:

  1. Everything you need for your event
  2. When you need it all for (lead times)
  3. Who will be responsible for providing it

The bottom line is: the bottom line!

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of organisation. This is true for the vast majority of endeavours, but it has particular significance when it comes to running a successful event.

Armed with all the research you completed as a result of finding answers to “the 5 Ws” (see last week’s post for a refresher if you’re wondering what that is!) you’re now in a position to really get started.

You have a clear idea of what your event is and you know why people are going to want to come it. Allied with a clear idea of who your market is, where the best place to put the event on and when the most suitable time and date would be, you’ve got everything you need… haven’t you?

Budgets

In business, one of the most fundamental elements of success relates to budget. If you exceed your budget, making a profit is impossible and even breaking even becomes incredibly difficult, depending upon what margins you’re working on. Booking a well-known headline act for your festival might be a guaranteed way to sell tickets, but if the capacity of your venue means that your tickets will have to be sky high just to cover your costs, maybe this isn’t the best option. The number of places you have available at your venue multiplied by the amount each attendee will pay for their ticket dictates your income – but don’t forget that spending the entirety of this money will mean that you can’t make any profit from the event. That may not be an issue for you – perhaps it’s a not-for-profit event – but it’s worth bearing in mind. Also, you only have the amount of money available that you take. If your event caters for children and concession tickets, make sure you allow for that when you decide upon your ticket prices. If you budget for selling out the venue with full price tickets but end up selling half your tickets at a reduced rate, you could well encounter problems!

Market forces

If you don’t think of yourself as an event organiser (i.e. it’s not on your business card, not just because you don’t have a business card, and is not on your CV either) phrases like “market forces” might make you want to stop reading. Once you’ve identified an audience for your event and taken into account whether your audience will be able to attend at the date and time you’ve highlighted, you’re already deep in “market forces” territory, though. It’s too late to turn back now – you’ve got to see this thing through.  The only remaining element you need to be aware of is price. You might think that charging X amount for a ticket to see Y artist is very reasonable (it probably is!) but if your audience can’t (or won’t) pay that much, that is an issue. The importance of pricing your event accurately cannot be overstated: getting it wrong will render all your hard work utterly pointless.

Steps to running a successful event

By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail – Benjamin Franklin

I’ve seen the above quote attributed to many people but, as this is going out on the 4th of July, I’ll let Ben Franklin take credit for it. For what it’s worth, I always think of The Sphinx from the relatively poor 1999 film ‘Mystery Men’ but let’s not dwell on that!

The most obvious aspect of event preparation starts long before the event takes place – when it only exists as a concept on a piece of paper, a single line in an email (usually followed by a question-mark) or a minor mention in an informal meeting: planning.

Many authors famously use the “5 Ws” method of preparation and events are no different. The 5 Ws? Simple:

1.What?

2.Why?

3.Who?

4.Where?

5.When?

The order of the questions may look arbitrary, but it’s significant.

1.What?

What is the event going to be? An incredibly obvious one but without this first question, we’re not going anywhere! This is often the first thing that sparks off the initial decision to hold the event. Somebody makes a suggestion: “I’ve been thinking and I believe it would be a good idea to hold an X type of event.”

Great. The most obvious question follows – although often it goes hand-in-hand with the first one.

2.Why?

Why are going to put on this event? “To raise money!” OK. That’s not going to get us very far, though, even if it is the main motivation to do it. “Why?” is a tricky question that is multi-faceted – there are more than one “Why?” questions to ask so make sure you cover them all.

Why would people want to come to it?

Why are we the best people to put this type of event on?

Why? is a question which involves research to answer. Is there a gap in the market? Is there a lack of provision for the type of event you’re looking to put on? Is the lack of event because there’s no actual market for it?

3.Who?

Who is the event for? Once you’ve answered this, you can start focusing upon how you’ll reach them and the answer to “Who?” also informs your subsequent questions.

4.Where?

Getting the right venue is vital for any event. Make it too small and your attendees will be uncomfortable; make it too large and it will feel empty even when well attended. Location is also key. Is there enough parking? Is it easy to reach via public transport for those who don’t drive? If the event is at your own venue, which room will work best for the type of event you’re running?

5.When?

Finally, when will the event take place? Ensuring that you’re not clashing with other events which will appeal to your key audience is vital, but the time of day and day of the week is also important.

Why that ‘little event’ you put on is big business

There is a consistent thread that recurs throughout many people who host events up and down the country. Not the massive events with thousands of attendees and huge corporate sponsorship, the regular events that occur throughout the UK every single day of the working week (and sometimes, we hear it rumoured, even on weekends!) That thread is a tendency to under sell – not the venue or, horror abounds, the attendees, but the organisers themselves and the nature of the event.

Telling ourselves stories like “I do a few little events here and there but it’s nothing major” is a reflection of what Doctors Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes (in their ground-breaking 1978 work, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention“) referred to as ‘imposter phenomenon’ or, as we tend to term it more consistently these days, ‘imposter syndrome.’

Let me dispel the myth here and now: if you put on events, you are an events organiser. It doesn’t matter if you hold them every day, many times a day, or once a year, if you host an event, you’re an events organiser. If it helps you to take ownership of it, get a name badge made up, print business cards, add it to your CV, put it on your LinkedIn profile (and get endorsements and recommendations for it!)

Why is it important?

In a survey undertaken by Statista last year, data regarding UK event ticket sales from previous years was analysed to create growth projections that would see the sector increase by half its 2017 total by 2022 – from 3.2bn USD to 4.8bn USD (I’ve avoided Anglicising the data, but that 4.8bn USD equates to roughly 3.8bn GBP).

The most recent figures published by the Events Industry Council (EIC) suggests that business events alone supported 10.3m direct jobs globally and generated nearly £500tn (yes, that’s trillion!) of direct GDP.

Why is acknowledging your role in that an important thing to do? Because you are part of those amazing statistics. You have helped contribute to this growth and, as part of the network of others who hold events throughout the country – throughout the world! – not only does your voice and experience matter, you’re also not alone. It might feel like it, when you arrive an hour before your breakfast event to set up projectors, lay out name badges and arrange refreshments, but you’re not “just” setting up projectors, laying out name badges and arranging refreshments – you are facilitating, not only an exchange of business cards, but an exchange of knowledge; you are playing a vital role in the progression of commerce and you are central to the establishment and nourishment of a community.

Increasing secondary spend at your visitor attraction (Part 2)

2. Retail Merchandising:

One area that is sadly neglected in many venues is the retail offering. I’m aware that you’re not all high street retailers but you do need to be aware of the opportunities available from good quality products and merchandising.
Back to that comment of ‘captive audience’ where here it can be a real advantage. They have visited your attraction and many of them want to take away a souvenir of their visit. All too often this means rummaging around the same stuff they can buy on most market stalls. In some cases badly presented and even dusty. In some attractions the dusty environment can be a real problem but this has to be contained so that your product offering is always being displayed in the most attractive and appealing way. First of all try and see your retail offering as a visitor would see it. This can be an issue as it is often difficult to see faults with what we have created. If necessary get a friend you trust to give you their opinion. This will assess both the visual effectiveness and also the staff’s attitude to customers.

When creating displays look at providing the ‘wow’ factor. What is the ‘wow’ factor? It’s that little bit extra we get when we choose something, especially if it makes us remember our purchase in a more positive way. This can be done by the use of clever lighting or décor or even sound. TV screens are very cheap but they can be used to show dynamic displays in a particularly effective setting.

Ensure all your staff are also part of the ‘wow’ you have on offer.

Are they all familiar with your product lines and the history of your venue? Often when in the shop visitors will ask questions they forgot to ask inside.
Picking up again on the Dinosaur Live exhibition make sure you have enough products which reflect the theme and content of what they have just seen. If you sell models have one or two already assembled and painted to show what the finished product will look like.

Don’t ignore the till point either as this is the place where they will have to stand for a few minutes at least. I don’t mean clutter it up with those cheap tacky goods from the Far East either. Use the space wisely and effectively either to add value to what they have already bought or as a way of advertising forthcoming events and experiences. Remember the two-third rule – two-third space and one-third products. That way it ensures the eye is drawn to what you actually want them to see.

When laying out your retail space always take a picture of the finished product and then view it the day after. Often a picture will identify issues you missed when you were setting it all up. There are also lots of ways you can spruce up displays very cheaply and effectively – I call it the Blue Peter effect! Think back to how they made some very magical things out of fairly ordinary objects with the addition of coloured paper, stars and decals and even sticky back plastic. If creativity is not your speciality I’m sure the local art college would be more than willing to get involved, especially if they get a mention on the displays. If you sell models, have one or two already assembled and painted to show that the finished product will look like.

Increasing secondary spend at your visitor attraction

1. On-Line ticket sales:

The real advantages of on-line tickets sales are two-fold:
a) The visitor pays upfront and you have the money irrespective of whether they attend or not!
b) Psychologically, as they have paid in advance, they still have the entry money in their pockets!

If you link merchandise to ticket sales as part of your on-line offering this will also increase sales of existing products

In the case of a) it is very easy to add on-line ticket sales to an existing website and be selling tickets 24 hours a day 7- days a week. The cost of this is negligible and can be covered very easy by a small on-line booking fee if required. Many venues make no charge for on-line booking as the cash-flow advantages and the reduction in staffing intervention is worth the small fees charged. In addition, if you link merchandise to ticket sales as part of your on-line offering this will also increase sales of existing products. For example if they are attending a special event there may be specific merchandise linked to that event which can be bought at the same time as the tickets. ‘Dinosaur Live’ attracted 10,000 visitors and parents could buy their children self assembly models of a variety of dinosaurs both before and during their visit. Shop sales rocketed during that exhibition as even if they hadn’t bought on-line they knew these products were available on their visit.

Having paid for tickets on-line the visitor often sees their visit as a ‘freebie’ as they haven’t had to pay out money on the day so still have money in their pockets.

Data gleaned from existing users of on-line tickets sales show an increase in secondary spend of up to 24%. Clearly this is a fantastic opportunity for you to increase your revenues in the shop and café. To tap into this lucrative market you need to be creative in your product offerings and ensure they can take something away that links to the visit. Using the example of the dinosaurs I mentioned earlier. How about looking for local products such as paintings, craftwork, ceramics, etc.

Food and drink are very profitable lines and it’s worth ensuring that you have plenty of variety on offer, especially if you can have products not found easily elsewhere – locally made pies, buns and cakes for example. ‘Own brand’ biscuits, flap-jack toffee, fudge etc. There are plenty of suppliers that will brand items up for you. However, don’t fall into the trap of being too expensive as this gets more negative reviews on Tripadvsior than almost anything else. The fact that you have a ‘captive market’ doesn’t give you the right to rip them off! Just ask yourself how many times people have visited a venue or event and when asked about their experience have commented along the lines of “great day out but the sandwiches were a ridiculous price”. I’m not suggesting that you try to compete with Greggs or Subway or the like but do be sensible in your pricing structure.