As it turns out, people actually like talking to other people in person, not just through texting and social media sites. It seems we prefer to meet people online first, but we actually do want to see them in person.
This, says public relations specialist Hilary Morris, is precisely the reason more businesses are using live events — the kind that involve real people in real settings — to boost their PR and get to know their customers and clients. “Social media has increased the desire to get together in person,” she says. “Brands of all kinds are discovering the value of bringing people together.”
Morris will present “Event Planning for Your Business,” a free workshop on Thursday, August 13, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Visit princetonlibrary.org/events.
Morris is no stranger to libraries. Her mother spent 29 years at a private school in (fittingly) Morristown, where she spent much of her career as head librarian. Later she worked in development and admissions. Her father ran his own printing/design business before ending his career as a printing manager for NJ Transit. Her stepfather is a judge.
Morris earned her bachelor’s in education from Bucknell in 2001 and taught middle school math until she was bitten by the entrepreneurial and blogging bugs. Her foray into the digital world kicked off in 2007 with her alter-ego, Mrs. Mo, of the now-retired blog, “Mrs. Mo’s New Jersey.”
In 2009 she had her first daughter of three and took the plunge into entrepreneurial waters with Hilary Morris Communications, based in Princeton. She offers an array of public relations and social media services, which she balances with the demands of motherhood. Though, the latter problem is often handled with a nice grilled cheese for lunch.
She remains an avid blogger and is the founder of the Coffee Talk networking group, which she launched as a way to stay in touch with other solopreneurs who actually want to get together and talk with real people, in person.
Speaking of which, Morris is a believer in social media, not a detractor. She just sees it as part of the mix, not the entire mix that some were saying it would be. Social media is important to tap into before, during, and after an event you’re hosting, but don’t expect it to be all you need to get and retain customers. There’s a lot more work to do.
Before the event. While it shouldn’t be a surprise that most of the heavy lifting for an event comes in the planning stage, Morris has found that the details of any undertaking aren’t intuitive for most business owners. Many come up with an idea to host an event, but not as many stop to think about everything that will be involved.
Like communication. One of the most potentially damaging pitfalls of event planning, Morris says, is the lack of communication among the team. At its most basic, it’s not uncommon for team members to just not know what will be expected of them. This could be the members of your sales floor at your retail store (who often are told nothing about the event until the doors are about to open) or it could be the media outlets that don’t know your event is happening or it could be that you didn’t E-mail your customer list. All of these can spell trouble, or at least put people at an awkward disadvantage when the event happens.
“Often, people are not in the loop,” Morris says. “Keep them in it.” Morris uses Asana, an online project management software that shares files among team members on a project. You could just as easily do the same thing with a shared Google Docs file, she says. So long as everyone has access to all the information.
And don’t forget to make that information clear. Part of the planning phase, Morris says, is determining who will do what. Who will be in charge of registrations and info collection on event day? Who will be in charge of writing the press release? Who will be in charge of hiring a caterer? Of setting up displays? Of cleaning up? Of securing a speaker? Of transitioning between activities? Of developing the day’s itinerary?
Yes, that’s supposed to sound like a lot, because it is a lot. All these aspects need to be planned out. The more you figure this stuff out early, the easier it will be to know what to do and when to do it.
By the way, all this planning also needs to include your budget for the event. Events need not be lavish street parties or high-dollar speakers in a panel discussion, of course. They could be a simple wine tasting or a book signing. Whatever the event is, though, it will cost you something to get it together, whether it’s advertising or buying name tags for guests. Whatever it is, figure out the money before you set any plan into motion because nothing shuts a business or an event down quite like a blown budget.
Don’t forget the rain. In all of your planning, don’t forget about Murphy’s law. People get sick, the weather turns ugly, some unsupervised kid sticks his face in the chocolate fountain — it happens.
“Have a backup plan,” Morris says. “If you have a presentation based on tech, it will fail. Have alternate activities. Have handouts ready. If you have an outside event, have an indoor backup or a rain date. You always want to know the what-ifs.”
During the event. All right, so everyone knows what to do. The papers have been notified, your mailing list is up to speed, and your venue and speakers and activities are in place. Is it as simple as opening the doors?
Actually, yes, if you’ve planned properly, Morris says. If your itinerary was written to cover every block of time, if everyone knows where they need to be and when to be there, things on event day should pretty much be sticking to the schedule.
One thing to consider strongly, she says, is a photographer. Not every event needs one, but a good photographer can take high-resolution photos that look a lot better than something captured on an iPhone with a selfie stick. And good photos are an integral part of:
The after-event. Most business owners, Morris says, think the event ends when the event does. But consider the reasons you had an event in the first place — to bring in customers and clients; to make new business; to build a larger customer base that will come back.
Morris has had a lot of success simply sending high-quality photos to local news outlets following an event. Send the photo with a caption, and make sure event organizers, businesses involved, guest presenters, and the like are in the frame. And also make sure any names are spelled correctly and any logos are clearly visible.
Also, send photos of the event to your best and most social media-active customers, Morris says. They will often do a lot of talking for you. “The event doesn’t end at the end of the event,” she says. “It ends when you do your follow-up.”