Tricks of the Trade: 5 Tips to Throwing a Stellar PR Event

Stunts, conferences and parties go hand-in-hand with PR – to launch a new product, celebrate a company milestone or showcase leadership at an industry event. I’ve staffed, planned and managed events in every shape and size – from cocktail parties and annual galas to press conferences and CEO speaking engagements. Despite their differences, they all have one trait in common – preparation.

Make a list. Check it twice. While creating documents is the last thing you think you have time for, it’s a necessary step that will put you and your client on the same page. Create an event plan and timeline. What is the goal? Is there a theme? What do you want the event to look like? How will you promote on social media? Who are the key players – attendees, hopeful guests, speakers? Is there a speaking portion? Does your client prefer talking points or a speech on notecards? Consider what they need to feel confident and set them up for personal success. At minimum, create a show flow document, bios on important attendees and a vendor contact list.

The most important list is the guest list. No one likes a Salahi surprise, so manage your RSVPs and update the list frequently. Make it easy to read and alphabetize. Add notes and headshots of important people that should be recognized (and not left waiting in a check-in line). If not personally manning check-in, communicate with the person in charge and ask that they alert you to the arrival of important guests in person.

No detail is too small. Every event should carefully reflect the brand in design and tone and don’t underestimate small touches. A signature cocktail or guest giveaway adds a memorable experience and added media value to an otherwise average occasion.

Guest numbers are great, but media turnout trumps all. First and foremost, our number one goal is to secure media coverage for our clients. At the end of the day, you could throw a swanky event that puts P. Diddy’s opulent White Party to shame, but if the media stand you up, it may not be considered a success in the eyes of the client. When prioritizing your time, remember checking in with the reporter who responded with a maybe RSVP, or call downs to the local TV planning desks are more valuable than another inspection of the banner placement or tablecloths.

Expect the unexpected. Mentally prepare for Murphy’s law and acknowledge that there is only so much you can do. The start time will deviate from the show flow you carefully timed to the minute. Someone you were expecting won’t show (or someone you weren’t expecting will). The caterer will not have any gluten-free appetizers for your CEO. Breaking news will take media attention miles away from your venue. However big or small the snafu, your job is to remain calm. Your role is frequently behind the scenes, but you are still the conductor of this orchestra, after all. Everyone will take cues from you so focus on what you can control and how you can adapt to the situation. If you don’t panic, your client will (rightly) assume you have it under control. There is nothing a smartphone, credit card and a little initiative can’t fix.

The next project I’m planning is the arrival of my baby boy. In a brash attempt to stage his own publicity stunt, he’s due to debut on 12/12/12. I’ve made my to-do lists, decorated the nursery and prepared a day-of plan, but I know he’ll join us when he’s ready. Luckily, if he’s two weeks early or two days late, I expect attention from paparazzi (the grandparents) eager to cover the news. With this in mind, it is also worth noting the importance of post-event media coverage – a topic for another day.

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