Monday, August 13, 2012

Your product isn't the next iPhone. So what? Throwing a stand-out event can generate tons of buzz anyway.

After five long years of innovation, research, and testing, David Dickinson, CEO of start-up Zeo, based in Newton, Massachusetts, was confident that the product his company introduced last year — a personal sleep monitor that gathers data from brain waves during sleep — was unlike anything on the market.

But one more hurdle remained: getting others to notice. "We had to introduce the Personal Sleep Coach in a way that it was clear that it was a breakthrough innovation," Dickinson says. "We asked ourselves, how do we get people talking about it with each other?"

One way Zeo attempted to do that was by hosting a product-launch event for the press at the posh Standard Hotel in Manhattan last summer. Because the company wanted invitees to experience the product firsthand and spread the word through their reviews, they invited them to actually spend the night using the personal sleep coach in a paid hotel room, and to wake up to their personalized results on how they slept.

"Sometimes an event can provide an environment that is unique to the product use," Dickinson says. "It can be quite powerful."

Developing a new product in a new category is a formidable task, but actually launching the product when it's ready for the market can also be one of the most stressful times for a business owner. New products can earn about half their sales and profits far earlier in the product life cycle than many business owners realize, according to Robyn Sachs, president of RMR & Associates, an advertising, marketing and public relations firm based in Rockville, Maryland.

However, holding an actual event isn't for everybody. "For many people, I think their first impulse is to have an event," says Joan Schneider, president and creative director of Boston public relations and marketing communications firm Schneider Associates, and author of the book "The New Launch Plan: 152 Tips, Tactics, and Trends from the Most Memorable New Products. "But in this age where everybody is triple booked, unless you have big news or a big draw, it's hard to get people to show up."

Chances are your company isn't introducing the next iPhone, but that doesn't mean you can't organize a product-launch event that will draw crowds and create plenty of buzz for your new product. Here's how.

Organizing a Product-Launch Event: Determine Your Purpose

You're confident you have a great product that deserves a launch event. Now what?

Obviously, you'll want your event to lead to a sales boost for your new product, but you need to decide exactly how you want to achieve that – and how your event will contribute to that outcome. "Understanding the must-have results will help you quantify the value you expect from the event," Schneider says. "Are you shooting for product distribution, media coverage, consumer awareness, sales, or influencer outreach?"

Once you know your end game, you can begin to invite your winning team. Schneider says that there are three main types of events: trade events, media events, and consumer events. In the case of the Zeo event, the company was trying to spread word of the new product through media attention, so the company designed its event to educate the key reporters and editors they invited to review the product. In contrast, at a trade event, you might invite key influencers in your industry, such as industry analysts or editors of trade publications.

"Whatever you do, don't try to host one event for lots of different audiences," Schneider says. "When it comes to launch events, one size does not fit all."

Narrowing your purpose and your target audience will help you craft a consistent message to market and sell the event, right down to the invitations themselves. "The hard part is making sure the message is consistent, and then converting it into an experience," says Mark Cheplowitz, president of Wizard of Ahs, a corporate event-planning company based in New York City.

Organizing a Product-Launch Event: Scout Your Location 

The most important consideration for your event's location is proximity: you want as much of your targeted audience as possible to be able to get there easily. You also want to make sure you choose a location that reflects your product, in the way that the trendy Standard Hotel in Manhattan reflected the breakthrough innovation of the Personal Sleep Coach.

Glitz and glamour aren't necessarily prerequisites for a trade event, however. Something you might not have considered is holding your event at a trade show. Steve Canton, president and CEO of iCore, which is based in McLean, Virginia, hosted Voice over Private Internet (VoPI) provider, chooses to roll out the majority of his company's new products in trade show booths. In the company's newsletter to existing and prospective customers, it announces which shows they will be attending.

"Sometimes, doing it at a trade show makes perfect sense, because basically all of the people you want to come are at the trade show anyway," Schneider says. She warns, however that "there is a lot of competition."

Don't be afraid to think outside of the box. "The word event is changing," Schneider says. "You have to think beyond press conferences and cocktail parties. Launch events can include street teams, mobile marketing, flash mobs, and cyber events."

At the New England Confectionary Company (NECCO), based in Revere, Massachusetts, each year an event is held to announce that year's phrases for the Sweethearts Valentine's Day-themed candy. But last February the company decided to solicit input from customers on what those phrases should be. The top two results were "tweet me" and "text me."

"When we learned the phrases, we decided to make it a cyber event," says Jackie Hague, VP of marketing for the company. "We weren't really comfortable with it at first, but we were able to leverage the strength of Twitter and use that platform to get people together. Even though people weren't physically together, they were all emotionally connecting, which is why it was so much more rich."

Organizing a Product-Launch Event: Give Your Audience a Reason to Go

Oftentimes the most difficult part of planning a launch event isn't deciding who to invite or where to host it — instead it's creating a memorable, worthwhile experience. "I believe the most important thing is adding value for your audience," Dickinson says. "It isn't so much about telling your story as it is about trying to find a way to address their needs. With the media, we gave them all the information they needed to do their job well."

In Dickinson's case, the media was guaranteed a firsthand experience with the product. But if it's an event specifically targeted at consumers, how will you attract that audience? You might try something like an event discount to consumers who buy the product at the event.

"When you look at it from a consumer's point of view, look at what they are being hit with from so many different mediums," Cheplowitz says. "You really have to stand out and have a different message."

Not every product introduced can be classified as revolutionary, Schneider says. "If it's evolutionary, a better mousetrap, it may not be worth having an event unless it's really clever," she says. "Have a spokesperson or a celebrity, or connect it to a cause. You need to add something to the event to make it really exciting."

Organizing a Product-Launch Event: Follow Up

It's the morning after — so in order to continuing building momentum for a new product, instead of seeing sales turn into something resembling a bad hangover, you need to follow up with your target audience. The reality is that the launch party was only one part of the larger product-launch process.

According to Sachs, too many companies focus all their energies on the first announcement and trade show. She says that key to a successful launch process is realizing where your product fits in the marketplace, and consistently communicating your product through a variety of public relations vehicles (press releases, social media, and print advertising, for example) over a long range of time. In other words, a launch alone is not a successful launch.

"When clients get bored of the advertisements you've created, you know when it's starting to sink in with your target market," she says. "It's much more difficult than the average small business owner realizes."

-Peter Vanden Bos for

Creating a Memorable Product Launch

Your product isn't the next iPhone. So what? Throwing a stand-out event can generate tons of buzz anyway. After five long years of i...

Friday, August 10, 2012

When planning an event, especially as a rookie, you might not understand the terms used or questions asked by the event planner or venue and F&B provider. So here are some tips to help you when planning your next event.

Space Configurations

The amount of space your event needs will depend on the type of function you’re hosting and corresponding room layout, e.g., theater, classroom, banquet, or reception. 

Theater — Plan for 8 square feet per person if no AV presentation is involved. If AV will be used, increase the space to 10 square feet per person. Theater setups allow you to pack the most people into the smallest space, and are fine if attendees won’t be taking a lot of notes and sessions are short.

Classroom — Allot 12 square feet per person if you want three people per 6-foot table, or 18 square feet for two people per 6-foot table, allowing 44 inches between each row of tables. For classroom configurations with AV, plan a minimum of 15 square feet per person. Classroom setups are better for serious training sessions or when people need room to take notes.

Banquet and Reception — Banquets and most receptions with a bar (or multiple bars) and standard buffet tables require 10 to 12 square feet per person. Banquet rounds are best for in-depth, small-group discussions, and they allow for quick room reset for food functions. 

Food and Beverage Needs 

Having the right mix of cold and hot beverages is key to keeping attendees happy and hydrated. Take these averages into account when placing your beverage order.

Coffee, Tea, and Soda — Average consumption of beverages in the morning will be roughly 65 percent hot (coffee and tea) and 35 percent cold (juice, iced tea, and soda). In the afternoon, beverage consumption will average about 65 percent cold and 35 percent hot. Coffee and hot water for tea are purchased by the gallon, which equals about 128 ounces and produces roughly 20 6-ounce cups. 

Snacks — Buy cookies, pastries, and brownies by the dozen rather than per person as it’s cheaper to buy in bulk. Or, if it’s something that’s individually wrapped, like granola bars or yogurt, buy on consumption. 

Alcohol Estimations 

While you certainly don’t have to serve alcohol at your event, it’s quite common to have at least wine and beer on tap — especially at evening affairs. Consider these rules of thumb to help keep your attendees satiated, but not sloshed.

Wine — A 750 milliliter (mL) bottle of wine contains 25.4 ounces. For each bottle of wine, you’ll get about four-and-a-half 6-ounce servings, or five 5-ounce servings.

Beer — A keg of beer holds 1,984 ounces, which equals about 165 12-ounce servings. 

Liquor — A standard bottle of 80-proof distilled spirits (such as vodka, rum, gin, or tequila) holds 750 mL, or 25.4 ounces, and pours approximately 17, 1.5-ounce shots. If your bartender is using 1-ounce pours (known as a “short shot” or “pony shot”), a bottle will yield up to 25 drinks. To keep costs down (and drinks conservative), instruct your bartenders to use a measured shot glass rather than free pouring. Also negotiate to purchase liquor by the bottle rather than by the drink. It will be cheaper in the long run to buy the liquor for 20 to 25 drinks in one bottle rather than paying per drink — just like buying a keg of beer is cheaper per glass than buying individual bottles or cans. Agree up front with the catering manager on a system for auditing the used and unused bottles of liquor before and after the event.

In addition to these serving rules of thumb, also consider the following stats regarding alcohol consumption, which typically varies depending on the environment in which it’s served.

Cash Bar — Average consumption for a one-hour party with a cash bar (where guests are purchasing their own drinks) is 1.5 drinks per person. While a cash bar might seem like a more cost-effective option for event planners since attendees are purchasing their own drinks, keep in mind that you are still responsible for the cost of the bar setup, any necessary labor, and the bartender (and possibly a bar-back helper). 

Open Bar — Conventional wisdom will tell you that free drinks flow more, well, freely. And you’re right. Average alcohol consumption at a one-hour “open” or “hosted” bar is 2 to 2.5 drinks per person.

Reception — If you sponsor a post-conference reception with a cash bar, 50 percent of the crowd will stay for the reception, averaging about 1.5 drinks per person. If it’s a hosted bar at a cocktail hour, 80 percent of the conference crowd will stay for the reception, consuming an average of 2.25 drinks per person in the first hour and 1.5 drinks in the second hour. Here again, you’ll want to purchase sodas and beer on a consumption-only basis (rather than a per-person basis), paying only for what is used.

Dinner — If you’re hosting a dinner, serve three bottles of wine (two white and one red) for each table of eight people, as one bottle of wine yields about five glasses. 

Below-the-Line Costs

It’s important to understand the below-the-line costs of your event, beyond the basic charges. You may be surprised to find up to an additional one-third of your bill comprises administrative fees, service charges, and mandatory gratuities, plus local and state taxes. 

Gratuities — A gratuity can be a tip or mandatory percentage of the basic charges. Depending on local tax laws, a gratuity may or may not be taxable. The way in which gratuity is distributed can be specified in your event contract with the venue. A rule of thumb for event-gratuity payments is 1.5 percent to 2 percent of the total event bill. You can have this amount added to your master account and distributed to preselected banquet and bar staff, or you can distribute it yourself to make sure the appropriate people receive it.

Tips — A tip is a small sum of money given voluntarily and directly to someone above and beyond a standard charge (generally for performing a service or task). Tips range from 15 percent for average service to 20 percent or more for exemplary service, and are awarded to waitstaff, housekeeping staff, and other service personnel at your discretion.

Administrative Fees — Sometimes called a service charge or service fee, an administrative fee is an automatic and mandatory amount added to food and beverage charges by the service provider. It is typically calculated as a percentage of the total, and is usually used to defray the cost of labor and equipment. Generally speaking, these charges fall somewhere in the 18-percent to 23-percent range. 

Note that sometimes, these administrative fees, taxes, and surcharges are not included in your quote. So ask if menus are available with “inclusive pricing,” or pricing that includes both taxes and gratuity. If you see a “++” after the cost on a menu, it means “plus tax and plus gratuity.” Also, ask what foods, beverages, and services are taxable and at what percentage. For example, some states and cities charge tax on alcoholic beverages, but not on food or nonalcoholic beverages. You’ll want to know the figure on which your gratuity or service charge is based, as well. 

Possible Perks

When negotiating perks with a venue, be prepared to answer questions about previous meetings you’ve planned, anticipated attendance, projected attendance at meal and beverage functions, the estimated number of room nights you’ll require, and your space requirements for meeting rooms. Your leverage depends on all of those things, as well as the type of facility you’re dealing with and the dates of your event. 

Calculating Event-Registration Fees
To determine your event’s registration fee (RF), divide your fixed costs (FC) by the number of anticipated attendees (AA) and add your variable costs per person (VC/P). 

Example: If the fixed cost for your event is RM200,000, the variable cost per person is RM500, and you anticipate 1,000 attendees, the registration fee should be RM700.

The formula is: 
(FC/AA) + (VC/P) = RF
(200,000 / 1,000) + RM500 = RM700 

If you’re planning your event when everyone else wants to be at that particular venue, it’s “high season,” which means higher prices. On the other hand, if your event occurs during a time of year when monsoons  are common, it might be “off season,” which translates to better overall pricing. Bottom line, if your event fills a “hole” in the venue’s schedule, it will be more flexible on other pricing. 

Regardless of when your event takes place, you can usually negotiate one complimentary room for each 35 to 50 cumulative room nights during your event. Stipulate in your contract that the total number of rooms used is cumulative through your entire event, not calculated daily — and that it includes your guests’ early arrivals and late departures — and that all rooms used by your group, regardless of how they were booked (i.e., through the Internet or a travel agent) count toward your total room count. You can also request staffers’ rooms and speakers’ rooms at a lower rate (or with upgrades). Other negotiable perks include resort and health-facility use, complimentary cocktail parties, parking waivers, free Internet or business-center use, complimentary airport transportation, and reductions or waivers for the cost of parking, meeting rooms, or exhibit space. 

By having these formulas and rules of thumb to reference, you’ll be at the head of the class when it comes to planning your next hospitality event. After all, knowledge is power.

-Candy Adams for Exhibitor Magazine with modifications by Best Events

Hospitality Rules of Thumb

When planning an event, especially as a rookie, you might not understand the terms used or questions asked by the event planner or ve...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Drawing on the ethereal, ghostly set of the famous ballet, designer 
Bill Heffernan of HMR Design Group brought a moonlit-forest look 
to the tent that housed the ensuing gala in Millennium Park. Large, 
transparent cubes decorated with projected branch patterns hung 
overhead in the dining space, while ferns and white freesia topped the tables.
Photo: Bob Carl

In the Hamptons, the Parrish Art Museum's Midsummer Party included
dinner in an ornate tent. Overhead, a leafy projection and twinkling
rope lights contrasted with a more high-tech lighting rack, which
produced a dancing effect.
Photo: Patrick McMullan/

The National Ballet of Canada celebrated its 60th anniversary
in June. During the reception, which had a specialty vodka cocktail
called "Diamonds in the Skyy," ballerinas danced and stretched casually
amid the guests.
Photo: Gary Beechy

For the City of Hope "Spirit of Life" gala in Los Angeles, Namevents
turned a parking lot adjacent to Geffen Contemporary at MOCA into
a dinner space meant to evoke a high-end nightclub. Guests sat in
lounge areas with plush couches and blankets, and dinner was served
on glass tables with programmable LED bases. On some tables,
tall glass vases designed by Chris Matsumoto were filled with water
and stones in colors that echoed the hues on the invitation.
Photo: Line 8 Photography.

The event this year drew inspiration for its theme from Cleopatra,
the subject of 'Cleopatra: The Exhibition.' A troupe processed through
 the dining room to announce a feast hosted by Mark Antony and Cleopatra,
also known as dinner.
Photo: Nadine Froger Photography

With a Night at the Museum theme, the event had an area dedicated
to all things ancient Egypt, including pyramids, a Sphinx, and hieroglyphics.
Photo: Christie's Photographic Studios

To honor the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic story, the
19th annual Canadian Cancer Society fund-raiser brought a surreal
and upscale version of the tale to life. The design for the dining room
 included five different table styles, seven linen combinations,
 three types of chairs, and four colors of chair cushions.
Photo: Alexandre Chéron

Thematic catering at the Daffodil Ball included soup served
from a teapot. An edible pocket watch crust rested on top.
Photo: Fahri Yavuz

The evening had decor with towering paper centerpieces in the shapes
of flowers, windmills, and airplanes. Artist and illustrator Jami Darwin Chiang
constructed the paper pieces.
Photo: Josh Sears

Decor here included plush white lounge furniture, hanging chandeliers, and topiaries.
Photo: Peter Peck Field

Long, communal tables and lounge-like configurations provided

more relaxed seating on the upper level. For centerpieces,
designer David Monn incorporated square-shaped topiaries,
illuminated by candles that hung from the leaves in glass cylinders.
Photo: Nadia Chaudhury/BizBash

A tunnel of silver balloons from Balloons by Tommy.
Photo: Joseph R. Palmer


Spring/Summer Event Touches

Drawing on the ethereal, ghostly set of the famous ballet, designer  Bill Heffernan of HMR Design Group brought a moonlit-forest look ...


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