Natasha Ashton – How to create a stellar signature event to say, ‘We’ve arrived!’

Natasha Ashton

Natasha Ashton, co-CEO, Petplan

You’ve worked, you’ve grown, and now it’s time to make a statement. For an emerging business, nothing says, “We’ve arrived” quite like a signature event.

Before you begin, don’t even look in an event planner’s direction until you answer one essential question: What are you trying to accomplish?

Consider whether an event is truly the best tactic to achieve that goal. An event can be an exciting coming out party for your company. But if your objective is at all unclear at the outset, there will be headaches.

This year, we hosted the Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards for the first time in the United States. Making this event our own was no small feat; for 13 years, Petplan U.K. has presented a similar event that’s become known as “the Oscars of the vet world.” We had big shoes to fill indeed!

Here are some lessons we learned along the way:

Make it your event

Just as a handwritten signature represents your personal identity and communicates a promise, your signature event must be a symbol of your brand and deliver on your value proposition. Recognizing and awarding extraordinary veterinary professionals dovetails perfectly with Petplan’s “Pets Come First” credo.

The Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards let us shine a light on the extraordinary veterinarians, veterinary technicians and practice managers who help keep our four-legged family in the very best health possible. These awards recognize not just their passion and excellence, but their exceptional “wow” service. The event’s purpose spoke directly to our mission.

If your event does anything less than that, you’re wasting resources.

Strategy is king

A good event engages a carefully cultivated audience, attracts media opportunities and generates goodwill in the community your business is a part of. This is where many organizations struggle.

While it is important to determine details like when, where and what’s for dinner, the focus should be on your event strategy: how you’re getting people there, what messages to communicate once you’ve got them and how to keep the conversation going when the event is over.

A feast for the eyes

A well-dressed window will compel people to gaze, so make sure the event’s visual branding lives up to the brand personality people have come to expect from you. For Petplan, that meant translating our fresh, friendly point of view into both décor and collateral.

The visual elements deftly delivered a few fun surprises that really felt “like us.” Once your strategy is firmly in place, don’t be afraid to cross your t’s and dot your i’s with a few creative touches

Face forward

A signature event is a great opportunity to put a public face on your company; think strategically about who you want to spotlight and how they’ll communicate your company values to the audience.

At the Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards, our honored guests came face-to-face with our long-time friends and trusted advisors, not to mention key employees. Careful consideration was given to the seating plan to ensure that connections weren’t just hoped for, but inevitable. This made our event even more personal and gave attendees good insight into what we’re all about.

So many moving parts make up a corporate event. Make sure the foundation is sound and you’ll find that things will fall into place accordingly. Once you’ve nailed down your goals and hammered out the strategy, the rest is … well, a piece of cake!

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at [email protected]

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