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 press@gopetplan.com.

Published in Columnist

Event planning is no longer just “party planning.” Event planning has become a powerful tool for business success by helping to increase sales through live events and saving time and money when planning or organizing company events. Planning an event takes a great deal of time, energy, skill and creativity to effectively execute.

“Mid-sized businesses often do not realize the value of having someone actually trained in event planning; they often allocate the job to an administrative professional who has a full-time job and little time to pay attention to the vast details it takes to successfully implement an event,” says Michele Clark, program manager, The Shlensky Institute for Event Meeting and Planning, for Corporate College.

Even if a business thinks it cannot afford an event planner, it could afford training someone in its office. And, any administrative professional that is given the task of planning and executing events should be compensated for the increase in time and effort it takes.

Smart Business spoke with Clark about the importance of training employees in the fundamentals of event planning and understanding best practices in this essential role.

Why does a business need to ensure its marketing coordinator or a similar employee is properly trained in event planning?

Marketing and event planning really go hand in hand. Events have become an advantage for any business’s marketing strategy, and when combined with an advertising campaign, it vastly increases the awareness and visibility for a product or service. It gives your audience a live environment for your brand. The more people see, touch, taste and experience your product or service, the more you sell.

Marketing personnel also become involved in the acquisition of sponsors for events. To sell an event, it’s important to understand how to look at the event through the eyes of a planner so you are able to provide real marketing solutions to a sponsor’s goals.

What is involved in planning a business event?

A business event is no different than any event in that it all comes down to the details. Whether you are planning a large conference or a gala affair, knowing how to manage every detail is key to its success. If you don’t know the fundamentals of planning an event, you could be wasting a great deal of time. For example, a large conference can take up to year to plan. An event planner handles all of the tasks related to an event, such as research, food, decor, entertainment, transportation, invitations, accommodations, speakers, activities, staffing, supervision, evaluations, and the list goes on and on.

How does event planning affect a business’s profitability and reputation?

Having someone trained in event planning actually saves time and money. If you have someone who understands time management and the organization of an event, it is much more efficient than having someone just plan the event on the side trying to find their way through hundreds of logistics.

As for reputation, there is a remarkable difference between someone with experience and training who executes an event versus someone who just ‘wings it.’ If something can go wrong, it will, and a well-trained event planner understands the challenges and knows how to avoid or solve them. Your well-managed events will speak for themselves and be less likely to become a failure, which could, in turn, give you a bad reputation.

What kind of training should be provided to employees who deal with events and hospitality?

A comprehensive course designed specifically for event planning is excellent training for someone given the task of planning events and will provide that person with an appreciation of what it takes to plan an event. An employee needs to understand the fundamentals, such planning a budget, dealing with sponsors and clients, and utilizing organizational tools.

However, experience is the No. 1 attribute when it comes to executing events. So look for a course that also offers your employees experience through volunteer opportunities, internships and working with an event planner for the best combination of learning.

Also, if your company holds conferences on a regular basis, employees can receive further training specifically in Meeting and Conference planning. There is also other targeted training such as trade show and exhibition management or event planning trends and technology.

Trends and technology include information on registration software or how to take advantage of iPhones during a conference. Technology is now a large part of the hospitality industry, such as using something as simple as the ‘Bump’ app, where attendees can download their information then just tap other smart phones to receive their information. It’s a terrific networking tool and saves paper. There is an influx of meeting technology that changes rapidly and accommodates various attendee ‘smart’ tools.

As the hospitality industry grows in Northeast Ohio, how will this affect corporate business events?

It is a really exciting time for event planning in Northeast Ohio. The event and meeting planning industry is increasing in Northeast Ohio faster than the national average, at 14 to 19 percent over the next few years, according to O*net OnLine.

The new casino alone just begs for an activity, anything from corporate team building to a birthday party. Then you bring in the Medical Mart and Conference Center and you are surrounded by opportunities for event marketing projects, product launches, entertainment parties, major conferences and trade shows. The list of what can take place here is ongoing and event planning and management is alive and well.

Michele Clark is the program manager, The Shlensky Institute for Event Meeting and Planning, for Corporate College. Reach her at (216) 987-2909 or michele.clark@tri-c.edu.

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Published in Cleveland