The art of making your event work harder, by PRN associates Emilie Lien & Kate Hinton
Last month saw an event taking place for one of our long-standing clients, Zipcar UK, with who we've worked with since 2012. Held in an amazing space behind a cool Soho record shop, the event was all about celebrating the first of Zipcar’s 325 new electric cars hitting the streets of London, and launching its 2025 Vision for zero emission driving in the capital.
It was a great evening thanks to the Zipcar UK and PRN teams’ joint efforts: the venue looked incredible thanks to some clever styling and the presence of several gleaming VW e-Golfs, the food was delicious and the drinks flowed. The host, Red Dwarf’s Robert Llewellyn, had the audience in the palm of his hand from the word go, and he was joined by a fantastic panel of speakers, including experts on transport and environment Greg Archer and TfL’s Michael Hurwitz.
Most importantly, the turn-out was good, with a mix of the great and good from across the spectrum of London’s key stakeholders, politicians, businesses and media. This was down to the fact that this wasn't a pure PR event with a media relations focus, but encompassed strategic public affairs and PR activities which helped us deliver a greater bang for our client’s buck.
Every comms person we know has at least one horror story about spending months planning an important event for an enthused client, only to have just two people turn up on the day and for the event to have to limp ahead in a near empty venue. The challenge is to get people to come to them in the first place! I’ll never forget a big launch event for a retail client a few years ago. We’d done all our due diligence, checked nothing else major was due to take place that evening and, assured that the coast was clear, readied ourselves for a good turn-out. How were we to know that a new programme called The Great British Bake-Off would suddenly take off that year and that the final, on the night of our event, would be watched by millions? Our baking-themed event (oh the irony) was a wash-out.
Between us we’ve delivered many events over the years, so here are some top tips:
● Think carefully about why you’re organising an event - is what you’re announcing interesting and/or newsworthy? Will guests care enough to come? An event usually involves a sizeable investment from your client, so it’s important to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. If in doubt, give a couple of your media contacts a call to sound them out.
● Aim for a mixed audience. The perfect event is one where it isn’t solely reliant on journalists and hard news. Linking in with Public Affairs colleagues to involve a wider range of audiences than just media means that you can achieve a buzzing event, with some fantastic people present who are key to your client’s business.
● Check everything that might clash with the date of your event: sporting events, the TV schedule, tube strikes, big government announcements, visits by American presidents, marches, EVERYTHING. But there’s no exact science: our Zipcar event, with all its careful planning, ended up competing with Donald Trump’s arrival in the UK, and the World Cup (we hadn’t banked on England reaching the semi-final), but we still achieved some great coverage in the Evening Standard.
● Think carefully about what time of the day you’re planning the event and what day of the week - we find that breakfast and evenings work best, as these days people find it hard to get away from their desks during the day.
● Be creative with what you’re announcing and think about ways to create even more buzz, interest and media coverage. We worked with Zipcar to develop its EV Vision for 2025, which meant two bursts of announcements and media coverage, and something that could be leveraged as a key talking point with stakeholders at the event.
● Work in partnership with your client. In the case of the Zipcar event, the client team handled a lot of the hard work and logistics at their end, but we supported them with a range of tasks from developing their 2025 Vision, finding a venue and compiling their guest list, to identifying key speakers, helping craft speeches and getting stuck in on the night, including cleaning cars, handing out name badges and handling the roving mic.
● Accept that you’re not going to get everything right! The burglar alarm sounded TWICE during our panel discussion which was very annoying, although the panel managed to make a joke of it. Make a list of all the learnings straight after the event while it’s all fresh in your mind, and use these for next time.
We think the key to success for the Zipcar was the way our PR and PA teams worked together to ensure a diverse guest list - we invited councillors, ministers, stakeholders and business partners, as well as journalists. This ensured a buzzing atmosphere on the night, an engaged debate about London’s future transport needs, and some great social media interactions.
We also secured a second piece in the Evening Standard as a result of the event.
Thanks to Emilie Lien and Kate Hinton, our senior associates on the Zipcar UK PRN team, who took the time to write this post - and to supporting Zipcar with this great event.