Right, so let’s set the scene, it’s 6 months before the event, your sales and marketing team have sold the tickets, therefore the baton has now been handed to you to make sure that all attendees are kept informed throughout the event journey.
So how do you navigate the web of event communications? Hopefully this will help make sense of it all and help you plan your next event.
As someone who has been involved in numerous events including University Open Days, being an Operations Director for a National Fundraising Conference including Awards Night, Seminars and Exhibition and hosting numerous corporate hospitality events for influential business clients, I have been able to collate some useful tips that might make it all a bit easier!
Firstly, this guide starts from the point a ticket is sold, the pre-event marketing, I am leaving out from this article, but I may revisit in the future.
Event Communications can be broken down, in my opinion, into 6 key communications goals. By remembering you must satisfy, and be prepared for, each of these key themes, you’ll be able to make sure your communications are up to par.
Remember, consider your audience demographics when developing your tone of voice and channels for these goals – a corporate attendee of a research conference can be very different from a festival attendee in terms of their needs and wants.
- Communications Goal 1: Confirmation of Ticket Sales and avoidance of post-purchase dissonance
- Communications Goal 2: Event Hype (Pre)
- Communications Goal 3: Key Joining Instructions
- Communications Goal 4: Event Hype (During) including availability of customer service and attendee engagement
- Communications Goal 5: Event Hype (Post) including feedback and promotion of next event
- Communications Goal 6: Critical Messages including Crisis and Changes
One of the areas I see a lot of is about communications timelines. Frankly, these really do depend on the size, budget, scale and lead time you have for an event. In the ideal world, you should have planned the majority of the communications prior to event sales launch. especially the communications relating to Communications Goal 1. As this guide picks up from the point a ticket is sold, we’ll work to some rough guidelines that will help you think about when to trigger your communications.
- Confirm their ticket purchase and key next steps as part of Communications Goal 1 – this should be almost instantly after the transaction
- Create some hype around the event after the ticket has been sold – this can be maybe a week or few days later
- Give the people a break, let’s not bombard them
- About 4 – 10 weeks out (again this is fluid), you can start executing Communications Goal 2.
- About 1 week out, you can start executing Communications Goal 3.
- About 24 hours before and throughout the event, you can start executing Communications Goal 4.
- About 24 hours after the event, you can start executing Communications Goal 5.
- Communications Goal 6 is special – this might not even be needed but it may be used at any point during the event (pre, during and post).
Goal 1: Confirmation of Ticket Sale
This is probably the easiest goal to complete, however, if you get it wrong, you will end up facing endless questions that you really should have cleared up at the point of transaction. If you’re using a ticketing or event management system such as Eventbrite, Cvent, Whova or GeckoEngage, then this stage is fairly straight forward to workflow using their software.
Firstly you want to be able to confirm that the transaction has been processed and that a ticket has been purchased.
Making this stage unclear will cause you carnage as, because many attendees will have made a financial transaction, they want to make sure they have a ticket for the money they spent. This can be sent as an e-ticket or onscreen confirmation and should be triggered almost instantly as the transaction clears. If you know it might take time for this, make sure you are clear on the confirmation page how long this will usually take to avoid confusion.
It is important at this stage to confirm if there are any actions an attendee or delegate needs to do. This can be anything from booking travel, securing insurance or even purchasing any additional extras connected to the event. Finally, you might want to include some information about the event such as an announcement or more detailed information not found in the marketing and sales content, this should help reduce post-purchase dissonance.
At this stage, it is good to include your event social media handles and encourage ticket holders to share their purchase on their channels (could help you sell more tickets). There are some useful tricks including pre-written tweets via app like ClicktoTweet, or maybe introduce a competition for attendees giving access to VIP areas if they share content.
At the point of sale, this is a useful opportunity to collect the communications preferences of the attendees so you can deliver the information in a way they would prefer.
Consider all channels that an audience member may want; email, SMS, calls, WhatsApp (if you have the business API), in-app (if the event has one), social media retargeting using the custom audience or even traditional post if it’s warranted.
Goal 2: Event Hype (Pre)
This is the goal where you can really have some fun. Essentially you have a pool of customers who you know are coming to your event, they already paid and all you have to do is get them excited and eager to attend. To complete this goal, you should be in constant dialogue with your operations team so that you can release information in a timely manner.
However, a word of warning, do not overpromise. Sometimes people can get carried away with this stage, therefore it is important that although you create excitement, you should only get your guests excited for things that are actually confirmed.
There are some useful things to that your attendees would benefit from knowing. Obviously, in addition to sharing this information on your website, app and social channels, you may wish to share them via the channels discussed earlier or using custom audiences on social to target adverts at your ticket holders (given that they have consented to this).
Agenda, stage times or running order– obviously to sell your tickets you’d have released an indicative line up. However, so that your attendees can start planning their visit and timetable, it is important to release this. If you have an event with multiple sessions, stages or sector streams this is even more important.
Speakers, keynotes or acts – Ultimately for a lot of events, this is what shifts the tickets but it’s important you consider how you announce these. You might want to schedule monthly announcements or just announce when they are confirmed. It’s not advised to tell the audience when each and every speaker is announced but for flagship or headliners you may wish to give them their own piece of content. You might wish to share their talk title, a bio, photos and their social channels. Obviously, for festivals and music events you’ll be wanting to share video content, music and maybe even their press release content (if provided).
Accommodation – if you’re providing accommodation, it would be good to showcase it to the audience. Consider virtual tours or at the bare minimum a specification of what is included so that guests know what to bring with them. If you don’t provide accommodation, you should share some preferred accommodation with maybe some negotiated delegate rates.
Social Content: If you’re struggling for content, you can use some of these content ideas. It is important that you define what you plan to use your social channels for prior to setting out your communications plan. Each channel has its own best use case for event management. I’ll cover this off in a future post.
- Share content from your keynotes – make sure you follow them on social and share any content relevant to your audience
- Share content from the previous event – if this isn’t your first event, showcase how good the last event was
- Run a competition – everyone loves something for nothing. Run an engagement competition that can give an attendee a prize or even a VIP experience. Get them to share the thing they are most looking forward to or their best memory of previous events.
- Concurrent announcements – make sure that across your channels you are sharing announcements that you also share via notifications.
Goal 3: Key Joining Instructions
Arguably these are some of the most important communications you will send out. Getting people to your site and successfully registered is pivotal to event success. This becomes even more important when you have a lot of attendees – getting this right will avoid bottlenecks, confusion and queuing. In short, a successful ingress at an event can also avert dangerous situations forming.
You want to send this out usually between 5 and 7 days before the event so that people can prepare. Additionally, I’d also send this to two channels that your attendees have consented to incase they miss one. Again, make this information easily available online, on social and in app as early as possible (even before the communications are sent).
You should include the following:
Name, date and timings of the event – people are wonderful but people are also busy so reminding them of key information is key to successful ingress. Additionally, if you are staggering entry to reduce queues, make sure you clear state the time they must arrive at the event.
Summary of the event – this is not the time to send out the full agenda as you have other key messages to communicate but you might wish to put the times of the key sections for their information. You can link to a full agenda within the communications but don’t make this the highlight.
Accommodation, catering & travel – include information about their accommodation if relevant, remind them about the catering options on site and get them to declare any specific dietary requirements (if they didn’t do this at the point of purchase), this will give you few days to makes some tweaks if needed. Finally, provide an advised travel route. This doesn’t mean custom routes for each delegate but think how the majority of delegates can get to the event. Is it via train? Airport or Car? If you are asking people to drive, share information about car parking or direct them to local car parks in the area if you don’t have them on site.
Social Media/Apps – This is another great chance to share the social media for the event with the attendees. Make them aware of any hashtags used and the channels for the event. If you’re using Twitter for event updates throughout the duration, make them aware at this point about it’s usage. If you’re using an app for the event, this is great chance to ask them to download it and start using it. Also, you can ask the attendees for their social media handles. You can them follow them once you receive the information and engage with them about their experience.
Other – remind people any specific clothing they might need. This is anything from stating it’s a casual dress event to needing black tie or outdoor clothes. You do not want people getting to your event with the wrong wardrobe. This is awkward for everyone involved.
Word of warning: This is a lot of information. You and your Operations Team should prioritise which is key and which is additional and spread the information either within one communication or across multiple. You can do a series of information across 3 emails – do make the attendees aware if you’re doing this so they can look out for 3.
Goal 4: Event Hype (During)
OK, so you’ve ingress everyone perfectly! Goal 4 is essentially all about keeping your attendees happy, informed and engaged.
If you have an event, this is a great time to make the most of the functionality. Get attendees to mark which sessions or sections they want to attend and send notifications via the event app (if you have one) so they get to them in time. This data also allows you the chance to monitor audience circulation so you predict see where attendees will be flowing and what time enabling your operations to make route adjustments if necessary.
You should make sure you have a member of your operations team available at all times during the event for customer services. You should have an event telephone number/WhatsApp that can also be monitored 24/7 by your team for any incidents or queries.
Continually push out content via social media from the event, be that pictures, recorded video, live video and don’t forgot to share the content of your attendees. Pick the channels you want to use for the event in advance so you don’t confuse the messaging. Obviously, the provision of site maps and full agendas should be made available throughout in addition to this information.
If you get your attendees to engage with a specific hashtag during this time it will allow to easily track content and engagement. Make sure these are the same ones you told them about in the joining instructions so you don’t have tonnes of hashtags floating around.
Collect the social media handles of your speakers well in advance so you can tag them in content and posts but also encourage your audience to follow and engage with them.
My top tips for social are:
- Facebook – general event information and set up an attendee networking group using their Groups functionality.
- Twitter – reserve this for event updates and notifications. Anything from the next speaker to changes in the event schedule.
- Instagram – this is where you can share some really nice visuals from the event. You can get content from the event, speakers and event re-gram attendee content. You should also leverage the Stories functionality for behind the scenes content and content attendees wouldn’t usually see.
- LinkedIn – difficult to use for the event but a good place to share content produced by upcoming speakers or attendees to create a conversation post event
- YouTube/Facebook Live/LinkedIn – consider live streaming content of the event for those who couldn’t attend. Additionally, this is a great way to for attendees to recap what they missed.
You have a captive audience so use any opportunity you have to engage with your audience and capture brand advocacy and organic content.
Additionally, any breaks, meals, and other activities should be announced via the relevant channels during the event. Remember to give people enough time to actually get changed/ready as this often overlooked (more of an events tip there but one that’s usually to know).
Communications Goal 5: Event Hype (Post)
Right, so the event is now over, your attendees are on their way home, your Operations Manager is probably collapsed on a sofa drained and your de-rig team are starting the arduous task of packing down. However, you aren’t done yet either, it’s now time for the final stage of the journey, post event hype!
Thank you – The first important goal you have is to thank your attendees for coming to the event. In this communication you might wish to share with them some highlights or link them to presentations or an online gallery.
Feedback – The next thing you should ask for is feedback. This is something that should in partnership with the whole event team (sales, communications, operations, catering, accommodation etc.) so that you can get a 360 view of the attendee experience and then make recommendations for changes for the next event.
Sharing is caring – you may have captured some excellent content yourself but you might have hundreds of attendees with the best content ever. Make it easy for attendees to share images, videos and even stories online. You can push them to either use a hashtag, or for business attendees, even ask them to write an article on LinkedIn about their experience. This content is gold and can really help your sales teams for the next event.
Sell – shameless I know, but this is a great time to get them to secure early bird tickets to your next event. Reward attendees with a discount, premium tickets or even a repeat business experience. They should be incredibly happy and excited at this point therefore it’s the best time to sell the experience again. Don’t be too pushy about this bit as you don’t want to kill the hype, however don’t miss a golden opportunity.
Continue the conversation – it is good to ask attendees if they want to opt-in to an ongoing event newsletter after the event. This way you are capturing the consent of those who want you to stay in touch. You can then follow up with news about the next event including behind the scenes content they might find interesting.
Content – if you have the resource consider consolidating all of your collated video content and producing a recap video series. These are great for attendees to remember the event but also the dream content for your sales team. This is something to factor into your budget planning especially if you will need to outsource this to an agency.
Communications Goal 6: Critical Messages
So this area doesn’t follow the normal pattern as you might never have to use them. However, without a doubt, having this section fully prepared and ready to activate is pivotal to keeping the event on track when things go wrong. I am not going to go into details about what should be in each area as you should work on these with your Safety Advisory Group and your event Operations Team. Obviously, all events are different and therefore you’ll have different risks with different likelihoods.
You should identify how these communications should be activated – is it best to use email, in-app notifications, social media or even using the public address system if the event is in operation. Again, these are conversations to have as an events management team. These considerations will need to be thought about not only to remedy or mitigate the impact during the event but you may need to work on external communications post event if the incident was serious.
However, here are just some of the communications plans that you probably should think about or at least consider:
- Changes of locations and times of sessions
- Cancellation/postponement due to poor ticket sales or registrations
- Adverse Weather (e.g. 1. Event Changes; 2. Event Postponement; 3. Event Closure whilst operational)
- Partial Event Closure inc. circulation plan or partial egress (e.g. 1. Serious Incident; 2. Present danger to attendees; 3. Predicted danger to attendees)
- Full Event Closure inc. egress (e.g. 1. Serious Incident; 2. Present danger to attendees; 3. Predicted danger to attendees)
So we’re all done!
That’s my guide to event communications. The rest is up to you. I’ve just touched the surface on some areas and I may delve deeper in the future into certain areas.
Always remember that attendee satisfaction and safety is your goal as part of the event’s team so as long as you have this in mind, you should be fine! Everything you do as part of your event planning should be in partnership with all stakeholders both internal and external.
A good rule of thumb that I use is that if you are in doubt about something then always consult someone internally who knows or seek external guidance from relevant bodies.
If you have any comments or areas that you think I have missed something, please do let me know.
Follow me on Twitter for more updates . . . @BradTheCommsGuy