Running a corporate event? Here are 5 big mistakes to avoid

October 24, 2017

Well, there are more than five. But these ones are so important that it’s vital to know ahead of time what they are, and what you can do to avoid them. 

Corporate events are powerful for your customers and your employees alike. They reward top performers, reinforce positive behaviour, improve engagement and drive productivity. They can strengthen your company culture, get people from all departments interacting, and foster creativity.

Then externally, corporate events reinforce your brand. They help launch new products or embrace new markets. They establish competitive difference, and move your overarching business strategy forward.

These multi-faceted benefits help explain why corporate events remain such an important item when it comes to any company’s budget. In fact, over one-third of respondents to the Global Event Industry Benchmarks Study 2016 spend at least 20% of their overall marketing budget on meetings and events. 

Over one-third of respondents to the Global Event Industry Benchmarks Study 2016 spend at least 20% of their overall marketing budget on meetings and events.

Avoid the 5 biggest corporate event mistakes to achieve real ROI

So naturally you want to ensure your investment pays off. And it really can. But only if you avoid the five biggest corporate event mistakes.

Here’s how.

1. Not setting, or forgetting, your goals: Too many organisations hold a corporate event because they think it’s “about time”, or they “probably should” because their competitors are holding one.

That’s not the right approach. As Chaturvedi demonstrates in Event Management: A Professional and Development Approach, “having a clear view of the corporate event’s goal and the metrics that will be used to assess the level or degree of achievement is critical to the event project manager’s success”. We’ll come back to metrics in a moment, but suffice to say that goal setting is central.

Your goals should inform every decision you subsequently make. Are you trying to improve public perception? To soothe investors following acquisition? To introduce a new product, or secure buy-in for a rebrand?

As Chaturvedi puts it, “What is the event’s fit or purpose within the overall corporate strategy?” He outlines some main corporate event goals your business might have: “educate, provide recognition, offer incentives, improve public relations, mark an important milestone, or launch a new product”.

The point is, if you don’t have a clear reason to hold your event then you might not need a corporate event at all. And if you hold one anyway, you’re likely to haemorrhage investment without seeing returns.

2. Not measuring your success: Let’s come back to this idea of metrics, because measuring success can be a tricky area for event organisers. Consider the research that found 59% of marketers believe they have no way to measure event ROI, for instance. Stats like this are why organisations still ask questions about event effectiveness, and they are one of the big drivers of poor budget decision-making as well.

So, how do you measure event success? The first thing is to set your event goals, as we said above. Your goals are critical – if you don’t get those pinned down early, you’ll struggle to run a successful event.

Once you know your goals, you can choose metrics that align. This is simpler when you have tangible, quantitative goals like increased sales (the primary goal for 79% of event organisers, according to EMI’s EventTrack 2015) – but you’ll likely have other more difficult goals as well. That same report found increasing brand awareness is a primary aim for 81% of event organisers – something which is notoriously difficult to measure.

Increasing brand awareness is a primary aim for 81% of event organisers – something which is notoriously difficult to measure.

Difficult doesn’t mean impossible though, if you’re putting enough thought into the event pre-planning stage. The crucial thing is to think this through in-depth beforehand. Know what success will look like to you so you can watch those results unfold (or learn the appropriate lessons if they don’t).

Think of event marketing as a circle, not a straight line. Each event should feed into your strategy for the next event but that can only work if you set goals, define metrics, measure success, and learn lessons.

Read more: 5 ways to measure event success

3. Poor budgeting and event spend tracking: Not setting goals and measuring success effectively leads to our next biggest mistake: poor cost leadership. The Meetings Outlook Spring 2017 report notes an increase in respondents who claim a favourable budget forecast when compared to last year.

And yet, the Global Event Industry Benchmarks Study 2016 finds that budgeting is the most challenging part of events planning and execution for 18% of respondents – even ahead of proving ROI.

Event professionals should not become heady with favourable budgets, but focus on effective cost control. Keeping costs down prevents overflow when you’re hit with hidden costs you forgot to budget for – and there will always be something, plus good cost management allows budgets to stretch further – which helps prevent our next corporate event planning mistake.

4. Being dull: This mistake is all too common. People attend a lot of events: the same bland corporate routine really does get dull. And when you become boring, you stop being impactful. And that’s integral to achieving your event goals.

One important tactic is exciting audio-visual display. The Meetings Outlook Spring 2017 report finds that “AV providers are integral to the success of most meetings and events of any size”. AV is, the study observes, becoming a major budget item as event planners seek to “find ways to use the AV to create something [attendees] are not just going to find on Facebook”. Events are becoming experience-led, with things like innovative lighting displays and 360-degree speakers getting special mention.

It’s stated that 22% of respondents talk about the challenge of effectively leveraging technology opportunities, which means you can put yourself ahead if you invest in exciting technology for your event.

There is an important proviso though. Avoid flashy for the sake of flashy. Any exciting technology should tie closely back to your event goals and your brand, or you risk missing the mark – and missing your ROI aims as well. Say your event goal is to launch a new product. In that case, an augmented reality product demo makes more sense than an impressive-but-superficial flashing LED display. 

5. Sending the wrong message with your venue: When businesses decide an event venue, they often rely on popularity and availability. “Jumeirah Beach is popular – let’s see what’s available on that stretch”. That thinking is a mistake.

As we’ve emphasised, your goals are absolutely critical – they should inform your venue choice just as they inform everything else. If your goal is to celebrate a fantastic financial year and reinforce your success, then a luxury, flamboyant event venue might work well. But that won’t also apply if your goal is to bring people together following a scandal, for instance.

Choosing an event venue is all about the message you send. Attendees – and potential PR afterwards – will all form an impression based on your venue choice. That’s what you should be thinking about. Not where your competitors had their event or the last glamorous venue you attended.

And a less exciting but very important point: don’t forget logistics. Consider how attendees will get to, stay at, and leave your event. Your contingency plan is absolutely vital – dropping the ball risks serious consequences. 

Consider how attendees will get to, stay at, and leave your event.

Read more: 6 rules to choose the right venue for your company event

6. Ignoring competitors: As we’ve said, your competitors shouldn’t be the driving force behind your event choices – but you shouldn’t ignore them either. You don’t want to get into an endless competition – events are all about your brand – but competitive context is still important.

Superficially, things like your food, entertainment and technology choices might be informed by competitor activity. If your brand image rests on being the cutting-edge company in your sector, you want to know if all your competitors are adopting virtual reality at their events, so you can match or supersede.

This principle is also true on a deeper level – to the goals you set. As in the wider business world, competitive context informs your business strategy. Say a competitor is about to launch a new product and you need your existing products to stay competitive. You could hold an event re-educating your people on the benefits of your products, to help drive sales into new markets.

The point is this: be aware what your competitors are doing but don’t race to keep up just because. Many companies make this mistake and the result is an event that doesn’t drive ROI as it should. Real ROI comes from an event that is closely linked to your goals – not your competitors and theirs. 

Planning your event

Corporate events take real time, effort and planning. Success is not just about the event itself, but the weeks and months of forethought that ensure your event is truly a manifestation of your brand and your goals.

That’s how you run a corporate event that drives genuine results.