Events are important. Whether a brand wants to establish themselves, launch a new product, provide an educational series of talks or simply provide the opportunity to network. People will remember the event. Positive or negative press is quick to come out and a few simple decisions can swing the tone either way.

Reasons to throw

Kerith Hulme, CEO and founder of events company Foot Soldiers, explains to us why events are important for any business in any industry. “No matter how advanced technology becomes,” she explains, addressing the growing digital climate,  “humans are still complex creatures who thrive on personal interactions and complex subjective processing.” Rather than just a chance to show off and impress, Kerith insists that 70% of decisions are made on emotional factors, and events are one of the best ways to bring together teams, clients and vendors. Kerith outlines three top reasons as to why you might want to throw a business event. Perfecting your event may also just keep your competitors off your heels.

Networking opportunities


Whilst some events offer purely an opportunity to network with like-minded folk, any industry event gives your staff the chance to either interact with their clients or build relationships within the industry. Given our propensity to engage with and do business with people that we know, this is a key factor when considering the importance of the events industry in 2019. Many new and important relationships are formed at events, and the right connection can make or break any company. Don’t underestimate the value of a face-to-face connection when delivered correctly.

Differentiation

Competition is everywhere, and especially in our fast-moving and opportune society there is always someone waiting to offer an alternative to your service or product. Hosting clients or staff at an event that exceeds their expectations is a great way to show your commitment to excellence, and the right event can bring your brand to life in a way that subtly (or not so subtly) stays with the client until they next reach for the phone. This also applies to educational sessions, where bringing together the right industry experts proves that you lead the market, and associates your brand with the prestige of your speakers and guests. This is an obvious advantage with cutting-edge product launches, but is also an important consideration for any brand that is looking for ways to edge out their competitors. The style and delivery of the event create an association with your brand for all attendees.

Staff appreciation

The figures vary, but everyone knows that staff who feel valued are more likely to go the extra mile in their performance. Simple staff appreciation events are a great way to make the team feel valued, improve their interpersonal interactions, and just generally improve morale.  It’s important to strike the right balance between the staff’s enjoyment and the return on the event though, and to bear in mind the company’s ethos and values when planning internal events.


Throwing it well

Organising events in-house can prove successful, and is often done by companies to save on budget. However, Kerith warns that stretching your resources too thin within the company at crunch time, can increase pressure. She averages that most event companies have only six staff with which to deliver multi million rand events. It is important for her that companies consider outsourcing staff, so that companies can focus on branding and company centric details.
 
Kerith provides us with a brief insight into the depth of knowledge her soldiers are equipped with. We learn compromise is key, and flexibility is everything. Plans will always change, but with the correct planning it never has to be the catastrophe you think it’ll be. We ask her for some advice on how to avoid some of the biggest problems companies make when putting together an event.

As the founder of Foot Soldiers, what are the tenets and skills that you teach your staff, which companies are bound to overlook when preferring to arrange events in house?

Our clients rely on our ability to deliver friendly, polite and professional staff, who are able to assist with a variety of tasks that are highly dependent on manpower. We focus a lot on developing confidence and presentation in our staff, as these elements create a first impression that sets the client’s mind at ease. Our staff are trained to assist right from the initial stages of the event, with small tasks such as packing of gift bags or calling prospective attendees. This allows the client to focus on the complexities of running the event – from a brand perspective. We’re constantly working on improving our training to ensure that our clients feel comfortable in outsourcing to us. It is also important internally that we bring in elements such as leadership, email writing skills and public speaking to our training, in order to ensure that through our programmes and work, our are able to grow their knowledge base as they start to look for full time employment.

How can companies avoid going over budget?


The simplest answer to this complicated question is that clients should have realistic expectations right from the beginning of the process. However, we all know that it is not that simple, and in the highly competitive markets that we all work within, budget is often the final decision-maker. Being open to discussion and suggestion is a way for companies to work with their events partners in order to devise a solution that delivers the objective, while staying in budget. Too often I feel that the events company is not considered a part of the team – when you include the people delivering on your event in planning and budget meetings, it is a lot easier for everyone to be on the same page.

Be wary also of suppliers that come in far under what the industry average is. There are many businesses that promise miracles just to ensure that they get the contract, and then realise only once it has been awarded that they are inadequately equipped to deliver. Don’t be shy to shop around, but when you find someone with whom you share a good working relationship, don’t be tempted to undercut them to save on budget.  Be honest about budgetary concerns, and work with the events company to bring down costs. We often sit with clients and discuss how to bring down the budget without losing the event’s impact. Sometimes it just takes a little lateral thinking and teamwork. But be aware that certain items are high cost, and you may be prepared to drastically adjust your vision if your budget does not align.

How important is good communication between role players and suppliers? Where do companies let themselves down? 

This is such a great question. Communication is key! We even have a slide in our training that says exactly that – on all levels, communication ensures that everyone is on the same page and helps make delivering the project a little easier. If an open and respectful dialogue can be maintained, everyone is able to handle the pressure to deliver.  The industry is one of the most highly stressful in the world, and that applies to everyone in the value chain – from the waiter serving the canapes, to the CEO hosting the event. It is a short amount of time to make a big impact, and all too often this pressure results in short fuses blowing. We focus on nurturing our supplier network as much as our clients, and we treat our suppliers as part of the team. No one can do everything, and finding the right people to work with is a big part of creating success.

Companies let themselves down with incomplete briefs and unrealistic budgets, but also by not remembering the reasons that they are hosting an event – the guest experience. Clear communication at all times helps ensure that the project delivers the best experience for the guest.

You have said, the “human element adds that intangible extra.” Should event companies be turning to the digital arena? Where do you see the future of events?

Yes, the future is digital, but this doesn’t mean that everyone is sitting in a room on their own in the dark. By being aware of what the consumer wants, the industry can deliver events that people want to attend – whether in person or via a digital connection. A great example of this is South Africa’s first Comicon, held last year. The organisers knew that the event was a huge success internationally, and that there was a burgeoning target market in South Africa – and the event was completely sold out. That audience is hyper-tech savvy, and yet they flocked to an outdoor events arena because something was being offered that they could not get anywhere else. 

Events need to offer something that cannot be matched on a digital platform if the goal is footfall, and yet I believe that there is potential in the industry to offer events on a dual medium – some via a digital channel, and some in person. We are already doing this in so many ways – think live streaming, Snapchat stories, event hashtags. The future will see events delivered where a digital experience offers an alternative that delivers as much value, with the ability to attend remotely. The scope for this is huge, and already certain players are experimenting with online conventions and even online retail exhibitions.

Incentive events and congresses remain a key industry sector, and digital serves to drive this market’s growth as it increases awareness of remote and unusual destinations. The digital future also allows people to travel for events, while still being able to stay up to date with their day to day duties, thereby making it easier to attend events and incentive trips.

The human condition is insatiably curious, which is why we live in the world that we do, and events professionals are some of the most ingenious people out there. So although times may be tough for those that cannot innovate, I think we have only just started to grasp the potential of the events industry.

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