Fresh Ideas for Business
"OMG, We're Killing the Prom King!"
As the marketing & communications director for a nonprofit serving the elderly, I had become used to doing things I had never done before. Or perhaps hoped I would never do. One beautiful morning in Santa Fe, our talented and creative Executive Director presented me with a new project: A Senior Prom.
After helping to plan and promote a very successful art auction, I was suddenly deemed an “event planner” (NOT). Now, an event can be great way to build awareness for products or services but too many businesses think they happen “by magic” and don’t realize all the work that happens behind the scenes – and the surprises that often occur.
First of all, if you have never hosted an event there are a few basics to consider:
1) What is the purpose of the event? Really know your intention. Is is fundraiser? Networking Event? You'd be AMAZED at how many businesses or nonprofits don't think about this.
2) The Theme: How will your event be “different?” Almost any event can stand out – even a business conference - with a little creativity. It sounds cliché, but you do need to think "outside the box."
3) Who is your Target Audience? Knowing who you want to attract - and your goals for the event - also helps you to determine your venue and budget.
4) Planning: Determine your strategy and PLAN. As in life, with events, things can happen. Anticipate as much as you can and have contingency plans (Plan B, C and more) so you can respond to the little - and sometimes big - things that come along.
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch...
We decided our little Prom would be more of a “friend-raiser,” than a fundraiser and would be open to “Seniors of all ages” (well, 21 and up). The most important thing was to build our donor database in a tough economy. As an additional “twist” attendees were encouraged to dress in the fashion of the year that they graduated (which did lead to quite a few great photo opportunities).
Like the cheesy Senior Proms of our youth we wanted a band, balloons – you name it. Our King and Queen were to be two “kids” in their 80’s who were much beloved clients of our agency and yes, it was totally "rigged." A small admission fee would be charged to offset costs and thanks to the Elk’s Lodge (our illustrious venue) we could even serve liquor which appeared to be especially appreciated by our staff.
In addition to donated flowers, auction items, prom dresses, “Come to our Big, Fat, Senior Prom” advertisements and Public Service Announcements - I had a brilliant idea.
Doesn’t every prom have a limo?
A local company donated a limousine to us for two hours. The idea? Take our newly crowned King and Queen around the Santa Fe Plaza to wave to their “subjects.” I had borrowed magnetic signs from our agency vehicles to place on the limo with our logo and telephone number - all in yet another blatant attempt to get more exposure.
The evening of the prom, people of all ages dressed up in their finery and lined up 45 minutes before the event! The place was packed. At the appropriate time the band stopped, the King and Queen were crowned, and as the crowd applauded they were ceremoniously escorted to the awaiting limo.
There was only one problem. The limo company sent a Hummer. A military looking monstrosity which you had to climb to get into. This might not seem like such a big deal but our 87 year old King was not the most limber person in the world.
Are you starting to get the picture?
We were, slowly, able to get Tito, our King, into the Hummer. As he winced in pain, the only thing I could think of was whether or not the driver knew how to get to St. Vincent’s Hospital. Fortunately, Tito was fine, and had the time of his life. He had never been in a limousine before. As we took the lap around the plaza visitors waved and our King & Queen, as they say, "milked it. "
MARKETING MISTAKE: DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE
Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. I probably should have asked the company what type of limousine was being donated. With events, and all marketing activities, try to anticipate what can go wrong and have as many contingency measures in place as you can.
WHY THIS WORKED: Frankly, we were lucky in terms of the limo in terms of not causing bodily harm. In another aspect, we were fortunate also. The higher profile of the vehicle created more attention and once they were able to get in, our King and Queen enjoyed it, too.
This little event netted right under 4K, generated corporate sponsors, spawned a profitable Golf Tournament thrown by two ladies who attended the event and for months I was asked, “When are you going to have another Senior Prom?” :)
Stay Tuned For "My Top Ten Marketing Mistakes and Why They Worked: #7 - Everything's Bigger in Texas"