Event planning 101: What is your desired result?

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Last month I promised we would get into the meat and potatoes of event planning with the June issue, but before we do I want to spend more time on defining the reason and the expected result of hosting an event for your dealership. You have to spend the time getting this right; if you don’t, you’ll be disappointed — and worse, so will your customers.

Around this time of year the Dealer Expo and International Motorcycle Shows put the final touches on the goals (desired results) for the coming year’s events. This is normally a six- to eight-week process that involves picking apart the good, the bad and the ugly from the previous year’s events and building a plan to improve on the experience the following year. But we actually started building our plans for the 2011 shows back in October 2009. Why so far ahead? Because we’re rebuilding both brands with an entirely new look and customer experience, which should result in better results, a better buying experience for those of you who attend Dealer Expo, and more sales for those of you who participate in the International Motorcycle Shows.

The first thing we did was define our desired results.

• Desired Result No. 1 was to create a new flow for the shows to make it a heckuva lot easier for the buyers to navigate (we are aware it’s been a pain in the you know what). The basic premise of a trade or consumer show is to bring together buyers and sellers and make it easier for them to interact quickly with one another. The opportunity allows both groups to accomplish a lot more, much more efficiently. During the last 10 to 15 years as we all enjoyed the boom years, both Dealer Expo and the International Motorcycle Shows evolved into the “house that Jack built”: crazy big, and crazy hard to find your way around. Time for a clean sheet of paper.

• Desired Result No. 2 was to make them physically more attractive and visually interesting. The “house that Jack built” had a lot of rooms and a lot of stuff, but it sure was messy. We were determined to fix that (and we have).

The list is much longer, but the essence is clear: Make it easy, make it efficient, and make it both fun and visually exciting.

Now it’s your turn.

Starting to think about your annual parking lot sale? The desired result here must be to sell stuff, lots of stuff. Maybe it also includes gathering names to build your customer e-database so you can stay in touch regularly. (If your desired result doesn’t include the second item, that was a hint, a BIG hint.) When is the last time you asked, “Why are we doing this?”

Create a simple worksheet you can use to jot down your thoughts. Use a Word or Excel document, or just a handy piece of paper and an old-fashioned pencil.

This is the detail part. Answering each of the questions below should give you quite a bit of information. One leads to the other. As you describe your desired outcome, you will get a feeling for the type of event you need to have, and what it will look and feel like. You’ll also begin to define your sales and lead generation expectations. As you expand on the look and feel you’ll begin to outline the event as a whole, which will lead you to the answers to the other questions.

It’s a creative process. If you’re not the creative person on staff, define your desired outcome and turn the rest over to the marketing and planning people on your team. (They’ll have a blast.) OK, here are the questions:

1. What’s the desired outcome?

2. What does the environment look like? What is the mood?

3. What is the right timing for my event?

4. Where will I host this event? Is this an outside event I’m considering like a local rally?

5. Who is my target audience? Do I have the database to reach this audience?

6. Will this event generate immediate sales? What’s the revenue target?

7. Will this event generate after-event sales? What’s the revenue target?

8. Will this event help me build my future customer database? (Say yes to this question every time and always figure out a mechanism to capture names and e-mail addresses.)

9. How will I measure the success of this event?

10. How will I promote/market this event? What will that cost?

11. What other costs are associated with this event? (This is anything you will have to pay for that you don’t currently own, can’t produce yourself, or don’t have the internal staff who have the expertise to do it. As an example, if you’re hosting that annual parking lot sale, and you don’t have enough tables or display racks to showcase everything you have for sale, you might need to rent those items for a day or a weekend.)

12. Do I have the staffing I need to pull off this event?

13. Do I need outside insurance above and beyond my current policy?

Maybe you think it’s silly to go through this extensive list if you’re thinking about pulling off a Thursday night bike night during the summer months, and you really only expect 20 or 30 riders to show up each week. But maybe if you had a well-crafted plan, your Thursday night bike night could turn into “the place” to hang out with like-minded people. Perhaps riders and buyers will come to associate your dealership as the hip and fun place to go, and they will tell their friends. And that will pay off for you all year round.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews June 2010 issue.