This transcript is from Episode 21 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/21
This transcript consists of the interview only
Tom: Folks, I'm on the line with Melanie Woodward today. Melanie, you are from the eventplanningblueprint.com. Would you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became involved in the event services industry?
Melanie: Absolutely. Thanks, Tom, and it's nice to be here. Hi, everyone. So, I got in event planning probably when I was a teenager, actually. But, I started my business in 2004 and I had been working as an intern with a festival and I decided that this was the path that I wanted to take, so I completed my degree, started my business and it took-off from there. When you're starting a business you never quite know how it's going to go, but I was very blessed and very lucky that it went quite well, and within a year I had incredible clients, I had a thriving business, and I just kept going from there.
Tom: Fantastic. So, when you got into event planning what was it that drove you into that or attracted you to that?
Melanie: Yeah, that's a good question. I think it's probably different for everybody who gets involved in event planning, whether you start a business or not. But for me, I really love creating, and I'm more of a visionary so I love creating a vision for my clients. I'm good at selling people on an idea. And then also, I love planning and so I decided that with my people skills and my organizational skills and my visionary qualities or skills as well, that it was a really good fit for me. That's what kind of drew me to that particular industry.
Tom: Okay, and when you started out you say your business grew within a year. You were working for some pretty high profile clients. Can you tell us about a couple of them?
Melanie: Yeah, sure. In my first year I wasn't working with all of the high-profile clients. I did have some, but those came a year, maybe two years into my business, and I just kept working. The clients that I had asking for referrals, which I think was really key. And then eventually they led me to clients like Honda, I worked for some professional athletes, I worked for Hollywood celebrities. And so it was the process of continually asking for the referrals that got me to those clients, so I don't want anyone to think that they just fell into my lap. I actually worked for them, and you do need to do that.
I worked for Honda, I worked for Young President's Association, or I worked with them – they were my clients. It was pretty amazing. Canvass Global Communications was another big client. They're no longer around, but those were some of the clients that I had.
Tom: Now when you worked for Honda, can you tell us about the types of events you planned for them?
Melanie: Yeah, we did a couple of different types of events with them. I was doing sales events, so when they would, for example, have their top sales people coming to an event in a different location. So possibly Dallas, for example, and we would do kind of like an incentive type of event for them. Another event that I did, they were the premier sponsor for a sporting event, and so I did all of their events around that. I didn't do the actual sporting event, but I did all their meetings, and any parties, and dinners, and all of the logistical stuff, like transportation outside of the sponsored event.
Tom: Fantastic. That had to be quite an undertaking. How many people were on your staff at that point?
Melanie: Well, I had a team of about anywhere between, depending on the event, it would be anywhere between 10 to 35. But they weren't all on my staff. We would hire people based on our needs for that particular event, so they were more contracted staff.
Tom: When you were putting together an event for say, Honda in Dallas, and you're from where?
Melanie: I live in Toronto.
Tom: Okay. So, what were the logistics of having to do that? I'm just curious because that's a pretty wide expanse from where you are to where the event is being held. So…
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, Tom, it doesn't really matter where you're planning an event – a lot of the logistics are the same. I've planned events all over the world, hundreds and thousands of miles away from where I actually live, where I'm planning the event. And the key is really to go down and source everything. So actually get your butt down to where the location is, meet the people, see the hotel, go to the restaurants, try the food. Make sure that you do that before you book everything, which can be a lot of fun too. I'm not gonna lie, there's a lot of fun in that.
But it's really, really important that you actually experience it, especially when you're working with clients who are spending sometimes a few million dollars on an event. You don't wanna just show up and kind of leave it to chance. And in many cases, depending on if there's language barriers, we would hire a DMC – a destination management company – as well, because they're experts in their area, and they can also help us navigate through any language barriers that we may come across.
Tom: Now, you've created a lot of different events. Can you share maybe one or two of the events that really stood out in your mind, and what made them so special?
Melanie: Yeah, I loved all the events for so many different reasons, even the ones that weren't necessarily going as planned, so to speak. So, one of my favorite events was a festival that I helped plan, and there was over 30,000 people coming from across the country for this festival. And the reason I loved it so much was because there were 30,000 people coming from across the country and it had national attention, and there was media involved. Annd we had 750 volunteers that we had to interview and slot into positions that they were right for, that they had the skill level for.
So, managing all of that. And there was just so much excitement and change, and you had to think on your feet, and you had to act quickly. Those were the types of events that I love the most. It didn't really matter, the particular event itself. It wasn't really as much about one event over another, it was more about the excitement for me.
Tom: You mentioned that even when an event isn't going right, and I think every event planner has had a horror story. Could you share maybe a horror story, or something that you've encountered that's really challenged you, and give us an idea of the overall lessons you learned from that?
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like I'm pretty lucky in terms of having really great clients. I was pretty picky about the types of clients I worked with. I did say no to some clients, and I was also very particular about how much I charged for events, which weeds out a lot of people. However, having said that, you are going to come up against someone or something that is going to set you back a little bit. Whether that's just internally you're like, “Oh, my gosh. Can I actually do this? Am I capable of doing this?”
I had a particular client who really was hard on me, to put it lightly. He's a driver, he's a very successful business owner, and he was used to getting his way all the time. He wanted the champagne taste and the champagne event, but he had less than a beer budget. We're talking he wanted everything, but he wanted it for nothing. And then about two months into planning, he decided that my fee should come out of the budget that he had, which was impossible because there was no way to plan the type of event that he wanted and include my fees.
So there was a lot of friction in that relationship, and to be completely honest, it didn't work out in the end, but it was for the best for him and for me. Because as a business owner, you have to enjoy what you're doing. And if you really don't click with the client, it's hard sometimes, but it's really important to recognize it and move forward from it. But, take the lessons learned. Communication is key, no matter what, and just really being honest with people as well. In this case, we both knew that this relationship wasn't gonna go past that particular event, and that, like I said, it's totally okay, I'm okay with it. To this day, I have absolutely no regrets over it. But at the same time, while I was in the process of it, it was very stressful and it made me realize that I'm just not, and nobody is, meant to work with everybody. You can't be all things to all people.
Tom: That's some great advice right there. That wasn't exactly what I was expecting when I asked that question, but I loved your answer. That was fantastic.
Melanie: It's an honest answer.
Tom: That's what we're asking for here. Everybody learns from everybody else's experiences, and I appreciate you sharing that with us. Now, I jumped ahead, because earlier when we talked about this recording, I said I was gonna welcome you back from Costa Rica. You were just down there.
Melanie: I was. I was there for two weeks, attending an incredible world-class event. It was not my own event, it was somebody else's, but it was outstanding.
Tom: And over on your blog, you had a video I just noticed, that was four event planning tips you learned in Costa Rica. Can you share those with our listeners?
Melanie: Absolutely. I'm actually gonna share a couple more with your listeners that I didn't include in that one. So, events are really amazing things to plan, but they're also great places to go and learn. So it's a good idea, if you're not planning your own events, go to other people's events and learn, and take things, and ideas, and generate ideas for your events. And so a couple of the things that really stood out, not only to me but a few people that I surveyed at the event, so the attendees, because I wanted to kind of get an overview of what other people are looking at and what's important to them. And so, I'm gonna share six things with your viewers if that's okay, instead of the four.
Tom: That's perfect. Thank you.
Melanie: Okay. So, the first one that I wanna share is the variety of events. This particular event was called Awesomeness Fest. You heard that right – it's called Awesomeness Fest.
Tom: That's awesome.
Melanie: I know. It is awesome. It really is. And I encourage your listeners to go and check it out. It's awesomenessfest.com. But you know, Tom, they do such a great…and I feel like I'm even underplaying this because their event planners are incredible, so I'd like to give their event planners a huge shout out. Not only were they cool and calm the whole time, and collected, but they had every detail worked out from the beginning to the end. So you arrive at a Westin Hotel, these are always in tropical locations and they're always at five-star resorts. But the variety of events that they have going on throughout the day…There were some comments that maybe there was too much going on and people wanted downtime, but here's the thing about downtime at events – not everybody wants it at the same time.
And so, providing people with variety is really important. So here are a couple of examples that they had. They would have meditation and yoga on the beach first thing in the morning. They would have a fitness class on the beach, first thing in the morning. And then you go to the event itself and they had world-class speakers, CEOs, authors, really well-renowned people, not only attending, but speaking at the event and representing the event. They would have dinners in the evening so that people could connect and meet other attendees. And then, I have never attended parties like they throw. I know it sounds like maybe that shouldn't be the most important part of it, but everybody knows that business and relationships and communication happens at the bar.
You can learn a lot in a conference. It's just as important. But if you cannot throw a really good party, if that's part of your event, then you need to really look at what you're doing. And these guys just throw incredible parties in different locations. Sometimes we'd bust off to a secret location, and you'd show up, and it's this stunning beach that they've decorated, and everywhere you turn, there's something new to look at. It was almost like a museum on the beach. So, that was one thing – the variety of events.
The next thing that they did really well was the event app. They created their own event app on Yapp. Y-A-P-P. And so, anyone listening can go to Yapp and create their own event app as well. But what that did was it makes it really easy to update the schedule. And also there's a news feed on there, there were maps and PDFs on there so if some of the breakout sessions were maybe moved, or they wanted to highlight them, that was all in the app. So, that was number two, is the event app.
Number three were the logistics. This is really, really, important. You asked me about planning an event in another location. Not only is it really important to go there and check out the location itself and all the things that you're gonna be doing, but the logistics with the hotel or whatever venue you're using, making sure that their staff is on board and understands what's going on. So having a pre-con, which is a pre-conference meeting, with all the stakeholders before anyone even shows up, before your guests all get there or the attendees all get there is really important. And it doesn't matter where, what venue you're using, in my opinion. I think that's really important. So, you have all of your team at that logistics meeting, and you have all of the venue team and any caterers. You know, the major stakeholders, so everybody can ask questions, they know what the process is for each day, etc. So, the logistics was number three.
Number four, the event host. So I'm gonna give another shout out to Mia, who was amazing. She set the tone for the entire event. Not only was she cool and collected, she was funny. She was really just herself. And the way that she presented the speakers was really, really important. It's something that actually stood out to all of us, because you go to a lot of events, whether they're conferences, or something maybe a little more exciting like this particular event, and sometimes people are like “And our next speaker is…And they're great because…” There's not a lot of excitement in that, nor is there a lot of credibility. So what Mia did was she just added a lot of excitement. They would put a picture of a person coming up on the screen, so everyone could see them as they are being introduced. And then they would give them credibility, which I think is really, really important. Again, number four was the event host.
Number five, this is my personal favorite. In my experience, not a lot of event planners do this, and I think it can be added to a lot more events to add impact, because especially if you're working with younger clientèle, giving back is really important. They call it “give back day”, I personally prefer calling it “pay it forward day”, because there's nothing really to give back to people. But on the last day of the event, you could stay…actually, sorry – it was an additional day of the event, you could stay. And we volunteered at an organization called Sepia which is a community center, and they have children there and families there, and we played games with the kids. We built a play structure that was covered, because in Costa Rica it was very hot, so you need to have coverage from the sun. So we had that, painted a mural, and by the time we left…sorry, there was a garden built as well.
There were about seventy people who stayed just for this. And I think it's really, really important to highlight “pay it forward day”, or some sort of “giving back”, if you will, for your events. Because you go into these communities, or even in your own community, and we're all very blessed with what we have, and there's so many things that we can do. You can get a little creative with it, even. But anyway, I just wanted to point that one out because I think it is important, and I think they can be worked into events more than we probably do.
Tom: That is very cool. It drives me back to…I did an interview with Jacob Weiss in episode 10 where he was talking about corporate social responsibility, and corporate charities and how he kind of fashions against TOMS Shoes – when you buy one, you get one. So that's very cool. Thanks for sharing that one.
Melanie: Yeah, my pleasure. I actually get kind of shivers and goosebumps just thinking about it, because not only did it impact Sepia, the organization that we were supporting, and the kids, I mean, the kids had so much fun. The experience that they had with us, they will remember that forever. So we left a positive impact that way, and it had nothing to do with money, which is beautiful, I think. And so, that was really important.
And then the final thing, the sixth thing is, one of the speakers actually started this at the event, and it's called Acts of Impactor. So it's how to be an impactor, and it kind of blends into what I was just talking about and “pay it forward”. We got these cards at the event, and she's got about twenty different things about how can you impact people in your everyday life. And I know this isn't necessarily about event planning. It can be, you can definitely incorporate it into your event planning, but, it's really about walking down the street, and you're going to your favorite coffee shop, and you're gonna pay for the coffee for the person behind you. That type of thing. I just wanted to bring it up because it kind of, like I said, ties into “pay it forward day”, but I also thought it was a really important lesson from the overall conference. Lessons are really important, no matter where you go.
Tom: They most certainly are. Those are incredible tips, and I mean I love the last two, I really do. Because as an event planner you want to impact your audience, and all these ideas, just, they add to the event. So I love those last two, and I thank you very much for sharing those.
Melanie: It's my pleasure.
Tom: Now Melanie, you got involved in event training, and let's talk how you transferred. I mean, you're still doing events and creating them, I'm sure, but how did you get involved in event training?
Melanie: I am a natural at this. People are always coming to me for advice. They always wanna know how to do things. It just, it felt very natural when I got into this about three years ago. And I actually started Event Planning Blueprint with a blog. I gotta be honest, Tom, I had no idea what I was even gonna say in this blog, or how I was gonna start it. I didn't have any experience writing – or blogging, for that matter. I just started talking about experiences and events, and I think that events are all about experiences, no matter how big or small. They are…you really, really are creating an experience for someone, whether you can see it directly or not, and I wanted to parley that somehow because I'm always looking for what experience is being created.
And so, that's how I get started with Event Planning Blueprint, was simply from a blog. And then what I did was, through one of my entrepreneurial friends, was I had kept all of my information from when I had my event planning business, and I created a package to help other people plan events, and it's called the Event Toolkit, which is on my website. So that's how Event Planning Blue Print started. And then from there, I saw a need for it, and I was like “Okay, I'm gonna start creating other products, so people who wanna know how to start their own business, well, I've got experience doing that. I can help you. Not in a traditional sense of like ‘How are you gonna go and get funding from the bank? How are you going to do a business plan?'” I don't talk about those things at all. I talk about how do you sell your services, how do you brand yourself, how do you market yourself, how do you get clients. You know, those really kind of core pieces that a lot of people struggle with.
They're not that difficult at the end of the day, but people still struggle with them. And so, I've just started creating more programs. I've got a new program that actually just came out, and is sold out, which is amazing. So we're starting a new program again in 2016 – it's How To Be An Event Planner. So, really teaching people the basics of event planning and how to be an event planner, how to get those clients, again, but also just going back to how to create an experience for people.
Tom: Okay. And how does this training differ from the traditional resources that a lot of people have access to?
Melanie: I think when you say traditional, to me that means going to school. So you pay four, five, six thousand dollars, depending on where you live. You go to school for up to about two years to become an event planner, and then you come out, and you might work at a restaurant. Not everybody does. If you're lucky to get an internship, or you volunteer, or you're smart about it, you can move into the event planning industry. My stuff's different, slightly. A, it's online, so you can do it at your own pace, on your own time, because I know, I listen to what my audience has to say. I have a lot of interaction with them. A lot of people have jobs. They don't have the resources, or the time to take two years off and go to school. So, what my programs do is they help you fill that gap. So you can work, still. You don't have to worry about your bills, but you get to learn all the things that you need to learn as well.
And then the other thing is that we have a lot of interaction with our programs, so people can send in emails if they have a question about it, or on our Facebook page, for example. We tend to prefer the Facebook page because if one person has a question, it usually means more people have it, they're just not asking. So those are a couple of things that are different about our programs.
Tom: Fantastic. Why do I keep saying that word? That's like my tag line – fantastic. Some of the things that I went through, your site, and I was just blown away by the amount of material that you have there. And not just for somebody who is necessarily interested in forming their own business, but also for people who are already planning events for their companies. It's just an amazing amount of material for somebody who says “I didn't know what to write about.”
Melanie: I know. It shocks me as well.
Tom: So, a couple of things I'd like to ask you about, and I hope I don't catch you off-guard with any of these, but hopefully you'll be able to talk to us a little bit about them. One of the videos that I thought was really cool, was Tips for Getting Sponsors. Could you share a couple of those ideas with us?
Melanie: Yeah. It doesn't really matter what kind of relationship you're building. Whenever you're trying to get sponsors, or vendors, or whatever it is, it's all about building relationships. I think that that is key – is really getting out there and building a relationship. I know there are lot of people who think sales is not their forte, or they don't have that skill set. But, you know what? Sales doesn't have to be sales-y, so to speak. So, this is my recommendation. Just build a relationship with people. So, if you're looking for sponsors for your event, don't try and go out there and sell them. You know? You don't even know them. It's like dating. So, you're not gonna go on your first date and ask the person to marry you. And if you do, then you're probably crazy.
Tom: That's what I did wrong.
Melanie: Yeah, but eventually, it worked out for you. It's the same thing with your event sponsors. Nurture the relationship. Take them out for coffee. Get to know them. You're gonna have a much longer, much more fulfilling relationship with your event sponsors if you do that. You also need to know who your target audience is. If you're planning a small event in your city, or your town, and it's for children, then you're not gonna go and find a sponsor who caters to adults. You want to find, you know, whether it's a kids' store, or a clothing store, something like that. So you really need to know your audience, and then target your audience.
So what I would recommend that people do is make a list of 10 to 25 – the more the better, I think – at least 10 different organizations that would really fit with the event that you're planning, and then write out why they would fit. So, not just their names and like, “Oh, yeah. That would be really cool if they worked with me or they sponsored my event.” But you wanna know why they would be a good fit, because in that process you might find out that “Oh. Maybe they're not.” Or it might actually trigger something and you'll be like “Oh, they're linked to this other organization, and then this other organization…” and you can add your list. So again, just targeting your audience.
You also need to know if you want different sponsorship levels. In my opinion, I use the KISS acronym – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Or Silly. However you wanna put it. But do you wanna have like gold, silver, bronze? Don't make it complicated for anyone. Keep it simple for everybody. This is our gold package, this is our silver package, this is our bronze package, or whatever you wanna call it. And then another piece, I have a couple of, as you mentioned, videos. So people can go to my blog post and get more detail on this. But, the other thing that I do wanna point out is make sure you know who the key contact person is. Because I can guarantee you that you're not gonna call up the admin assistant. And depending on the organization and the size of the organization, chances are, that person is not handling sponsorship, nor do they have the decision-making powers to handle sponsorship. So you really want to know who your key contact person is. Those are a couple of things, Tom. Like I said, you can go to my blog post about that one and get way more information on it. I do have a couple, but, those are a few steps.
Tom: And we will include that link in the show notes, so that everyone can find that information. Now, one more question I have for you. Another recent article that you did was how to measure event ROI – return on your investment, and I thought that was eye-opening. So, would you be able to talk to us a little bit about that? Because I think that's important for any event planner to be able to prove that they've got a return on that investment.
Melanie: Yes. It's very important, and not something people typically understand or track. So when you're measuring ROI, what that means, like Tom said, its your Return on Investment. So your client always wants to know what's in it for them. And you not only have to sell them on your services at the beginning, but you have to keep selling them on your services when you've done the event and you're moving on to the next event, and the next event, and the next event. Not only for them, but referrals are the best way to get new business, and the least expensive way to get new business. But you know you'll get more referrals that way as well. So being able to show your return on investment, and that can mean a lot of different things for different companies, so you really need to know what your objective for the event is but also what your client's objective for the event is. And then making sure that that's aligned with the outcome of the event when it's completed.
Tom: Melanie, I will also include that link beneath the show notes. Are there any last thoughts that you'd like to share with our listeners?
Melanie: Oh, that's a good question. I think it's really easy to give up, but don't. If you love planning events and you really want to get a client, or wherever you're at. Whether you're just starting, or you're already in business and you're struggling to get that dream client, don't give up on it because it is definitely possible. You just have to sometimes be strategic about it, and you have to keep plugging away. One of my favorite things to do, that anybody at any stage in their business or in their career can do is just tackle one thing every day. If you accomplish one new thing every day, you will get there. And if you think about that, that's 365 things a year that may you wouldn't have done anyway. And looking forward it may not seem like a big dent in what your plans are, but if you look back, it's like you mentioned with my blog. I had no idea how to write. I really didn't. But now I look back, and I have three years of every week I post a new blog. And I look back at all that content, and it's like “Holy crap.”
So, don't give up. Just do one thing every day, and it doesn't matter how big or small it is – you will get there.
Tom: Well, Melanie, I do appreciate everything. And if is somebody wants to reach out to you to learn more, how can they reach out to you ?
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for asking. You can check us out at eventplanningblueprint.com, and there is a contact page so if you have any questions about anything, go to our contact page and feel free to send in a question or comment. We love hearing from our community. And then you can also check out our blog on the same website – eventplanningblueprint.com.
Tom: Yeah, and folks, you do have to check this out because it is a wealth of information. Melanie, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk with our listeners today.
Melanie: Thank you so much, Tom. Have a wonderful day. Thanks, everyone.
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