Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Amateur's Guide to Event Management

Part III: Site Selection

Location, location, location. It's important for real estate, it's important for events. For some situations, like Science Cheerleader performances, the location can already be established--a booth, a stage, whatever--as part of a larger activity. In other situations you have to go hunting. The larger the event, the larger the space needed and the more things you need the facility to do. This blog will discuss the things you need to consider when selecting a site for your event--big, small, or in between.

What Will You Do When You Get There?
What does your event include? Stage shows? Lectures? Meetings? Exhibits? All of the above? Could the event expand? Will your function spaces be used for more than one activity? Do you have extra large items that need to be brought in? Lots of questions must be answered, and these questions are made even more fun by the fact that you'll most likely have multiple sites to visit before making a decision. You'll need to do this field research before you sit down to write your proposal.

The first thing that must be done is a little online research. Pick your keywords: convention center, hotel, what have you. If you're in a big city, like Chicago or New York, you might have a lot of research to do. If you're in a smaller metropolitan area like Huntsville, the odds are pretty good you know all the large venues in town. Regardless, you can still collect a lot of information online as a first pass before you start asking questions of human beings. For instance, where is the place? Is it convenient for your attendees? Are you dealing with a hotel with a convention center attached, or a stand-alone convention hall? If you have a lot of out-of-towners coming, is there a hotel nearby? More than one? What do the hotel rooms cost per night? How many of them are there? What do the pictures of the rooms look like?

With these basics in hand, you'll be able to go on to the next step, which is a site visit.

Getting a Feel for Things
Once you've narrowed down your location to your top two or three choices, you need to check out the places in person. It's good to have two or three people along to get different perspectives on things and ask different questions. On that first visit, it also probably helps to just show up and see how the operation runs. If the term "surprise inspection" sounds familiar, that's correct. Your first impression should be unfiltered. I love my friends in the hospitality business, but having been there myself (three years at a Disney hotel, one year in Disney convention reservations), I can tell you that management and staff act differently if they know "someone's coming," whether that someone is a corporate vice president or a big customer.

So while you're on your first visit, you're looking for some of the basics: how helpful is the staff? What's the condition of the common areas, hallways, and restrooms? What's the traffic flow like? If the function areas are open, take a look inside to evaluate their condition. Does the carpet look worn? Has the place been redecorated lately? Is the place busy? How happy do the guests look? In essence, you really are on an inspection tour. Once you've completed that first run, before you leave, if you like what you see ask to make an appointment with the sales manager.

Working with the Sales Staff
When you're still in the scouting phase, it doesn't hurt to tell the sales staff that you're looking elsewhere. It keeps them competitive and interested in your business. I'm not suggesting you play a lot of games with sales staff, mind you, but you also can gauge their willingness to work with you. Depending on the size of the event, you'll be working with these folks for months (or years). No need to drive unnecessarily hard bargains. It can generate hard feelings and get you labeled as a "problem guest." And really: they want the business, you want your event to succeed. Yes, this is a business arrangement, but it's also a partnership.

Okay, end of lecture. Back to business.

The more details you can tell the sales staff, the better. Surprises aren't much help for you or them. You need to give them a good rundown on how big/long your event is, how many people you're bringing in, how many function rooms you need, what sort of audio-visual equipment you'll be using, the whole thing. The more you know up front, the better cost estimate you'll be able to provide for your proposal and budget.

Your initial negotiations are when you start to discuss special needs or requests: complimentary rooms, early check-ins, IT setup, what have you. The National Space Society, for example, has its own in-house contract that it uses for its International Space Development Conference, which is based on previous experiences and lessons learned. Will the hotel use an existing contract? It's worth asking.

Final Selection
You might not have the final say on which facility gets chosen, but you can make your best recommendation based on your direct knowledge of the place and the people involved. Sometimes the final decision will come down to price, sometimes to the appropriateness of the site to your event, sometimes to location, sometimes to a combination of all of these. But once the selection is made, you've taken your first step toward making the event real.

Final Thought on Working with Facility Staff: Last-Minute-itis
You can do as much planning as possible, but the sales staff knows--even if you haven't admitted the possibility yet--that last-minute items will continue to come up a year, a month, or a week out. This is where that goodwill you built up at the beginning pays off. The better you're able to get along with the hotel staff up front, the more likely they'll be happy and willing to help you out of a jam later.

If you learn anything from this series of event management blogs, it's just this: don't be a jerk. It makes the event management process--especially in an all-volunteer environment--much easier.

No comments: