Dana on Marketing Messages: How to Host Client Events
Printer as party planner? As Frank Romano likes to say, "Gimme a break!"
Hear me out.
Yes, you barely have enough time in the day to do your real job: running a printing company. And all the noise about social media activity and "upping" your content marketing can be deafening. (I contribute to that noise and make no apologies for it—it works!)
However, there is another effective way for printers to market their services: private customer events. By hosting a customer event, a printer can do ALL of the following: build good will, enjoy out-of-office face time with customers, strengthen customer relationships, inform customers about new or existing capabilities, impress prospects and turn them into customers, showcase your strengths, feature your team leaders, gather critical customer feedback, set your company apart from your competitors, and earn "props" from customers for providing them the chance to meet and mingle with their peers.
A customer event is different from your average lunch-and-learn session, or similar educational offerings that many printers have. I'm talking about a special customer event that's as social as it is educational—maybe even more so.
Having spent roughly 10 years producing and emceeing print buyer conferences, boot camps, dinner events and networking sessions, I can tell you that hosting an occasional event for your customers will help you reap rewards that last a long time. And besides, print customers love a good party.
Why Private Events?
Getting print buyers to attend a private event hosted by a printer is easier than getting them to cross the country for a national event. There are three good reasons for this: 1) cost, 2) convenience, and 3) workload issues.
Cost is always an issue. Print buyers are not typically C-suite employees. It's a challenge for them to get budget approval for national events that may be far from home. A private customer event produced by a printer is free for customers. That's a huge plus right there.
The second advantage to a private event is that it's generally convenient for most of your customers. Printers often host the event at their own facility. Alternatively, some rent a venue that's close by. Since most print customers work with printers that are local, the venue will be convenient for customers.
Finally, because print buyers' work is directly tied to production schedules that change with the wind, it's easier for them to attend a local printer's event than fly to a different state, which extends their time out of the office considerably. Asking one's boss for a day or half-day out of the office is a lot easier than asking for multiple days.
Print buying staffs are smaller today than even a few years ago. The result is that many buyers work alone and find it difficult to get time off, even for work-related events.
What are my top three secrets for hosting a successful customer event? They are shaping the program itself, offering a good balance of educational and social content, and promoting it like there's no tomorrow.
How Long Is Long Enough?
One of the first things to consider when planning a customer event is the format, or how long it should last. You have choices. You can host a full-day event, a half-day, or an evening event—or any combination thereof. Producing a full-day customer event is a mountain of work and will require a dedicated staff member or more to manage it. Shorter events are recommended due to the sheer amount of effort (time and money) you'll pour into a whole day.
The best way to approach this decision is to ask yourself this: What am I going to offer? Your event will be part educational, part social (see below). How much time will guests spend in educational sessions vs. socializing with peers?
A half-day event suggests there will be multiple educational sessions or product/equipment demonstrations—anywhere from two to five sessions feels right (though five sessions in a half-day is pushing it). My suggestion is to offer two or three 45-minute sessions during the course of a half-day event, which can work well in the morning or in the afternoon, when you can end the day with cocktails or other refreshments.
An evening event is also a great format. You'd have one speaker—one very good speaker—on a topic that's sure to attract a large number of customers and prospects. Dinner or at least some refreshment is expected, but it need not be extravagant.
Two Parts Educational, One Part Social Elements
Separate from a typical "printer's open house," which is generally all social, a private customer event should provide educational content that your guests can't easily get anywhere else—and is best delivered in person.
Offer a few sessions on specific topics that most customers can benefit from. Naturally, they have to relate to services and products you offer. If you have employees who are excellent and engaging public speakers on the topics you'll cover, by all means have them as your presenters.
However, if there are no natural presenters on your staff, go outside. There are many industry professionals to consider. Speaking fees vary (and are generally negotiable). Depending on your budget, you may prefer to have one or two of these industry "stars" at your event. Name recognition will help build your audience.
There must be a solid social element to your event, and this is true for whatever format you choose. Print customers rarely get a chance to hang out with their peers, and your offering this very opportunity is a major promotional hook. If nothing else, give attendees time to mingle over lunch, dinner, or cocktails. Find creative ways to encourage their networking. Most won't want to attend an event that is 100 percent work and no play.
I shouldn't have to say this, but I feel compelled: the event sessions must not be promotional. If they are, you'll alienate your guests.
Promote It Well or You'll Fail
Having the industry's top speakers at a luxury hotel, serving the finest cuisine and having fabulous giveaways for your guests will all be for naught if no one shows up.
Promoting your customer event well is the single most important part of the entire process. This encompasses everything: planning the event with enough time to build interest and secure enough RSVPs, creating an event theme or 'brand,' developing an actual promotional strategy, assigning the promotional function to one person or a team, and securing partners who can help promote your event.
There's no way you should build an event without planning the specifics of how you'll promote it. It calls for an integrated campaign using all channels at your service: e-mail, direct mail, Website, social media, news releases, banner ads, videos, word of mouth.
If you're strictly inviting customers, they're easy to find. If you want to include prospects, that's a whole other challenge. Start brainstorming about your event's promotional campaign as soon as you decide to have an event.
There are lots of other considerations when planning a customer event. These three are the primary ones a printer should focus on. Plan it well, design a terrific program and promote it like there's no tomorrow, and you stand to reap enormous rewards for your work. PI
About the Author
Long regarded as a print buyer expert and trade writer, Margie Dana launched a new business as a marketing communications strategist with a specialty in printing and print buying. She's as comfortable working in social media as she is in traditional media, and now she's on a mission to help clients build customer communities through carefully crafted content. Dana was the producer of the annual Print & Media Conference. Although she's exited the event business, she is still publishing her Print Tips newsletter each week. For more details and to sign up for her newsletter and marketing blog, visit www.margiedana.com.
Long regarded as a print buyer expert and trade writer, Margie Dana launched a new business as a marketing communications strategist with a specialty in printing and print buying. She is as comfortable working in social media as she is in traditional media, and now she’s on a mission to help clients build customer communities through carefully crafted content. Dana was the producer of the annual Print & Media Conference.
Although she has exited the event business, Dana is still publishing her Print Tips newsletter each week. For more details and to sign up for her newsletter and marketing blog, visit www.margiedana.com