Ever wonder why Hollywood stages so many gala opening nights before a new movie release? The answer is simple – money! The hype creates a “buzz” about the new release which motivates the fans to rush to the theatre to see the movie. In other words, the movie moguls want to sell their product! It works for Hollywood and it can work for your business also. If you have never held a gala event or staged a marketing event in your business, you can follow ten simple steps and create a stir in your business community and “wow” the crowd.
Decide on the purpose of the staged event and plan around that “goal.” Whether you want to publicize a new product; increase sales; or create visibility and credibility for your business, you follow the same ten steps.
Decide on a location best suited for the event. Most times the best location will be your place of business, but other locales could work also. If you are sponsoring a street festival, the obvious location for your gala event (or sneak preview) might be in the street (outside your actual business.) If your business is on-line or e-based, you might consider partnering with an affiliate or “like-minded” business associate. You can even rent a conference room at the public library or the local college at a minimal cost. Just ensure that the locale “fits” the theme of the event.
Decide on the invitation list. You should include preferred customers, pertinent suppliers, business associates, the local chamber of commerce, family and friends. (It’s a nice way to thank family, and besides, they will ensure that you have a receptive audience.)
Invite the media. Ensure you spell their names and titles correctly. The day before the event, call each of the media to inquire if they received their invitations. Inform them that you have prepared media packages for each of them.
Create a media package. (Folder with pertinent information about the “purpose of the event.” Also include contact names, telephone numbers, fax numbers, and email addresses of your business; background and history of your business; and include photos and stories about the event. If you are hosting any entertainment, include the name of the band and its bio.) Put a lot of time and effort into the media package as your goal is to pique the media’s interest and generate some publicity. Remember that you want the publicity, but the media wants a story of interest – something unique! If you do your homework, the media will thank you for a thoughtful and informative package.
Send press releases to the media a few days before the event. It might seem like “over-kill” but you are trying to ensure that the media attends the event – getting publicity for the event is imperative!
Plan the entertainment around the purpose of the event. If you are introducing a new line or new product to your business, then create a setting or centerpiece the product! Let it take front stage and “wow” the crowd. Hire a trio to play instrumental music in the background. Ask your photographer friend to attend and take photos of guests. (You will want to submit the photos to the newspapers, and display them on your website.) If you do not have a theme for the evening, create one to fit the occasion. You want to stage a gala event! Do not forget that Hollywood creates an extravaganza to promote a new movie. Duplicate that!
Plan the menu. It does not have to be formal, but it is another way to say thank you to the invitees and will impress your guests. You can rent wine glasses and plates, borrow coffee urns, or buy paper plates and napkins. Most local grocery stores offer cheese and fruit platters for a reasonable price. Do not forget bottled water. Consider asking a friend (with bar tending experience) to tend bar.
Attention to small details can make the evening stand out. Employ a greeter at the door – welcome all guests. Make it a point to personally talk to all of your guests. Hand out “gifts” to all guests – make it fit the business and the reason or purpose of the evening! (Call your suppliers and inform them of the gala event and request “donations”. You would be surprised at some of the “complimentary product” the company will send you.) If you do not want to give a gift or a coupon package, consider flowers or candy or fudge. We once gave each guest a free tee-shirt which promoted an upcoming jazz festival when we co-hosted a sneak preview of the festival. We decorated the store with musical notes and hung photos of jazz players and instruments. The main event – a trio took centre stage in the store!
Set up a table by the entrance. On the table, place flowers or a balloon bouquet, name tags for guests, the media packages, and a display of the “gifts” for your guests.
Plan parking arrangements for the evening – ask neighbouring businesses if your guests can park in their parking lots and post signage. Consider a parking attendant for the evening.
Introduce and thank your staff and the entertainment at some point of the evening – keep it short and succinct, but reiterate the purpose of the event.
After the event, follow-up with thank you notes to special guests, the entertainment, the staff and hosts, and anyone else who might have donated time or a gift to the event.
Send out press releases with a fun or candid photo to any of the media no-shows.
Submit a photo and “short summary of the event” to the newspaper “thanking your guests” – this will probably cost you the price of an ad, but worth the expense!
Keep invitation list and notes about the evening: the menus, the suggestions from guests, etc., in a file – because you will want to stage another event soon.
Once you have staged a successful sneak preview or gala evening or even a “meet and greet,” you can understand why Hollywood does it so often – it works! You can create a buzz in the business community and generate an excitement, too. Your guests will be impressed, your staff will love it, and you will gain respect and credibility from your customers.
Marilyn Cahill is a recently retired retailer. She has owned two children’s clothing stores, and a home-based gift basket business. Marilyn is passionate about reading, gardening, and retail.