Event Production

Hotel/Venue Traps to Avoid

Have you ever considered taking your event out-of-state? Do you already travel around the country for your events? Today’s episode is all about making your out-of-state event a success! Charles & Lisa talk to Gina & Anna of Nexstar Network, a member-owned organization that helps educate, coach, and train business owners in the trades. Their events move to new locations each year, so they give us tips on picking locations, how to maximize your dollars with the venue, and which partners should travel with you. Contact: Ginab@nexstarnetwork.com, Annar@nexstarnetwork.com, or check them out at http://www.nexstarnetwork.com

 

HOW DO YOU PICK THE CITY YOU WANT TO HOST YOUR EVENT?

We look at the downtown area. Our CEO, Jack Tester, loves a vibrant downtown. We want places for our guests to be able to walk to, fun activities for them to do, and great places to eat and see. If not, we want a shuttle near by or other transportation. We look at the quality and service of a hotel. We are not loyal to a brand, but lately we’ve been liking J.W. Marriott & the Hyatt for our larger events. We also check the distance from the hotel to the airport. We do not want our guests to land and then have to drive two hours to get to us. Also, meeting space. We need so much space. We’ve put together a calculation a few years back. It is 34 square feet per person, which is a lot, but we don’t want to feel uncomfortable. Then, we have a list of things we’ve used in the past that we will need, like a meal space, break out spaces for each department, etc. and we reference that for every event we do.

 

HOW ARE YOU FIGURING THIS OUT SINCE YOU ARE LOCATED IN ST. PAUL? ARE YOU FLYING TO THESE CITIES, DOING A LOT OF RESEARCH OR WHAT?

We have hotel reps, which are like Account Executives for each hotel brand, that we use. We put together an RFP, Request For Proposal, with all of our needs (room nights, meeting spaces, etc) and we send that to the hotel reps and from there they will recommend a hotel and send us availability. We do not like using third parties, because we really like having those personal relationships with the hotels reps. Also, the third-party gets commission, which causes the hotel to see our business as not so lucrative for them. Plus, the loyalty that develops when you are working with the same person year after year creates a great working relationship.

 

ARE THE HOTEL REPS VERY RESPONSIVE OR..?

The hotel reps are amazing! It is working with the actual hotel that can be hard. Like some hotels we can’t get into, because we don’t have enough room nights, so they won’t even look into our proposal. Like Austin, TX, we really want to get into there, but you need a minimum of 1,000 room nights to get in there and we are at about 7-800. Nashville and Austin are really hard to get into.

 

DO YOU EVER GO TO LOCAL BUSINESS/CITY BUREAUS, LIKE MEET MINNEAPOLIS, TO GET INTO A HOTEL OR CITY?

That is more like a DMC, Destination Management Company, which we could go to, but I don’t think they have as much pull as the hotels. Sometimes, the hotels will actually use them to try to win our business. One time, we went to meet with the hotel and they had a rep from their local city bureau ready to share with us why they think their area would be a great fit for our event. So they work more with the hotel to get us than with us to get the hotel.

 

ARE YOU WORKING WITH A NATIONAL REP FROM THAT HOTEL BRAND OR ARE YOU CALLING LIKE THE CATERING OR EVENT MANAGER AT A SPECIFIC HOTEL TO WORK THINGS OUT?

We work with a national rep. When we’ve narrowed down on a few hotels, our rep will put us in contact with the right person at the hotel.

 

HOW DO YOU START THE DIALOGUE WITH THE NATIONAL REP AND WHAT DO YOU DISCUSS? HOW MUCH DETAIL DO YOU PUT IN YOUR RFP’S?

Before we send those out, we’ve met with our national hotel reps several times. So they know our business and what we are looking for. Then, the RFPs go into further detail about what we need for that specific event. Like, the space outlined, what class are taking places, how big those classes are, any breakouts needed, hours of the class time, any concessions that we are really hard on, and room block details. Like how many king or queen rooms we need. We are very specific about that. If it is a management level event or a technician level event we need different styles of rooms for our guests. We get a lot of questions back from the hotels about that, but it helps us to weed out what hotels are going to work for us and which won’t.

 

HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHAT YOU NEED IN A HOTEL BLOCK?

We have a really good formula built up. We look at how many people are budgeted for each class and then we take 30% off the top. We’ve noticed that about 30% of people either don’t come, already live in the area, or they share a room. A lot of our technicians will want to share rooms to save on costs. We have not gotten into any attrition, that’s the thing we don’t want to get into, because we contract so many events across the country that we want to be good stewards of our members money.

 

DO THE MEMBERS PAY YOU OR THE HOTEL DIRECTLY?

They pay the hotel. We orchestrate everything and do the negotiating. Two new things that we are doing in our RFPs this year is that we are asking for a 2% rebate to our members’ master account, because a lot of hotels want to show on paper that there room rates are a little higher, which is okay, and if we don’t have any wiggle room for the room rates we can at least get a credit to our members at the end of it. Also, we are going to give preference to the hotels that give us 75% attrition vs 80% or 90%. The other thing I wanted to throw in is AV. We do lay those details out in the RFPs. For our smaller events, we will use the local AV company, but for our larger events we are happy to say that we use EideCom!

 

I’VE HEARD HOTEL NEGOTIATIONS CAN BE PRETTY FIERCE, CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THAT?

I see it as a challenge. When we start the proposal process with the hotels you begin a relationship with them. I know that we are a great piece of business and our members are a fun group of people. Hotels love us on site. Our guys are great and we are going to bring them a nice piece of business so we are asking for some back. It helps that our hotel reps know us. We don’t cancel, we fill our blocks, we spend way more money on food and beverage, we overflow our blocks, our members like to go out, drink, and spend money. We ask for a lot of concessions. Like, F&B, food and beverage, which we usually ask for 20% off the top. We might not always get it, but something is better than nothing! We can’t negotiate plus plus (the tax that hotels charge). We have a list of about 25 concessions that we always ask for. Like, a two-way cut off for our hotel block, which gives you two weeks prior to the start of the event to book your room at the negotiated rate. But, if the block fills, the hotel can do whatever they want. For the most part, they will honor the negotiated rate if it is in the two-week mark. So we try to negotiate two weeks prior. We do 10% off AV. We do 80% attrition and this year we are giving priority to the 75% attrition. We do discounted staff room rates, meeting planner points, welcome amenities, suite upgrades, and more. We also have a lot of contractual addendum’s. Like, a mutual cancellation policy. So if I cancel on the hotel, the amount is the same as if the hotel cancels on me. We’ve never had to cancel an event, but if we were to, we want to be protected. Or if the hotel decides to cancel on us, we are in a really bad situation. We also do a meeting space clause, which means the hotel cannot move us without our written permission. We also do a no walk clause. Some hotels, if they over book they will bump you, so this clause states that if they over book they have to bump other people and not our members. We also do not pay for meeting space. We work it into our food and beverage minimum. Another tip to save money: negotiate that all your packages will be delivered for free! Hotels will charge you hundreds of dollars if you get something delivered there.

 

HAVE YOU EVER DEALT WITH UNIONS?

Oh yes. We’ve had a lot of issues with unions, so that is something we look at upfront when we are selecting hotels and venues. If they are union, we do a lot of research and look at their history, because we have been burned, where the management staff is amazing, but the banquet staff (the staff that is union) that has to execute the work won’t follow through, so we end up being on site labor. Plus, the prices you pay at a union hotel are crazy! We try to avoid unions. We do not want to pay the extra fees. The plus plus is enough. As a rule of thumb, we estimate plus plus to be a minimum of 32%.

 

WHAT IS NEGOTIABLE?

Food and beverage and AV for sure. Especially, if you have history with the hotel and can prove your F&B budget and room block, they can work with your budget.

 

WHAT OTHER THINGS HAVE YOU LEARNED TO NOT OVERLOOK?

When you start negotiating, always look into your rigging costs. Any type of license or permits that’s needed from the hotel side, like if you need a security guard or someone overseeing stuff, that can be upwards of $5,000, so I ask for the production guidelines from the hotel before a site visit and send that to EideCom, or the production team, and they let me know what the event will actually cost. That way you are not getting a surprise bill later on.

 

WHAT ABOUT THINGS LIKE POWER AND INTERNET?

I ask the hotel right away what that will cost. For internet, we do not provide wi-fi for all of our members, because it is crazy expensive, like $50,000. We do provide it for the production team and we put it out at the registration desk and then we negotiate wi-fi in members room. So they do have free wi-fi while they are there. We don’t want them on their phone all day anyways, but we do have a lot of members ask about it.

Another thing to check when you are negotiating is construction. It is always good to know if there is any planned construction and what they can do to work around that for our guests. It is also important to know who else is going to be at the hotel. We don’t run into this problem very often, but with our smaller events when we aren’t taking up the majority of the hotel or meeting spaces, you do not want to be in a room next to people having a party when you are trying to have a focused, thinking time with your group, which has happened to us. We ended up having to move rooms overnight.

Another thing to think about, we like to contract out a year and a half to two years for our really big meetings.

 

ARE THERE ANY CITIES YOU WOULDN’T RECOMMEND?

Las Vegas and New Orleans, because there are so many distractions. We still go to New Orleans but we are more thoughtful about where we go and what our itinerary is. Also, Canada is hard, because now you need a passport. But once we get there, everything is so much cheaper.

Another thing we think about is the weather. Like, don’t book an event in Florida during hurricane season. We’ve thought about having an event here in Minnesota, but there is no hotel that is big enough for our Super Meeting. We would have to book two hotels, one for overflow, and we don’t want to do that.

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE THINGS THAT YOU THINK ARE THE MUST DO’S FOR PLANNING AN EVENT OUT OF STATE?

  1. You have to do a site visit for a large meeting. See how people treat you, how the food is, what does the meeting space look like?
  2. Check the cost of flights! If it is hard place to get to, like there isn’t an international airport nearby and flights alone are $1,000, people probably won’t want to pay that, plus a hotel and more.
  3. Location. You don’t want to be in a weird or unsafe area that makes your guests uncomfortable
  4. Put together a check list that is full of things that are important to you and your business and make sure everything checks off while you are there! It’s a process to put together a good contract, but when you give it the time you need the outcome will be so much better. Have a very detailed person and even a lawyer look over it.

 

ARE THERE ANY BIG RED FLAGS YOU SHOULD BE AWARE OF WHEN TALKING TO A HOTEL?

For the most part, the hotels want your business, so they won’t try to pull a fast one on you. I would just be sure to look at the cancellation policy.

It is key to build trust between you and the hotel reps and staff!

 

WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO WORK WITH A PRODUCTION COMPANY THAT WILL TRAVEL WITH YOU INSTEAD OF THE IN-HOUSE PRODUCTION CREW?

We want a team that knows our content, our people, the way we think, our membership, so that we can work easier together and the level and quality of equipment that a production company, like EideCom, owns is so great. On top of that, there is a level of trust that builds. We trust you guys to take care of us and our members. And honestly, it is not that much more expensive, if any at all!

All of our vendors leading up to a big event, we are very loyal to them and they are very loyal to us. Events are all about the little details, so for us, we have so many things going on, it is such a load off of us to work with people who know all the little details!

 

Contact: Ginab@nexstarnetwork.com, Annar@nexstarnetwork.com, or check them out at http://www.nexstarnetwork.com

 

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom

Fundraising Tricks To Raise More Money

In this first episode, Charles meets with Shauna Brick and Sara Meyer of the American Heart Association to discuss maximizing a non-profit fundraiser. This episode covers everything from the strategy for pricing gala tickets to the use of alcohol. We also talk about live auctions, audience reactions, show flow, and entertainment for your guests.

 

 

WHAT ARE THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES OF NON-PROFIT EVENTS AND FOR-PROFIT EVENTS?

We, American Heart Association, are a national organization and we run much like a corporate business. We work a lot with sales and budgeting. Our gala is successful because we are so driven by the numbers.

 

WHAT WAS THE STRATEGY BEHIND MOVING YOUR GALA FROM NOVEMBER TO SEPTEMBER?

A couple of things. Sometimes when you look at who is going to be the Chairman(s) for our event, we have big C-Suite executives and it has to work with their schedule. Also, the venue. We have over 700 attendees and we need a space that will accommodate that. Plus, when we are trying to raise 1.8 million dollars, we need a beautiful venue! *link to donate below* Also, since we live in Minnesota, the majority of our guests are snowbirds, so they leave for 6 months of the year, and unfortunately November falls into that time. So we moved it up two months earlier! Which really can throw of our timeline, because that is two months that we no longer have to fundraise and plan. Our goal is $300,000 higher than it was last year, so those two months would be amazing to have, but we know our audience and know this event, so we are not too worried! *Shauna has been with AHA as their Gala Coordinator for seven years! Sara was there for five, left, then came back, and is coming up on her seventh year!

 

HOW MUCH OF THE MONEY YOU RAISE IS RAISED THE NIGHT OF VS. MONEY YOU KNEW WAS GOING TO COME IN?

It ranges depending on the organization, but AHA is very corporate heavy. So when you look at the audience and who is in the room that night, a lot of it comes from the corporations in the community, like U.S. Bank. We are raising about $300,000 tops on the night of. Majority of the money comes from sponsorships and donations beforehand. Even though we love monetary surprises, we want to make sure that we have done our due diligence of sharing what the mission is and where the donations are going. The more planning and less surprises the better, because people’s lives are in our hands. The expenses alone are what you are going to make the night of, give or take. I think it would be irresponsible of us to gamble on raising all the money the night of.

 

HOW DO YOU MAKE A GREAT EVENT, FROM FUNDRAISING TO THE EXECUTION OF THE ACTUAL EVENT, FOR NON-PROFITS?

First and foremost, it is not something you plan for 2-3 months. It is a process. People often ask us what we plan on doing now that the gala is over and we are shocked, because there is still so much work to be done and we have the next one to plan! We are always looking out 2-3 years. The individuals you want chairing your event are so busy, so we need to plan years in advance. Especially, if you have a large fundraising goal. We couldn’t do any of this without our amazing volunteers. We need those volunteers and C-Suite executives to spread that awareness. It is our job to help them sell the mission to their friends, because this is not their full time job, it is ours.

FUNDRAISING TIP: Have monthly check ins with all of your executive leadership team members. Simply, a 15 minute call asking them who are the ten people they are going to call this month. We will even create the message (email) and send it to them as a template for them to send to others, then we check in with those people and “close” the deal. Also, their assistants need to become your best friend so treat them well!!! We like to be pleasantly persistent.

 

HOW DO YOU EXECUTE A GREAT EVENT?

It seems like a lot of people like to be a jack of all trades, but for us, we have a team of three for the Gala. The three of us cannot do what this event entails without great volunteers. The night of and weeks leading up, we are reminding them how valuable they are to us and we set up specific leads. Someone to lead registration, ballroom set up, etc. You need a specific lead to be there if anything was to arise and you NEED to prep them! No amount of communication is too much and no amount of information is too much. You are putting your event and goal in their hands, they need to know everything.

 

HOW DO YOU DO THAT? HOW DO YOU PREP THEM?

We pick the veterans, the ones who have been at the gala a few times, and we sit down with them prior to the event, either for coffee or at the office, and we run though everything. I give them all the materials they need to be successful. For example, our auction room. Our goal is to raise $160,000 that night and if I’m putting out fires left and right I cant be there to talk to John from XYZ Organization about the next auction item coming up and getting him excited about it. So I need to make sure that the key volunteer knows the lay of the land, like where the online auction person is or what the vacation parameters are around the vacation home in Mexico, etc. It may be overkill in the beginning but it is worth it. These meetings happen about a month out and then again two weeks before, and then the leads need to arrive even earlier the day of than the guests and other volunteers. You need to realize that just because you’ve been planning this event for eleven months and you know all about it, doesn’t mean your volunteers do. Give as much information as you can and delegate as much as you can.

 

HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM SOME MISTAKES?

Continuously! We learn every year. For example, we changed how we did check out a couple years ago to make it more efficient. At least we tried. To the three of us it made perfect sense, but we weren’t there when people were trying to check out and it was absolutely chaos.

TIP: Keep your guests’ experience in mind the whole time. From the moment they reach the valet to when they check out or leave the valet. What is the first thing they see? It is all about the details. Have a glass of champagne being passed during check in. Just like any event, there is a general flow to the event, which is why the details matter so much in helping you stand out. It changes everything. Put yourself in their shoes.

 

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO IMPROVE CHECK IN?

In the past 7 years our registration has dramatically improved. It used to be ‘stand in this line, carry your program, carry the seven other things we have for you, etc.’ Now, our guests do not get any of that. You can go to any computer or open line, and you don’t even get a program anymore. You get a little card with your table number, because everything is on your phone!

TIP: Don’t be afraid to look into mobile bidding. Mobile bidding is your friend! For years we used BidPal, but now we use Greater Giving.

We also have volunteers to show you where to go. Then, at your table is where your program is, your bidder number, etc. We don’t want them holding anything but their phone and a glass of whatever. These are little pieces that make a huge impact on your guest’s experience. What are the experiences your guests can have? Also, be sure to change your experiences! Some people are going to galas every weekend. In the past we have had bright lights hitting the valet so our guests feel like stars when they walk in. Last year we had a gorgeous coffee station, Girl Friday helped us set it up. And as our guests were leaving we had these cups made with our logo and all of our sponsors logos that would be working with us next year. It was a take home gift that everybody loved! The guests loved it because it was pretty and who doesn’t love a take home gift? And our sponsors loved it because it was getting their name out there. For some, that coffee was that extra little push to get sponsors on board for next year. And now sponsors that weren’t on it, want to be on it!

Last year, when we were trying to get our donors on board before the night of the event, we had this beautiful wine wall, where you could “buy” a bottle and have it engraved in memory of the person you were there for. Then, you received it in a beautiful bag on your way out. It was great!

We will caution you to be careful with your changes. You know your audience and you know what they like. So if you change up the auctioneer, for example, it can be really hard on your guests because it eventually becomes endearing to them.

 

DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE AUDIENCE REALLY LIKES TO HAVE THE LIVE AUCTION?

For sure. It breaks up the program. Some years, our survivor stories can be pretty heavy. Sometimes non-profits can be “Debbie downers,” but we need to give hope. You have to be very careful with how you tell your stories. We’ve learned that through having people actually leave the room because the video or story was too heavy for them. We love a good tear jerker, but there needs to be hope.

TIP: If you’re going to make a video or share a really heavy story, bring in hope at the end!!! That’s where the money comes from.

You’re walking a fine line and you need to know your audience. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to know everyone and it has taken us years to work up to get a room full of high level executives. We go out before the gala, about a month to a month and a half out and we let them know the importance of who is in the room and that they are there too. We are setting the expectation of who we want in the room with the large company. We talk with our sponsors about Key People. From day one with our Gala Chairman, who this year is one of the EVPs at 3M, we always tell him, it is very important that your CEO is there.

Over the years, our event has gone up in donations exponentially and gone down in size. You need to focus on who is going to be there, because at the end of the day it is about hitting goal for the non-profit.

 

WHAT IS YOUR PRICE POINT ON TICKETS? HOW DO YOU PRICE YOUR TICKETS?

We don’t rely heavily on ticket sales. We focus more on the big sponsorships. A lot of our tables come from our sponsorships. So with those say four tables, for example, that comes with the sponsorship, we sit down with the sponsor and say, “we want X, Y, & Z at your tables.” We do individually sell tickets, they are $375.

 

WHAT DID YOU SEE HAPPEN WHEN YOU INCREASED YOUR PRICES FROM $150 TO $375?

Honestly, nothing. It is a pretty consistent group of people and amount that we raise/sell from tickets. But, everything has to be a strategic decision. We go through the pro’s and con’s. Keep in mind though, you can’t raise the money after the fact. Start high, set the expectation, and put the fundraiser hat on. You always have to think about if this: ________ is going to move the bottom line.

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ENTICE THE GUESTS TO STAY LATE?

Instead of having the preset desserts, we decided to hold off and did a dessert cart after. That probably held another 100 people than we would’ve ever expected.

 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO OTHER NON-PROFITS TO KEEP SOMEONE IN THE SAME EVENT SO THEY BECOME A SPECIALIST?

Yes, because although planning the event can be very repetitive, there is always something new. Also, it can be very hard to switch from wearing the “Gala hat” to the “Young Professionals event hat” or whatever it may be, because you are not given enough time to really put everything you can into making the event the best it can be. Knowing that the gala is our baby has really helped our organization grow.

 

HOW DO YOU SELECT THE RIGHT PARTNERS IN YOUR COMMUNITY TO HELP YOU PUT THIS TOGETHER? LIKE THE FLORIST, THE VENUE, ETC.

It isn’t always money. Our policy is that every single year we are supposed to get three bids on every aspect. But it goes back to our relationships. We have used the same vendors in a handful of different areas because they know us and what we are trying to achieve. They know our goals, our bottom line, our room most of the time, etc. So even though they might come in a little higher at their cost, we know the service they are going to provide.

 

QUICK TOUCH ON PROGRAMS, WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T?

Well, we have an amazing Senior Communications Director, Elizabeth. And we are thankful that we all know our expertise. We are good at fundraising and planning, but not writing a script. And in some cases, like for some non-profits, you do have to do it all. At the end of the day it is all about the goal and what you need to accomplish. So when we start planning the program, all three of us get together and we all have say! We come from different points of views and it is always interesting. One of the ways we start, is what kind of advocacy wins have we had? What are the things we can celebrate that evening to show the impact that the donations are making? We meet with our survivor and go over expectations and make sure they are comfortable with our expectations.

 

HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE FUN EXPERIENCE OF THE NIGHT WITH THE PURPOSE OF THE EVENT (RAISING MONEY)?

  1. Warming the room. Like an email to the guests from the survivor or the Chairman and in that email we will share our goal and encourage them to join us in meeting that goal. It prepares people to spend and start talking about it beforehand. It may sound like overkill, but that key messaging is so important. One email will preview the speaker, then the survivor, then the auction, etc.
  2. Alcohol. It gets people relaxed and a little competitive.

 

FOR THE EVENTS THAT DO CHOOSE TO HAVE ALCOHOL, HOW DO YOU MAKE THE DECISION TO HAVE OPEN BAR AND AT WHAT TICKET PRICE OR DO YOU JUST HAVE BEER AND WINE? WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY WITH ALCOHOL?

We have a balance. When you come, all of our pre-selected beverages are open bar, which is more than just beer and wine. That is open to everyone. Then, when you get to your table there is a bottle of wine, red and white, which we try to get donated by a vendor. We have a great partnership with a company, called Colby Red, that we will be working with. From that point on it is cash bar. Last year, we had a champagne toast at the end to celebrate the night, and I don’t know if there was value in it. But, alcohol in the beginning really loosens people up. We noticed with an open bar all night you have to worry about people being over served and it can be a bit messy. We like to give a little “liquid courage” up front, then let the rest be up to them. Our VIPs, or higher donors, also get a bottle of champagne and we will replenish their wine throughout the night. It goes back to what your overall goal is. Is it to have a party or to raise money?

RECAP…

  • It is not a 2 month event. The gala is a year-round event and we are always looking three years out.
  • Don’t be afraid to lean on your seasoned volunteers that night. The night of you should be the thermometer of the event, seeing what works and doesn’t work.
  • Make the small changes.
  • Know your audience.
  • Don’t forget about the details. Ex. Cards or gifts to your sponsors at the table. You want everyone to feel special and we all work hard for our money and there are tons of different amazing causes out there fighting for that money. Remind them of how much you appreciate them.
  • Build relationships! Don’t only talk to your sponsors once a year when it is time for them to donate.
  • It is important to have POST-event meetings, with your team AND with your vendors. What worked well, what didn’t. They are uncomfortable conversations, but SO necessary.
  • Understand the cadence and the flow of your evening.
  • Put the guest experience first.

 

ANY OTHER TIPS OR FINAL THOUGHTS?

Lead with mission and be sincere. And believe in your mission. It’s hard to sell what you don’t care about. Be yourself.

 

HOW CAN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED?

Volunteer! Email sara.shaw@heart.org to volunteer, donate, or provide connections for AHA. The gala is September 29th, 2018. A Saturday night. It is a black tie event and we are looking for volunteers for everything from the auction room to guest experiences!

Find out all you need to know about the 24th Annual Twin Cities Heart & Stroke Gala HERE.

 

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom