What’s the difference between branding and personal branding? When is it time for a rebrand? Henry Kaminski, the Brand Dr, knows all about this. This episode does not disappoint!
How do earned media and social media play into your event strategy? We have local PR and messaging expert, Kristi Piehl, founder and CEO of Media Minefield, on the the show to discuss the benefits of both! She’s also going to talk about how COVID-19 updates should be messaged from our industry’s standpoint.
Jim Leighton, VP of Events and Partnerships, and HaiVy Thompson, Director of Marketing and Community Engagement from Children’s Cancer Research Fund, join us today to share how they are changing the game of fundraising! In this episode you will learn what makes an event an experience, how to tell a story, and a special premier of CCRF’s big announcement!
HOW ARE YOU KEEPING THE DRIVE TO ALWAYS PUSH THE NEEDLE? HOW DO YOU GUYS KEEP IN THE MINDSET OF TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
One of the key things is that we put it into our value statement. One of our values as an organization is innovation. Our team and all of our partners, they know that. We are not afraid to innovate. Personally, I get bored. I don’t want to do the same thing every year. We have the great opportunity to create and play a little bit. Because we are in the non-profit space, we know we have to be cost-effective and money does matter. But you never know where the best next thing is going to come from! We have to diversify. Our event can’t just stay in the ballroom, so we play in the digital and virtual space. Innovation is at our core.
Also, we get so energized by our donors, our fundraisers, the kids, and the families we work with. We get so much inspiration from them to keep pushing ourselves year after year.
WHEN YOU START CRAFTING NEXT YEAR’S EVENT, HOW DO YOU WEAVE IN THE CAUSE INTO THE AUDIENCE’S EXPERIENCE?
We start by thinking about what are some compelling stories that are happening with our families right now. We get so much inspiration from the things they are dealing with in their cancer journey. Even when the journey is complete and they are living post-cancer, there are a lot of challenges that come with that. We stay close with our families and we learn a lot from them. Then, we talk to our researchers and ask them what they are doing, what they are excited about, and what is new and different that donors might really enjoy hearing about. We take that and start there. Then, with all the event components, we ask how can we weave that into each and every moment whether that be a gala or a walk/run.
Impact in our world is challenging to show. Impact takes a long time. Research takes a long time. One of the things at CCRF we pride ourselves on is the time from bench to bedside. Because we focus on certain research we have had some situations where that has been greatly shortened and then we can tell that great story! In research it can be decades before we get to clinical trials. So instead of asking people to give money now and see their result in 30 years, we focus on those things that have had a greater impact in a shorter amount of time. We build those relationships with the researchers to share those stories.
ONE THING YOU ARE VERY WELL KNOWN FOR IS CREATING AN AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE LIKE NOTHING ELSE. SO COULD YOU TALK US THROUGH YOUR MENTALITY. HOW DO YOU MAKE THE EVENT SO SPECIAL FOR THE AUDIENCE?
Thank you so much. We think about all of the ways people are engaging. All of the senses. The one we haven’t figured out is smell, but we will get it.
In 2007 we had a mom share her story and it was so impactful (tune in to hear the story!). That was the moment in my career that I said, “Authentic storytelling. How can we continue to tell these stories?” And then we started assembling a team. So now with HaiVy and her marketing team, our partners (who are so important because we need people to amplify that story and craft it) we really put stories and mission at the forefront of every event.
A few years ago, we took the guests on an experience that the children go through. So going back to the five senses, we wanted people to experience an MRI, because that is something a lot of the kids have to go through and it is really scary for them. You have to lay really still and go through this dark tunnel. So we worked with you guys, EideCom, to really build the sound for that and we dimmed the lights and we got people to experience what an MRI feels like to signify how challenging the journey is for families, and kids especially, and that their support makes it possible so that this doesn’t have to happen in the future. That was really cool because it involved all the senses. We want to give the guests something truly memorable that they can share with their families and friends tomorrow.
We can’t do any of this without our partners. You need to have partners you can trust. Like you guys, EideCom, were so onboard with our MRI idea and you made it possible. There was a lot of things that could have gone wrong!
THERE IS SOMETHING REALLY POWERFUL ABOUT KEEPING UP WITH EVENTS, LIKE WHAT YOU DID WITH THAT MOTHER SHARING HER STORY. HOW DO YOU GUYS STAY UP WITH ALL THE STUFF THAT’S GOING ON AND FIGURE OUT WHAT IS RELEVANT TO YOUR CAUSE?
It’s about relationships. Great relationships with the researchers. Then, collaborations. We have a great collaboration with a group of moms called Momcology. This group is made up of 6,000 women across the country that have the unfortunate common ground of having a child with cancer. We have people on our team involved with that, listening to what is going on. The first thing in sharing a great story is that you have to listen. Then, we think how can we effectively share that story. One thing we are being more cognizant of is utilizing digital and social media, figuring out how we can tell these stories before we get into the ballroom and how do we continue the conversation after they leave the ballroom?
The other thing to add is that we have invested resources into relationships and listening. You can’t just go out and find a great story. You have to have relationships with families, researchers, caretakers, and then those stories bubble up over time. So that is the number one thing I recommend a lot of marketing teams to do, invest in an outreach person.
HAVE YOU GUYS EVER GONE BACK AND RETOLD A STORY, LIKE WITH AN UPDATE?
Definitely! One that we have retold and has new chapters to expound on is Mindy. Her son, Connor, has a brain tumor and she now works for us, but in the mid 2000s we featured her story at Dawn of a Dream and a few other marketing places. Connor was a baby at that point and had a few treatments for his cancer already. Then, a decade later things started to change. The after effects of all the treatments cause him to start having seizures. And for the past ten years his family was thinking they had conquered the cancer and they would be fine, and all of sudden the reality hits again. We shared that story.
WHEN YOU SAY FOCUS ON THE THINGS YOU NEED TO CHANGE, BUT DON’T CHANGE EVERYTHING, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?
This is about guest experience, not necessarily story telling. We look at everything about the event afterwards and we see what worked, what should be tweaked, and what didn’t go well. So for us, we will always have a live auction because it works. We really want to focus on the things that will have to most impact because again we don’t have a lot of money. Some organizations like to do things new every year and go to a new venue every year. And for us, well next year we are going to a new venue, but it has been 15 years at the same place! To us it is important to have consistency with our partners so you can make those impactful changes. One thing we try to change-up is how we tell the story. So not just through video, but through live interviews, live talent, etc. We try to switch it up so you have a variable of experiences throughout the night. We have found that in person story telling is something magical. The thing about focusing on the things that work, know who your audience is. It doesn’t matter if we are bored. Just because we might be bored with it, doesn’t mean our audience is!
We also think about the morning after. I call it “the Caribou experience.” I want someone who has attend our gala for the first time to talk about the event they were at last night when they go to the coffee shop the next morning. If they say, “I was at a great event last night,” that’s good but I’m sure they say that about a lot of events. I want them to explode with passion. So we really think about what we want that Caribou conversation to be when we are crafting the message and planning the event. If all they can recall is the dinner and drinks and not the actual message, we had them there as a guest, not a donor.
Awareness and story telling is all a way to get funds raised. Raising as much money as we can is the key to all of this. Experience matters to fundraising, so when we have a new team member or partner I talk about the guest walking into the room. Say that guest has $500 in their pocket. Every time they have a bad experience, like valet takes too long, there goes a $100. So we don’t play games like that. It takes the whole team to be involved in making every experience matter. Registration has everything to do with revenue. All the little things combine to make a major difference.
LET’S TALK ABOUT DOING YOUR HOMEWORK ON WHO IS IN THE ROOM.
In gala situations, talk to your table hosts. Who is it they are bringing? We are working on personas of our gala guests. There are a few assumptions we make, like they are from the Twin Cities or the west metro and they probably go to a gala a month. So we need to step up our game. But what excites them? What are the types of things that they want to do? This is a group of people who, for the most part, can buy what they want. But maybe they weren’t thinking of going on a trip to Australia, but trips sell! There is a lot of talk about balance, like there has to be something for the sports person or this or that, but for us we know trips are going to do well. So I’m not going to put in a Nascar experience, because there might only be one or two people in the room that care about that.
TELL US MORE ABOUT TRIPS.
We know about our demographic. They like first class. If you don’t include it, they will probably upgrade anyways but be crabby about it. So it’s all about knowing your audience. If we were doing an event at a school or a smaller event, we wouldn’t do luxury trips. Also, it’s about collaboration like we said. We have an amazing partnership with a luxury travel company, Travel Beyond. Since 2010 we’ve been working with them to curate these trips. We trust them and they are excited about what we are doing. We sit down with them and they tell us what is hot and trending. They also do such a great job at selling the trip that night. They come up with the description, they will speak about it, they truly work with us in our event.
A LOT OF NEW PLANNERS ASK, “HOW MUCH DO WE NEED TO RAISE THE NIGHT OF AND HOW MUCH SHOULD WE RAISE BEFORE THE EVENT?” CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
This is something I’ve grown on. Raise the money before you get in the room. You don’t know what is going to happen that night. We raise the most money through our Fund a Need, a direct ask. So as a fundraiser and human, that makes me feel really good, because the donors are not getting anything out of it. These people are giving purely philanthropical. But that doesn’t happen without us doing our homework and building relationships and asking for that money. We can try to control the experience and event, but we can’t control the weather. So what if we had an event on a snow storm and people didn’t show up? You have to build your relationships and get as much money raised as possible beforehand.
I would say we raise more than half of our goal beforehand. Our live auction does do really well but we know some people like to donate privately. We are very conscientious about that. We have a rule with our auctioneer, never call out a person’s name. We want to give recognition, but not too much.
TELL ME ABOUT THE NEED TO VARY YOUR OVERALL FUNDRAISING PORTFOLIO?
So this is more than just what’s happening with the gala. As an organization, we are getting about 50% of our revenue from partnerships and events. So it can’t just be the gala. One of the biggest things we did is we invested in this peer-to-peer fundraising. That is a whole different fundraising conversation. It is not about logistics or people in the room, it is about where we are with fundraising. We created an opportunity for people to not have to be in the ballroom. It is the Great Cycle Challenge. They ride their bike anytime in the month of June and they set their mileage and fundraising goal. We engage volunteers to fundraise for us all over the country. This started in 2015, and in the first year we raised 1.7 million dollars. It is extremely effective and it allows us to play and be a little more creative on the other events. It is all possible because of digital! We leverage Facebook and social media. 10 years ago this would not have been possible. It is really cool to be able to take advantage of the new audiences. We get to expose ourselves and give other people the chance to know us all over the country, which is really cool.
The funds are raised all digitally. For scope, the first year we raised that 1.7M and this last year we were at 6.8M. We had 50,000 people participating and of that 15,000 fundraised. We couldn’t employ 15,000 people across the country, so we are now engaging volunteer fundraisers to do the work we couldn’t do. As an organization we pay attention the trends. Our legacy is the gala, we started as a gala, and could easily be a nice organization that does really great events here in the Twin Cities, but the trends led us to opportunities else where. We are now a national event organization. That was four years ago and now we are asking, “Now what? What’s next?”
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE OVERALL EVENT EXPERIENCE, GALA OR NOT. HOW ARE YOU TAKING THE GUESTS ON A JOURNEY?
From the moment they get invited to the event, we want the experience to start there. For us it is a lot of careful planning and making sure it is authentic to our brand. So before the invitation even arrives, they are hearing from us via email or social media or whatever. We want to make sure that when that invite arrives it is consistent to what they have been hearing from us throughout the year. So that to us is the most important thing. We want to set the tone for what they will be experiencing. That is something we want to build on for our next gala. How can we get people really excited? We want to set the theme. Right away there needs to be a key message. When they walk into the room that night or pull up to the valet, we don’t want them to be surprised. We want them to be delighted, not shocked that they walked into this thing they weren’t expecting. So it starts long before they purchase a ticket.
Once they are in the room, it is utilizing decor in different ways to lead them on that journey. We have been partners with BeEvents for years and they know how to create a space authentic to what we are looking for. They create focal points, not just little things all over. Sometimes it is using the stories to fill the room with decor. Some years we’ve had like an art gallery of children’s faces. We’ve turned technical problems into an art installation. It is really important we have great partners out there doing amazing things because they bring back new ideas to us! We do a good job of asking our partners to do that. We don’t have a laundry list of what we need. We like to empower them and give them creative freedom, because they are the experts, not us.
WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?
This all started a little while ago, and it started as a resource conversation. We ask a lot of our marketing team and donor services, so we were looking at our calendars to see what we could move around so they weren’t feeling such a crunch. We want to allow the marketing team to have the time to do everything well. So I was trying to figure out what we completely control, because we do a lot of partnership events that we don’t have full control over, like golf tournaments, radio shows, etc. And the thing that came to mind was the gala. We decided to move the gala from November, which it has been for 15-20 years, to the spring. This can be a bit risky, because it is a more competitive season, but makes more sense for us and our resources. Then, we though about our venue. We have been at The Depot for a long time, it’s great and we love it! But we heard of this great new venue that people are really excited about and we wanted to be part of it, so we started the conversation with The Armory. So I went to the space and I realized it might not really work for all the things we usually do, because it is more of a concert space. So I thought maybe it’s time for some national entertainment. I went to The Armory with the idea of doing dinner and then a concert, and they weren’t really onboard. A few weeks later we were talking and they brought up the idea! It was great. We started talking about it and I realized I had no idea how we were going to do it, because we are bringing in now two different groups of people. We have our core audience that will attend the dinner, but then we want to bring in up to 5,000 other people for the concert! We now have the former producers of Macy’s Glamorama that are working with us to produce this! We feel comfortable with them and their experience.
We are so excited, because our audience for the gala is getting younger. We see younger people in the room and in the analytics. We wanted to be able to build a new experience to match the new generation of donors and attract new people. I believe this plan that we have is going to help us achieve those goals.
The last part of our transformation was the name. Does Dawn of a Dream still make sense? So the team got together and brainstormed. We realized there are a lot of hurdles and sensitivities we have to be aware of with changing the name, but at the end of the day we are producing a new event. So on Saturday, April 27th, at The Armory you will see the debut of Dream.
HOW DO PEOPLE FIND OUT MORE ABOUT IT?
We still have the website, dawnofadream.com, which would be the place to go. We will be announcing talent around December or January. It’s challenging because we are a non-profit producing this concert so we have to get the right price. Cost per dollar raised is the key we go by. We do have a dream team put together that have good connections though! So be on the lookout for that.
This is an event you will not want to miss! Check out dawnofadream.com for more info and childrenscancer.org for more about Children’s Cancer Research Fund.
Meeting Minds by EideCom
Whether you have an internal events team or not, hiring a dedicated event professional to help with logistics and day-of is a must! On this episode, we chat with Kalsey Beach & Hannah Hegman of Do Good Events, an event and staff planning company that specializes in corporate, non-profit, and social events. Kelsey is the President of Do Good Events and Hannah is their Senior Events Manager. They fill us in on common mistakes, and give us tips on how to ensure your day-of is a huge success (and a weight off your shoulders!).
KELSEY, WHY ENTER INTO THE EVENTS BUSINESS?
Like most event planners, it runs in my blood and honestly gets my adrenaline going. The name “Do Good” really speaks to what we want to bring to the event world, the community, etc. We want to bring people together, cultivating community, building awareness, and creating memories.
WHAT MISTAKES IN PLANNING OR EXECUTING AN EVENT HAVE YOU’VE SEEN?
- Lacking a Leader. When there is no official leader on site to make sure the event is set up for success the host can no longer be the host and enjoy their party. This often happens when people aren’t doing enough planning/pre-production. We often see this with our clients who are planning their first event or gala and they don’t realize all the little details that need to be planned, like who is picking up the silent auction items. This is where we step in and guide them with a checklist with everything that has to get done.
- The Post-Event Marketing. Planning goes much beyond the event! You need to thank your sponsors and vendors, get your traction on social media – do recaps, post photos, and figure out tear down plans, etc.
- The Pre-Event Marketing. Social media is a huge place for that. Use Influencers! *More below* Having a silent auction? Put it online and start the bidding a week ahead of time! That expands your opportunity to fundraise and reach the people that cannot be there. Also, it prepares people to spend money at the event.
- Event Theme/Brand. We’ve seen people not do it all or be really inconsistent with it. It creates recognition for your guests, so it should be clear from the moment they receive a save the sate to the post-event things.
- Hurdles. If you want the most people to show up, you need to remove all the hurdles. So you need to start planning early enough. If you wait too long, people will already have an event on the calendar. Think of who you are going to invite and make sure the date works for them. If it’s teachers & students, the first week in June probably isn’t a good time because they are wrapping up the school year. Think of their location. Where are the people you are inviting located? Will they be hitting rush hour? Once they get there, is it easy? Is their parking or valet? Valet is a great sponsorship opportunity! You could give them a short little script like, “Tonight’s valet is sponsored by…” Think of all the different hurdles there could be and remove them.
- Ambassadors. Have people that are your sales folks and encouraging others to go to the event. Don’t just send an email and open registration. You need to make those personal requests and say, “I want you there and I want you to bring three guests.” That is how you expand your audience. Also, UTILIZE SOCIAL MEDIA. *see trends below*
- Starting Too Late. You can always make something happen, but the quality of your event and the control you have over your event increases with the more lead time you have. AT LEAST put a date and venue on hold and then figure out the details. Also, add times for buffers between deadlines when planning and recognize what season of events you are in. If you are planning a gala in the middle of your region’s gala season, then you are competing for everything. This impacts what vendors and sponsors you can have, and your audience! Some people are attending galas or 5ks weekly! So what is going to make yours stand out?
- Ask big. Don’t be afraid to ask others to give big or sponsor big. Know the worth of the exposure your sponsors are going to receive from your event. Plus, it is an honor for them to be asked and be seen as someone that could give that much.
WHEN SHOULD YOU START PLANNING AN EVENT?
As far out as possible is ideal! We get calls at all different points of the process, typically when our clients have hit a pain point. Like, when they don’t know where to start or they are halfway through planning and it has become too overwhelming or they aren’t gaining enough traction.
WHAT ARE THE TRENDS IN THE EVENT INDUSTRY?
Events in general have become so trendy. There are 1.8 million events in the United States every year and the economic impact is huge!
CONSUMER IMPATIENCE. We make sure that at all of our events our check in and check out time is fast. So from a pre-planning side, we make sure we will have enough systems, tools, and hands on deck that at check in/out no one is waiting.
CHECK IN TIPS:
- Have enough staff or volunteers. There should be 1 person for every 50 guests.
- Give enough time to train your staff and volunteers. Let them know whats expected from them.
- If you have a packet or hand outs for each guest, move that to a different spot! For example, at a 5k, do check in at one spot with the t shirt pick up at another. This keeps people moving.
- Know who will be attending! If you have to make name tags at check in or assign bidding numbers in the moment, that is going to really slow down the check in process. When you put forth the pre-planning hours to know who is coming, what meal they want, etc, it expedites the process and creates a better experience for the guests.
- When applicable, create an incentive for early arrivals. Like, the first 50 people get a special swag item or if it’s a VIP ticket, which might be more expensive, but they receive an hour of an open bar. Therefor, you are getting more of your guests in the door. Strategies like that really help.
- Have clear signage! Registration or check in tables should be clearly marked, not just at the table, but where the line starts, especially if each table is designated for a specific ticket type. For example, VIP Check In or Late Registration.
If you know lines will form at your event, then make sure your line is part of your consumer experience! We love to have champagne passed through the lines, or a roaming entertainer, like a magician! Also, have your staff trained to be “way finders” to make sure people are in the right line or leading them to a shorter line. Often, we will send staff into the line to do mobile registration. No matter what you need to have a contingency plan, something to fall back on if your lines start to get longer than predicted. It is important to take a pulse of your line, so pick a person and time how long did it take them to get to the front of the line.
PERSONALIZATION. We will often ask the question, “How is this event going to be personal? What can we do?” In the past we have done polls to gage interest in sessions, in the menu, or to find out what that persons favorite candy is to surprise them with a welcome gift that is specific to them. Anything you can do to make it more memorable for each person attending. Think back to childhood, when you left a birthday party you always judged the treat bag! You either loved it or hated it and it is the ending of the party, but the first thing you think back to.
SUSTAINABILITY. Like in digital swag bags, which essentially include all the paper coupons and info you would normally get, but in a .pdf or on a website. This saves time during check in or check out, saves your sponsors money on printing costs, and obviously saves trees. Plus, we are all already on our phones so it is convenient and with it being such a new concept people are more intrigued to find out what’s in it. Besides that, we’ve seen events or galas with recycling or compost on site. Energy sufficiencies in general are really huge right now. We are working with more venues that are LEED certified, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Another increasingly popular piece to have is an LED wall. Instead of printing a banner or many banners, you can have an LED wall with rotating images. We like to incorporate these new and exciting elements into events to elevate the guests experience.
LOCAL ELEMENTS. Like in the components of your swag bag or what you are giving away as prizes. Being mindful of your swag bag pieces are very important. For example, if you have a lot of attendees that have traveled to be there having big water bottles or cups might not even make it home with them. Think through who will be using it and how. Also, with your food and beverage. Vegan, vegetarian, and the desire for local produce (CSA, which stands for Community-supported agriculture, is a system that connects the producer and consumers within the food system) has become a huge trend in our culture. People now want to know where there food is coming from. Ideally, we would like to know who is vegan or vegetarian before the event so we can plan for that. But we wouldn’t recommend doing an only vegan or vegetarian menu, unless it aligns with the mission and that is communicated appropriately prior to the event. You need to know your audience. Plus, nowadays there are so many extreme diets and restrictions, like Paleo or Keto, and people are expecting these events to adhere to their diets. So communicate to your audience what you will or will not accommodate to.
ENGAGING THE SENSES. We typically check off the boxes of making sure everyone can hear the event, see it, and they will taste good food. But what about smell? How do you make it smell good in the rooms? What about touch? What tablecloths are you using, linens or ones with texture? You want to think through all the little pieces that will engage your attendees senses; see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Have a mixologist, a person who is skilled at mixing cocktails and other drinks, at your event is great. There is something about seeing the drink made, taking a sip where you smell the cinnamon stick or the orange peel or they add a little smoke on the top. So keep in mind the pairing of foods. Brews & burgers, bubbly & breakfast. These little pairings really stimulate taste and touch. There are several small ways to engage the senses without using a scent machine if that is not applicable for your event.
INFLUENCERS AND SOCIAL MEDIA. These social media influencers at your events can be just as impactful as a celebrity. So whether that is having them share a session at your event or posting about your event on line, the impact is huge. You can also start your auctions online now! *Check out mistake #3 above to see how impactful social media is.*
NONTRADITIONAL EVENTS: People are moving away from the traditional galas. There is a need in the market for a more approachable price point. Fund-raisers vs Friend-raisers. Sometimes you need to get that younger professional into the room, which raises a little less money, but the goal is to move them up the donor-pipeline later. Or do a two part event, a conference then a social hour after. You can come (or buy a ticket) to one or the other or both! Think out of the box about what an event is supposed to look like.
HOW DO YOU PLAN FOR BAD WEATHER OR OTHER CONTINGENCIES?
Since we have most of our events here in Minnesota, we like to have a Plan A, B, and C. Indoors or outdoors, it is something to think about. That level of communication is so important and where the pre-planning comes. Do you have contact information for your guests? Do you have a Facebook event page already made or website? That is the most important thing, letting your guests know the plans as you know them. Your guests want to plan.
Snow can be hard to work with, but for your events in the Spring or Summer with rain, you can use those as opportunities! If it is raining send out volunteers with umbrellas to escort your guests! This could elevate your guests experience. But again it goes back to your pre-planning. Do you have 25 umbrellas around? Did you think about that? What about golf tournaments? Do you have sunscreen and bug spray available? Think of the elements not as challenges, but as opportunities to surprise and delight! Plus, these little luxuries can be sponsorship opportunities, like putting their logo on the umbrella.
When you are doing your walk throughs, be mindful about how the place will feel if it is really cold out or hot, snowing or raining. Especially since most of the time you are doing walk throughs months before the event when it’s a different season. Things to think about that you might not at the time: coat racks, slippery spots in the doorway, extra tents outside for shade.
Take a moment at the back of the room to take in your event! All the planning has culminated into this moment. Also, take notes at other people’s events! What are their surprise and delight moments? What did you like and didn’t like? Be a constant learner, celebrate the victories throughout the process, and don’t get comfortable! It is always good to push for more.
Meeting Minds by EideCom