The Event Planning Formula
When meeting with a client for the first time, you will need to gather some preliminary information before you can showcase your ideas. This interview will become very important later for your proposal and presentation. You will need to take excellent notes. As soon as you are able after the event, rewrite or type your notes so the meeting is still fresh in your mind. Some questions you may want to ask before you meet are detailed in the following sections.
Usually the first question asked — the reason for the occasion — sets the tone for the rest of the interview. There is a chance you have spoken at length about the occasion in your initial phone conversation with the client. If this is the case, be sure to revisit this detail with the client when you meet. Let them embellish and have your pen ready. A client's romantic idea for her husband's sixtieth birthday will come out in those first few moments of the interview.
When it comes time to respond, you want to convey a genuine excitement to the client about the possibility of the event. You also want to inform the client if you have any experience in the type of event she is looking to hold. Give some detail about the event, but not too much. Hold onto your trade secrets until after she has signed a contract.
If you have not planned an event such as the one she is proposing, be honest. You can then mention other similar events you have planned and your experience.
RFP — an industry term — stands for “request for proposal.” In the beginning stages of the event planning process a potential client may submit an RFP to get a general idea for an event. An RFP is usually a form letter or generic list of costs associated with functions. Facility planners tend to deal with more RFPs than any other event planner.
For birthdays and other milestone events such as anniversaries, dates for a client cannot be flexible. Ask for alternate dates for all other events. A guest may not be specific and will be comfortable with any Saturday in March. If a guest is specific, do not push alternate dates. Simply let your potential client know that you will make calls and try to make it happen.
When choosing a time for the event it is wise not to get too specific. Ask for general times like morning, afternoon, midafternoon, early evening, or late night. There is much left to plan, so not getting too specific on times will benefit you and the client when it comes time to secure a venue.
A little research on your part will help the client decide on the time to hold the event. The venue may be close to a ballpark during baseball season. You will want to research the baseball schedule and make sure to pick a time when the event will not be affected by traffic. Also take traffic and construction concerns into consideration when planning conventions, concerts, and events that meet or let out around rush hour.
Give yourself and your client a realistic idea of the amount of time it will take to plan his event. You want to seem confident to the client and assure him you can succeed in planning his event. At the same time, agreeing to a timeline of three weeks to plan a company retreat for six hundred employees from all across the country will only set you up for extra stress and possible failure.
As in real estate, an event can depend so much on location. If you are interviewing as the event planner for a facility, you are a salesperson representing the venue. You should plan a tour, have copies of the chef's menu available, and perhaps set out light refreshments to give the client an idea of the cuisine. Showcase the facility and make specific mention of added features. In the interview it is acceptable to ask if the potential client has looked at other venues. She may ask for your opinion, in which case you should be honest but gracious. Point out the positives of the other venue, especially if you have a relationship with the event planner. The client will decide without negative commentary from you. The sense of camaraderie you show might sway her opinion.
Refreshments and Menu
Whether you are serving coffee and soda in a board meeting or a seven-course tasting menu with wine pairings in a private dining room, the menu plays a large part in the planning process. You will be tempted to sample many caterers, restaurants, and hotels when you first begin your career. Keep in mind that it is important to develop a small select core of vendors. Your relationships with your vendors, in this case a caterer, will be strengthened if he knows your business is solely with him. The same is true of event planners you may work with in restaurants and hotels.
Once you have established your selection of caterers, restaurants, and hotels, create a folder with all of their information. Include menus, pricing, and photos to show your clients in proposals and presentations. If your client is looking to book a function at a restaurant, arrange to meet her there for afternoon coffee. Call ahead and ask the chef to prepare a small sampling of appetizers so the client may get a better idea of the menu. The restaurant may comp your tasting to entice your business. If this doesn't happen, you should treat the client.
When you first contact a potential client, whether over the phone or in person, you can gain an enormous amount of information. Great event planners use all of this information to create a client-specific event. Using this information can make all of the difference to a client who is looking for originality and creativity in an event. Being aware of your client's needs will allow you to maximize your client's experience.