Five Valuable Lessons from One Enormous Event

Valuable LessonsI once worked for a homebuilder’s association. Because it was an association, meant to encourage networking and learning, most positions required some form of event planning. Sometimes it was just a simple meeting or luncheon, but we had a few big events every year. When those came around, there was always a main planner, but everyone else was required to help.  One of the biggest events we had, that ended up not being a financial success, was a luxury home, single-site Parade of Homes. I was not the planner for this event but I learned a lot from the helping experience, which I have put to good use since then.

Here are the top five things I learned from this one large, involved project.

  1. Security of the site

The purpose of the event was twofold: advertising and highlighting each builder’s skills, and selling each house at a profit. The site had seven homes, each worth over a million dollars. Security was important to keep these valuable properties in top condition. If vandalism occurred during the show, it could affect perceived and actual value. During construction, the contract stipulated that the individual builders were responsible for site security. Once the houses were complete, site security became the association’s responsibility.

A second consideration was the visitor parking. Because of the site topography, the parking for visitors was half a mile away. We ran shuttles from the parking lot to the houses. We had concerns for the safety of our visitors and their cars.

At the time, security cameras were expensive to setup and run; security guards even more so. We relied on the community gate for site security and tried to have staff make regular runs through the parking lot during event hours to deter thieves or vandals. We did have some vandalism occur, so a better solution would have been welcome.

Now, mobile security cameras  are affordable enough to solve both of these issues. Many cameras are solar powered so you don’t have to worry about power if the site is remote or just not electrified yet. A virtual guard can remotely monitor the cameras and often the client will have access to the secure feed.

  1. Securing belongings

In conjunction with site security, I learned about the importance of protecting employee belongings. Most of the office employees had to travel to the site for the week of the event. We also had to park in the remote parking lot. Because we worked in different locations at the site during the day, we did not have a place to put our personal belongings. The only enclosed location, that was not a house, was the ticket office. Everyone had access to it, though, including vendors and builder employees. It made everyone uncomfortable leaving their purses, keys, phones, and other electronics loose in this office.

This would not have been problem, if we had provided lockers for everyone. There are small banks of lockers available that would have provided peace of mind to all the staffers, for very little cost to the event. For all multi-day, offsite events, I now provide these for the staff’s use. They can bring their own locks, and feel secure about their belongings. I also feel secure knowing their mind is on their job, not on worrying about their electronics.

  1. Document the event

This was an association-sponsored event so documentation, for marketing of the event and future events, was important. If we had planned, scheduled specific times to take photos, and decided on the specific shots, we could have had great time-line documentation. Throughout the building process, we could have posted the photos online, building hype for the event itself. Then at the end of the event, we could have created photo books from these images. Not only would these have provided the association with a great marketing tool, but by presenting them to the builders as participation gifts, they also would have a great selling tool. As it was, we relied on the individual builder to document the building process, and the completeness of these photos depended on each builder’s mindset. We had a few pictures from some builders and an overload from others. Also, the quality of the images varied.

Now, every time I plan an event, especially of this magnitude, I make sure to take pictures regularly during setup. I may not need to give event participants their own photo book, but I will have documentation for my business.

  1. Contracts are crucial

This one should be obvious. Everyone should know this just from regular life, but sometimes it bears repeating. When specifics are not in writing, you have no recourse. Even if you follow-up with your vendors, if it is not in writing, they are not obligated.

For this event, there was a “miscommunication” as to who would be responsible for cleanup. Consequently, we became responsible for it, before and after the event. Luckily, there are services that can handle this, so it wasn’t something staff had to do. For any new events I plan, I make sure that cleanup, along with all other details, are stipulated in the contract.

  1. Some things you can’t control

This was a big event. The houses were beautiful. Each company built quality homes. The planner had done a fantastic job with most of the details. The association was set to make a profit.

The show was a flop.

The event shut down early. Two builders could not sell their houses and had to carry them until the market picked up. Two more of the houses sold at substantial losses.

The problem was the timing of the event. The planning started at the peak of the housing boom. By the time of the show, the market had crashed. Nobody was interested in looking at million-dollar homes.

At the time of the initial planning, nobody was predicting the housing downturn. The Parade sounded like a great idea. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, circumstances changed. As planners, we always look at dates and times, trying to avoid conflicting events, picking times with the best weather. We study the local culture to make sure the event is something people want to attend. We do everything we can to ensure success. Sometimes, it is just not enough.

Every event I plan, I learn something new. Sometimes it is as simple as finding a new vendor; other times, it is as profound as “we just can’t control everything.” That is one of the reasons I love this business. Every day is an adventure. I hope my lessons help you in your future endeavors.

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