As someone who works for a digital agency and worked in online publishing before that, it’s safe to say that I’m one of those people who are far more comfortable behind the glassy facade of a computer screen than I am staring at someone’s face a foot away from my own. This comfort from behind the safety of a computer screen has had a few noticeable effects on my life: 1) I’m slightly socially awkward because I’m a lot more used to being witty in writing than I am in conversation, so my timing tends to be kinda askew. 2) I suck at throwing events because I never throw them, preferring instead to facilitate my social intercourse through the interwebs.
Still, I wasn’t very worried about rehashing our impromptu hotel suit party from CES 2012. Based on my past ability to plan and throw dinner parties a month in advance, I figured we’d have maybe 50 people show up to take advantage of some free booze, then we’d call a party bus to take us to a strip club and call it a night.
Unfortunately, that’s not really doable when three weeks before your party, 1,200 people RSVP to attend. No, that’s the moment when you shit your pants and realize you might be in over your head.
How to Hustle When You’re in Over Your Head
After getting over the initial shock, we had to move pretty fast. That meant finding a new venue that wasn’t an actual event space since we didn’t have time for silly things like permits from the Fire Marshall and figuring out how to supply a crowd about 8X the size of what we initially expected (and that was with cutting half the guest list) with liquor.
This was where we got a crash course in Event Planning 101 – complete with snagging sponsorships, finding partners, and more importantly, smuggling full-size beer kegs into a hotel with nothing but some cardboard and an overcoat. One important thing we realized that night though was that no matter how much planning you put into throwing an event and no matter how hard you’ve worked to solidify all of the details, shit is still gonna happen, and there were three separate moments when the party was *this close* to not happening at all.
But instead of freaking out, we took a shot of vodka, pulled ourselves together, and moved on. This is what we learned:
- DO NOT send out emails immediately that confirm an RSVP. If you get more attendance than you expected, you’re going to have to send out follow-up emails that apologize and explain why someone is going to have to be cut from the list and this A) Pisses people off; and B) Gives them a lot more motivation to crash your party.
- DO arrive as soon as you’re able to check into your hotel suite (assuming that’s where you’re throwing the party). Our suite was part of a group of 15 or so specialty suites, and as such, were completely booked. We had paid in advance, but when we arrived to check in, there was a high roller from the night before still recovering in our suite. It took 45 minutes of negotiating, pleading and outright lying to get in there in time to get ready for the party. Had we arrived 30 minutes later, we probably wouldn’t have gotten set up in time.
- DO sweet talk the shit out of your vendors. One of our partners left to pick up the booze and lo and behold, the magnetic strip on his company credit card wouldn’t swipe. The situation was saved by the fact that I had spent nearly an hour and a half chatting up the manager at the liquor store to help plan liquor quantity, and he let us take thousands of dollars of alcohol with the promise of payment the next day when we dropped the kegs back off.
- DON’T forget to have a backup plan with at least two more event spaces in case you outgrow the first one. We lucked out on this one. We just happened to find a new venue and a partner to help us split the cost (Thanks Instacube and Zuvo Water!) almost immediately after recovering from our RSVP list induced shock.
- DO relax and let things happen. When you relax and let things happen the way the party gods intend you get things like the green jello bathtub and the keg shower. And if you want your party to be a standout, you need to have some kind of draw that people can tweet about, ie “OMG! There’s a dude with a giant mustache in his underwear serving shots in a bathtub of wrestling jello!” That, my friends, is what you call press so good that it can’t be bought.
- DON’T forget the gift bags. People love free shit – that’s a fact. You can use services like HARO to submit gift bag requests and get some pretty awesome swag in return. Just remember to put together a strong sponsorship document and maybe a profile on Sponsor Hub (here’s ours for reference) that explains your attendee demographics and other details about your event.
- DO encourage tweets, hashtags, photos and Facebook updates during the event and have clear and easy instructions for tagging and sharing. This is important for two reasons: 1) It builds more buzz about your event and your brand; and 2) It provides strong metrics for validating your sponsors’ involvement and will help you get bigger and better sponsors next year.
The most important thing that we learned from throwing this event though is that as great as content marketing is, there’s nothing quite like having an in-person event to make connections, build stronger networks, and get business. So, to sum up:
- Was throwing an event stressful beyond belief? Good god, yes.
- Is it worth the hassle? Absolutely.
- Will we continue the CES party tradition next year? Hell to the yes.
See you guys next year at Off the Record!