5 Ways to Build Positive Relationships with Event Stakeholders
by Elizabeth Bloodworth, Guest Contributor
From small meetings to multi-day conferences, no one puts on an event alone. As a planner, you will always need to rely on and communicate with a wide range of stakeholders to pull off your event. Key stakeholders might include the venue sales team, stage production, caterers, musicians, guest speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, photographers, videographers, decorators, graphic designers, and an app provider, just to name a few.
While most event stakeholders may technically work for you, I prefer to have the mindset that they work with you. It’s vital to remember that they’re all your partners in the success of your event. From the security guard to the keynote speaker, they are all incredibly important for making your event as awesome as it can be. This means you need to not only prioritize your vision, budget, and work plan but also thoughtfully consider your relationship with each stakeholder. It’s not just your awesome staging, cool event app, and creative snacks that make your event successful: it’s the people.
Here are five strategies I’ve found that foster positive relationships and mutual respect with vendors and stakeholders.
Who You Know
It’s simple, and perhaps obvious, but get to know as many stakeholders as you can personally. By name. Before the event begins. And don’t just know their names: use them. Rather than saying, “Hey, waiter…,” say, “Excuse me, John…” Speaking a person’s name communicates respect, and mutual respect is a key motivator to success. People love it when you remember them and are more likely to go out of their way to help you. This is why face-to-face meetings and site visits ahead of an event are so important. Not only do you get to know the physical space, but you are able to meet the team you’ll work with and put faces with names. Get to know as many of the players as you can and find out who the point people are. That way you’ll know who to speak to if you need to troubleshoot an issue later. Let them get to know you, too. If you have trouble with names, write them down and review them at the beginning of the event. Relationship building is key because…
Who They Know
Sometimes finding a top-notch vendor is tough because you don’t have a lot of options, but working in New York City I find that I have the opposite problem. I needed a florist for a benefit event, but where to start? There are thousands to choose from. My favorite florist in New York City, Julian Calderon, came by way of a referral. He’s creative, reasonably priced, and easy to work with. I would never have found him on my own. Julian was recommended by Bryan, the director of events at a Midtown hotel – and because Julian knew Bryan and was already familiar the hotel’s space, he was able to give me exactly the right arrangement for my event. As you build trusting relationships with stakeholders, ask them for recommendations. This (again!) communicates your respect for their opinions and builds a sense of teamwork and partnership. And that teamwork can help when things go wrong, so…
Don’t Freak Out
There’s a reason why Forbes says event planning is one of the top five most stressful careers (right behind cops and airline pilots!). With events, inevitably, things can and do go wrong. If you’ve done your pre-event planning right, hopefully, you’ve kept the risks to a minimum, but challenges happen. And when they do, it’s tempting (for me, anyway) to take it out on whichever unlucky soul happens to be close by; but it’s not the most effective response.
For example, we were just 15 minutes from the start of the opening plenary session of a 500 person conference when Josh, the head of production, came to me in a panic. The computer running the slide projection shorted out and key slides were lost. We weren’t sure how long it would take to restore the system. Because I had gotten to know Josh and trusted him, rather than berating him, we simply jumped in to develop a solution. While his team scrambled to reboot, I needed to postpone the start of our session. Fortunately, my event app, Attendify, had a push notification feature that allowed me to easily and immediately communicate the delay to all the attendees, allowing the conference to continue smoothly. After the dust settled, we debriefed and discussed how to ensure that this issue wouldn’t happen again. I was grateful that Josh took responsibility for the issues and did an excellent job for the rest of the conference. So I was sure to…
Make sure you express your gratitude to all the stakeholders who have worked hard for the success of your event. A recent study shows that thanks and recognition are as effective motivators as many tangible rewards. One way I like to say thanks is with photography. If I have particularly great photos taken at my event of the venue, flowers, or other elements, I’ll send high resolution images to those vendors so they can use them for their promotional efforts. It costs me nothing and they can benefit the vendors significantly. If there is a particular employee that stands out as going above and beyond, I like to single him or her out to their boss in an email. I was raised in the South, where hand-written thank you notes were commonplace. This personal touch can go a long way to expressing thanks to stakeholders. Giving shout outs on social media is another great way to express your gratitude, but make sure you’re also saying thank you directly because…
It’s a Small World
The events universe is smaller than you might think. It pays off to build relationships with stakeholders for the long term. Building a network of people you enjoy working with is key. And it’s vital to be someone people want to work with again and again. I now have a short list of vendors and stakeholders that I know I can call on each time I’m planning an event. Sara Beth Turner has photographed events for me over the past four years. The more we have worked together the easier it has been to collaborate and rely on “shorthand” to communicate what kinds of photos I’m looking for. Long-term relationships with stakeholders like Sara Beth help make everything run more smoothly and keep you from having to reinvent the wheel every time. Even if, say, you don’t plan to return to a particular venue after an event, that same manager or salesperson might move to a place you do want to work with, so building and maintaining a connection with stakeholders can help you in a variety of ways in the future.
As the event planner, your success depends on the efforts of a team of stakeholders. Get to know your stakeholders. Let them partner with you in widening your network of vendors. Be sure to express gratitude and don’t freak out when things go wrong. Making the most of these connections and building long-term relationships is key to event planning success.
About the Author
Elizabeth Bloodworth is the Events Manager at Christian Union, a faith-based non-profit. When she isn’t working she enjoys dodging traffic on her pink bike, making buttermilk biscuits, and trying to find the world’s best latte. She grew up in the South but calls New York City home.
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