Planning and executing a successful corporate event is no simple task. It’s typically a months-long process consisting of several stages and a variety of organisational steps.
To help you navigate the business of corporate event planning, here is everything you need to know - from managing budgets to measuring success.
- What is corporate event planning?
- Types of corporate events
- Keeping your budget on track
- Setting event objectives
- Finding the right venue
- Make your corporate events more sustainable
- Promote your events more effectively
- How to engage attendees
- Measuring the success of your event
- Corporate event planning checklist
- One last thing to remember
Events in a corporate environment bring company employees together, support wider marketing or sales initiatives, incentivise team achievements or entertain employees, clients and senior leaders.
In many instances, they are staged to communicate corporate strategy, change internal company behaviour, launch a product or service, train or reward staff, or influence the external behaviour of customers towards the brand.
Yet, corporate event planning goes beyond meeting planning. Although conferences and meetings may form the lion’s share of your workload, other events you may be asked to organise include corporate hospitality, client entertaining, conventions, exhibitions, and employee events—such as incentive travel reward programmes, team building, motivational events, receptions, parties, and charity fundraising days.
Let's first look at the different event types you may be asked to organise either internally or externally.
An internal event is one within your organisation put on for employees. This event could be a departmental meeting, training, team building and more. An external event is one outside of the organisation that looks to register attendees or invite key clients.
Conferences come in all sizes but the greater the number of delegates, the more planning elements you’ll need to consider.
External conference planning often involves sourcing expert speakers, attracting sponsors and managing programme logistics such as break-out sessions, main-stage plenaries and panel discussions. You may also be responsible for accommodation and transport, evening entertainment, food and beverage, and registration and reporting.
If your company manufactures or sells goods and services, you’ll likely be asked to stage launch events in order to give potential customers, influencers and the media opportunities to experience, touch and feel the latest product release in a live environment.
Your product launch events will need to be memorable, informative, entertaining and exclusive.
When planning your company’s attendance at a trade show, you’ll be responsible for both the look and feel of the exhibition stand, along with any ancillary hospitality or entertaining of clients.
Your responsibilities may include liaising with stand design contractors plus suppliers of graphics, audio-visual, furniture and catering. You may also be asked to support the marketing and sales teams to schedule on-stand appointments, enable lead capture and put measurement plans in place.
Networking events are all about bringing people together. Whether your organisation wants to share its expertise, connect with peers, or gather leads, you’ll want to create an event environment that’s relaxed, inspiring and facilitates conversation.
You’ll need to consider elements such as food and beverage, entertainment and a venue that matches your company’s networking goals.
To impress clients, close a deal, reward staff or attract new business, your company may ask you to book private dining rooms or organise gatherings in private boxes at sporting or entertainment events.
These exclusive events should be carefully matched to both your organisation’s brand values and the preferences of invited guests. There’s no point in inviting an Arsenal fan to hospitality at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium for example or a vegan to an expensive steak restaurant.
Organising internal meetings may simply involve you booking and managing rooms and in-house catering. But it could also require you to organise virtual attendees and onsite technology to allow for video conferencing.
Internal meetings come in different sizes and formats, ranging from AGMs and Board meetings to staff training, appraisals, company-wide updates and more.
It’s the role of the annual sales kickoff event to reinvigorate the sales team and inject drive and ambition for the year ahead.
Your role will involve planning a high-energy meeting, usually held in early January or at the end of your company’s financial year, which will celebrate the successes of the previous year, before presenting salespeople with new ways to execute the customer strategy or scale existing efforts to new heights.
When planning training workshops, ensure they’re designed to be hands-on and participatory. You can help facilitate this through your choice of room layout and available technology.
Keep attendees energised by your food and beverage selections and ensure that training rooms have plenty of fresh air and natural light.
These events are typically designed to build morale and allow employees to better get to know each other or work on a particular issue impacting team performance.
In your role as an in-house planner, you may be asked to liaise with external team-building suppliers and manage both indoor and outdoor spaces for the activities to take place.
Budgeting for events has never been easy. The added complexity of different event types and formats, including hybrid and virtual makes it even more challenging.
Decide if your budget has outgoings only, or will you be able to supplement it with income from exhibitors, sponsors or other forms of external revenue?
Has this event happened in the past? If so, use the previous budget to establish a baseline but ensure that inflation and evolving needs are taken into consideration.
Figures from past budgets are useful in providing a clearer picture of how much certain suppliers will charge. Use these to ensure you are not being over-charged when you reach out to suppliers for initial quotes.
Now, more than ever though, budgets need built-in flexibility. Unanticipated expenditure is common and supplier costs are often provided as estimates, rather than fixed prices, so it’s vital that an overall budget is managed accordingly, and a contingency fund is in place.
Once you’ve sourced supplier costings, make a comprehensive list of all the budget line items in the event lifecycle, including venue hire, AV, food and beverage, accommodation and travel, speaker fees, staffing costs, and marketing and service fees.
For larger or more complex budget planning, look into corporate event management software, which includes a dedicated event budget management tool. This will ensure the accurate collection of your budgetary information, helping you to track expenses easily, generate budget reports, and demonstrate the ROI of your event.
For more in-depth insights into event budget planning, read The Ultimate Event Budgeting Guide for 2023.
‘What is the event’s objective?’ This should be the first question you ask when a corporate event is requested. Gaining a deeper understanding of the deliverables that key stakeholders are hoping to achieve will allow you to plan more effectively and communicate your ideas in a language your bosses will understand.
Once you’ve understood whether the event’s aim is to build brand awareness, communicate business strategy, reward and motivate, or launch a new product or service, you can then set goals, put the right metrics in place to track results and determine who the attendees will be, along with their expectations.
When you have well-defined goals and objectives for your event, planning, promoting, and sticking to your budget all become much easier.
Event objectives should be SMART
- Specific: What is the desired outcome and when does it need to be achieved by?
- Measurable: Return on Investment or Return on Objectives… or both?
- Achievable: Ensure that the event objective is something that can actually be achieved otherwise senior leaders will consider it a failure.
- Relevant: The overall objective needs to remain something that relates back to the company’s goals throughout the entire planning process.
- Timebound: Plan for the event objective to be achieved between two periods. This may require subsequent training seminars or a follow-up event to assess the outcomes of the first.
Read more: Your Complete Event Planning Guide for 2023
Your event’s objectives may also determine your choice of venue. If stakeholders are looking to leave a lasting impression on valued or prospective clients, for example, the venue will need to play its part and deliver a memorable wow factor.
If your event requires both in-person and virtual attendees, you will want to consider venues with hybrid packages or good technology infrastructure.
Other factors that will influence your venue choice include budget, capacity, location, availability and logistics. Having a clear understanding of these event requirements will allow you to shortlist a number of venues, send out requests for written proposals (RFPs) and arrange site visits.
Some venues offer seasonal pricing, so the hire cost may be lower during certain times of the year. Find out what the costs are for your venue of choice on your desired date. If your dates are flexible, you may be able to secure a better deal at your preferred venue.
If your event has a short-lead time, keep an eye out for last-minute venue offers as there are often great deals to be found. If you’re planning an event that’s a long way off, consider those venues undergoing refurbishment or not yet opened. They’ll be eager to secure your business and may be able to negotiate more favourably.
3 steps to simplify your venue sourcing process
Step One: Find Venues
- Know the meeting objectives and requirements. By determining these at the outset, you’ll decrease the search process.
- Take into account feedback from attendees. Is this an annual event? If attendees ranked the venue from the previous year poorly, look at the feedback to pick a venue that will resonate better.
- Don’t feel alone. Reach out to your team, or others that have a stake in the event to brainstorm what factors are most important.
Step Two: Write the perfect RFP
- You already know general objectives and requirements – now define your purpose. Make it clear what this event requires and hopes to achieve.
- Get detailed. Give as much information about the event as you can.
- No one likes to discuss money, but you need to share your budget requirements. The venue is one of the largest costs of an event and can make or break your budget.
- Make your deadlines clear. Give a date and time that provide venues enough time to respond.
- Don’t start from scratch. Pull a template from online.
- Be ready to answer any questions venues may have about the proposal or event.
Step Three: Send and evaluate proposals
- Using a venue sourcing tool, you can search and filter venues and send one RFP to multiple venues at once.
- Assess proposals via the chosen venue sourcing tool or by manually importing data into a spreadsheet
- Create a list of any factors that are less concrete – the qualitative factors.
- Pay close attention to meeting rooms – do the sizes and layouts make sense for your event?
- Compare how responsive and helpful the venues are to help figure out how helpful they’ll be if you choose them.
Now, go on some site visits either in-person or virtually. You should be in great shape at this point. You have proposals and you know that the spaces you’re looking at are within budget and have the spaces you need.
Sustainability is high on the corporate agenda as companies look to reduce their carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
To play your part, you need to understand where meetings and events sit within your organisation’s sustainability journey. Then you can begin to pinpoint areas where climate-positive decisions will have the most impact.
Broadly speaking, your programme of events should have policies in place to:
- Eliminate single-use plastics
- Organise waste management and onsite recycling
- Encourage public transport use or ride shares
- Choose local/seasonal food, donate leftover foods and provide more sustainable catering
- Opt for eco-friendly swag, prizes and giveaways
Other ways to make your events more sustainable include:
- Eliminating paper agendas, surveys and business cards from your events by using a mobile event app to engage with attendees.
- Ensuring that RFPs are always sent to at least one venue with proven sustainability credentials. You can use the Cvent Supplier Network to easily source venues that are eco-certified, all at a click of a button.
- For in-person events, use digital lead capture tools to collect data, so that you no longer need to collect or give out business cards.
- Deliver a contactless, self-serve check-in and on-demand badging experience so that you don’t need to print name badges unnecessarily for attendees.
For more detail on making your events more sustainable, including how to track and measure your carbon-conscious goals, read How to Plan a Sustainable Event Strategy.
By building marketing campaigns around your events, attendees and stakeholders will feel more invested and involved. It will also allow you to communicate key instructions and announcements, safe in the knowledge that your audience is already engaged.
Event marketing assets include teaser emails, social media channels, a branded website and a mobile event app. You may also wish to design and create posters, flyers, pin badges and other accessories to keep the event front of mind and anticipation high.
An event website can build anticipation by showcasing highlights from past events. It can also be used to promote the agenda, showcase speakers, streamline the registration process and create a one-stop-shop for accommodation or transport booking.
The design and usability of your event website will be crucial to the success of your event, so make sure you pay special attention to how it is designed and built.
With the latest corporate event management software solutions, creating a custom event website has become easier than ever. There is no technical expertise required, and you certainly don’t need to learn HTML. With a simple drag-and-drop tool, you can build a complete website from scratch.
Using only those social media channels where your audience is, allows you to build an active community around your events and encourage both speakers and registrants to help you promote activity and even sell tickets.
Create an event hashtag and stick with it. Hashtags are an easy way to track what people are saying and to encourage more engagement through social campaigns, competitions and live broadcasts.
Ultimately, social media can shape the reputation of your events and your organisation. Events are largely successful over time because of their positive reputation with sponsors and attendees. Social media represents a huge opportunity to improve the reputation and success of your events. That can be as simple as listening to social feedback and making changes based on that feedback.
Mobile event app
A mobile event app will not only help you to promote your event agenda and showcase speakers, but it will also improve your understanding of your attendees during the event and help you to better engage your audience.
Use voting polls, engagement analytics and other touchpoint measurements via a mobile event app to see who is interacting with your content, showing genuine interest and who is therefore ripe for follow-up.
Push notifications can be used to promote less popular sessions or manage overflow rooms and keep attendees informed. Plus, a dynamic event guide not only removes the need for a printed version but can also deliver promotional alerts related to changes in the schedule.
If a corporate event cannot generate engagement, it will impact your attendees’ ability to retain information.
The human attention span has reduced significantly in this mobile-first, digital era. As a result, you should encourage speakers to move away from ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentations and deliver content in more innovative session formats to avoid information overload.
More panel discussions, fireside conversations, workshops and audience participatory content will all help you to keep delegates engaged.
Using the right event technology tools, implementing feedback strategies like live polls, reconciling goals and expectations, and staying authentic should all be top priorities for your engagement strategy.
Plenary sessions should be designed for delegate participation. To do this, find more engaging speakers, use live polling, real-time Q&As, table discussions, and other methods of keeping engagement high and attendee attention focused.
Conference breakouts should be designed to provide targeted and truly interactive content for your audience. A common event planning pitfall is to turn them into mini keynotes.
Coffee and lunch breaks meanwhile should be designed for networking. So, consider ice-breakers, buffet stations and other free-flowing formats and activities to get people talking.
The big four types of attendee engagement
1. Engaging with content: This means giving attendees the right sessions, exhibits and other activities to maximise learning and the value of their attendance.
2. Engaging with each other: For many, networking is the primary reason for attending an event. By creating networking opportunities — whether face-to-face or virtual, one-on-one or in groups — planners can encourage and facilitate networking and create a more valuable experience for attendees.
3. Engaging with sponsors: If you’ve sold sponsorship at your event, then those paying customers will be looking for real connections with the right kind of attendee — rather than just signage.
4. Engaging with you: Communication is a two-way street, and as the event organiser you’ve got to effectively communicate with your attendees — whether for promotional, consultative or logistical purposes.
Different event types will have different KPIs so it’s important that you identify what worked and where improvements can be made over the course of the entire event.
For example, you could determine the success of your trade show booth by the number of qualified leads or pre-scheduled appointments, but you’ll judge an internal event differently and success may be measured on your handling of the budget or the feedback from attendees.
Data gained throughout your event management process will help you to build a clearer picture of your performance. Live polling through your event app for instance is a great way to find out how attendees felt about a particular speaker, session or your content overall.
Event management software allows you to track attendee data and gather information on engagement, registration, interactions, and more to help substantiate event ROI.
Other factors to determine the success of your event may include:
Knowledge exchange is the accelerated learning that occurs during events. This interaction between customers, prospects and the company can help shape product development, fine-tune marketing, and speed receptivity to sales. It can lead to brand equity and attributed revenue.
Some benefits, such as brand equity, are more intangible and cannot be measured as monetary ROI. And yet, brand equity can help propel Customer Lifetime Value, the long-term profit contribution from a customer. Your events should positively impact your attendees to drive positive brand equity. This can be measured over time through feedback forms, social media brand mentions analysis and other reputational metrics.
Direct revenue is the money made directly as a result of your event management. Examples may include ticket sales, sponsorship, onsite product sales, and advertising revenue.
Any activity that occurs at your events - such as product demonstrations, lead generation and one-to-one meetings - that ultimately results in future revenue can be attributed as an event KPI.
Use these action steps and the aforementioned best practice advice to ensure effective and successful corporate event planning.
Before your event
- Determine the overarching goal and the primary objectives you intend to meet by holding this event.
- Identify the audience to determine the event’s tone of voice and what takeaways they’ll expect
- Agree on how the event fits into the overall company strategy. What are its long-term objectives?
- Make a comprehensive list of all the budget line items in the event lifecycle
- Appoint a planning team and allocate responsibilities
- Establish a schedule for planning meetings
- Decide on the date(s) when the event will take place
- Prepare a preliminary budget based on historic costings and supplier quotes
- Create a list of venue requirements
- Compare venues and negotiate
- Plan the event layout
- Secure speakers
- Develop and activate an event marketing plan
- Prepare an event timeline allowing adequate time between sessions and activities for transitioning, as well as for any potential delays or technical difficulties.
- Reserve accommodation and transport requirements
- Plan menus for meals and refreshments, taking dietary needs into consideration
- Prepare and print event collateral
- Confirm or recruit event staffing
- Rehearse speakers if required
During your event
- Use technology to assess real-time engagement.
- Feed lead data back into your company CRM platform
- Communicate clearly and calmly
- Be prepared… for anything!
After your event
- Review your systems and processes
- Follow up on data and insights captured during the event
- Follow up with speakers and attendees to thank them for attending and provide key takeaways
- Make content available on-demand
- Conduct surveys, secure feedback and collate final costings for future reference
- Review goals and update stakeholders
By breaking your event management processes down into more manageable steps, you’ll develop a better understanding of your performance. In turn, this will allow you to make improvements across all the areas covered by this article.
Corporate event planning can be a daunting, stressful profession but it is also extremely rewarding, exciting and most of all, fun.
By levelling up all the individual elements you handle to ensure the success of every type of event you stage, you’ll enhance both feelings of job satisfaction and your overall enjoyment of your day-to-day role.
To help you stay on track and efficient as you work through each phase of your event planning process, download this step-by-step event planning checklist.