A successful corporate event feels to its guests like everything simply clicks into place — but any organiser knows how much work goes into ensuring maximum value for both guests and sponsors.
However, if you’re inexperienced with planning corporate events, it’s hard to know exactly where to start. There are dozens of calls, meetings, planning sessions and invoices that need to be executed effectively in order to see a successful event come to life; it’s easy to be put off by the long list.
That’s why the team at CMAC have weighed in with their advice on how to plan a corporate event that’s a veritable success. In this guide, we explain how to start planning your event, how to decide and effectively use a budget, and what contingency plans you should have in place to ensure everything goes smoothly despite any last-minute changes or delays.
1. Define the aim of your event
One of the mistakes some organisers make that leads to a lacklustre event is failing to properly define their aims. You should consider three factors:
Who the event is for
What will convince them of its value
What they should take away from the event
For example, a Christmas celebration event is primarily designed for your employees. You can convince them of its value with the promise of free food and drinks, and pre-arranged transport, minimising the reasons for them not to attend.
If you decide the essential thing your team should take away is a sense of team success, organise a keynote from the CEO to present awards to teams and outstanding individuals, and throw in some games if you want to strengthen your team’s bond.
The additional benefit of clearly defining your aim is that it will be easier to secure a budget from stakeholders. Pinpointing the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ makes it easier for a company’s board of directors to see a return on investment; for example, improving employee morale with an all-expenses paid celebration can help boost productivity and staff retention for the next quarter.
2. Write a checklist of everything you need to do
Once you’ve defined the aim of your event, you’ll need to lay out every step you need to take to get to the final event. Breaking out everything into manageable tasks makes the process feel less overwhelming; it’ll also be easier to delegate duties so that not all the planning rests on one person.
For most events, it’s not unusual to spend about six months getting things organised. Here’s what a typical events planning checklist might look like based on a six-month roadmap:
Choose a date and time
Agree the budget
Choose a venue
Create a guest list
Send out invitations
Plan the event schedule
Arrange the catering
Book the entertainment and guest speakers
Create a backup plan (bad weather, delays)
Confirm final attendees
Decorate and prepare venue
Depending on the type of event you’re hosting, you may need to add things to the list. For example, expos may require additional liaisons with vendors and a team to agree on sponsorship packages.
Once you’re happy with your checklist, assemble a group of people you can trust and assign tasks that match their strengths. Fastidious project managers are best at planning the event schedule, while someone from your sales team might be better positioned to negotiate prices with suppliers.
3. Choose an appropriate time and date
Selecting the right date for your event comes down to a couple of factors:
Seasonality — Christmas parties will naturally make more sense in December than in October or February. Bear in mind that venues might have more competition for availability for months like December, so try to book as far in advance as you can, and be prepared to have to spend more than off-season.
Day of the week — The type of event will dictate the ideal day to host them. Networking and educational events make more sense on a weekday, as attendees are unlikely to want to spend their personal time at business gatherings. On the other hand, parties for your team might be better on a Friday or even a Saturday night, since your staff can unwind without worrying about having to be up for work the following day. Bear in mind that venues typically quote higher rates for weekend bookings than weeknights.
Time of day — Running an event for your team and their families? It might be better to schedule the event for an afternoon rather than an evening so your staff can bring their children along. If you have to host an evening event, you might consider paying for childcare as an added incentive to get your team to come with their partners (you’ll need to factor this into your budget).
4. Choose the venue
Choosing the right venue is the most important step in ensuring a successful corporate event. You’ll need to find something that meets the needs of your guests, that’s easy to access, and fits your agreed price range. That all leads to a fairly limited selection of places to choose from, and these venues book out fast, so you’ll need to do this as early in your planning process as possible.
When choosing a venue, consider the following:
Price — It’s important to set a specific budget for your venue; otherwise, it can be tempting to go over your spend cap for the “right” place, at the detriment of other costs like your entertainment or catering. If a venue is perfect but outside your price range, don’t be afraid to explain your price range and negotiate if needed.
Size — Is your event for thirty people or a thousand? Each will need a very different kind of venue. While it’s better to have too much space than too little, be careful: a wide open area with only a handful of guests will feel empty and lifeless. You need to strike the balance. Speak with venues about their ideal capacities.
Location — Corporate events should be easily accessible to everyone attending. City centres are usually best because of transport links. If your organisation operates out of one location, a venue close to the office means people don’t need to travel much further than their normal commute; for national events attracting lots of different businesses, though, you’re better off booking a venue in a city with plenty of rail and air access.
Accessibility — Older venues might have a certain charm but many are limited in their accessibility for wheelchair users. Make sure you book somewhere on the ground floor if possible, and if not, ensure it has measures in place to make getting inside as easy as possible for people with special requirements.
The right venue needs to hit all of your criteria. Ideally, it’s best to have two or three options in case your first choice isn’t available on your chosen date.
Finally, make sure you understand all the fees. Some venues offer a flat rate with everything rolled into one price, but others will attach additional fees, which can be hard to keep track of (especially important if you're on a strict budget).
Is tax included? WiFi? Is there a service charge? You should confirm everything in writing before signing on the dotted line.
5. Book your catering
Booking the right venue is imperative, but your RSVPs will be limited without the promise of some good food and key attractions. Once you’ve confirmed your venue, you’ll need to speak to caterers and entertainers.
Some venues come with catering included, but this can end up being far costlier than bringing in your own (they tend to mark up the price to account for the convenience). Weigh up the costs: get quotes with and without catering, and compare with third-party caterers' prices.
There are additional factors that will influence whether inclusive or third-party caterers will be the best choice for your event. While inclusive catering is easier to manage and price up (since it’s packaged up with the venue), you may have fewer choices available, which is particularly problematic if you have guests with dietary requirements.
You should also consider whether your chosen venue has an alcohol licence. Don’t assume that it does: ask ahead of time and plan accordingly. If you’re thinking about planning a boozy event, a free bar will help to incentivise your guests to attend; whereas drinks tokens will help to make sure things don’t get out of hand.
5. Choose your entertainment
When booking entertainment, consider the following:
Is it appropriate? — Go back to the aim of your event, which you’ll have outlined in step 1. Think about who the event is for: a comedian might go down a treat at an employee getaway, but may offend at a family event.
Does it achieve your goal? — Try to tie your entertainment to the key thing you want your guests to get out of the event. If you want to build team bonds, schedule entertainment designed to get them to collaborate, such as an interactive team quiz or team puzzles. If you want to help people learn, book industry-leading keynote speakers.
Does it fit your price range? — Some entertainment may seem to fit beneath your price cap, yet it may spill over when you factor in things like travel and accommodation costs. Flying in a speaker from overseas might be enough to break your budget, whereas someone more local with a higher fee but minimal travel costs might actually work better.
Does it fit the venue? — Some entertainers might be self-sufficient, but others might need things from the venue itself. A band, for example, might need a PA system to plug into and a stage, while group entertainment (like an inflatable obstacle course) will need plenty of space, possibly outside the venue. You’ll need to communicate with your chosen venue about what it can provide before you book your entertainment.
6. Promote your event
Once you’ve arranged your venue, food and main attractions, you need to promote your event to your target audience. The aim of your event should dictate your marketing strategy; for example, your staff Christmas party won’t require the same kind of marketing spend as a networking event that needs to attract paying guests.
To build a sense of anticipation, you’ll need a promotion plan that ramps up as your event gets closer. It’s worth pulling together a messaging document that aligns with the aims and themes of your event; collaborate with your branding team to ensure it best represents your company’s values.
Once you’ve agreed on your messaging, here are a few digital marketing tactics you should try (providing they fit within your budget):
Create a promo video — A promo video is a great way to showcase your venue and the success of your previous events. You can host it on a dedicated events page and use it in your online display advertising; it’s particularly effective on social media sites like LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok. If it’s an internal event, send it out as part of the company newsletter. If you can get footage of your venue and past events, you might find a freelance video editor to fit comfortably within your price range.
Get a promotional slot on an industry newsletter — An easy way to reach your target audience is by appearing in a newsletter they’re already subscribed to. Get in touch with the promotional teams at your industry’s key publications to see what kind of deals are available, and don’t be afraid to haggle.
Use events distribution platforms — Setting up your event on a ticketing platform means that users can easily find it if they’re looking to attend. Some platforms will add your events to weekly roundups or targeted email campaigns for users as well, to give you some additional value.
7. Create your contingency plans
Sadly, even the best-laid event plans are vulnerable to last-minute changes that threaten to derail the whole thing. That’s why it’s important to have a backup plan in place to keep things running smoothly if anything goes wrong.
Here are some examples of eventualities you’ll want to prepare for:
Venue is double-booked
Get quotes for similar venues and check their availability running up to the event date
Train delays or strikes on the day of the event
Use a ground transport management solution to get key attendees to the event on time
Hotel rooms fully booked up
Use an emergency accommodation solutions provider
Decorations out of stock
Plan an alternate theme that other in-stock decorations would suit
Company misspelt on marketing materials
Get quotes on turnaround times from several suppliers early in your planning and ensure marketing materials arrive with enough time to go to another vendor should there be a problem
At CMAC, we specialise in providing emergency ground transport and accommodation solutions for employers to ensure no issues with transport or hotels impacts the success of your event. We’re committed to going the extra mile to ensure your party reaches its destination on time and in style. You can learn more about our event transport management solutions here.