Judy Allen is one of the world’s leading authorities on staging, event and lifestyle design and the bestselling author of ten event-planning books. Allen, a master of creative design, has executed successful special events – corporate, social, and celebrity — for up to 2,000 guests at a time in more than 30 countries around the world. She has designed and produced memorable events such as Disney’s worldwide theatrical opening-night gala for Beauty and the Beast, and the orchestration of Oscar-winning director Norman Jewison’s 25th anniversary celebration for Fiddler on the Roof.
She has just published an updated version of her book “Event Planning: The Ultimate Guide To Successful Meetings, Corporate Events, Fundraising Galas, Conferences, Conventions, Incentives & Other Special Events,” and we were lucky enough to get to interview her while she is working in Barbados on her new suite of lifestyle books and an upcoming television series.
1. Tell us a bit about the new edition of your book “Event Planning: The Ultimate Guide To Successful Meetings, Corporate Events, Fundraising Galas, Conferences, Conventions, Incentives & Other Special Events.” What can readers expect to learn?
This book is the foundation of the event planning suite of books. Before you can strategically design an event to deliver the results that you are looking for, event organizers need to have a deep understanding of all the event elements and how event design, budget projections and timing and logistics must come together and be a fit from event conception to ensure that event execution is flawless.
The book walks you through every aspect of event design and planning in the finest detail so that event organizers do not miss a step. If your event is poorly orchestrated and does not deliver the energy and emotion attendees are expecting they will not be back, and it can cost the organization more than just money. Every moment of an attendee’s event experience must be anticipated. This book is designed to help event organizers do that.
2. You talk a lot about the traps that event organizers can fall into, especially when booking entertainment. What tips can you share with our readers?
It is not enough to see a video clip of proposed entertainment to book them. Event organizers also need to know all the details involved when signing a contract. One event’s projected costs soared out of sight when they found out that by signing the act they had committed to providing and installing special flooring for the act, paying for shipping costs for all costumes, providing facilities at the site for the costumes to be pressed, mended etc, that the ceiling of the venue had to have specific rigging points, that running water in their dressing room would be essential, and that all the costs for their technical crew of eighteen (airfare, hotel, meals etc) were additional to their entertainment fee. This was just part of what had to be factored in from the very beginning in order to see if the venue would be match and that all the total costs were known.
Event organizers need to know to ask about work visas, insurance, and what special permits the facility will ask for from the entertainment. They need to make sure to meet fire marshal rulings (especially if the act is using any kind of special effects), ask if all the performers seen on the video clip will be there on the actual day of the event and how they will be dressed, what advertising is on the act’s equipment etc. and decide whether or not that is acceptable. Event organizers will also need to know to ask if they need to add in the costs for royalty fees for songs being used at their event and that encores do not spontaneously happen — they are a negotiated part of the contract. If they are not included, no matter how hard your guests clap for an encore it is unlikely they will return.
3. Many event organizers are faced with tight marketing budgets this year. What are your tips for selling out an event with limited marketing dollars?
In this environment companies have to look for innovative ways to attract media and public attention. For example, one bridal show featured million-dollar wedding cake that was embedded with diamonds. They partnered with a wedding cake designer who wanted to showcase their talent and a diamond merchant that was interested in publicity for his store to a very targeted audience. The actual hard costs were minimal (insurance, transportation of the cake to the event and armed security guards) but the publicity was tremendous pre, during and post wedding show.
You can’t afford to cut back on investing in your company’s growth, education and marketing or you run the risk of having your event run at a loss and impact the future success of the event re attracting sponsors, guests and media attention. Event organizers must come to learn the difference between dollars and cents and dollars and sense, between spending and investing in order to succeed. Limited thinking will limit the return results of an event. The question to ask is how to market your event to meet and exceed all objectives and maximize the return for all involved and find a way to manifest what you know to do in order to bring about the results you are looking for (like in the million dollar bridal cake example).
So many companies are saying “unfortunately we just don’t have the budget for it at this point or our funds are limited” but what is limited is their thinking, and companies that will thrive are the ones that are taking cutting edge creative approaches and not holding back but investing in becoming leaders in their industry during this time. One recent event I saw only had one third of the attendance they normally had. Doing an event on a limited budget, adding nothing fresh and giving no reason for people to invest their time, money and energy in going led to those results. Another event was a sell-out because they invested money, time and energy in promoting what was the first paperless meeting event. That created desire. That innovation created a platform and positioning for that event organizer as being on top of their game.
One of my favorite examples of the value of marketing no matter the times is Wrigley. This company decided to promote and market a new brand during an economic depression, and they invested in the company’s growth and marketing because they knew they couldn’t afford not to. In fact it was through giving away free sticks of gum with their products that they found their true business. As a result the company grew despite the economic times and by the late 1990’s it was a multi-billion dollar business. They did not let being in the middle of a depression limit their marketing dollars.
4. Picking the right venue is key to a successful event. What tips can you share on selecting a venue?
What you don’t know or know to ask — when looking at venues — can have a major effect on the success of your event and on your budget. Event organizers have to have a clear understanding of event operations, timing and logistics requirements – from all involved (client, suppliers and attendees) – in order to know if the venue is a true fit.
One event organizer made a $100,000 costing error in just one area by not knowing the right questions to ask the venue before contracting. They had not taken into consideration all the move in, set up, rehearsal, day off, tear down and move out requirements by their client and supplier in a union facility. It was a very costly mistake. They lost their client for future business and their professional reputation in a very lucrative industry and had to pay the hard costs of their costing oversight.
5. You have a section on new technologies in your book. What are some of the new technologies that are having the greatest impact at events?
New technology has made almost every aspect of event development, event planning, proposal preparation and presentation, site inspections, event operations, event marketing, event communication – websites such as yours – successful event execution and guest security and safety more effective and efficient. Today, events are reviewed immediately by guests twittering about their experiences – both good and bad – and now paperless meetings (not just green) have started and event organizers need to know how to implement them or be left behind.
6. What is a good resource for event planning best practices?
Going to other people’s events and live theatre is excellent training for event organizers on what to do and what not to do. I’ve put a lot of my stories into my book “Confessions of an Event Planner: Case Studies from the Real World of Events How to Handle the Unexpected and How to Be a Master of Discretion.”
Not knowing what to do when an event planning crisis occurs or what steps to take to prevent one from happening can be costly both personally and professionally to those involved and to the corporations hosting and orchestrating the event. The book is written journal style and covers what event organizers need to know in order not to have their event billed as one of the worst ever by their attendees and twittered around the world in seconds or posted on You Tube as an event disaster.
7. What piece of advice do you have for event planners working on an upcoming event?
The ultimate special event is our lives and what we bring to them and that includes the time, money and energy we invest in attending events. That is what event organizers have to keep top of mind today. The world is changing, interests are changing and people are becoming very selective on what they do, what they will spend time on and money on. If people do not perceive the value and the event is tired and offers nothing new, then they will not be spending their life energy on attending.