This is a guest post by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM—Director of Marketing at Treasure Island Wines. Treasure Island Wines operates a winery and tasting room in an incomparable setting: the former US Naval Base on Treasure Island, in the heart of San Francisco Bay. Last week, Louise shared her expertise on one of the trickiest subjects for organizers: which event risks are the right ones? Now, she addresses another tough question: how can you turn a smaller event into a big success?

In the corporate event realm, we have made progress quelling our mania to super-size all events. There is still legitimate rationale for large events—however, audience acquisition has been redefined to focus on quality over quantity, even for a 10K+ user conference. This shift has influenced many private and not-for-profit events to become similarly introspective about metrics. In short, an event’s value and success do not need to be defined primarily by big numbers and % of increased participants. The “big” aspect of most events is now more likely to be tied to results.

Key performance indicators are therefore prioritizing qualified attendance/leads, sales conversions, highly rated content, online community growth and activity, and influences/ influencers such as press and bloggers. There is also an emphasis on measuring overall innovation with regard to entertainment, networking opportunities, and tech differentiators like inventive social media usage.

However, having fewer tickets or registration fees and eliminated revenue (such as hotel commissions) can wreak havoc on your P&L and negotiation leverage. Despite the advantages of the newly designed—or skillfully redesigned—small event, many event producers can find themselves struggling to break even with budgets and methodology designed under the old paradigm. How can you re-architect a few significant aspects of the smaller event to increase revenue? In addition to adjusting pricing (higher) and positioning (narrower), consider rethinking the following expenses, expectations and ancillary revenue streams:


The most important aspect of any smaller event is to get the right people to attend. Similarly critical is the discipline to limit your staff and comps. Comps and staffing costs can affect your bottom line significantly. Run your team as lean as possible and strictly limit complimentary access.


Smaller events are enhanced by a more personal environment. Eliminate or reduce venue cost by dual-purposing/leveraging the host’s hotel suite, office space or home if possible.


Screen your food and beverage the same way you would your invitee list. First: does the F&B meet your group’s needs? Would they appreciate beer and tapas over canapés? If you do want to remain high brow, passing fewer, exceptional hors d’oeuvres will almost always have more perceived value than a static buffet. Similarly, substitute one spectacularly well mixed and entertaining brand or theme–supportive signature drink in lieu of a full bar. Last but not least: cut your cocktail hour in half. If this seems too drastic, skimming off 15 minutes will still make a significant dent in the bar tab.


Entertainment costs per person for smaller events can make most traditional entertainment cost prohibitive—so how do you raise high the quality and ambience? Make the interactive networking aspect of the event the entertainment. For example, put your dollars into a multitasking element like a wine blending or wine-themed competition that will engage and delight attendees and incorporate your beverage budget.


Selling sponsorship for smaller events can be challenging but absolutely possible. First, target very specific sponsors who would benefit from your refined selection of buyers and/or decision-makers. Convey the concentrated power, intimate setting and direct access to these individuals. If audience size is still a barrier and/or preoccupation for sponsors, consider instead selling sponsorship packages that would include a broader reach with live streamed or rebroadcasted content, and YouTube videos or corresponding webcasts/virtual events.

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