Tips on holding a launch event

o you’ve got a new business or product and you want to hold an event to tell the press all about it.

Here’s the thing.

Events are hard work, cost a lot and getting press along to them is very, very difficult. Journalists are time pressed and short staffed, so getting out of the office is difficult for them. Even when they say they are coming, you can bet your Manolo Blahniks that there’ll be more no shows than attendees, unless you have an eye-wateringly huge budget and can create and all singing, all dancing extravaganza that they simply can’t resist. And I don’t know many small businesses that can do that (and even large ones are hard pressed to justify big party budgets).

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hold one. But my top tip is to make sure that the event does more than just talk to press. Make it work on multiple levels and make sure that whoever comes, feels as though they got something out of it.

Take today as a case in point. Today Peekaboo helped launch a fantastic new company called Third Door, which provides flexible workspace with on-site childcare. I know from years of experience, that holding an event just for the media will cause you to develop a stomach ulcer as you wait for expected attendees to arrive, and then wonder if you shouldn’t perhaps have rented a crowd to make the room seem busier. So we decided not to do that.

Instead, we invited:

  • press
  • bloggers
  • influential networkers and business groups
  • potential customers
  • potential partners
  • competition finalists

Many PR people might be screaming at the screen saying: “NO! You can’t mix press with customers. They’re different audiences with different messages and what if one of them said something to a member of the press and it’s the end of the world?”

But it’s not.  We billed our event as the opening of Third Door and invited people to come meet the founders, find out more and use the opportunity to network to build their own contacts. The fact that there was going to be press there appealed to the networkers, potential customers and partners. And the fact that there were potential case studies and stories beyond the story was appealing to press.

As it turned out, we had no shows (due to a variety of reasons: too much on, staff shortages, poorly children) but we still had a fantastic group of people who grabbed the opportunity with both hands and networked. It wasn’t a one-sided event in which the talking heads talked and the audience listened. It was a chance for everyone to truly mingle and make new connections. As a result, everyone seemed to leave happy, clutching business cards, ideas for stories and the chance of some PR exposure. Smaller publications even got the chance to display their magazines for the potential advertisers in the audience (they’re a business too you know). As for Third Door, they left with some new customers, lots of opportunities for future press exposure and plenty of goodwill and support. It was a win win for everyone.

So what can you do if you want to throw a successful event?

  • Think beyond press. Which other influencers are there? Think business bodies, bloggers, networking groups, potential customers, partners and suppliers
  • Ask what you can get out of it and what they can get out of it
  • Keep it informal. Regardless of their title, people are people. They want things to be professional and to run smoothly, but a relaxed environment makes everyone feel more at ease. And it makes your business more personal and human.
  • Have a planned schedule but keep it loose. People will run late. Things won’t go as planned. Read the room, adapt and go with the flow.
  • Don’t make it all about you. Sure it’s your event. And sure you want people to remember what you told them. But they will leave feeling far more positive and as though they got more out of it, if there was something in it for them too (and I don’t just mean a luxury goody bag).
  • Have helpers. You will always need helpers to do last minute scurrying around – whether it’s hanging up coats, making last minute badges, washing cups or serving food. (Incidentally, I did all of those things today).
  • Capture it all with a photographer on hand. Not only do you have pictures to use for press, on your website or blog, but it makes the people there feel like they’re important and that this is something worth recording.
  • If budgets are tight, get caterers, photographers or other suppliers to work for you at cost price or free in exchange for exposure at the event in front of a room full of people likely to spread the word about them.
  • Keep press packs simple – either on CDs or USBs, so they can pop the info into a handbag, rather than lugging around a folder full of eco-unfriendly paper.
  • Time your media materials to go out at the same time as your launch so that those who couldn’t make it, also get the info.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up

I’m sure there are plenty more tips that will come to me, but for now, I’m off to to do the last and most important tip following a launch day:

Drink a large glass of wine.

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