Before I joined Imprint Group as General Manager, I spent most of my career in politics managing the schedules of governors, senators and the first family of the United States. It was an incredible honor, but also an amazing education on how to conceptualize and execute events and programs that had tremendous impact in the messages they delivered and the people they activated. Done well, events are tools used to achieve a greater goal, otherwise it’s just a waste of time and money.
Producing the schedule of a president or senator is a tremendous team effort involving communications and policy staff, not to mention security and external stakeholders. In politics, this effort is led by the “advance team.” These are people who specialize in crafting the images and movements at any given event the president might attend. They travel ahead of the principal to work with security and local officials on the ground to ensure the schedule runs smoothly and the message of the day is understood.
After leading the advance for Michelle Obama’s recent trip to Denver in July, I thought about some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my presidential planning career that can be embraced and applied for planners at corporations and associations across the country.
- Remember YOU represent your organization everywhere, always.
An event planner is an externally facing job, meaning you must work with outside vendors, interact with invited speakers or entertain attending guests. In all those interactions, it’s imperative that the planner remembers they represent their organization or corporation. If the planner is rude or disrespectful, that reflects on their company and how the guest feels about engaging with that company moving forward. Behave and present yourself in the manner you want people to see you and your organization, even under the most stressful situations.
- Care about the visual.
For advance staff, a key job is to ensure the pictures and video coming from an event compliment and support the message being delivered because there’s typically a large media contingent in attendance. For most corporate planners, there are few events where you need to worry or plan for press, but that shouldn’t mean the visuals from the event don’t matter. In today’s age of social media, every attendee is a member of the press posting online their favorite moment from the event. A good planner cares what those images look like because they understand those guests are serving as ambassadors for your organization and you want those images to carry your message forward. Prominently featuring your logo, lighting and ensuring the location, décor and beyond support the overall message are all important aspects of planning your event.
- Walk thru your event from different perspectives.
An event planner oversees the total experience they’re creating, so it’s important you understand how that experience will work and feel from a variety of perspectives. On an advance trip, the staff walks thru the event as if they were the principal, as if they were a member of the press or if they were a guest in attendance. For corporate planners, perhaps you’re walking thru as if you were a VIP, a Board member or an invited speaker as well as a general attendee. For each, is the process seamless and easy to understand? How easy is it to get to the bathroom for the principal vs the guest? How do they find their seat or get backstage? You’ll be amazed at the new questions or issues you discover when you dedicate time to experience the event in a variety of roles.
- Time is valuable.
Time is a limited resource that should be distributed intentionally and efficiently. A principal’s schedule is detailed to the minute to ensure that no time is wasted and we’re getting the most out of each day. An event planner should have equal respect for the time required to attend their event by an invited speaker, their guests and also for their vendor partners. This is managed through the event flow – schedule the setup time down to the minute, make sure the program is seamless, there are no needless breaks and the process to attend is organized.