Overcoming: Using Special Events to Affect Change

| Moore Communications Group | Written by: Rebecca Mahony

Anne Marie Frawley, a seasoned event and operations professional, addressed the Capital Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association this month about igniting change through special events.

The things that people remember about an event, even years and decades later, might surprise you. Those are the most important and should be at the center of your focus. It’s easy to remember the bad things, instead of the good. So when planning an event, you have to remember that no event is perfect. However, it’s how you handle the imperfections and minor crisis situations that may arise that determines how attendees and your other audiences will perceive and remember it. Managing the event, and ultimately public perception, starts with a great plan.

Anne outlined five steps to follow when planning and executing events for change.

1) Focus/Problem

First you must identify the focus of the problem. Who do you need to target? Who will be affected by this issue? In this stage, you need to collect data and set goals.

You begin assembling your team in this stage based on individual expertise and the skills the situation calls for. In anything you do, you can’t be good at everything. You need to find the right people to get involved, rather than trying to make the shoe fit.

2) Options/Solutions

In this stage, it’s important to decide on messaging that will get your target audiences excited and feeling energetic. In all of your activities, whether you’re using multiple engagement events and tactics or just promoting and executing one main event, you need to be very careful that all of the messaging matches.

Second, you have to sit down and figure out your approach and why that’s the best for the situation. Whether it’s doing something fun and planning an event, or doing a rally, or a roundtable, or a speech, you have to determine the best way to reach your desired goal. How do you tap into the right outlets to get the story you want? What will help you accomplish this? Different tactics will help you engage people on a more personal level, while others will engage a wider variety and number of people.

Visualizing all possible options is one of the most important things you can do. It sets the stage for how people will perceive your message, and it helps you think through what solutions will be the best for you. It all comes down to what you represent and making sure you have resources to back it up. Sometimes you see organizations put on a flashy event, then they fall flat and people criticize them for years. Don’t let this happen to you.

3) Outreach & Engagement

Identifying your stakeholders and what appeals most to them is important. It’s a matter of tapping into the pool of people who have been touched by the issue. It’s also hard to get people to dip into their pockets or get people to take time out of their day to help you. So how do you do it? Stakeholder engagement starts with asking the people what they need and being sensitive to local needs. When you’re planning special events or messaging particular circumstances, you have to think about how it will be perceived by people in that area or in the industry you’re targeting.

Stakeholder engagement is a key part of event planning. If you run out of time, you will struggle. This is why it’s so valuable to develop a grassroots network of people that you work with.

4) Execution & Ignition

Then, how do you involve, engage and empower your key stakeholders? You may be able to do it remotely or in person. But either way, people need to have a little bit of buy in, personally or professionally, to be motivated to take action. When you’re engaging stakeholders, research their interests and passions. Then you can find a way to tie in your messaging. At MCG, we research our targets extensively to ensure the optimum results. Personalized touches and building strong relationships is key to empowering your stakeholders to effect the change you want to see.

5) Analysis & Evaluation

Evaluation is also important to this process for growth and for any future events you may hold.

What did you do well? Which elements made the event most special? What can you do better? Which of the tactics that you employed best helped you meet your goals? What were your restrictions?

In the evaluation process, it’s important to put everything on the table, because any one of those things could have helped you do things better.

Throughout the course of planning and executing your event, you may see that the intensity of the work oscillates. It’s a good practice to start off by doing a lot of work on the front end to get your footing. Then working through the planning stages can be less intense. Finally, when it comes to implementation, you need to invest much more time and resources. This can often be the most challenging part of the process, because despite all of your planning, things will probably change. Anne said her biggest pet peeve is when people don’t think they can make the impossible possible. No matter what, you can make it work. You may have to switch gears, but if you can think fast and stay calm, things can always come together for a greater outcome.

As Anne described this process to our FPRA chapter, I couldn’t help but be reminded of all of the special events we coordinate at MCG. We have worked on everything from planning events for Ford, Bank of America and Avon to legislative events that inspire change, like news conferences at the Capitol and rallies. I would say that in my experience with event planning and in watching my colleagues, Anne is right. You can always make the impossible possible. We do it every day.