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How to Find and Hire the Best Event Planner
by Claire Lim
Hiring an outside event planner or producer doesn't have to be a daunting task, but you should make sure you spend time sourcing the best event planners and screening them carefully before committing to one for your company event.
There are variables to consider when making your selection. These include the objective of your event, the budget you're working with, your reason for hiring externally, and the available candidates for the job, and fortunately, there are some excellent resources companies can use to pick the best event planner or producer to help create their company event.
Use the following guide to help you determine whether or not you need an event planner for your next company event, and if you do, how to select the best candidate for the job.
Determine Your Event Objective and Need for Event Planner
Most people think that hiring an outside event planner or caterer begins by determining the event's budget, but the truth is that it's more important to begin by defining why you want to hold an event in the first place. Before you reach out to an external or internal resource who will help you plan that event, you want to be in a position to share the important goals of the event. Answer your relevant questions about who, what, where, when, why and how—there will be plenty of time to make adjustments later.
Once you've defined your objectives, a few clear ideas will begin to emerge about what theme and message you want to convey at your event, but most importantly, you'll want to determine what activities and services you need the external resource to handle on your behalf.
You'll want to determine the budget you have for a planner and if they will help select the venue, build the menus and make recommendations on food and beverage options, source speakers and entertainment, be on-site for day-of production needs, and/or help create the important communication documents like invitations and guest list. If you are planning your event alone and still have any of these needs unmet, chances are you'll want to hire an event planner to manage these tasks and responsibilities.
Use Local Sources to Find a Qualified Event Planner
Often, people think that word of mouth is the best way to hire an event planner for their anniversary party, breakfast business meeting, weekend retreat, or another type of event, and while it certainly helps, this is probably not the most effective approach.
If you're trying to find the best event planner for your affair, it's best to research someone who is experienced and holds a strong reputation within the community of event planners. Word of mouth provides an opportunity for easy sales for a planner wanting to find new clients, but peer reputation is very effective.
Regardless of whether it's a social event or a corporate meeting, generally speaking, the rules of hiring an event planner or caterer remain the same: you want to hire someone who has expertise in creating your type of event.
If you want to know who has a reputation for delivering services or expertise in a particular market, check with the local convention and visitors bureau as many event planners are active members, and they also maintain relationships with local chambers of commerce; another way to source experts is to reach out to the hotel convention sales department—they'll share with you who they trust.
Interviews and Discussing Event Needs With Applicants
Most event planners will be eager to hear about your specific event, but provide them with brief details at first, and focus a bit more on their expertise in the initial round of interviews, during which time you should reduce the number of candidates down to the three strongest applicants.
You should then ask each event planner or their firm to share information about their business, experience with past events, and how they plan for contingencies, paying careful attention to the manner of the applicant's response and any follow-up questions he or she might have for your company, the event, or its goals.
Good planners will walk you through a discussion to learn about your event's overall objectives, timeline, budget, guest count, and personal preferences. Good planners will ask you questions about your organization and learn about your objectives and your particular event—look for these signs when interviewing to find candidates who stand out from the rest.
Although it's not always possible to meet someone in person during the first round of interviews, especially if your program is out of town, this can be a critical step in choosing the right planner or producer for your event and company.
Face-to-face meetings provide insight beyond a planner's expertise or experience into his or her rapport with the team in your company that will be helping create this event—you'll want to choose a candidate who not only has a great track record for producing quality events, but also one who gets along with your team.
Narrowing Down Options and Making a Selection
It's not good enough to go on your gut instinct, the advice of your friends or even colleagues and coworkers, or the in-person meeting alone—this is your event, and your name and your reputation will be associated with it—you'll need to check your candidates' references, too. Be sure to ask for names of clients the candidates have worked with previously, but also dig into each planner's history to find events he or she may not have mentioned—you might find out he or she botched a few events with a particular client that didn't make his or her resume.
Once you've verified that a candidate jives well with your company, demonstrates expertise in the field, and has a pretty good understanding of the event you want to produce with him or her, it's time to narrow down your selection to one and listen to his or her ideas about the event. Based on your goals and ideas, a good event planner will present you with a plan that will help achieve your theme—if it's a private evening and dinner for an intimate group of people, the planner should come to you with ideas that include many of the details for your program.
At this point, the event planner should present you with ideas that will make you feel like they've taken your budget and doubled its value. It should be apparent in the way they pitch their vision for your event.
Comparing Your Budget to the Event Planner's
Based on your event objectives, it's possible to create a general sense of how much it will cost for various elements of your program, which will vary based on the type of event you are hosting and what it includes. Many people who organize an event for the first time tend to fall into the trap of wanting to plan a champagne event on a beer budget, which is why many people will turn to their event planner for help.
An ideal candidate will take what budget you present them and turn it into something magical, but those ideas will come at a price, and it's important for you to ask the planner to disclose all of his or her costs and potential sources of how these fees will be covered and incorporated into the overall budget.
Depending on the nature of your event, you will be asked to provide deposits, paperwork, and contracts to the event planner and the event venues and services they offer. It is an entirely acceptable way of handling business, but the best advice at this point is to seek professional advice and never sign a contract that hasn't been reviewed by your own legal counsel—especially when dealing with private individuals who may not have the same resources of a large firm.
Stay With Your Planner and Be Prepared to Fire and Rehire
Most bad stories that happen related to event planning are usually a result of a lack of follow-through. Event planning requires the effective coordination of logistics and deferring these to a third-party person can backfire if the event planner you hired is not fully accountable to your company's goals and objectives for the event.
For this reason, you as a hiring manager should work closely with the planner or producer to ensure that every element of the production goes off without a hitch—from making sure venues and suppliers are ready for the event to ensuring payments have been made to each vendor before and after. It isn't to say most event planners don't deliver on their promised services; it simply means you should make sure that logistics have been confirmed.
If everything goes as planned, you'll have a successful event and an excellent event planner resource for the future, but if the planning process doesn't run smoothly for the services agreed to in writing, then it's important to review whether the project is a good fit with the planner.
While it's reasonable to be patient and work through logistics and any potential misunderstandings along the way, if you're not receiving the services you want then you should be ready to have some serious discussions. If you must, be ready to fire a bad planner and have a backup option at all times.
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