Getting the Most from Special Events
For Winter 2000, I wrote about “Employer Development- Building the Win-Win Relationship” which provided a “broad brush” treatment of marketing. This article will take a more detailed look at one aspect of relationship building – optimising the potential of special events. This subject is also identified as a promotional method in Section 7.3.2 of CAFCE’s Co-operative Education Manual, also published in 2000.
It has been my experience, in over 30 years of co-op practice, that the most fertile promotional ground can be special events; they provide an opportunity to meet prospective employers face-to-face in a casual setting, such as:
- Trade shows and exhibitions within the business sector being targeted.
- Business and industry lunches such as those offered by Chambers of Commerce and other such specific interest associations.
- Workshops and seminars relating to the business or industry sector of interest.
- Trade missions, career fairs.
However, much time and expense can go into participating in this type of event without result. Why? Because, as many sales and marketing professionals will tell you, we fail to complete the most important step – the follow through. Here are some tips as to how you can make special events work for your students, your employers and you:
- Have a plan. Start this at budget time. Try to identify as many events as you can which you plan to attend in the year ahead. Make sure that any special material you might need such as informational brochures, display materials and aids are available or will be available when needed.
- Preliminary research will reveal scheduled events of potential interest and the nature of participant – senior executive, HR personnel or technical specialist.
- Consider whether you should be an exhibitor, which can be quite expensive, or simply a registered visitor. Other groups within your institution may also be interested in the event. A joint display might be possible and costs can be shared.
- Arm yourself with business cards and other informational material. Letter size brochures and folders are good for trade show displays but not good for walking tours of displays or for social events where you need to balance a drink with a plate of hors d’ourves. Take pocket- sized information for such functions. Mini CDs of approx 10 – 20 MB are gaining popularity.
At the Event:
- You need to be pro-active. Organise yourself. At the beginning of the event, particularly at trade shows, conferences and career fairs, obtain an attendee or exhibitor list. Go through it hi-lighting those you wish to meet.
- Throughout the event, work through the list contacting as many as possible of those you have targeted. Go to the displays of the organisations you wish to contact and ask for specific persons. If not there, leave your business card and a message as to where they can find you at the event.
- Keep your eyes and ears open for social events not listed in the program. Many businesses hold private functions; often they have extra invitations and usually are more than happy to give you one; don’t be afraid to ask.
- If you have a display of your own, try to schedule time off so that you can “work the show”. Don’t forget your cell phone so others at your display can be in touch.
- At your own display, introduce yourself to people as they pass by; approach them and engage in conversation; don’t wait for them to stop and ask questions.
- At associated social events, ask those you know for introductions to those you seek to meet. Be alert for the right names on nametags. At luncheons, seek out potential contacts and arrange to sit with them. Also introduce yourself to everyone at your table. Your initial goal should be to spark interest.
- Most new contacts will not commit immediately. Promise to follow up with detailed information. Exchange business cards. Ask for the names of the appropriate people in an organisation to approach.
- Keep notes while fresh in your mind. Find a quiet corner now and then to capture as much relevant material as possible for future reference.
- You will have met more people than you can remember and collected enough business cards to fill a desk drawer! This is when the real work begins - when you arrive home with sore feet, an aching back and also faced with a schedule packed with monitoring visits and student appointments concerning every imaginable issue. But you MUST find time for FOLLOW UP and the sooner the better!
- Work through your notes; make to-do-lists, telephone calls, send emails and snail mail as much as is necessary; leave no stone unturned! You’ll be thrilled with the pay-off!
As you can see, this is not “rocket science”. However, it’s amazing how much time and resources are wasted when we fail to take an organised approach and let the post event process slide until the opportunities are lost.
Strike while the iron is hot!