Archive for the ‘Event Planning’ Category

Beware: Monday, January 23 the Internet May Go Dark

January 2012


Flickr photo courtesy of Redjar

While I may not be able to foresee  the future, my media savvy crystal ball is suggesting that Monday, January 23, 2012 will be a very bad day for communicators. If you haven’t heard the troubling news already, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Paypal and other major Internet websites will be staging an “Internet blackout” on January 23 to protest proposed federal legislation that will make them liable for lawsuits for content posted on their websites.

Congress is considering a new bill – called the Protect IP Act or Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – which would allow companies to sue websites for posting protected content without permission, forcing the entire site to be shutdown. For example, if I posted a video on YouTube of my friend dancing at a party with our favorite Adele song playing in the background, if SOPA passes, the record company would be allowed to sue YouTube and force them to close their whole website. There will be a hearing on Tuesday, January 24, hence the reason for the scheduling of this online protest the day before.

It’s not clear how long these websites will keep their content and services offline on January 23; it could be a few hours to an entire day. For communicators, the uncertainty of the  Internet blackout means we need to find and plan for alternative ways to do our online-heavy tasks on January 23. It is rare for a public relations activity to not have at least Internet-related tactic that needs to be executed, so avoid scheduling events or releases for January 23; it will be a day that our normally big world will be smaller just to make us – and Congress – understand how dependent we are on the World Wide Web and social media.

InSites for the Future: 2012 Will Set A New Standard for Green/Sustainable Events

December 2011

This weekend people around the world will gather to celebrate one of the biggest events of the year, New Year’s Eve. To wrap up our InSites for the Future series, Vanguard’s event manager Scott LaLonde looks at the future of event planning.

2012 Will Set A New Standard for Green/Sustainable Events

Source: Convention Industry Council

Associations, government organizations and nonprofits that pride themselves on hosting “green” events may have an eye-opening 2012. The event industry’s first-ever guidelines for environmentally sustainable events are in the final stages of creation and will be rolled out in the new year. The guidelines, created through a partnership of the Convention Industry Council, ASTM Standards (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), Green Meeting Industry Council and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will set new standards and criteria measuring the environmental impact of event components, including venue, food and beverage, transportation, audio/visual production and accommodations. Given the potential for media and communicators to scrutinize the legitimacy of  “green” events, those who want to promote sustainable events in 2012 and beyond will need to evaluate their plans using these new standards.

– By Scott LaLonde

On the Road to Farm Aid to Save Family Farms

August 2011

While many are hitting the road to Kansas City, Kan. this weekend for Farm Aid 2011, DCers got a taste of Farm Aid much closer to home earlier this week. On Monday, a contingency from Vanguard and other Farm Aid supporters turned out to support Will Dailey’s Road to Farm Aid tour at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va. Boston-based Dailey and his band The Rivals played a rousing set featuring old favorites and some energetic new material, getting the crowd excited for his performance at this weekend’s Farm Aid concert at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.

A Farm Aid veteran, Will and his band conceived of the Road to Farm Aid tour as a way to raise awareness of Farm Aid’s mission to help strengthen and revitalize our food system in the days before the Kansas City concert. Stops so far have included Cape Cod, Mass., Philadelphia, Pa., and Louisville, Ky. Each stop has featured remarks from Farm Aid’s local partners, contests to win tickets to the concert, merchandise and more. It’s a great idea that may become a Farm Aid tradition going forward.

Tomorrow, Will will join Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews along with guest artists such as Jason Mraz, Jamey Johnson, Jakob Dylan and Rebecca Pidgeon in playing to a crowd of 25,000 in the brand new LIVESTRONG stadium, which is home to Sporting Kansas City, the city’s major league soccer team. While certainly no stranger to the Midwest, this will be Farm Aid’s first time in Kansas. The state is home to more than 65,000 farms, 85 percent of which are family-owned, and so it is a place where Farm Aid’s work is being carried out every day. Farm Aid brings the farm experience to concertgoers via family farm-identified, local and organic concessions, as well as HOMEGROWN Village, an opportunity to rub elbows with farmers and other local contributors to the sustainable agriculture movement.

This will be my fourth year volunteering at Farm Aid, and talking to Will after his show on Monday reminded me of the incredible commitment Farm Aid artists show to family farmers and the Good Food movement. They’re volunteers too; they travel their entire crew on their own dime, sometimes to play just a few songs given the full lineup at the event. And yet they are always incredibly gracious when we run them around to do media interviews or appear with farmers on the HOMEGROWN stage. So while Farm Aid is a cool musical festival, it’s the importance of the mission and the collective energy of the hundreds working together to help carry it out that keeps me and others coming back year after year.

Federal Reserve Shows that Smart Event Planning Can Manage High Stakes

April 2011

When communicators organize and stage a press conference for their organizations, the stakes are pretty high. We hold press conferences to support a variety of objectives — such as to address recent challenges or issues or to launch new programs — however, rarely do we have to think about how our press conference will negatively impact the U.S. economy. Well, that’s what the public affairs staff at the U.S. Federal Reserve is thinking about today as they plan their first public press conference to be held this week to discuss the new policy statement of the Federal Open Market Committee.

Bernanke presents state of the economy by Medill DC, on Flickr

Photo courtesy of MedillDC on Flickr

What is said during the press conference by Chairman Ben Bernanke, whether in his opening statement or in responses to reporters’ questions, could sink the stock market in minutes — a hit that would further hurt the already floundering economy. A lot of pressure? You bet. Great advance thinking and planning by the Federal Reserve will help manage this press conference and its impact on the market.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal today, the Federal Reserve communications team has already taken steps to manage the message from Wednesday’s press conference. Many of their precautions demonstrate procedures that we should consider when planning our own press conferences as well.

  1. Conduct research on similar events before planning your event. Since this was a first for the Federal Reserve, their team wisely spoke with other banks and global financial institutions with press conference experience to identify lessons learned from these events in the banking industry. Understanding and applying these tips and tricks prior to planning this press conference will help the Federal Reserve limit the pitfalls and challenges they might have faced without such important research. Learning from others’ successes and failures should always be the first step for communicators when planning press conferences, or any type of event.
  2. Keep event agenda focused on communications goals. To keep on message and force the attending media to cover those key messages, construct the press conference agenda with the event’s communications goals as a guide. The Federal Reserve is planning for brief remarks by the chairman followed by a time-restrained question-and-answer session to keep reporters focused on their key messages and limit tangents that might have occurred if Bernanke delivered longer remarks.
  3. Set rules for who attends and how people participate. While there is much  interest from financial industry people in this press conference, the Federal Reserve decided to limit press conference attendees only to invited media. To attend, the Federal Reserve has stipulated that reporters must work for a media organization recognized by Congress and that each outlet may only send one reporter. By laying the ground rules early about who can attend, event organizers are creating a controlled environment, establishing expectations for how the event is going to be run and establishing their guidelines for how media should be covering the event.
  4. Prepare the event spokesperson for everything. In the past when speaking with a room full of reporters, Chairman Bernanke answered questions received on notecards. At this press conference, the Federal Reserve is going a more traditional route calling on reporters with raised hands to ask questions. In either scenario, preparing the spokesperson by discussing potential questions and familiarizing them with good answers is key to help Bernanke feel (and look) comfortable during the press conference. Also, this preparation is the best way for the Federal Reserve to control the message and limit negative fallout impacting the New York Stock Exchange before the closing bell.

While communicators, like those working for the Federal Reserve, may not have control over what reporters ask, there are preventive steps we can take in the research and planning phases for press conferences to create an environment that offers the greatest potential for desired outcomes for an organization’s communications goals and messages.

A Year of InSites: Communications Lessons from Sesame Street

December 2010

This guest blog post comes from Joe Kelly, Executive Vice President of Vanguard Communications.

Learning sometimes comes from unexpected places. Several months ago, I was reminded to never forget who your audience is – whether it is those who are intended to receive your message or those who are delivering it.

We recently managed a Hollywood event where “Sesame Street,” among other films and TV shows, was receiving an award. We thought it would be entertaining if we could get one of the “Sesame Street” characters to present the award since it was intended for the writers and producers of a particular episode. Much to the delight of our staff – and every extended family member under the age of 10 – the producers of “Sesame Street” volunteered Elmo as their spokesperson.

Elmo - TMX eXtra Special Edition. by MJTR (´・ω・), on Flickr

Because of his heavy travel schedule, however, Elmo was unable to be physically present, though he was happy to record a video message. We were asked if we would be able to provide talking points for Elmo. Why, of course! What could be better!?

We spent many hours on the talking points, making sure that they reflected every possible nuance of our behavioral health issue. We then proudly fired off an e-mail to Elmo.

Minutes later, we received a response from Elmo’s manager, asking whether we realized that Elmo was only two-and-a-half years old and had not yet gotten his graduate degree in public health. Politely thanking us for our input, they suggested that Elmo speak the messages in his own words. Of course, his words were heard far more clearly than those we tried to craft for him.

I learned one other thing, too. Elmo’s appeal is by no means limited to the under-10 set. Our audience of over 500 ranged from teenagers to senior citizens – and every one of those 500-plus faces smiled and laughed during Elmo’s presentation.

Like Royal Weddings, Successful Events Reflect Environment's Tone

November 2010

This guest blog post is from Scott LaLonde, Vanguard Communications’ Event Manager.

Big news from across the pond this week: Prince William, second in line to the British throne, announced his engagement to long-time girlfriend, Kate Middleton. Now, the royal wedding planning — and media circus — begins, as experts are projecting that the wedding ceremony will be held in summer 2011 prior to the London Olympic Games and Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 2012.

In the midst of the Twitter #royalwedding conversation, I came across an interesting tweet from @JaneOD in Scotland:

@JaneOD: #royalwedding – looking forward to the happy couple noting the effects of the recession on the country and making it low key and responsible

British royal weddings — the largest being Prince Charles’ wedding to Princess Diana in 1981 — are known for excess and glamour. But the 1980s were a different time in England and lavish ceremonies were welcome and appreciated diversions. However, @JaneOD is pointing out an important difference today in the UK. Like Americans, the British people are dealing with a struggling economy. Brits are watching their budgets and will  be expecting Prince William and his bride to do so as well.

Changing the guard - Buckingham Palace by Gabriel Villena, on Flickr

This is an important lesson for event planners. When developing events, organizers should always keep in mind the concerns and issues of the attending audience and environment where the event will be held. Failing to reflect these tones and feelings can undermine an event’s success even if other program elements work well. For example:

  • If hosting an event in a low-income area, be sure to design and place event décor that is respectful of the economic status of your audience to avoid appearing insensitive to the financial challenges faced by that community. Perhaps a glamorous red carpet entrance would not be appropriate.
  • If your event includes or features the military, organizers should make sure to incorporate important military traditions into the program, such as the presentation of colors, singing of the national anthem and displaying the flag on the event stage. Ignoring these military ceremonial customs would be disrespectful to uniformed services members in the audience and on stage.
  • If including children as part of the program or inviting them to attend the event, the program and event elements should be kid-friendly and meet their brief attention span. Providing chairs and tables that are size-appropriate for children would also be appropriate and help children feel  a part of the festivities. Long speeches or PowerPoint presentations with charts and graphs will only generate squirming and yawning from the youth in the audience and lose their interest for the rest of the event.

Hopefully, the Royal Family will take the hint and find a way to organize a grand wedding fit for a future king, while creating an event respectful of its subjects who are coping with a recession and financial hardship. While Brits and the rest of the world would enjoy a lavish, extravagant event for Prince William and Kate Middleton next year, when all is said and done, they will complain about its excessiveness, further damaging the public image and regard for the wealthy Windsors.

Reminder: Switch Time Zone Abbreviations When Resetting Clocks

November 2010

When you turn back your clocks because of the end of daylight saving time, remember to also switch your time zone abbreviations in your materials too.

During daylight saving time, time zone abbreviations replace the “S” for standard with the “D” for daylight saving time. For example, PST becomes PDT and CST becomes CDT.

Grandad's Watch by wwarby, on Flickr

But when time falls back and daylight saving time ends, AP Style dictates that the “D” disappears and is replaced by the “S”. So now, references to the Eastern time zone in press releases, invitations, announcements and/or websites should list it as EST instead of EDT.

But if you’re communicating with audiences in Arizona and Hawaii, use the standard time zone abbreviation. Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii and the territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa are the only places in the U.S. that do not observe daylight saving time. Federal law does not require any area to observe daylight saving time and these locales have opted out of an extra hour of sunlight. For more information about who observes daylight saving time domestically and internationally, check out this Infoplease article.

In keeping with our “switching”  theme, don’t forget  to use daylight saving time ending as a reminder to change the batteries for your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Like the switching of the time zone abbreviations, replacing batteries in these lifesaving devices should be an annual occurrence.

Stephen Colbert's Testimony Shows Potential Pitfalls of Celebrity Spokespeople

September 2010

All eyes in Washington were glued to a House subcommittee hearing last Friday. Members noted as the proceedings began that it was probably the most attention paid to the body by the public and the media since Bill Clinton’s impeachment. They owed it all to Comedy Central funny-man, Stephen Colbert, who was invited by Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren to share his experiences with the United Farm Workers “Take Our Jobs” effort. Lofgren praised Colbert’s ability to bring public attention to an important issue as a media celebrity.

You don’t have to look much further than a Google search on “Colbert” and “Congress” to realize this wasn’t the attention Lofgren intended. Stories about Colbert dominate the coverage, while discussions of immigration and agriculture are buried, despite being the focus of the hearing. Regardless of whether you believe Colbert was in line by cracking jokes during a Congressional hearing, his testimony is a perfect reminder of some of the potential pitfalls of enlisting celebrities to support a cause.

Celebrities do have the ability to shine a light on important issues. But how that celebrity represents the issue—and how the public and media respond to the celebrity’s involvement—is key in their ability to help. If it is believed that the support is disingenuous or inappropriate, their participation can distract from your core message. It is a danger that House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers clearly recognized: He thanked Colbert for drawing attention to the hearing, and asked Colbert to withdraw himself from the proceedings before testifying. Conyers anticipated that the testimony would do the issue a disservice.

Before inviting a celebrity to represent your cause, consider the most appropriate way to engage them and a target audience. It made sense for the United Farm Workers to engage Stephen Colbert for the “Take Our Jobs” initiative. Colbert could—and did—use his show on Comedy Central to highlight the issue in his own way to an audience that loves him. Inviting him before the United States Congress, however, places him in front of an audience that doubts his sincerity and qualifications from the start. As a result, any mistake or questionable decision is amplified.

It is important to choose a celebrity that will represent your cause well and help deliver the message you intend. As Scott LaLonde recommended in his tips for celebrity recruitment a few weeks ago, providing talking points and preparation is key. Had Colbert delivered testimony that was an earnest, honest and straightforward perspective on the issue, the tone of the coverage could have been much different. It would have been a newsworthy departure from Colbert’s well-known persona.

Instead, Colbert advanced his own comedic agenda. Lofgren either didn’t anticipate that Colbert would testify in character or didn’t consider the reaction that could have resulted if he delivered a comedy routine in a Congressional hearing. Either way, the focus was on Colbert instead of on immigration and farming.

Celebrity involvement can provide a big boost to a cause. But like any other communications tool, you must consider your goal, audience and message before extending an invitation. Be sure to prepare your celebrity and make sure he or she will represent you well. Otherwise, the celebrity might be the story and leave your message behind.

Sixteen Tips for Successful Celebrity Recruitment

August 2010

This guest blog post is written by Scott LaLonde, Vanguard Communications’ Event Manager.

From Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal helping the homeless with Comic Relief in the ’80s to Zac Efron, Kristen Bell and others putting finishing touches on their “Change the Odds” public service announcement campaign for Stand Up to Cancer this month (see one of the spots below), nonprofit organizations have been advantageously partnering with celebrities for years to bring attention to critical issues.

The glittering world of celebrity can be an intimidating one but with the proper set of outreach tools, your organization can successfully recruit a celebrity participant for your next event or project. Our event planning team has complied the following 16 tips to help open the door to your next celebrity partnership.

  1. Get some culture.  Pop culture, that is. To successfully identify, recruit and work with celebrities, you need to know who they are and what they do. Watch TV, read relevant websites or make People Magazine a weekly read.
  2. Reach for the right stars. Who are the latest personalities in TV, music and movies who have the most in common with your target audience? Find people aligned with your cause.  Remember, it is much more likely that you’ll get buy-in from a star on a new show than a more established celebrity.
  3. Make a list and check it twice. Create a master list of all potential celebrities that you are interested in recruiting for your event or cause. Be realistic and categorize the list into sections such as “real possibilities” and “reaching for the sky.” Use further online research to remove candidates due to background, availability and bad press. Your list will naturally narrow itself down due to the process of elimination.
  4. Research, research, research. Research your potential celebrity participants thoroughly, and then some. It’s amazing what you can dig up if you take the time. Conduct searches using numerous key word combinations (such as “arrested” and your celebrity candidate’s name) to identify any potential embarrassing associations.
  5. Know who to call. If you are asking someone to appear for free, you’ll get the best response from a publicist. They are looking for opportunities to get additional positive exposure for their clients. If you can offer payment, start with the manager, who will negotiate the deal. Agents are rarely part of cause-oriented deals unless there is a large fee involved or a long-term arrangement being negotiated. Once the celebrity is on the road, they are often accompanied by a road or tour manager, who will be your point of contact for scheduling and security.
  6. Use the buddy system.  Have one contact person for your celebrity and his or her people at all times.  Building a relationship will make all the logistical work much easier.
  7. Find your new best friends. Websites such as Who Represents?, Contact Any Celebrity, or IMdBPro can start you on the path to connecting with your celebrity and their representatives.
  8. Have your five “W’s” ready. Know exactly what you want your celebrity to do, where they need to be and when, who else will be involved and why their participation will benefit both your organization and the celebrity. Better yet, send it in an e-mail first and follow up with a call. Publicists and/or managers are “get to the point” type of folks who do not have time to listen to a 30-minute explanation or job description.
  9. Be specific. When a celebrity agrees to donate time and talents for free, they should not be expected to pose for photos, sign autographs or do meet and greets. However, if a celebrity is being paid, a general contract should specify expectations for those items.  Make sure the expectations are spelled out in your agreement so nobody is surprised.
  10. Maximize your opportunities. Maximize opportunities with what is happening around your celebrity’s professional life. Is your celebrity opening a movie soon? About to release a book or an album? Offer press support tied to your event around the same time and it could benefit everyone involved.
  11. Make it easy. If you really want a certain celebrity to represent your cause, be as flexible as possible about the date and location. If you can’t control those factors, choose a personality that resides on the same coast or will be touring in your area during the time of the event. Research shooting schedules for television and movies before you make your first call.
  12. Let’s meet! Check to see if your potential celebrity will be in your area or vice-versa. Meeting face-to-face will pay off big time and increase your chances of a successful booking. Already booked the celebrity? Meet them face-to-face anyway; it will help improve your working relationship throughout the event process.
  13. Give and take. Keep the celebrity’s team in the loop but do not give them full creative control. Nothing will kill your budget and time faster than allowing your celebrity and/or your celebrity’s representation to control every aspect of your event.
  14. Provide extras. For the most part, a celebrity’s job not only involves acting or singing, it involves looking good and powerful. While you should never assume that a celebrity expects a makeup artist or limo service, don’t be surprised if they do. Often, the most demanding celebrities are up-and-comers who need more attention from media to further their careers.
  15. Hot off the press. Get your talking points or an event script to your celebrity as soon as possible. It will help them prepare and advance your overall event and communication goals.
  16. Remember, celebrities are people, too. The best way to work with a celebrity is to treat him or her like a person. Don’t gush over their latest movie or song. Don’t be afraid to have a regular conversation about the weather, TV shows or anything else you would discuss with an acquaintance. They and their management will be easier to work with once they realize that you are a colleague, not a fan.

To Reach Congress in 2010, Target Local Offices and Capitol Hill

January 2010

Before leaving for winter recess in December, U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released the 2010 legislative calendar. While there weren’t any surprises, the calendar does provide a hint on how to get the attention of Congress this year: think local.

As is typical for an election year, the legislative schedule is shorter than 2009; the House is only scheduled to be in session for 110 days, compared to last year’s 159 days.  The target adjournment date of October 8, 2010 would give members just over three weeks of solid campaign time before Election Day (Tuesday, November 2), as well as several recesses throughout the year to return home to campaign.

While the U.S. Senate has not released their calendar, recesses and convening/adjournment dates should be similar to the House calendar.

2010 is a critical election year for Congress as results could shift power in the House and the Senate as well as on both sides of the party aisle. As a result, Congressional members and their staffs will be focused on home districts and states for most of the year. In the coming months, they’ll be paying extra attention to what’s happening in the field, instead of their Washington, D.C. offices.

Whether you are sending an email, delivering a petition, making a phone call or scheduling a meeting with your representative or senator, consider targeting your efforts to both Capitol Hill and elected officials’ offices in your own backyard. Your messages and tactics may get more attention at the local level and impact the legislative agenda. In 2010, Congress will be thinking local too.