Event Planning Tips from a PR Maven

June 03, 2011 2:49 PM

Whether it’s the launch of your new site, the company event that’s been thrown into your lap or even a bridal shower, planning and executing a great event is a big task and it takes years to learn how to do it right.

We thought we’d take a shortcut and ask someone who has been doing it for years (close to two decades, in fact), Amy Cormier, the Director of Publicity for Simon & Schuster Canada. She’s been in publishing for 13 years and worked in the music industry for companies like Virgin Records before that and she’s thrown events large and small all over North America for some of the biggest names in Arts and Entertainment. Here’s her stellar advice…

Q. People are busy – any tips for attracting them to your event?

A. Give them notice so they know you want them to be able to attend, but not too much notice.  I like to give about three weeks, enough time to plan but not so much time that people think “that looks like fun” and then forget all about it because it’s so far off. Let people know that you’re thinking of them when you send out the invite – tell them if there will be food/drinks, cash bar, special entertainment, seated presentation, etc. If it’s a set program, give them an idea of when they will be free to leave. All of this helps alleviate some of the anxiety that your guests might feel about going to an event.  It’s always paramount to remember your responsibility to your guests, a factor that is too often forgotten in the mess of bells and whistles. That said, gift bags are always a BIG hit.  And free drinks.

Q. To hit your target guest number, how much should you over-invite?

A. Generally, I would recommend inviting at least 20% over your target. That being said, the last thing you want is to have guests arrive and not be able to get into your fabulous event and unless there is a specific start time, you will have people arriving in waves, which is a little harder to gauge, so don’t over-invite either.

Q. Can we let go of paper? Is an evite or a jpeg enough nowadays?

A. Paper?  What’s that?  Unless it is a very formal event (ie: wedding or plated, black tie gala fundraiser) it is entirely acceptable (and much easier to manage last minute rsvps) through a jpeg.  I find it more professional to use a jpeg rather than an evite for work events.  Save the evite for showers and girls nights.

Q. How many follow-ups, and by what method, are required to ensure people remember your event?

A. This is a tricky one, I avoid harassing people for confirmations as much as possible – it can be very off-putting.  Typically, I prefer to only do one round of follow-ups by email and assume that no reply means, no show. If I’m really pressed, I’ll add one final follow-up by phone – which will gently imply I need to know if you’re coming.

Q. Any golden food and drink rules that apply whether it’s a small or large cocktail reception?

A. If you’re doing pass-around appetizers, the general rule I follow is 3-4 pieces and a half a bottle of wine per guest. Typically, red wine is consumed at a higher rate than white – but that can vary depending on the time of year (and dress code… if people are in their summer whites, they will be more inclined to drink white).  Always better to err on the more generous side of things – I’ve seen parties go south very quickly because of a lack of supplies.

Q. What type of food and drink would you suggest on a budget?

A. I’m a big fan of cheese and veggie platters when you’re on a budget.  You save money on servers, and a few gorgeous presentations can fill the side spaces of a room and still give a nice wow factor when your guests arrive. If you’re really on a tight budget, you could get trays from a grocery store but take the time to put them on platters or something like a nice butcher block so they don’t look too ghetto.  Some caterers will allow you to purchase your own wine and then charge a corkage fee which, depending on how much running around you want to do, can save you some money.  There are lots of solid crowd-pleaser wines under ten dollars at the liquor store.  If at all possible, please avoid plastic utensils and cups  –  they simply never look good.

Q. Is a swag bag a must and what makes a good one?

A. These are always a good idea. Who doesn’t like free stuff? Candidly, sometimes I go to a party because I know there will be a gift bag. They don’t have to have a lot in them but try to tie into the theme of the party and bring out your inner Martha Stewart.  A plain brown paper bag can look awfully up-market if you set them out nicely.  Remember it’s best to give them to your guest as they are leaving – no one wants to lug around extra baggage at a party, no matter how cool the gifts are.  I was at a party last week where the parting gift was of a high ticket price and rather than give out the actual product, they gave us all a printed card with an email address to redeem the item afterwards. I thought that was great – I got a gift (yay!) but I didn’t have to lug it around with me (double yay!).  And don’t be shy to ask colleagues at other companies if they want to contribute to gift bags – there is value for them to be included in your event and you can always return the favour when they have their next event.


Thanks to Amy for her fabulous advice! If you have any questions about your next event or additional tips to share with everyone, please post them in the comments section below.



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