Heidi Foels has been with metroConnections since 2013. Since being hired as a Production Coordinator in the Production Service division, Foels has been promoted and is now serving as Producer. In her role, she engages in several facets of the business and manages clients, executes corporate events and performs detailed project management. Foels graduated from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota with a degree in marketing. With offices in Minnesota and Florida, metroConnections translates business goals and key messages into informative and memorable events that engage, inspire and move attendees. www.metroConnections.com
In event planning, bigger is better when it comes to clients, productions and celebrity speakers, but “big” can result in high-profile events with a whole new level of logistics, security, registration, bodyguards and more. How can a planning company navigate these challenges and pull off a successful, high-profile event? The keys: a good contract with talent that complements your program, and plenty of preparation!
What separates a high-profile event from any other? It usually is defined as such by the client, whose attendees, guests or speakers may include well-known celebrities, entertainers, political leaders, popular keynote speakers or other VIPs representing the client. These big names attract much more attention and publicity than a standard event.
“These big names attract much more attention and publicity than a standard event.”
It’s easy to be star-struck by the thought of hiring a famous figure as a speaker, but it’s important to determine if they are an appropriate fit based on the program objectives. Is leadership the theme of the event? You might want to skip on that reality TV star. Just as there are endless purposes and themes for events, there are endless celebrity options that would make an appropriate choice. When developing content for a particular program, be sure to ask how the speaker, celebrity or VIP contributes to the overall message and objectives.
The first step in arranging for a high-caliber speaker is contacting their agent or assistant who manages the communication related to their schedules, needs and expectations. Often, they will provide a “rider, ” which is a document that has special provisions not generally included in an original contract. A rider may contain specific expectations or requirements relating to the staging or AV, or perhaps required items such as specific food and beverage, lodging expectations, hair and makeup needs and green room requirements, which will provide them a space to relax and prepare when they aren’t onstage.
The more popular a speaker or entertainer is, the more likely they will need security — either provided or they may bring their own. This information often can be found in the rider, but it’s important to clarify if you are unsure of any details.
If you hire an elected official or former president, be aware that the Secret Service is an additional audience you will need to cater to. They will have their own requirements, including a full review of the space and the sight lines of the room where the presentation is held. Consider allocating an assigned staff person to meet and direct your high-profile presenter through the venue, making sure that they and their security detail get from point A to point B smoothly and effectively. Be sure to provide a route that avoids the general public; crowds can slow things down substantially and provide a security risk.
A big-name speaker or entertainer can have an impact on the registration process, and oftentimes registration and hotel reservations are handled as a stand-alone project to ensure all elements of housing and conference information are shared with your high-profile guest. This is a particularly important element of the planning process, as they may have certain housing requirements. Managing the transportation is another big project, potentially involving charter flight schedules and private drop-off and pick-up of the talent and their associates.
Determine the logistics of your presenter’s schedule and how it fits into the conference or meeting agenda. Are they leaving immediately following their presentation or entertainment, or do they want to stay and network with your attendees? If you plan a meet-and-greet space, that may involve setting up what the industry refers to as a “step and repeat,” a banner wall or publicity backdrop that is used primary for event photography printed with a repeat pattern such as branded logos. Step-and-repeats are very popular at fashion events, galas or on the red carpet where photos are an important part of the overall event; plus, they keep things moving in an organized manner.
With these aspects in mind — expectations and requirements, security, registration, transportation and scheduling logistics — the next step is signing the actual contract. If possible, it’s best to try and negotiate the overall contract, including any rider elements. The more information that is spelled out in the contract, such as rehearsal dates and times, security check reviews and walkthroughs, the better for all parties involved. A general rule for contracts: Do not make assumptions and be sure to have clear communication, outlining all needs and costs so that everyone has a specific, straightforward understanding of the contract.
Now that you have your talent signed, how do you ensure that their brand doesn’t compete with your own? Ideally, you have arranged for a speaker or performer that enhances, rather than detracts from your company brand. You can have them help you further cement your brand and message with a little preparation: providing key taglines in advance, helping them understand the objective of your program and asking for their advice on how they can support your message are some great ways to ensure that neither side is taking away from the other.
Additionally, depending on the type of conference, keynotes and celebrities may allow you to leverage their status to generate excitement and boost overall attendance. Using their photos and experiences in marketing materials as well as social media is generally considered acceptable, but ask for permission beforehand.
On the other hand, photography and video are typically banned from most keynote, celebrity and high-profile presentations or entertainment, as most talent understandably wants to protect their brand. However, it never hurts to ask, and if you gain permission, it’s best to outline the guidelines in the mutual contract agreement.
As with any presenter, preparation is key. However, a high-profile speaker or entertainer may not have the time in their schedule to do much in terms of preparing. Working through their agent, arrange a time to meet onsite, if possible, to go over the basics: where they can relax or warm up prior to their appearance, the routes they will be taking to and from the stage, and a rundown of the conference or meeting theme, the brand, logo and company history. If you are unable to rehearse with them prior to the big day, be sure to work with their agent on any briefing notes. Once your VIP arrives, be sure to take a few minutes to inform them of the must-know items: stage direction, time allotment, panel member attendance, talking points, camera angles and any backup plans for technology failure.
Generally, celebrity and keynote speakers are quite comfortable onstage, but it’s best to treat them all as if it’s their very first time. Be knowledgeable about who they are and what their subject is, provide compliments and suggestions (if asked), and ensure that all their requirements have been met. If all goes according to plan, your talent will be happy, your audience will be engaged, your message will come across loud and clear, and you can consider the program a success! C&IT