Event Planning for Your Corporate Reputation Management Strategy


September 7, 2022

By Dan Ward, APR, CPRC

You may not think of special events as part of your corporate reputation management strategy. However, these experiences can leave a lasting impression with positive impacts. 

First, wipe your memory of the public relations events portrayed on TV. Thanks to “Flack” and “Sex and the City,” public relations professionals for years have been misconstrued as improvisational party planners.  

In reality, special events are rarely about networking with celebrities while drinking champagne and eating caviar. Events are strategic communication tools, often used to complement other reputation management tactics.  

The actions we take, the messages we display, the layout of the space and the invitation list all send a message. Combined, these elements immerse guests in the essence of your brand. It’s important to build an experience that will create positive perceptions. 

Here are six tips for planning special events to elevate your corporate reputation management strategy: 

Define your measurable objectives.  

An event without a purpose is just a party. Before you plan any event, ask yourself, “What are we trying to achieve, by when and to what degree?” Like any strategic communications program, you should aim for a return on your investment. What does that return look like for your company or client?

Sample event objectives may include:  

  • Changes in opinion measured by surveys distributed before and after the event. 
  • Inclusion of key messages in media coverage of the event by outlets targeting your key publics. 
  • Engagement levels with social media content about the event.  

Align on message. 

Whether you’re hosting an announcement, groundbreaking, or a “meet your neighbors” open house, message consistency is important.

Even if company representatives don’t have an official speaking role, their participation in the event makes them spokespeople. Ensure they understand event objectives and the message you expect them to reinforce.  

Host a media and messaging training workshop for all event staff in public-facing roles, or at least provide them with a messaging guide and media policy in advance. If your team is faced with a tough question from event guests – especially media – they should know exactly what to say or do.  

Prioritize listening.  

Special events are a great way to gather input. Tell your stakeholders you want their input and they’ll share it.

We manage dozens of community outreach events for clients to share information about proposed projects. Although we are there to share information, we are equally focused on active listening. If we’re lucky, we learn something that may help the project. Either way, our client earns a reputation for being engaged with the community.  

Embed listening into your next event by: 

  • Creating real-time opportunities to share feedback. For example, printed surveys guests can complete and drop in a container or leave with event staff before departing.  
  • Observing how guests respond or react and documenting your notes. Do your guests spend more time reading or watching one aspect of the event than others? Do their questions center on a specific set of issues? If you truly pay attention, you may notice something worth addressing in your corporate reputation management strategy. 
  • Offering an email address or other outlet where guests may share their thoughts after the event. Some guests may feel more comfortable writing feedback than sharing in person.  

Know who gets things done.  

Something will go wrong. It’s inevitable. The key to pulling off a successful event is building a relationship with the person in facilities or operations at your venue who knows how to get things done. Every venue has this person. 

We once managed a groundbreaking event for a themed restaurant affiliated with the NFL Players Association. For the big photo moment, we had a banner strung between goal posts through which an NFL kicker would kick a football. Fifteen minutes before go-time, we noticed the banner was disconnected from one of the goal posts. Thankfully, one of our team members knew the person who got things done. They quickly fixed the problem before it could derail our event.  

Plan for 100% participation.  

Chances are slim that 100% of your invited guests will attend the event, but you should plan on it.  

If you plan on lower attendance when choosing a location, ordering food-and-beverage, and purchasing giveaway items, what happens if they all show up? I can tell you from experience that it isn’t fun.  

It’s a quick way to harm your credibility among the audience you’re trying to reach and influence. “This company can’t even host an event. How can they expect to [fill in the blank]?” It’s always better to have more of everything than you need. 

Express gratitude.  

If your event is part of a corporate reputation management strategy, your work isn’t finished when the doors close. It takes make hands to host a successful event. Find an opportunity to thank those who helped you; especially, staff and vendors.  

Take the extra step to hand-write thank-you notes. For larger undertakings, consider sharing a token of appreciation, such as flowers or a gift card. It’s rare to receive “thanks” for a job well done. Your thoughtfulness will help reinforce positive perceptions about your brand.  

Employ these tips to create an event that not only builds the reputation of your client or company, but also the reputation of PR as a strategic business function … even if it doesn’t make for good TV.  

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