Why introduce social impact practices into your corporate event? It’s simple and powerful: Social impact initiatives help build brands, create and build relationships, and drive sales — all of which are desirable outcomes for every event investment.
The suite of events that normally align with social investments — such as STEM, global health, the arts and environmental stewardship — are relatively understood and expected. We’d like to focus on events that aren’t usually associated with social impact: customer events, trade shows, sponsorship activations, sales meetings, user conferences, and others. These events — relatively standard, mandatory productions — also have the ability to become powerful tools for social impact.
Why, then, are the social impact benefits of these events not usually embedded in business models or the conversation? If an event, sponsorship or public engagement is an opportunity to interface with partners, develop relationships and reinforce your brand, why isn’t social impact considered from the very beginning?
One answer: activation.
Companies are often worried about finding ways to seamlessly include social impact in their existing business models and fear that these practices could amount to large, additional expenditures that never truly find their place. They may find themselves caught between shareholder expectations and the changing definitions of profitability and success, and some companies — especially older, larger ones — can hesitate.
There’s also the issue of relevancy. Why do your company’s values or social investments matter to your customers, partners, and employees? What role do these initiatives play in the development of events or meetings? Simply put, our position is this:
If your social investments reflect the true nature of your brand, they should have a place in these events.
For the past quarter-century, the process our own event management firm, Wilsonwest, has been defined by four key stages: insight, innovate, implement, and interpret/measure. We guide each of our clients through their event strategy, from conception to completion, in conjunction with this model. It can also help you align your company’s core values and social impact investment to guide and inform your event strategy.
Step 1: Insight
The discovery phase is where events management firms learn more about your business, your event objectives, and the competitive landscape in your industry. Considerations in this stage include:
- Who is your audience?
- What are the desired outcomes?
- Who are the stakeholders?
- Why does this event matter?
At this phase, the conversation around corporate social responsibility (CSR) should be high-level to inform your work and discover potential alignment. Ask yourself questions like:
- What are your company’s values and social investments?
- How do they support or align with the objectives and desired outcomes of your event?
- Do they matter in the context of this event?
- Do your event objectives include a CSR component?
- Are your event stakeholders champions of CSR?
Step 2: Innovate
As you build your event model, consider the foundation of your event: the who, what, where, when and why.
Just as you think about the obvious — venue, speakers, design — how can you consider elements related to your company’s social impact practices? Look for actionable things you can do to integrate social investment, such as:
Diversity: Be mindful of who is speaking on the main stage.
Environment: Create a sustainability plan for your event, and choose venues that are LEED certified and supportive of your company’s mission.
Education: Is there a learning opportunity for students or nonprofit partners? If so, give them access to some sessions at your event.
Content: Let’s say you’re in the big-data space. You can bolster your social impact content by, for example, featuring a keynote speech that makes the business case for using data for good in fields health or science. You might inspire your audience to participate in a larger initiative that has a great social value.
Giveaways: Everyone loves the event swag. Choose a giveaway that is responsibly made and provides a charitable give-back.
Measurement: Develop an event scorecard to measure your work. What gets measured gets done.
Communications and social media plans: Share your goals, and invite others to participate and join in the conversation or initiative. This can be done via social media, on the main stage with a message from your C-suite, or via an event app.
Step 3: Implement
Now it’s time to put your event into action with a detailed onsite plan. Here are some simple steps to ensure all your planning and checklists pay off:
- Brief your key stakeholders and event staff on planned initiatives, and be sure to get their support.
- Engage with relevant nonprofits, such as hunger-relief organizations that can make use of leftover food.
- Donate any excess event materials.
- Appoint members of your onsite team as environmental stewards.
- Share the work you are doing with your audience and vendor partners to inspire them to follow your lead.
- Use your event app to encourage and evaluate stakeholder engagement.
- Ensure that your social impact initiatives receive full support as primary not secondary goals.
Step 4: Interpret and Measure
How did the event measure up? Conduct a post-event survey, and analyze event performance against established goals to inform future event and business strategy. These simple tips may help:
- Use your event scorecard to evaluate your performance. If your goal was to reduce environmental footprint, for example, how did you measure up?
- Conduct an in-depth, post-event debrief and capture input from all stakeholders.
- Use your learning to inform and support future work.
- Share the results of your work to engage and inspire others.
- Rethink your definition of success (ROI) to include the impact of your social investments as part of the event.
Mattingly Messina also assisted in the creation of this article.
Cindy Wilson is the founder of Wilsonwest, a highly respected client-driven event management and marketing agency based in San Francisco. She is passionate about helping customers drive sales, build brands and deepen customer relationships through social impact, strategic events and meetings.