I remember the night I learned that a successful event wasn't the pinnacle of success. It was 12 years ago at the Rainbow Room producing a prominent awards show, and the audio-visual company we hired was a complete disaster. Major setup delays got us off on the wrong foot, persistent sound issues exacerbated things, and queuing up the wrong video live was rock bottom. At the end of the night I worked tirelessly to stay on the opposite side of the room as the client, and vividly remember my feeling of relief upon confirming the Rainbow Room's windows were sealed shut.
When he finally did track me down (you can only hide in the kitchen so long) I won't say it was pretty, but I can confirm that we recently produced their event for the 12th consecutive year. Walking out of the Rainbow Room that night I thought there was no chance we would get rehired, but in the coming weeks I came to understand that there was more to the business than the end result. We had worked with the client for eight months leading up to the event. They were happy with the planning, they liked us, and there was an incredible amount of trust that had been established. Because of this, the client was able to weigh our overall value in the process and decided to give us a second a chance the following year. There certainly wouldn't have been a third try, but thankfully we're on a 12 year run of exceptional a/v results.
At Sequence we’ve spent countless hours crafting and refining our approach, with successful events and happy clients as equal priorities. Most of our tactics are easily replicable for planners and agencies alike; here are five tips to ensure client happiness.
1. Customize the Collaboration.
Producing a flawless event is the end-goal, but projects are won and lost during the planning process (more on this later). Working with clients is always collaborative, and can often span many months.
Before embarking on an engagement it’s important to understand a vision for the event, but it’s equally as important to understand your client(s) and their preferences.
How do they like to operate? Who will be involved in their decision making progress? Have they worked with an agency before, and if so, what was that experience like? Do your clients prefer to communicate by phone, email or in-person? Do they want a weekly digest of progress and deliverables, or one-off correspondence as things come up? Understanding who your clients are, irrespective of their events, will help you customize an approach that suits their needs -- and yours.
2. Know Where You Stand.
Make it a point to step away from the details and check in with your clients on a macro level. It's an opportunity to see how the event is going from their perspective (often a client’s priorities extend well beyond an agency's scope) and also get a sense of how they’re feeling about your contribution. If the feedback is good, it’s nice to have that as a marker during the planning process. If it’s not, you’ll want to know so you can make adjustments and not be surprised later on.
3. Embrace Criticism.
Not every idea you present is going to be well received, and that’s okay. But even those that don’t make the cut can be beneficial. When concepts or creative don’t resonate with your client, find out why. What didn’t they like? Were there any specific elements that might have been positive? Did you take something away from the initial brief that might not have been accurate? The more feedback you’re able to collect, the more likely your next round of ideas will hit home.
4. Don’t Forget to Debrief.
After your event is complete, make it a priority to sit down and review everything. First internally with your team, and then externally with your client. Hopefully you worked with the client at the onset of the planning process to identify key objectives by which to measure the event’s success. So you’ll want to review and analyze those metrics to be able to help determine the event’s ROI. Of course you’ll also want to assess what worked well and what didn’t, both on-site and during the planning process.
One tactic we implement for our debrief documents is a leading ‘Big Picture’ section, followed by the ‘Details'. This allows us to categorize and prioritize feedback, ensuring more important achievements or challenges don’t get lumped in with lesser ones.
5. Don’t Settle for a Perfectly Executed Event.
The difference between a great event and a happy client is subtle but significant. You can produce an event that is incredibly creative, well executed, delivers results, etc. If for whatever reason though the client isn’t happy you are likely not getting rehired. On the other hand you can produce an imperfect event with a laundry list of things to do better next time, but if the client is happy you are in a good place. Often times there’s a direct correlation between a satisfied client and a well executed event, but not always. At the end of the day a happy client trumps all, so make that your number one priority and the rest should fall into place.
The difference between a great event and a happy client is subtle but significant.
Thanks to everyone who's continued to make Sequence the agency that it is today. Here's to hoping that the next seven years are just as successful, and the ride is nearly as fun.