For more than 25 years, Phil Jones has been hosting senior-level networking events in fields ranging from music and sport to design and digital business. As the entertaining season approaches, the founder of Podge Events shares his tips for staging functions that will attract a good crowd and leave the right impression
1. Plan – early and thoroughly
We do a huge amount of research before selecting dates for the four or five events we run every year. Each one requires at least six months of planning and three months of invitation-only marketing. Find out the dates of competing functions as soon as you can to avoid clashes. Autumn to winter is the busiest period.
If there are key people you want to attract, run the date by them at an early stage. A personal approach will make them feel valued and more inclined to commit their time.
Check your pricing too. We always ensure that we’re offering more value than our main competitors are, as networking functions are not business-critical events.
2. Choose a distinctive and accessible location
An attractive, central venue is crucial, especially if you want to draw in guests from out of town. In London, for instance, we have held our events at places including the Arts Club, the Café Royal, the IoD, the Groucho Club and L’Escargot. A place that people may not usually have the chance to visit makes it all the more appealing. We tend to steer clear of the standard conference venues.
3. Give it the human touch
The guest list is the most important part of a successful function – our events are all invitation-only affairs. Personalising every email takes longer, but it is worth every second. I have found over the years that, if you make people feel special and build relationships with them, they will rarely drop out on you.
4. Make your guest list a Who’s Who
The best way to attract high- quality guests is by having a high-quality guest list. We spend a lot of time putting feelers out to key people to check their availability before sending formal invitations. Once you have them on board, they will attract others. It’s an advantage to have an event website that shows the guest list – see sportspodge.co.uk, for instance.
Every year we ensure that at least half of our guests are new, which keeps a nice balance of fresh blood and familiarity.
5. Offer a novel experience
Given that people have so little free time and so many events to choose from, you need to make yours stand out from the crowd and ensure that your target audience will make space for it in their busy diaries.
Come up with a creative design theme that runs from the invitation through to the website and the lanyards. Make the function clever and fun; keep up with the times; and use the element of surprise. We always add something that is never expected but always topical and/or connected in some way to the guests. From the speakers to the entertainers, there’ll be a surprise – not the star turn, but always someone memorable and engaging.
6. Use the fear of missing out
The best marketing is word of mouth – we keep ours simple and personal. Most of our guests are recommended. We know that if a past guest has suggested someone, they are usually a good fit. We have tried to build a community that appeals year after year. If people can’t buy a ticket unless they have been invited, it creates a buzz, meaning that tickets to all the events we run are sought-after and, when people get their invitations, they’re quickly snapped up.
Phil Jones is the founder and organiser of Podge Events, a long-running series of gatherings for the biggest names in design, digital business, sport, music and more. He is a member of IoD South.