Special Event Lessons from the King
Special events are a cornerstone of the public relations business. Most seasoned communications pros will groan at the thought of a special event, but when you are starting out, they are amazingly fun. While most are boring and stale talking heads, sometimes a gem pops to the surface. I was reminiscing with some friends recently and while telling this story, came up with Five Event Lessons about Special Events from the King.
Nearly 30 years ago, before all the branded credit cards and affinity cards, the first co-branded credit card to hit the market was the Visa Las Vegas Card. A project between Visa and Las Vegas Tourism. My good friend and PR veteran Don Vetter was a senior PR director at at the now-extinct DRGM Advertising in Nevada and I was contracted to help launch this card.
I was to handle and coordinate the visual side, and with a couple of brainstorming meetings, somehow we meandered down a path that landed us with the Flying Elvi. What turned into over a dozen planning sessions, culminated with an event just off the strip at one of the property’s parking lots. This was to be a media extravaganza before the era of social media and influencers.
Nothing says Las Vegas like the King, Elvis Presley. The Flying Elvi are actually a licensed group of performers and professional sky divers who entertain all over the world — born from the movie Honeymoon in Vegas.
We needed to co-star the credit card, the Elvi, as well as the city of Las Vegas itself. What we ended up with was almost eight Elvi sky-diving into Las Vegas, just off the Strip, carrying the credit card. We had showgirls, music, a news conference tent, television, media and all the makings of a circus!
I mounted cameras to the helmets of two Elvi (their helmets are designed to look like the King’s pompadour!) and created larger than life versions of the cards on plastic to be held during the jump. These were full-size Nikon’s, before the era of lipstick cams and Go-Pros!
We teased the media with a photo shoot with the Elvi, a Cadillac convertible and showgirls at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. In short, we turned what could have been a boring news conference into a two-day media event where we led the news cycle for days.
Here’s five lessons to help your next special event. We learned some of these the hard way!
Lesson One: Plan like a Navy Seal
Leave nothing to chance. I had a vehicle full of backup equipment. Safety was primary for everything. The Elvi may look like it’s all about the fun, but safety comes first.
We could have used a couple more planning sessions, but 30 years ago we had the luxury of flying by the seat of our pants. Ensure that all of your team is on board with the goals and how you will be achieving them. Every component of your event needs to have a contingency and a back-up. This includes team members. No one can have a single role, and everyone needs to be covering another position.
Lesson two: Don’t get lost in the tactics
Strategy drives the tactics, not the other way. The tactics are the fun part for sure, but you have to be on point with the strategy to accomplish your goals. That means staying within budget and paying attention to details.
Lesson Three: Murphy is your co-pilot
“Murphy’s Law” will be omnipresent at your event, so be prepared for many components to fail and logistics to go awry. My greatest thrill post-event is when we don’t ever break the seal on the “oh sh*t case.” (For reference, this is a waterproof case that contains back-ups and everything one could ever need for a special event.)
Lesson Four: It’s about the story
Every event is always about telling the story. While this goes back to strategy, it’s about telling the story in a unique way. So many times, a booth is set up, a news conference scheduled, some contest created. But ask yourself, is this your best? Really, the BEST you can bring to the table? For Visa Las Vegas, it was about telling the story of two mega brands (Visa and Las Vegas) and what could we do to tell the story like no one else could.
Lesson Five: Beg forgiveness after!
One of the most important components of my event kit is a plastic bag for business cards, thank you cards and a stack of Starbucks gift cards. If you are pushing the envelope, you will step on toes, upset the apple cart, piss off a few people. Drive forward and get the job done with precision.
For our Visa Las Vegas event, this might have come in handy as the FAA nearly shut us down at the 11th hour. We must have been super persuasive! (That, and a PR team plus a bunch of Elvis impersonators and showgirls, they probably just wanted to get rid of us!)
The return for your company or your client can be amazing when you put forth the effort (and a budget helps!) and tell a story that creates unseen buzz and excitement. I wish we had social media then, this would have been epic! (Yep, I used that word!)
Thank you. Thankyouverymuch.
Ira M Gostin, MBA, APR is an investor relations, strategic marketing and communications consultant who helps companies of all sizes move the needle. Ira was named the Most Influential Marketing Executive of the Year for Nevada in 2018 by Acquisition International magazine. www.iragostin.com