Southwest Florida residents like to joke that we have two seasons: tourist season and rainy season.

In our business, though, there is a third season that overlaps the others – event season.

Our region’s “high season” for events extends from October through April, nearly matching the period when beautiful weather draws more seasonal residents and visitors. Nonprofits, charitable causes, churches and community organizations host a steady stream of galas, dinners, auctions, festivals, golf tournaments, awards banquets, trivia nights and more, each focused on raising awareness and support.

Creating a memorable evening in a market with no shortage of special even

ts isn’t easy, especially for an organization trying to roll out a new event.

Priority Marketing, which offers turnkey event management services, planned and executed Hope Healthcare’s new benefit on Oct. 11 at the historic Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Appropriately named “SHINE,” the elegant evening affair featured cocktails, dinner, music, entertainment and a “Fund-A-Need” Live Auction to support the essential services of Hope Kids Care. More than 250 generous individuals attended Shine, raising an impressive $440,000 to fund programs like counseling, social services, medical care and more.

Shine, by all measures, was a resounding success.

Priority Marketing has planned, managed and executed hundreds of marquee events since the company was founded in 1992, including Market Watch, Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Magic Under the Mangroves, Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida’s Business Hall of Fame, Kids’ Minds Matter’s Secret Garden Gala, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida’s Grand Opening Gala, the Uncommon Friends Foundation’s World Premier and more. Beyond fundraising events, our team also has coordinated the VIP Night and Media Event for the grand opening of Dave & Buster’s, a well-attended groundbreaking of Lucky’s Market for Creighton Construction and the grand opening of Shangri-La Springs’ organic restaurant Harvest & Wisdom, among others.

We’re proud to have managed events for SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc., Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other organizations that have generated upwards of $3.2 million for a single event, not to mention buzz in traditional media, social media and the community.

That’s why it is so important to hire an expert planner for your next big event. The experienced event management team at Priority Marketing offers these seven tips to successfully manage your next special event:

Define your budget

Set your budget at the get-go, and hold firm. Otherwise, your event will define your costs, which usually means you’ll spend way more than you anticipated. Create a spreadsheet to break down all of your anticipated costs like rentals for facilities and equipment, entertainment, photography, food and drinks, decorations, valet parking and invitations. Use a separate column to track what you are actually spending leading up to the event.

Keeping a running list of expenses on one sheet will help costs from spiraling out of control before you know what hit you.

Temper your dreams

While it would be wonderful to book an elegant beachfront venue, dine on lobster and filet mignon, and have a Grammy-winning artist perform at your event, that likely isn’t going to happen. It’s OK to start mapping a plan based on your dream event, but be realistic. Your budget limitations often dictate what you can or cannot have.

Use data

Become best friends with the numbers and use quantifiable metrics to determine if the decisions you’re making are having a real impact. If you’re planning a mid-sized event and expecting to generate $50,000 in fundraising revenue, don’t spend $50,000 in upfront costs. Your primary goal should be to maximize profit.

Study past events to analyze where you could have done better financially. Perhaps you paid too much for a venue or entertainment, and that cut into revenue for the programs you’re trying to support. Data is a valuable learning tool.

Negotiate

This is where professional event planners and managers have the edge over DIYers and those who don’t regularly coordinate special events. Priority Marketing has established relationships with audio-visual specialists, venue owners, equipment rental companies, entertainers, caterers and other vendors, and our familiarity with pricing, services and the competition offers supreme bargaining power. We have creative minds that allow for unique solutions while still creating events that resonate with attendees.

When a vendor outlines contract terms, don’t be afraid to counteroffer. It’s like buying a car or home – everything is negotiable.

Creativity is key

Many special events are held in the same hotel ballrooms, conference centers, tourist attractions and historic homes. What makes your event unique? Pour your energy and time into event design because the guest experience is a significant factor in the event’s success for this year and beyond. Magic Under the Mangroves, for examples, raises money to benefit initiatives that help the region’s environment, so the event’s backdrop is a pristine outdoor setting that celebrates the natural environment that the Conservancy is trying to protect.

Lean on the experts for guidance. Rental companies, audio-visual providers, caterers and entertainers do this week in and week out, and that means they’ve been a firsthand witness to knock-your-socks-off events as well as those where guests couldn’t wait to go home.

Photo ops

Every guest at your special event will have a smartphone in their pocket or purse. You don’t want it to stay there the whole night. Instead, create a scene so imaginative or décor so beautiful that they feel compelled to share images on social media and text with their friends. Every element of your event, from the floral arrangements and table settings to ice sculptures and dessert displays, should be photo-worthy.

Sense of humor

Don’t forget to enjoy the moment. Nothing ever goes 100% according to plan, even for expert planners. Be able to roll with the punches and laugh along the way. When Plan A goes awry, have a Plan B and Plan C in your back pocket. The alternatives might not be exactly what you envisioned, but staying open to different perspectives ensures that you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

And here is a bonus tip: After hosting your event, take time to review what went well and what could be improved upon next year. Make a list while it’s still fresh in your mind.

Do you need event management services? Give us a call today at 239-267-2638.