Everything you need to know to plan and throw a successful special event.
August 2000, An E-News Featured Article
It’s 3:00 a.m.
Four weary-eyed twentysomething bachelors stand over a stove covered with pots of boiling water. “This is the last batch,” one says as gleefully as is possible at this time of night, dropping the eggs into the pot. Twenty minutes later, the last of 300 eggs are hard-boiled, colored and ready for the Easter Egg Hunt to take place a few hours hence.
And just like that, a tradition was born.
Nearly 20 years since that first event in 1982, Tim Fiebig’s annual Easter Egg Hunt has become a tradition in his hometown of Castro Valley, CA. His clients, friends and neighbors couldn’t imagine the Saturday before Easter without it. And in that time, Tim has made some major refinements, making it safe to say he can no longer be found standing over a hot stove in the middle of the night.
Today, the Easter Egg Hunt is divided into three age groups hunting for more than 2,000 plastic eggs filled with candy and toys. Anywhere from 200-450 kids attend in a given year, parents in tow, all drawn from Tim’s geographic farm area. It is an outstanding example of the power of promotions.
An Investment Worth Your While
With so much emphasis put on prospecting for new clients and providing high-quality service to the people you’re currently working with, continual farming of past clients for referrals and repeat business is, unfortunately, a subject that’s far too often overlooked. While your past clients undoubtedly receive your marketing materials, they are not often reminded how thankful you are for their business. And by failing to do so, you’re making your entire prospecting process much more difficult on yourself than it has to be.
That’s where promotions come in.
Promotions provide you with a forum where all of your past clients are thanked for their business, reminded how valuable they are to you and gently encouraged to refer you to everyone they know, all in one fell swoop. They also possess the ability to garner mass exposure to the rest of your farm area via public relations.
But throwing a successful promotion isn’t simple. It requires a great deal of planning and knowhow. That’s why, in this month’s article, we’re going to provide you with everything you need to know for planning a successful promotion, along with a countdown to the big day, a few suggestions for events of your own and more examples of the powerful impact a well-planned promotion can have on your business.
Where Do I Start?
Planning is the single most crucial element involved in any successful event. As much as six months planning can go into an event, although in most cases, 90-120 days will suffice. Planning includes, first of all, establishing a budget for your event and then deciding what you want to do. Once you decide on what your event will be, you need to select a site and secure any necessary permission, permits or reservations. For example, if you’re planning a community picnic, contact the city parks and recreation department. If you’re taking clients to a movie, talk with the theater’s manager, or preferably, the public relations representative.
Tim Fiebig usually secures his permit to use his neighborhood park at least two months prior to his Easter Egg Hunt. Because of his longtime involvement with the parks department, landscapers intentionally do not mow the grass, allowing it to grow for some time leading up to his event, which facilitates easier hiding of eggs in the ankle-deep grass. Another perk the parks department provides is giving Tim keys to the park so he can drive to the middle and unload everything early on the day of his event rather than hauling it all from the street.
Get A Helping Hand
An important step in the planning process is recruiting volunteers and securing sponsors to help offset costs via donations of cash or prizes. On the day of your event, you need to be free to mingle with attendees, and that’s why you need volunteers to “work” your event. Ask friends and family to help out, and reward them in some fashion afterward.
For Tim Fiebig, the team of three friends who helped boil all his eggs has grown into a group of 20-25. Leading up to the Easter Egg Hunt, Tim and his wife, Francine, ask friends and family members to come over and help fill the plastic eggs with candy. They cook dinner for everyone, make it a fun occasion and do it several weekends in a row to fill all the eggs and prepare all the prizes. Tim then includes all of the volunteers as guests at his VIP picnic that follows his Easter Egg Hunt (more on that later).
A Five-Point Plan to Ensure Your Event is Well-Attended
1. You’re Invited!
Once the planning stage is complete,print and mail your invitations 60 days prior to your scheduled event. This is a chance to have fun with it and get creative! To tie in with his event, Harry Cassidy of Allen Park, MI, invited about 600 past clients to a screening of “The Tigger Movie” by printing Tigger-themed invitations using a Winnie-the-Pooh software package. (Be sure to include an RSVP card or a telephone number for invitees to respond. Harry also mentioned the event in his monthly newsletter, giving his clients two chances to RSVP.) You should also follow up with reminders 45 and 30 days prior to the event.
In addition to his Easter Egg Hunt, Tim Fiebig holds a VIP-only picnic in the park for special clients and his volunteers. To those select clients invited to the VIP picnic, Tim creates special invitations. Tim’s VIP guests not only are invited to the picnic, but also get preference in line at the Easter Egg Hunt and get to participate in special pre-hunt activities.
2. Make Yourself a Star
In addition to the goodwill you will create with your current clients, a promotion is a great opportunity to generate local publicity. One month before your event, you should send a press release to all local media (newspapers, local television) along with an invitation. Follow up a week later by calling editors in person, pitching the story to them and encouraging them to attend your event. Remember: The more unique your event, the better the chance you’ll receive news coverage.
Harry Cassidy’s press release was printed by his local newspaper, and Tim Fiebig was once contacted by a local reporter who was writing a story on special events, which led to a three-quarter page story appearing on the front page of the community section of Tim’s local newspaper, the Tri-Valley Herald. That kind of exposure and credibility is priceless.
3. Build Anticipation
Fifteen days prior to your event, mail another reminder to everyone. Also send another press release to local news editors. Finalize and collect all the donations from sponsors, and mail them a thank you letter on your letterhead.
Also at this time, you should take the time to call everyone you invited. If they’ve already responded to your invitation, simply call to say hi and find out if they have any real estate-related questions, reminding them to call you anytime the need arises. For those who have not responded to your invitation, ask if they plan on attending as well as inquiring to see if you can answer any real estate questions for them. Don’t be shy — ask for their business!
4. One Week Left – One More Reminder
With one week left until your event, print and mail another reminder to all those invited. This may seem like overkill, but you’re building anticipation in each recipient. For his Easter Egg Hunt, Tim sends three invitations/reminders, the first of which is mailed four-five weeks prior to the event. The next is sent two weeks ahead of time, and the third and final invitation arrives in the week of the event.
Also at this time, conduct a final meeting with your volunteers, including delegating written instructions and detailed responsibilities. If you’re planning an outdoor event, develop emergency plans in case of inclement weather.
Write and mail a third press release to local news editors two to three days prior to the event. Also, mail one final reminder to everyone coming.
5. The Big Day
When the big day is finally here, make sure you arrive early to prepare for your event, but don’t tire yourself out! Let your volunteers do what they’re there for – let them do the work while you concentrate on the big picture.
When the crowd begins to arrive, you need to work the crowd, not the event. Terry Moerler, a well-known agent from Thousand Oaks, CA, holds three promotions annually: A Spring Extravaganza, Summer Picnic in the Park, and a Pre-Thanksgiving Open House. Terry has a policy of never intentionally talking real estate at her event. “My guests feel so welcomed and I never talk about real estate. I only say thanks to them.”
Terre Coffman, an agent from Houston, TX, throws an annual wine and cheese party, and she takes another approach. “Oh sure, business always gets brought up,” she says, noting that her party gives her clients a great chance to ask the questions they wouldn’t normally pick up the phone and ask. She said at last year’s event, a man casually asked her what she thought his home was worth and a few weeks later, she took the listing.
It’s Over. Now What?
Although your event has concluded, your work hasn’t. Immediately following the event, send a press release to local news editors along with photos of the event.
Within the next week, you will finalize the event by doing the following:
1. Make warm calls to attendees, thanking them for their attendance and asking for referrals and offering to answer any real estate-related questions.
2. Print and send a thank you note (preferably in keeping with the theme of the event) within two days to the entire list of invitees, not just those who attended. Don’t forget to thank your sponsors by asking people to patronize these establishments or businesses.
3. Send a thank you letter to all sponsors. Send copies of any direct mail pieces that mentioned them. Be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their assistance and that you plan on referring friends to them. Offer your service for any of their real estate needs and ask for referrals. Enclose several personal brochures.
4. On your personal letterhead, write a thank you letter to arrive the second week after the event to everyone who was invited. Thank those who attended, tell them how much fun you had and by other attendees, and express your desire to hold another event next year and/or soon. In closing, tell them how much you appreciate your business and ask for referrals. Also enclose a copy of your personal brochure.
5. Devise a way to show your appreciation to your volunteers. Two possible methods are to buy them each a gift or to throw a party for them and their families.
That’s it. Now get some rest and start thinking about next year’s event.
A promotion is not designed to pay immediate dividends, yet the impact it can have on your long-term business is phenomenal. Tim Fiebig says that once he works with clients, they tell him how the Easter Egg Hunt put him over the top. “They say, ‘We’ve been receiving your materials and we knew who you were, but then the Easter Egg Hunt really made us realize we wanted to talk to you.’ It shows that I’m willing to give back – I’m not just out there looking to do a deal, and that’s a good feeling.”
The face-to-face interaction of a successful promotion builds loyalty and can lead to the nirvana of real estate: “Customers for life.”
“I am a firm believer in taking care of the clients I have instead of going after new clients by farming and cold calling,” Terry Moerler says, whose three annual client promotions generate a steady stream of referrals she estimates at three per day, or about 1,000 annually. “When I started making time for those I cared about most, including my clients, their loyalty to me developed and the referrals started rolling in.”
The Price Tag
Tim Fiebig started his Easter Egg Hunt with a few hundred eggs, 100 prizes valued at $1 apiece and mailing expenses that added up to perhaps $500. Today, he estimates his annual event costs him $2500-$3000, which includes goodie bags for every child and promotional packet for the parents, handed to them on their way out of the park.
Harry Cassidy’s Tigger Movie promotion cost him less than $2000. “It certainly has paid for itself,” he says, noting several referrals-turned-closings he received as a result. He warns a promotion does have another cost involved: time. “It was very time consuming,” he says. “I really relied heavily on help from my assistants. I’m fortunate to have the business behind me to have help like that.”
For her three promotions, Terry Moerler estimates expenses approaching $20,000 annually, a small price to pay for 1,000 referrals, especially considering those referrals lead to grosses averaging $750,000 per year. Also, keep in mind that Terry’s Summer in the Park picnic draws 300-400 guests each year, for whom she hires clowns, a hot dog vendor and incurs other expenses, and her pre-Thanksgiving Open House has more than 400 attendees annually. Held at a restaurant, Terry presents a classy image while keeping costs down by offering appetizers instead of a buffet, wine tasting instead of wines by the glass and a cappuccino bar.
Terre Coffman is also cost-conscious in planning her promotions. Conducting her wine and cheese parties in her office, which is a restored Victorian home, lends the appropriate eloquence while incurring no expense. She hires several waitpeople to help coordinate everything and serve, and rents cocktail tables, chairs and high-quality linens rather inexpensively.
She buys her wines from a local wine shop, always making sure she has sufficient supply for the crowd of 30-50 who usually attend. For the cheese, Terre patronizes a gourmet market (Whole Foods) in her area. She estimates the cost at $1,000-$1,500, but says there’s an added bonus: “Whatever wines are leftover, I get to drink,” she says with a laugh.
Seriously, though, for the price, Terre feels her promotion is a no-brainer. “It’s a nice way to communicate with folks after they’ve closed. I get a lot of referrals and repeat business because of it. People are happy to see their Realtor still cares about them after closing, and making phone calls is too time consuming. That’s why doing it all at one time of year is nice.”