Welcome to the beginning of the countdown. This phase lays all the important groundwork that serves as the foundation for a strong and professional relationship. In other words, its super important, but can be oh so boring. The fun part, for me at least, is finding out everything I can. Finding out about background, market, goals, physical space and even the organizers themselves is a real pleasure for me. As such, for initial meetings I toss out any preconceived notions of what may work best for the event, listen carefully, ask questions and take notes as I get to really know the organizers and their process. Along with giving all this primary information, the organizers should also focus almost solely on timeframe and scope of work and not be seeking creative direction in this initial phase, and you should not offer it.
So let’s summarize these points somewhat and also broad stroke a few of the issues we’ll tackle in the rest of the series:
Timeframe: The organizers may not realize it, but having enough time to create and deploy a campaign is the most important item on your agenda. It literally set’s pace for everything you do. Countless times I am brought into a project already under the gun to deliver final creative because organizers have not properly allotted for the time needed to create a complete base campaign. I’ll really push to get as much time as I can to achieve an acceptable timeframe for the initial creative process, but if time is already short, also offer things like creating professional, simple slogan-based teasers and save-the-dates. This isn’t ideal, but sending out half-baked or ill-conceived visual concepts as the final product is far worse. And you definitely don’t want to confuse the public by rolling out a different brand later. Once the brand is created it is a lot easier to hasten the process in the delivery phase. And more economic.
Scope of Work: Making the brand modular is the key to success for both you and the organizers. If this hasn’t been your mantra for developing brand before, it’s time to get on board. Even more than the digital environment, events require significant scaling. Create the campaign that can be scaled to very large proportions physically, but can also to be brought down too much smaller sizes and still retain the core look and message. Achieving this goal will make planning and deploying the existing scope of work achievable, and the organizers will be pleased to know that the effort also equates to lessening the time and expense for new needs if they arise. It also increases the likelihood of you actually doing most of the work rather than having it passed off to less informed and often less experienced hands, just to get it done on time. These types of interventions can be disastrous to a campaign, so a fully fleshed out and modular campaign can make all the difference. Of course, I realize that this is not always the case when passing along your brand campaign. It is rare if your area of expertise is broad enough to provide for the complete scope of the event. Especially nowadays, where a strong and diverse digital component is required. Being prepared by having a terrific and trusted vendor list to offer up can make for a smoother more predictable process.
Budget: After you’ve dug in deeply, digested, and laid out a clearer path, scope creep may already be a factor, so it may be immediately necessary to redefine parts of the budget. I’m always eager to please, but budget is your first and possibly greatest hurtle with organizers. I find keeping things open about these administrative issues right from the beginning really helps build trust. It is a far less bitter a pill to swallow for either of you to address budget now, than having to bring up these issues in the heat of process or worse when it comes time to invoice. Estimated time cannot always be evaluated immediately, but if it appears to be more than minimal hours, be sure to let them know as soon as possible and come back with an estimate or offer alternative more economic solutions. As a professional, that’s really what you are there for, so try and be the organizers “go to” person for possible workarounds. See it as a challenge to an already hurried process. Most organizers are crazy busy, so if you aren’t there when they need you, your poor response will lead them to use others and their solutions. Finally, though I know many folks that feel otherwise, I believe in itemizing the budget and the invoice. If a project goes so smoothly that you actually got to bill cost as estimated, that is great, but otherwise accountability makes it far easier to explain budget issues. I prefer to bill in phases, so expect to have it brought back up a number of times throughout the whole cycle. A strong paper trail helps me to be ready to discuss it whenever necessary. And it serves as a reminder that you are playing by the rules that were mutually established.