Friday, December 23, 2016

Engaging Millennials for Events

-By Mairead Delaney

The event profession is better today than ever. As event pros, we have the most engaged, captivated audience (read: millennials) DYING to tell the world about our events. Gone are the days of only relying on PR firms to spread the word. People love to share on social media. They love to review, comment, like… brag. Our event-goers are so willing to put out the good word for us — but they’re equally willing to throw us under the bus if the event doesn’t meet their standards. So how do we keep the birds chirping instead of crowing? 

For one, we’ve got to listen to them. Millennials are not the mysterious group everyone touts them to be. In fact, they’re quite vocal; the challenge is knowing where to find them since they won’t always come to you.

Knowing Your Audience’s Preferred Social Platforms
At this point it’s a no-brainer to set up an event hashtag to monitor the feedback on social media. You already know that.  However, that only works if you have ample staff to reply in real time. Additionally, you need to know your audience. What are their preferred social platforms? An audience of premium retail shoppers will more likely provide their feedback on Facebook; whereas, eSports spectators will gravitate toward Twitter (or better still, Reddit). Go to these platforms, read what people have to say, and, most importantly, have the right staff in place to decipher and prioritize what needs to be fixed immediately and what can be used to help improve the experience next time.

Identifying Event Ambassadors
The next challenge is remembering that everyone is an ambassador. Event ambassadors come in all shapes and sizes — from the lead event producers to the registration desk to the janitorial staff — everyone onsite has more than one job; everyone is integral to the event-goers’ experience. Sure it’s great to have greeters or hosts who are “in the know,” but as my high school chorus teacher instilled in me, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Train and expect your staff (yes, even janitorial) to know where the landmarks of your event lie and encourage them to warmly interface with event participants throughout the day. Arm them with information to answer FAQs and train them on how to respond when they don’t know the answer. “I’ll find out and get back to you; how can you be reached?” is a much better response than shrugging “I don’t know” and pointing them in another direction. It’s about caring. In a festival-style event, this is especially important for security teams. Keeping people safe is their main objective, but they shouldn’t spoil the good time with a lousy or aggressive attitude.

Using Art to Create the Totality of Experience
The most memorable events transform us and take us to another world. Whether you aim to harbor a creative learning environment in a general session or to transport festival-goers to another dimension, create experiential events to provide experiences to event participants.

Often the best place to start is the entrance. Festivals achieve this by designing unique entrances or landmark artwork. Take for example the 2015 Dutch Windmill entrance at Outside Lands or the illustrious Caterpillar and Butterfly from Coachella (below).

Each of these examples sets the tone of the event from the onset and informs guests from the get-go that they were part of something special. The same theory can be applied to corporate events. Take the time and invest the resources to curate artistic inspiration for your event participants. An inspirational environment can rejuvenate your audience and stimulate meaningful conversations and creative problem solving.

Making the Brand Part of the Event
Sponsorship is key for many events, but simply slapping a logo on the top of a sign won’t do anymore. Millennials especially are looking for meaningful brand integration – and that’s good news for sponsors! Whether you’re a sponsor or an event producer, look for problems that need solving and invest your sponsorship dollars there. Let’s say, for example, your corporate group comes to town for a large-scale conference. Sure, the hotels are within “walking distance” of the convention center, but even with a brand-new set of Dr. Scholl’s inserts, walking back to the hotel after a long day on the showroom floor can feel like torture. Utilize your sponsorship dollars to hire a fleet of pedicabs to cart people back to their hotels. Not only will event participants easily identify the branded pedicabs, but your sponsor will love you for increasing their brand exposure to the whole city.

Recognizing the Value of Community
Millennial or not, human nature dictates our need for connection. It is why we congregate—why we celebrate. I want to share an example from an event Extraordinary Events produced this past fall.

In October, just before Halloween, we produced a three-day, all-day grand opening festival for a premium shopping center in Maryland. The shopping center is situated in an emerging area amidst many residential property developments and, to be frank, a lot of the neighbors weren’t exactly stoked that a big shopping center was impacting the local traffic flow. So how did we help the client alleviate relations with the surrounding neighbors? We invited them all in for a Safe Trick-or-Treat event: dynamic costumed characters manned decked-out thematic stations and interacted with kids and their families—handing out candy and treats, posing for photos – it was a hit! After two electric hours of trick-or-treating, more than 1,500 parents, kids, and pets marched through the property for a costume parade led by Frankenstein and Dracula. The evening closed out with a DJ-led group dance to “Thriller”.

Did the property make more money that night thanks to the costume parade? It did; but that’s not the point. The important consideration for the client and the families that night was that this brand – this big corporate shopping center—put in the effort to connect with the community and provide a safe place for their kids to celebrate Halloween.

I implore you to look beyond the ROI and remember that sometimes it is not realized in an immediate sale but rather a lifelong relationship to a brand that managed to go that extra mile.

Creating the Buzz
When it comes to engaging millennials at events, you either sink or swim. There’s no denying the double-edged sword that is social media – if they have a great time you’re a hero and they’ll willingly  brag to everyone in their network; if they’re dissatisfied with the experience, they’ll cut you down faster than you call yelp “Help!” Heed my advice above and couple it with bullet-proof planning, permitting and safety precautions. You can do this. I believe in you! Don’t let me down.

Mairead Delaney, an account manager at Extraordinary Events, has worked alongside a diverse range of producers and designers producing a wide range of events and activations nationally and internationally. You may contact Mairead via To learn more about Extraordinary Events, visit