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The Truth about Event Planning

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Posted At: December 10, 2008 3:20 PM
by Stephanie Summer

Weddings, birthday parties, formal dinners — planning events such as these does not even begin to describe a public relations job. Although many people think event planning is public relations, it is not. Planning an event is only one part of the job and the key is that it is part of a much bigger plan.

The campaign begins
In the world of PR, the campaign is implemented after a long amount of time is spent on research of an organization and its surroundings. The campaign contains the steps for the intended outcome, such as increasing awareness of an organization or its product.

In an article about public relations, “It’s not just party planning,” writer Jean M. McLean says it “is steeped in analytical thought.” She also concludes from University of Alabama associate professor and director of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations Dr. Karla Gower that “PR practitioners research organizations’ internal and external publics, clarify communication objectives and set communication strategies for each group they serve within the organization and without.”

Event planning is an effective way to use promotion, but it takes more than sending invitations, hanging up fliers, booking a location and budgeting. While all these aspects are part of an event, the main purpose of it has to be strategically brainstormed because it’s not about simply “throwing a party.”

In an online article, “All About Public Relations,” Pari Noskin Taichert discusses her PR role in a Art-Dessert Night event for her daughter’s school. Taichert points out some important PR parts of planning the event: defining the goal, audience and media. She also discusses partnership, which creates a collaborative event that can develop positive, long-term relationships.

No stranger to collaborative events, Dr. Hank Lazer, University of Alabama associate provost for academic affairs and executive director of the Creative Campus Initiative (an organization at UA that sponsors cultural art events) said, “Creative Campus tries to take a comprehensive, fresh approach by seeking creative ways to break out of the customary ways to present an event. It may mean seeking links and partnerships with various groups or departments on and off campus or linking the event to social activities.”

Creative Campus puts emphasis on the fact that it does not simply plan events, it encourages its employees and participants to take part in a bigger plan. Lazer said, “It may also mean thinking about ways of gathering assessment data for future projects.” The initiative is to continue to connect students to the cultural arts, not to plan events.

The PR aspect takes additional steps

- After completing a situation analysis, professionals focus on the purpose of the event according to the intended outcome of the campaign.
- Keeping the purpose in mind, they think about the target audience.
- Collaboration with other organizations is helpful depending on the type of event.
- The image of the overall outcome must be presented in the event itself: type of location and space, entertainment, flier or invitation, food and beverage, lighting and sound equipment (not a theme necessarily, but a way to engage the audience).
- After everything is planned, the event itself must be promoted.
- Use of social media: twitter, facebook, e-mail and blogs
- Personal calls or e-mails are good for select contacts.
- When using media, PR professionals keep in mind why this event will be beneficial for the organization and the target audience.
- Surveys or questionnaires are important uses for feedback because the event’s success must be measured.

The purpose of the event versus the planner
Now, most people could perform the tasks above, but does a person without PR skills know what a situation analysis consists of and the additional steps to take after the event has taken place? The purpose of an event must not only be implemented during the planning, but considered afterward as well. Public relations takes the additional steps because the overall plan is different than the plan for an event, such as a wedding.

Event planning is sometimes offered as a degree or course in college. In 2006, UA offered an interim term class on wedding planning. The students learned about the decision-making and problem-solving process utilized to design and execute a wedding event.

Courses in public relations do not contain event planning. The creative brainstorming and problem-solving techniques are applied to a different matter, rather than the event itself. It takes the basic event planning by storm and gives it a purpose rather than simply putting on a successful event. Of course, the key is to be successful, but one must also focus on what that success will bring to the organization and the long-term effects of the campaign.

PR uses events to connect communities in hopes to build relationships with the target audience. It is more than just getting a lot of people to come to an event. There are also surveys that must be done, not only according to the number of attendance, but also their thoughts on the purpose of the event.

The understatement of the century
Public relations is event planning. This statement is certainly not true. If public relations is event planning, why is event planning offered as a separate course or degree at some colleges?

Wedding and party planners have a completely different outlook on events compared to PR professionals. Simply stated, event planners focus on the basic steps and the short-term effects of one event, while public relations focuses on the outcome of the event according to the purpose of the campaign and its long-term effects on its internal and external audiences.

Eiler Communications’ Web site shows a chart of the parts of public relations with the headers “positioning,” “professional writing,” “media relations,” “corporate communication” and “periodic events.” Event planning is the last category under periodic events, which indicates it is only one part of a big process.

The Plank Center describes the education of a University of Alabama public relations student: “the core curriculum for undergraduate majors includes courses in mass communication, communication research, news reporting and editing, strategic writing, visual design, management, and media and campaign planning, among others.” Event planning does not have prominence in the study of public relations … it is only a small part of it.

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