A simple guide to securing the right people to attend your event and how to manage that process efficiently
Securing the right type and the appropriate number of people to attend your event can be challenging if you've not had much experience in it. This guide walks you through what you should consider when creating an invite list, tips for ensuring you get the number of people you're aiming for, when you should send invitations out, how to manage RSVPs plus what every PR should do after an event. Sharing their extensive event insights are Anna Stark and Tahira Matthews from Stark Matthews.
“Providing cars/Ubers for guests helps ensure attendance. There is an added cost but if you're spending a lot on an event, you want to make sure the key people attend."
Listen to the full episode on The PR Pod podcast for more tips on managing a guest list and RSVPs. You'll also find this episode on your fave podcast players, just search "The PR Pod".
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CREATING AN INVITE LIST?
What is the purpose of the event? What do you want to achieve from it? Do you want to educate your guests about a new product or do you want to celebrate the launch of something? What style of event is the most appropriate to achieve the objectives?
Do you want media coverage from the event or are you after social media buzz? Or perhaps both? If the focus is lighting up social media, then you want to make sure the majority of your guests are strong in this space. If you stack the event with media who don't really use social media platforms or don't have many followers, it's unlikely you'll get much activity from that perspective.
Is there a specific number of people you want to attend based on the size of the venue? How many people do you need to attend for it to be successful? Just because a venue capacity is 100, would your manager/client be happy with 80? Understanding this in advance is important.
What is your budget? Your budget may dictate the size of the venue and the number of people you can cover with food and beverage costs.
Consider if you will be inviting a plus one for each guest. If your event is out of work hours then you should definitely consider it to encourage attendance. During work hours, it's generally not expected.
HOW MANY PEOPLE SHOULD YOU INVITE TO GET YOUR IDEAL NUMBER OF GUESTS?
A good rule of thumb is to invite about double the number of people you want there. If your event capacity is 40, invite about 70-80 of your A List.
Have an understanding of who is likely to attend based on the type of event, purpose and your knowledge of their previous event attendance. If capacity of the event is 20 people and you are very confident that 15 of them will be able to attend, then you might not need to go out to a list of 40 people.
Expect drop-offs in advance of event and on the day, especially if the weather is poor or the location isn't overly accessible so factor that into your RSVPs. If it's a cocktail event with a capacity of 100, you can probably accept 105 - 110 RSVPs knowing that there will be people who cancel.
WHEN SHOULD I SEND INVITES OUT?
Four weeks before an event is a general rule of thumb, but depending on the sector you work in, your client/brand and the style of event, you may need to get your invites out even earlier.
If you can't go out at four weeks, then consider sending a save-the-date at the four week mark so at least your guests can make a note in their diary and not accept a conflicting invitation.
If you're sending an e-invite, considering sending it individually to each guest as it makes it feel far more personalised
IF I'M NOT GETTING ENOUGH RSVPS, WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?
You should have a reasonably good idea of RSVPs by the end of your first week (providing you sent the invites four weeks in advance). If you're still sitting at less than 50% attendance at the end of that first week, I'd move onto your B List. This means the B list is still receiving the invite three weeks out from the event and they won't feel like an after-thought.
Ensure you/your team members are reminding media about the event when they speak to them about something unrelated. If you're checking up on the status of media coverage for another client, ask if they received the invite and if they're planning on joining the event.
If you sent out a print invite, follow up with an e-invite after a few days to make sure the print version hasn't gone missing. That usually encourages people to respond more quickly.
When it comes to the RSVP date, there's two options:
Put an RSVP date of about two weeks out from the event. That way if you don't have enough RSVPs you can still go to an extended list without those additional guests feeling like a B list
Alternatively, set the RSVP date for about five business days prior to the event but send a RSVP reminder out three or four days out from the RSVP date to remind them to get their RSVP in
HOW CAN I TRACK RSVPS?
It is far nicer to personally respond to each RSVP, regardless of whether it's a yes or a no, than to send an automated reply. It shows the guests they are more than just a number and are a valued part of the event.
Have an excel list to track every RSVP. Highlight the yes in green and the no in red as a way of easily seeing where you're at.
If people can't attend and they provide their reason why, make a note of it so you can easily let your manager/client know if asked.
File every RSVP in your email inbox. Create folders for Yes and No so you can easily find them again if needed. Do not delete any emails!
WHEN SHOULD I SEND AN EVENT REMINDER TO THOSE WHO ARE ATTENDING?
Send a personalised email the day before the event to let everyone know you're looking forward to seeing them and if they can no longer attend, to please let you know. This is a great way of finding out in advance if someone has double-booked themselves and can no longer attend.
Also include a recap on the timings, and make it clear if there is an element they should be present for. For example, if there is a presentation or if everyone needs to be seated by a certain time for a dinner. Clarify the location and any details that will make it easy to find, include details on public transport links and parking, provide a mobile number and name of a contact should there be questions/issues on the day and include the relevant social media accounts and hashtags that should be used in the event.
If people turn up unexpectedly to an event that you know were invited but you don't have an RSVP for, you should accommodate them if possible. It's best to not let them know you didn't receive an RSVP but just give them the impression they were always expected. It could be that they thought they had RSVPed and didn't so if you make a scene, it makes them feel embarrassed/angry/defensive. However, you should only be accommodating if you know they were invited and you want them there.
If someone turns up that you know you have declined previously or were not invited in the first place, then you need to politely let them know they can't be accommodated. Don't be rude - you never know when you'll deal with these people again and you need them to attend something.
Don't print the list at the start of the day of the event as it's very likely there will be some last minute changes. Print just before you depart. Include the list of people who declined or didn't respond as well, just in case they turn up.
Make sure the list is sorted by surname/first name or company so it's easy to find guest names
For the smaller events, pop an image next to each person's name on the list you're using to check people off. It helps you recognise someone if you've not met them before (or not seen for a while) and makes them feel special that you recognise them. It's also helpful if your client/manager wants to identify someone.
If you have a photographer at the event, get them to download the images every 30 mins or so and have a staff member identify the people in the shots. You can then send those professional pics to them then and there, for them to post. It means they have a gorgeous pic of themselves which encourages them to share in the moment. I'd also resend any pics they feature in within the follow-up email the next day.
The day after event, send an individual email to everyone who attended to say thanks for taking the time to be at the event, and follow up with any extra information/media release/images.
If you want some more tips on anything to do with events, you'll find some other podcast episodes here.