A chartered yacht for a client’s incentive program

By Anne Frey-Mott

New event planners are often astonished to learn just how much goes into site selection. Choosing the right city and the right venue can serve as a powerful instrument in setting the tone for any gathering. Certain cities can be more attractive to attendees than others for a variety of reasons, as can types of hotels, conference centers, outdoor venues, and other locations once you’re on the ground.

Then, of course, there’s the budget conversation. As someone who has been in the events business for more than 20 years—and in 2008 launched The Event Studio with Elizabeth and Beckie—I’ve learned countless valuable lessons in how to match a client with the perfect site.

Whether you’re finding something new for a longtime client or approaching prospects, here are a few questions that can help narrow down your site search.

Question #1: What is the objective of the event?

In other words: What is the message you’re trying to get across? What do you want to do with this event? What is the reason you’re putting this on?

I recommend asking this questions before all others. The answer will inform everything from content to speaker selections to the type of catering companies to query.

Question #2: Who are the attendees and how many are you expecting?

Questions about audience demographics are multi-layered. In addition to knowing the type of people a client is trying to attract (if the event is a pay-gate gathering versus a mandatory sales kickoff, for example), it is important to know where people will be coming from. Choosing a location that is easily accessible with one flight (two tops) from most metropolitan cities is preferable to sites that takes three planes, a charter bus, and a boat to get to (trust me, those also exist).

The more detail you can get about attendees, the better. What modes of communication do they prefer? Are they active on social media? Did they fill out surveys in past years about conference preferences? (The latter can be a huge information source when talking with potential clients.)

Question #3: Where have you held events in the past?

If you’re in the proposal stage of landing a client, it may be a little awkward to ask about budget right off the bat. I’ve found that asking questions that inform a budget are easier to stomach and help with information gathering. That’s why you should ask a potential client where they’ve held past events.

If the answer is a Ritz-Carlton in New York City or San Francisco, it will lead to a different budget conversation than if they last held their event at a civic center in the Midwest.

Once you get the answer about past events, try asking if they’d like to do the same this year or if they are looking for something more/less flashy, etc.

Question #4: Do you have a breakdown of the agenda?

Not all clients will know exactly what they want, content-wise, and that is OK. I actually find it to be a fun opportunity to work with a client on content ideas. There are so many creative concepts planners can pose when starting the agenda conversation (Beckie recently wrote about how to attract marquee speakers on a budget), and it can be enjoyable to ideate with clients about topics and sessions most important to them.

But if a potential client already has a full agenda breakdown—great! We had a client who needed 22 breakout rooms, all with natural lighting in San Francisco.That information was incredibly helpful in forming ideas on the types of venues that could serve as the best vessels for that specific agenda.

Question #5: What are your non-negotiables when it comes to venues?

This question often results in pretty revealing answers. We worked for years on an event whose platinum sponsor was Mercedes-Benz. Part of the sponsorship required 3-5 Sprinter vans staged at the venue, often times in the ballrooms and exhibit space. On one occasion we actually needed to use a crane to get the van into the space. Many times we would have the perfect location, but could not use the property because the elevator was too small, or the the ballroom did not allow access. 

It is really nice to know these things up front so you can both fold them into your budget quote and make sure there won’t be any surprises later on.

The Event Studio (TES), founded in 2008, is led by its three co-founders Elizabeth Busch, Beckie Jankiewicz and Anne Frey-Mott who met while building Inc. and Fast Company’s storied event business. We firmly believe live experiences make lasting connections and move business forward, and have built our business over the past 10 years doing just that for clients ranging from enterprises like Genesys and HP, to publishers such as Fortune and Bloomberg Business, to household names like Airbnb and Lexus. We bring inspiration to the table.