Your checklist for a successful Festival of Social Science activity

The ESRC impact toolkit offers a comprehensive range of information to help ensure a successful event. To get you thinking about some of the issues of putting on an event we have compiled this basic checklist:

  1. What are you trying to achieve?
  2. Planning, planning, planning
  3. Budget
  4. Programme
  5. Marketing
  6. Publicity and support materials
  7. Media relations
  8. Evaluation
  9. and finally...

1. What are you trying to achieve?

This really is the key question. What are you trying to achieve? There is little point in organising an event for the sake of it. These are the kind of questions you need to be asking yourself:

  • What do you want to say?
  • What is your key message?
  • What is the most effective way to communicate your key message?
  • Who do you want to get your key message to?
  • Who is your key audience?
  • How can you benefit from interacting with your audience?
  • What is the best way of interacting with your audience?
  • What do you want your audience to get from your activity?
  • What do you want to get from your activity?

2. Planning, planning, planning

Prior preparation and planning prevents poor performance! Every activity needs to be planned with as long a lead time as possible.

Begin your planning by working backwards. When is your activity? When's the best time to issue a press release? When do you want to start sending out flyers and invites? How long does it take to design and print your invites? How long does it take to build the invite list? When do you need to book your venue by? When do you need to book your speakers by?

By now you should have worked you way back to at least four months before your event. Build yourself a critical timeline and set targets and deadlines.

Bear in mind that your speakers' availability will dictate which date you can book your venue. Your target audience will dictate what time of day the activity should be. Marketing and support materials all take time to produce.

Look forward, be prepared, and allow plenty of time for the unexpected.

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3. Budget

Venues cost money, speakers cost money, production of materials cost money, refreshments and beverages cost a lot of money! What is your budget?

All Festival events must be free to attend. Generally, the ESRC does not recommend charging for most events because of the administrative costs involved, and the cover charge can put attendees off. Insurance is advised - most insurance policies will cover abandonment, cancellation or curtailment of a conference for any reason out of your control.

ESRC can provide up to £2,000 towards your costs, providing the activity is consistent with our strategic aims and objectives.

4. Programme

When building the programme for your event, you should take into account the following:

  • The main purpose of the event. Is there a key message? Is there going to be audience participation?
  • The make-up and expectations of the audience. What are they looking for from this event? How will you keep their attention and ensure they are motivated to contribute?
  • Most audiences will find it difficult to sit without a break for longer than an hour and a half. Speaker presentations should be kept as short and concise as possible.
  • Allow plenty of time for interactive sessions. No one likes to be talked at all day long.
  • Often debates can take a while to warm up. Plant a question or two in the audience, or instruct the chair to kick off with a good question.

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5. Marketing

All marketing and support materials should include the Festival of Social Science brand as well as your own investment / organisation branding. Your activity may require a marketing plan using the full range of communication tools. You will need to consider:

  • Direct mail shots, with personalised letters to important delegates you wish to attract.
  • A professionally designed flyer or invites, present who will be speaking and encapsulating the essence of the activity. This should be sent out widely and displayed in public places like local libraries.
  • Email shots to potential delegates. It is quite easy to build up large email lists or they can be supplied by external marketing companies.
  • Use the media to generate publicity about the event in advance. Issue a press release or try and place a story in the local media.
  • Advertise in key publications.

6. Publicity and support materials

Publicity and support materials are important for publicising your event, disseminating your findings and communicating your key messages.

Choosing the right format for your materials will increase its chances of reaching and influencing the target audience. Print format is most common. Think about the quantities of the material you need. At low print runs digital printing is quicker and cheaper although the quality is not as good as litho print.

If your budget allows, use the services of specialist copywriters and designers. The ESRC can recommend specialists and offer advice on commissioning them. All of your materials will need careful editing and proof reading. Where possible, use a fresh pair of eyes for this.

Always have a schedule and project plan for the production of your materials. Be sure to allow adequate time for each stage and leave plenty of contingency time to deal with problems.

Remember think in advance about how to distribute your materials. Do you need to buy in mailing lists to distribute your materials? Can you get other organisations to distribute them for you?

Finally, if you are creating a pack of support material, don't over-load your audience with too much information. What do you want your audience to get from the pack? Remember your key messages.

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7. Media relations

From the outset think about your target audience and which media would be best to target to reach them. Would local press be more effective than national? Would specialist or trade press be more appropriate? What about radio or even TV?

You need to think about your key messages again. What do you want to get across to the media? How can you frame your message to make it media friendly? There are many more ways to communicate with the media than press releases - think about feature placement, photo opportunities and journalist briefings. Once more, preparation is key. The lead-in time for a specialist magazine may be several months, while a national newspaper will be days.

Avoid the use of jargon and technical detail when communicating with the press, especially when the audience is non-specialist. Make sure you are available to speak to journalists for several days after issuing a press release, and give them a mobile number too.

8. Evaluation

Don't forget about evaluating your activity. This is important because:

  • You can establish whether you have met your aims and objectives. Have you got what you wanted from the event?
  • You can assess the feedback of you audience. Have they got what you wanted from the event?
  • There's always room for improvement. Identify where you can improve your future events.

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9. And finally...

For much more detailed information, don't forget the impact toolkit - in particular the sections on events and after the event.