Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM President & CEO Rhino PR
As we discussed in our August blog, Keep It Flowing: Project Milestones Provide Steady PR and Marketing Content, project milestones are an excellent way to keep your firm visible. Achievements such as groundbreakings, topping off ceremonies, or ribbon cutting celebrations provide valuable opportunities to promote your firm’s great work.
Organizing a successful event takes time and careful planning. When your firm lands a big project, it’s key to develop a long-term strategic plan around design and construction milestones. Create a content calendar with estimated milestone dates and maintain communication with both your internal technical staff and other companies on the project team as work progresses to avoid missing an approaching achievement.
When a significant milestone is forthcoming, secure client approval to promote it and find out when the event will happen. You need ample time to invite guests and reach out to the press, so plan as far ahead as possible. Distribute save the date emails, and promote the upcoming event through your social media channels, website, and email newsletters.
Assuming another member of the project team will be inviting someone can be disastrous. Coordinate the guest list as a team effort to make sure all key players are invited, including:
- Project team, including architect, engineer, construction company, and all consultants
- Elected officials
- Community leaders
- Business associates such as bankers, advisors, and other professionals
- Neighbors and abutters
- Local and business press
- Family and friends
The more advanced notice you can provide your guests, the greater the chance of securing their attendance. Sometimes the guest list can even determine your event date. When LBC Boston hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the grand opening of Nova Residences, a new residential complex located in the heart of Brighton, the event date was based on the availability of elected officials. U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were all in attendance, and the date was determined by coordinating their schedules.
Elected officials manage busy agendas and are in great demand. Learn how and when each dignitary prefers to be contacted. For example, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh attends approximately eight events per day. Requesting his attendance requires submitting an online form to his office at least a week prior to the event.
Even with ample notice, some invitees might be unavailable due to schedule or location conflicts. U.S. Congressmen and Senators follow the congressional calendar, and will be unable to attend if they are scheduled to be in Washington D.C. during the time of your event. Location conflicts can also arise, as was the case when Hobbs Brook Management celebrated the grand opening of a new U.S. office for its tenant Cimpress at 275 Wyman Street, a LEED Gold certified, 300,000+ square foot Class A office building in Waltham, Mass designed by Margulies Perruzzi Architects. With a global guest list, location determined which top executives were able to attend.
A media advisory serves as an invitation to the press and should include all pertinent event information, including the “5 W’s” of who, what, when, where, and why. Include the event’s date, time, and location; contact information for incoming questions and RSVPs; a brief overview of the project and event, if possible; and a list of the project team. Accompany the advisory with a professional image such as a rendering for a groundbreaking or professional photography of the completed project for a ribbon cutting. Aim for three to four weeks of notice, and keep track of all inquiries and responses.
There are many moving pieces to an event, and each can take significant time to properly plan. Create a checklist and allow adequate time to complete each task.
- Milestones often require specialized items, such as personalized shovels for a groundbreaking, customized hardhats for a topping off, or giant scissors for a ribbon cutting. You will need time to select, proof, and receive these items.
- Select a caterer for refreshments. Determine if you will be offering beverages and light snacks, or a heartier menu.
- Set the agenda. Select who will emcee to welcome guests and introduce speakers. Contact your chosen speakers ahead of time so that they may prepare. Arrange a podium, microphone, and chairs for the ceremony. Plan for the possibility of inclement weather, especially as most AEC milestone events are outdoors. A tent offers protection from both sun and rain.
- Hire a professional photographer and videographer. Having professional-quality media typically increases coverage, and makes great marketing materials for your firm. When Greene Construction Company, Inc., a full-service builder and construction manager with an extensive project portfolio throughout New England, hosted a BBQ to welcome home its eight employees who delivered 10 tons of supplies to Beaumont, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, G. Greene hired a videographer to capture the welcome home festivities. The video was testimony to the generosity and selflessness of the G. Greene employees, and made a heartfelt story to share across G. Greene’s social media channels.
- Prepare a fact sheet to distribute to any press in attendance or via email.
- Determine if your site has adequate parking, and arrange for parking attendants and signage if needed.
- Assign a team to set up and clean up after the event.
Last minute details
The week prior to your event, follow up with vendors and guest speakers to make sure everything is on track. Visit the site and check in with project team members to make sure there are no surprises, such as an unwanted eyesore like construction debris near the event site.
Reporter and camera crews are assigned on a daily basis, so additional outreach on the morning of the event is necessary. Keep in mind that there are no guarantees with the press. An accepted invitation can quickly be ignored if a big news story breaks.
After the event
Recap the event in a press release and distribute with event photos and a link to the professional video so any press unable to attend can still cover the story. Send personalized thank you notes to those in attendance.
A collaborative approach that includes the client and key project team members (architect, engineers, and construction company) working together to coordinate a milestone event will increase your chances of event success. With advanced planning and a team effort, a smooth and successful event is within reach.