Q&A with Milena Santoro, Founder of MS Productions
Interview by Matthew Stepanic
What factors do you use to guide your timeline for planning an event?
We consider our client’s goals and objectives and the scope of the event to keep us in alignment with the timeline. We also focus on the milestones we need to reach such as ticket sales, registration, sponsorship, and contract deadlines, and, of course, their budget.
What are some of your first steps when planning a great event?
Our first step always begins with research. Before any planning takes place, we want to ensure we know the why, when, where, who, and what. The more research you conduct prior to the event, the more likely you are to produce an event that matches the planned outcomes of the stakeholders while reducing any risks. We look at an event’s history to obtain a clear picture of the past to better plan the future of a particular event. Also we research the market, comparable events, interview attendees, and speak with industry partners and suppliers.
What do you ask your client to help figure out what they want for their event?
We ask our clients three main questions based on our modus operandi: the PAR method — or purpose, achievement, and return on investment.
1. What is the purpose of the event? Why are you holding this event — is it to make money, break even, or create a deficit?
2. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to increase membership, raise awareness, increase morale, educate or train, provide networking opportunities, and (of course) have fun?
3. What return on investment (ROI) do you expect? What are you willing to invest in this event to receive an ROI? ROI must be attached to a measurement, such as increase membership by 20%, make a profit of $5,000, or have 80% of attendees respond “very satisfied” on a post-event survey. We also ask, what is the attendee willing to invest in attending this event? Is it their time away from work or family, money, resources, travel, etc.?
What are some of the advantages to planning an event in Edmonton compared to other cities?
We have such amazing venues, caterers, and various service providers that we’ve built strong relationships with and who understand the value of working together and collaborating, which makes executing flawless events so much more rewarding knowing you have an amazing team. With this comes the strong support of our partners and stakeholders of our industry associations such as International Special Events Society (ISES) and Meeting Professionals International (MPI) that really do provide support and value for anyone planning events. There is such an inventory of resources to tap into that you don’t have to leave.
What do you think attracts international organizations to planning their events in Edmonton?
I’d say over the past few years we’ve been gaining interest from international markets wanting to bring their events to Edmonton because of what we have to offer. We are known as the Festival City and, though festivals typically run between May and September, we are becoming a year-round city with events taking place in the winter. We have seen an increase in industry partners playing a major role in attracting bigger events such as Red Bull Crushed Ice, Tour of Alberta, and Ice on Whyte. Edmonton is an emerging city and we are really making a name for ourselves on the global stage. With the explosion of our culinary scene, and our upcoming Ice District and arena, you can expect more interest on a global level.
What things do you do to ensure an audience is kept engaged during an event?
Our goal is to change people’s lives through the experiences they have at our events — they want to leave your event changed for the better. People go to an event for three main reasons:
1. Education: People want to learn, experience, or acquire new skills, such as learn how to cook, taste a new wine, explore new entertainment, hear from thought leaders, gain awareness, or exchange best practices. Then they want to apply this new information to their own lives, work, and relationships, which provides a greater return for investing in your event.
2. Networking: Always provide opportunities where your attendees can interact with each other, meet new people, or reconnect with those from the past. Attendees want face-to-face interactions with like-minded individuals; it makes them feel they belong to something great.
3. Fun: People want to be amused, play, and take pleasure in your events. Who doesn’t want to have fun? Keep your events interactive and have your attendees participate as part of the event activities. In an era where we are time and attention deprived, audience engagement is such an important piece to keep at the forefront. And how do you keep them engaged after events? Continue the conversation with your attendees about the event. Share highlights, blogs, photos, videos, and any media coverage you received of what took place at the event. If you continue to be in contact with your audience you will not have to work so hard to re-engage with them come time for your next event — they will already be anticipating it and will be your brand ambassadors for your event.
What are some of your useful tips or tricks for planning an event?
Communicate with all stakeholders regularly. You are only as strong as your team, so make sure you have the best on your team and create a two-way conversation. This is not your event only! You must be flexible to lead and follow when necessary.
What do you do to find and choose the perfect venue for an event in Edmonton? What factors do you consider?
Everything about the event is driven by the goals and objectives — they determine what type of venue to choose. There are a good amount of venues to choose from in Edmonton that are both traditional and non-traditional. Some factors to consider are square footage, distance, accommodations, catering, and amenities. We are also seeing more events take place in restaurants, cafés, and the like. And don’t forget the beautiful outdoor spaces such as parks, streets, and various districts.
How do you build cohesiveness for an event in terms of its message, brand, or theme between all of its aspects?
To deliver a cohesive message to your attendees, event marketing must be a priority, right up there with the budget. Your event plan should be designed with the marketing strategy alongside it. Each component of your event must be aligned with your message, which reflects your brand, theme, colours, experience, and “wow” factor.
What’s your number one piece of advice for planning a successful event?
Our modus operandi is the “PAR” method — purpose, achievement, and return on investment. You’ll keep your event on track if you bring it back to your PAR. When we consider any new ideas, I always ask my team, “Is it up to PAR?”