Let’s Talk Event Planning


Let’s take a brief detour from social media to discuss strategic event planning, something  David and Marilyn Shank have proved to be masters at for over 25 years. I find it’s only right that we highlight two of their most recent higher profile events, a Walmart grand opening and a public memorial for an officer gunned down in the line of duty. I asked David and Marilyn a series of questions.

 Q: What are the first steps you take in planning a large-scale public event that incorporates media, general public and public officials?

 D: “First you have to think about the overall strategy for your objective. In our Walmart grand opening we had several things we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to communicate that Walmart is here to serve the community and we wanted to be memorable. Then we looked at the proximity to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, realized the tradition of racing in the community and approached the store manager.


We wanted her to make a grand entrance, in a two-seater race car. When it came time to cut the ribbon, we wanted it to be exciting! Cutting the ribbon with a big pair of scissors is fine, but also boring and not relevant. So, we had city council members, the deputy mayor and regional managers of Walmart break through the ribbon with logo’d shopping carts. This was more exciting than just cutting the ribbon.”


“At the fallen officer memorial, we wanted to give residents of the apartment complex where he was killed the chance to continue the grieving process for an officer who epitomized the protect and serve pledge of all police officers. It was a matter of being sensitive to everyone involved. We were aware that media coverage could be insensitive. We made it clear that media were not to report live during the program.”

Q: When something goes wrong, what is your thought process? What actions are taken?

D: “Always assume something is going to go wrong, and in the back of your mind, come up with everything that could go wrong and how you to fix it. With Walmart, we considered if the shopping carts didn’t break through the ribbon. A few days before, we thought about it, and made sure it wouldn’t be an issue. We pre-cut the ribbon and taped it so that it would break easily. You have to use creativity”.


“During the memorial, we asked media not to report live from the back of the room. I told them, if they do this, I would come behind them and photo bomb them if they did. They got the message and we avoided that issue altogether. Also, we invited ministers who didn’t show. We quickly fixed the issue by having someone else step in and read a the message.”


Q:  What role does having connections in a number of different industries play into an event as a whole?


M: “For every event, having connections to get the right people there is important. For example, we had short notice for the memorial. With only two days to prepare, we had to execute an event and find a location. We contacted the elementary school near the apartment complex where the officer was shot.  They were able to provide us with a facility for the day.”

Q: What do you feel determines if an event will be successful or not?


M: “Always ask the client and yourself what you’re trying to accomplish with an event. That’s generally, are we just trying to get bodies here? Are we trying to raise money? That’s how you measure the success of an event. Going into a slightly different event, the IPS Alumni Hall of Fame was an event that happened at about the same time frame. We wanted to portray IPS as a productive education institution, to honor alumni and for kids to be with other adults, so they would be inspired. But it’s also a money maker for the foundation, so you measure that by: Did we get kids there? Was it good attendance? Did we make money? And did people come away with a great feeling about IPS? And you have to be specific about your goals. You can pack a house with every intention of raising money, but did you invite the right people to donate and did they donate?”

So there you have it, from the masters themselves. Having contacts, being aware of everything that could go wrong and making sure there are back up plans in place at an event are all important. These are all things that can largely determine the ultimate success or failure of an event.  



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