Event planning is complicated enough. When it comes time to pick your event marketing software, your choices should be easy. Do you want a generic tool... or one built specifically for events?
Back in the day before we were the EventGeek team, we were fresh young event marketers, savvy in the ways of digital marketing, but relatively new to creating events.
Armed with a budget and the mission of creating value for our company, we went looking for the right software sidekick. After all, dedicated software existed in everything from social media to customer service to coding – there had to be powerful and robust project management software for events, right?
Answer: No. There just flat-out isn’t (or wasn’t) anything that could compare to an event project manager app.
So, we ended up doing what a lot of event marketers decide to do: Frankenstein-engineer project management software to do close to what we wanted it to do for us. That lasted until our first time zone mishap.
If we could go back and give ourselves some advice, we’d say just skip straight to the dedicated event planning software. (Of course, we wouldn’t have invited ourselves yet...time travel is complicated!)
When does it make sense to use event planning software?
Don’t get us wrong – we love project management software. We use project management software ourselves, but for the purpose PM software is intended for: to plan knowledge-based projects.
1. Managing tons of info, intuitively and well
You process a staggering amount of information to plan an event – your software needs to be able to keep up.
Every step of the process goes way deeper than the “task” on the surface, and if your software can’t display that and give you access to all your info when you need it, it’s really just creating more headaches for you.
Let’s take a piece of sales collateral, for example.
You’re creating a sales one-pager to go with your sales team to a conference. On the surface, it seems pretty simple – you’ve done a million of these and there shouldn’t be any surprises.
But, once we dig a little deeper, suddenly your “create sales one-pager” task blooms into a dozen more to-dos, all with varying levels of complexity and more people involved.
Underneath that seemingly simple task could be a list that goes like:
Get updated product specs
Get approvals at all levels
Adapt several versions of the piece for different decision-makers/audiences
Vet and price printing
Create print-ready files
Ship to conference destination
Within all of those tasks could be receipts, technical information, sizing information, proofs, creative notes, feedback notes, addresses, shipping information, and more.
Project management software is made to store information, of course, but imagine trying to track all of that in a non-event software solution. That would be a lot of attachments!
We’ve also personally seen how ugly a task in PM software can get when your event-planning hack is to use comments as a repository for “important information.” Yikes!
2. Creating a collaborative workflow with your team
Project managers using project management software usually organize internal teams inside that system. For instance, a marketing team might use a project management software to keep their deliverables on target.
Event marketers, on the other hand, are managing and collaborating with at least the three Vs - venues, vendors and volunteers. Those are external groups of collaborators that should have special, limited permissions. To maximize their engagement, they shouldn't have to leave their inbox.
Everyone will need to have the experience they’re looking for with your software and that just can’t happen with PM software.
For instance, think of all the different types of people you have to work with to put on a single event:
Vendors like photographers and caterers
Event organizers if you’re sponsoring or exhibiting
Speakers and special guests
Your events team
Your marketing team
Your sales team
Your product team
Your company executive team
...and that list could go on!
One size does not fit all when it comes to what kind of information each of those teams will want from your software.
Teams inside your company will only want to know what tasks they need to take care of, not everything your events team is doing.
Executives especially will not want to get into the weeds on the shipping costs of the blue lanyards vs. the red ones – they want to know your total spend, the ROI of that event, the big picture for upcoming events and what the results are.
Special Guests like speakers will only care about where they’re staying, their itinerary and their travel arrangements.
Vendors like photographers and caterers will need to be shown parts of the platform, but not everything.
So how do you accommodate all of these different preferences and needs with project management software?
Well... you don’t. We have yet to witness a project management software that provides users the chance to create a unique touch points for all the loosely knit teams that work on events. The right event planning software does just that, though!
3. Planning events... in the real world
Now, we’re not saying the types of projects managed in PM software are less valid than events – they’re just different in one fundamental way.
Everything involved with events is happening in the real world.
There’s no abstraction involved and event professionals are at the mercy of the way the rest of the world works. Shipment of booth items never made it? The event must go on. Half your team down with an illness? The event must go on.
Once we start talking about live logistics like schedules, locations, shipments, time zone management, flights, etc., a traditional PM software starts to show its shortcomings.
It seems like a deceptively simple thing, being able to correct the date within your deliverable with a few clicks. But if every feature of event planning software was so intuitively designed, it would be a game changer.
Let’s say you’re trying to communicate with your VP of Sales to let her know the details of a big upcoming conference. She’s on the road all the time, so your communication needs to be succinct, accessible, and accurate.
Would you decide to send her a PDF of her travel arrangements? An email? You might as well send a stone tablet with her itinerary carved in stone, because those mediums are about as flexible once they’re sent.
With dedicated event software, instead you can let technology work in your favor by doing things like creating itineraries from travel confirmation emails and automatically sending accurate information to your assigned attendees.
Ah, budgets and ROI. Two things that make the event marketer’s world go ‘round. Yet, those two things sometimes feel like trying to read a murky crystal ball.
As professional event marketers, we all know keeping a solid handle on our budgets and demonstrating return for our spends is necessary and doable.
But why does it have to be hard?
If you’re using the right software (nudge, nudge), you’ll be able to do that in a matter of seconds, rather than the weeks it might have taken before.
Our ROI dashboard instantly shows you your overall expenditures and key stats. You can break them down further by different variables, allowing you to spot trends and analyze your event team’s performance.
Dedicated event planning software can also help you keep your budgets straight. Instead of laboriously tracking down all costs from people’s boxes of reimbursable receipts and various email chains, you can keep it all in one place and access it instantly.
Why make things harder than they need to be?
Humans are pretty special, because we know when to use the right tools for the job.
As we’ve gotten better at building tools, our choices have adjusted accordingly. You wouldn’t reach for a slide rule when a calculator exists. You would choose that calculator for a simple computation, but you’d choose a computer for a complex problem.
The way we see it, project management software works really well for the projects it's designed for. If you don’t have another choice, it even works well for event marketers in a pinch.
But, if you have the option of event planning software created specifically for event marketers, why would you use anything else? Why settle for “close enough” when you could have features designed for the idiosyncrasies of the way you work and the way your events actually come together?
Can event marketers use project management software successfully and plan complex events to perfection? Absolutely. We know it’s possible; we’ve done it ourselves for years.
The real question to ask, though, is whether we should settle for using tools created for someone else to do our jobs. Why spend time hacking a system to meet our many real world needs, when we could utilize a platform made for the sole purpose of event planning?
As a valued part of the marketing and sales enablement playbook, event marketing deserves its own tools. As an event marketer, you deserve to stop spending your time hacking a system to meet your many real-world needs. Hit the ground running with a platform made for the special purpose of event planning.