Event Planning Advice with Dennis Gaschen

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Nov 9, 2008 in event planning, National Conference, PRSSA, Public Relations

2008 PRSSA National Conference

Event Planning
Dennis John Gaschen, APR, Public Relations Counselor, Professor, California State University, Fullerton

The event planning session at the conference was packed. I showed up a few minutes early and managed to find a seat, but several people who walked in after me sat in the back on the floor. Since I am planning an annual event for parents this semester, this was one of the most useful sessions I attended.

Start with a destination, Dennis Gaschen suggested. What is the goal? What do you want to achieve? The special event is the vehicle to get you there.

After you determine the purpose of your event and then determine your budget and time line. Start at the due date and work backwards.

Gaschen said to be sure to check the dates – check with the school or site, check religious dates, check for sporting events and check what happened on and around that date last year.

Next, don’t book the site before you visit. For newly opened venues, give them six months to work the kinks out before booking an event. Also find out what sort of extras are included with the venue, including parking, AV services, set ups, etc.

You can never have enough publicity, according to Gaschen. Every event has competition, so focus on the benefits you event has to offer and give people a reason to attend. “Make it sexy,” said Gaschen.

You can never start planning too soon, said Gaschen, and you should always build in contingencies and check references. You also need to get everything in writing as soon as it is decided. Store everything in a function book.

Never leave things to the last minute. Gaschen describes the event planner’s role as a firefighter. “You’ll be putting out fires,” he said. You need to be able to focus your attention on this rather than on finishing last minute details.

Although it’s good to save money, Gaschen warns against trying to save too much money. It is better to negotiate and know what you’re getting.

Other facts and tips offered by Gaschen include:

  • Facilities usually prepare 10% more than the guarantee.
  • Invitations need to be mailed seven weeks before the event.
  • Bathroom to person ratio should be 50 to 1.
  • Hors-d’vores per person, if dinner follows, should be eight.
  • Ratio of guests to wait staff at a formal dinner should be 10 to 1.
  • The seating availability for a fraction of guests at a cocktain party should be one-third.
  • Minimium square feet per person for a cocktail reception should be 8′.
  • Ratio of people who prefer white wine to red wine is 60/40.
  • The maximium number of people to be seated at a 72″ round table is 12.

Planning is important. Gaschen said nothing ever goes according to plan. Things take longer, cost more, don’t work, look different and other things come up. He attributes this not to Murphy’s Law, but the Gaschen’s Law: “Everything will go bad…and you will be blamed for it.”

Do you have any event planning or management advice, tips or comments?

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