Special event expert Sally Webb Berry gives tips on securing exclusive, prestigious venues for special event clients
The Hôtel de Ville in Paris (at left) has served since 1357 as the heart of French government and office of the mayor, and hosts large official receptions. With its central location on the Seine River, the building delivers a breathtaking Parisian experience, replete with Napoleonic frescoes. Access to it is so restricted that most Parisians have never seen the inside of it. But I am fortunate enough to have worked inside for two separate events.
Securing such a venue is difficult but not impossible.
The first way is easiest for all event planners: having the right connections. As luck would have it, I have a close friend in the event industry in the U.S. whose sister just happens to be the new mayor of Paris. This connection was integral in securing the venue and really helped to solidify the exclusivity and distinctiveness of the event. Connections are important, but you can often find ways to contact the right people.
The second way to secure these venues is a more strategy-oriented and labor-intensive. Performing sufficient research, communicating with the right people, and establishing solid relationships are the steps to follow in this approach.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK Research is key. First, know who is in charge of letting you have your clients hold an event there. Sometimes it is best to contact the CEO, while in other cases the leaders of an organization’s development arm are most receptive and essential for you to gain permission to use their properties.
After you determine who is the right person to approach, secure a meeting with them first at their location. At this point, it is best to give a brief overview of the event, rather than giving them all the details of what your event will involve.
Remember, this request is typically out of the norm for them, and to tell them everything via email or a phone call can overwhelm them and lead to immediate rejection. In contrast, by having a face-to-face encounter, you can personally tell your story to them. If you desire, sending an outline of what you plan to discuss is appropriate, but the full background of your plan should be withheld until your meeting.
BOTH SIDES WIN During the discussion, an essential element to employ is “lateral thinking.” That is, explain what is beneficial for both parties in your offer. You want to tell the person hosting your group, “This is an asset for you because …” and provide the reasons why.
For example, I participated in the grand opening of the rebuilt Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London, and knew that funding came predominantly from American investors. My company told the facility management that if they would host an event for a group of prominent "C-level" clients from the United States, we would be glad to have their educational wing tell them how their contributions built the theater and could continue to support its mission. The theater was so appreciative of this opportunity that they even staged a performance of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" for our client.
On another occasion, I learned from local contacts that the home of the U.S. Consul General was reputedly the best residence in Hong Kong, and featured a beautiful view of the city from the deck. How did I convince him to host a cocktail party for members of a U.S. corporation visiting there? By reminding him that as his focus was to bring international trade, the relationships he established with the guests would enhance his resume and show the positive steps he was taking in that regard.
In another instance, when the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C, was planning its grand opening, we had a wealth-management client in the region who wanted to be the first to use the building for a reception. We negotiated with museum officials and offered to help control the costs of their Saturday grand opening as well as save them the operating costs of our private event if they would work with us and give our clients first use. Those officials readily agreed to these terms. This was a win-win situation for both clients, which is one of the keys to exclusive access.
MIND YOUR MANNERS Finally, be sure to follow up with a gift to the venue and its key players to acknowledge the relationship that was built during the event. Choose something that is relevant, not necessarily valuable, to show your appreciation to your hosts. Following an event involving a delegation from North Carolina, we commissioned a specially designed piece of pottery from Seagrove, N.C. and gifted it to the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. Seagrove is the handmade pottery capital of America and is located within an hour’s drive from our client’s headquarters.
By following these steps, you will be able to establish lasting relationships that can assist in future events and even leverage return trips. Your clients will be ecstatic that such exclusive venues are willing to host their events and add to the overall impact of their event message.
The results will add to your brand’s credibility, help you to garner more business from new and recurring clients, and allow you to access more exclusive locations throughout the world. Seizing opportunities, telling your story, and making connections are three key factors in making these exclusive events happen, and are also directly related to establishing long-term success.
Sally Webb Berry, CSEP, is managing director of The Special Event Company with offices in London and North Carolina. She founded her company in 1986 from a background in sports PR and sponsorship. Over the past two decades, she has produced events in more than 20 countries throughout Europe, the U.S. and Asia.
The Special Event Company produces events, conferences, meetings and fundraisers for a wide variety of clients in financial services, pharmaceutical, media, sports, education and charity fields.
Photo of Hotel de Ville by MellyB/Getty Images