Event Management

6 Things To Do When You Inherit a Struggling Event

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Inheriting a struggling event is a challenge or a burden depending on your attitude. But with a couple of steps you can launch a much different, more successful happening.

You hear it in sports franchises all the time–how will the new coach turn things around? You hear it on a company level too. What will the new CEO do to show stockholders larger returns? In both of these instances, the pockets run deep. But what can one event planner do to turn around a stinker of an event? There might be more possibilities out there than you thought.

There are three phases in turning around a disappointing or struggling event:

  • Analysis. Figure out what’s wrong, how bad it is, and what you’ll do to fix it.
  • Fix. Plan and change up the event to meet more of your attendees’ needs and recruit new event goers.
  • Cement. Solidify the changes.


  1. Analysis

Imagine It’s Worse than Anyone Told You

You can’t rely on your client or previous staff to tell you what’s wrong or how bad it is. Here’s why:

  • The people who are involved might not really know what’s wrong.
  • They may be underreporting the problems because they want you to get involved.
  • They may want to get it off their hands so they don’t bother to do their due diligence to uncover the true problems.
  • They may feel overwhelmed.

When you’re coming in to take over, always assume it’s worse than what you were told. If you’re prepared for it, you won’t feel so overwhelmed from the start.

Identify the Event Problem

Sometimes a board or client will tell you exactly what they believe the problem is, such as not having enough attendees. But that isn’t the problem. That’s the indication of a problem. Think about a romantic relationship that just broke up. If you ask the jilted person they may tell you the relationship is over because the other partner left. But that’s not why the relationship is over. The relationship is over because of some need not being met that caused the other person to leave.

Your event is in peril not because you’re not getting enough attendees. That’s merely an outward sign of something that’s lacking – like attendees not getting value.

You’ll have to uncover the situation on your own. Review past analytics and offerings. See what’s been done and what the results were. Look for areas of weakness and challenge. Don’t forget to take notes on areas for potential wins as well such as improvements introduced through new technology.

2. Fix

Make it About People and Personalization

One thing attendees are becoming accustomed to is personalization. It’s difficult to host a successful event without making it about people, and not just any people, your ideal attendee. Identify that market. Decide on what they want and how you can give it to them.

Create an Experience

Attendees will only remember the food and the exhibitors for so long but an experience will captivate them and cause them to share it with others. After you’ve analyzed the problem(s) with the event and changed your focus to people and personalization, it’s time to think about that experience.

Attendee experience is always important. Even currently successful events need to focus on it to remain successful. What works one year may not continue to work years into the future. Instead of reinventing the wheel each year, look for ways to improve the experience. The American College of Emergency Physicians hosts one of the largest meetings of emergency room doctors in the world. Even with that sort of success they switched up their exhibit floor a few years ago to make a greater impression on their attendees. They added an ER registration desk, a nurse’s station, and an ambulance.

3. Cement

Bring in a Branding Expert

If your budget doesn’t support bringing in a branding expert for a consultation, you’ll need to do a lot of that rebranding research yourself. Companies are always in need of rebranding and a failing event will need the same. You can change everything about the event and make it the best event ever, but if it’s brand remains the same, and people think the event is the same as it always was, those changes won’t amount to anything.

Do It Yourself

As Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You advises, “Rebranding just means changing how others view you.” Consult someone who knows how to rebrand a struggling entity or try the following ideas on your own:

  • Decide on a new brand/positioning based on what your ideal audience will respond to.
  • Rewrite your existing content to follow your new brand and mission.
  • Produce new content that speaks to your new brand.
  • Build a relationship with an industry influencer and introduce them to the new brand.
  • Look for tie-ins with other events that are similar to what you want to be. Movies, TV, and books use this approach. They are always likening their product to others to build off of an existing audience. For instance, many fantasy books liken themselves to Harry Potter. You can use ideas like, “If you want to go to SXSW but don’t have the travel budget, visit the ______ event instead.
  • Use social media targeting to get in front of your ideal audience.
  • Look for write-ups on your previous event (before you took over). Where appropriate respond with how you’re changing things to address concerns or dislikes. For instance, if someone wrote a review on the old event and how its lines were too long, respond back to tell them about the new beacon technology you’re using to mitigate that problem in the future.
  • Get social and have conversations. Explain what you’re doing that’s new and different and invite people to check it out.
  • Live the new brand. You can’t paint your event as “innovative” for example, if you’re still checking people in by hand off of a printed list. Every aspect of your event must support the new image and brand if you want it to ring true for your attendees.

In Conclusion

Inheriting a challenged event can feel a lot like orchestrating a squirrel rodeo some days, but if you break it down into manageable steps, you can begin to turn it around. Take the time to analyze the problems/challenges, assess how deep they run, implement a fix for today’s audience, and make your hard work stick by implementing a rebranding. Then you’ll be on your way to turning that event around.