In 2016, I ran sixteen live events. I’d like to share the costs involved with you, but before I do, here’s an overview of the types of events I run.
Soulful PR Sessions
These are monthly events with a guest speaker - a journalist on a high-profile newspaper, magazine or radio/TV show. I generally hold them in a quirky little loft space at the Swiss Church in Covent Garden in London. Places are limited to 30.
Here’s a rundown of some recent and upcoming guests:
September 2016: Sarah Philipps, assistant opinion editor, The Guardian
October 2016: Angela Corpe, producer and reporter, ITV’s Good Morning Britain
November 2016: Hannah Fearn, opinion editor, The Independent
December 2016: Andrea Thompson, features director, Marie Claire magazine
January 2017: Clare McDonnell, presenter, BBC Radio 5 live and BBC World Service
February 2017: Anna Isaac, commissioning editor, small business section, Daily Telegraph
March 2017: Emily Philipps, features director, Grazia
There have been many notable successes for delegates who’ve attended these events, but one that sticks in my mind is psychologist and coach Salma Shah, who pitched this article to the Independent at a Soulful PR Session. She recently followed up with this opinion article.
Soulful PR Live
This is an annual event where I get business owners in a room with eight national journalists for the day so they can get a better understanding of how journalists work and make connections in the media.
- Adrian Butler from ITV's Good Morning Britain
- Susan Riley, features editor, Stylist magazine
- Adam Cumiskey, BBC Radio 4's Today programme
- Charlie Lindlar, Commissioning Editor, Huffington Post
- Kate Carter, Editor, Guardian Life & Style
- Claire Spreadbury, Head of Features, Press Association
- Kelly Rose Bradford, Daily Mail contributor
- Phil Pallen, Brand Strategist
The event was very successful, with some notable ‘wins’ for delegates, including photographer Emma Mapp, who had her camera bag featured in both Stylist magazine and the Guardian’s Christmas Gift Guide (competition is fierce to get featured in the latter).
Soulful PR masterclasses
I run three live masterclasses a year, which are more practical in focus, and am looking to add a fourth in 2017. I generally teach these classes myself, but sometimes bring guest teachers/speakers on board.
Soulful Writing - a one-day masterclass on writing for the media (2017 date tbc)
Your Year In PR - a one-day media planning masterclass (2017 date tbc)
To see all my upcoming live events, click here.
How much does it cost to run these events?
The Soulful PR Sessions are a ‘loss leader’ i.e. they’re about building a relationships with prospective (and existing) clients, rather than generating profit. Tickets range between £24 and £36 (plus VAT), depending on how early you book, meaning ticket sales come to around £1100 (these events typically sell out).
Approximate costs involved
Venue hire £80
Eventbrite fees £46.20
Administrative support £30
Total cost: £736.20
You may be wondering why we don’t bring a sponsor on board and make these sessions free (or just swallow the cost in our marketing budget). But having run dozens of events over the years, this is what I’ve learned: people don’t always value what they get for free. I want delegates at my events who are fully invested in making the most of opportunities on offer. And when you take out your credit/debit card and make a payment - however small - you’re immediately more invested in the experience (including being far more likely to turn up on the night).
However, this does mean we're not in the position to offer refunds and transfers (which you can read about here).
How much does it cost to run a conference like Soulful PR Live?
Last year, standard tickets ranged between £240 and £294 (inc. VAT) and mastermind tickets (which included an additional two-hour session with the speakers for just ten delegates) were £480 (inc. VAT). Ticket sales came to 18.5k (inc. VAT).
Speaker fees £4500
Venue hire £1500
Eventbrite fees £500
AV & photography £1000
Print and design £500
Marketing and event admin £1000
Facebook Ads £1400
Total cost: £11,900
How much does it cost to run a workshop like Soulful Marketing?
Tickets range from £150 (only available for event delegates who book on the day of another event) to £210 (inc. VAT) and we typically sell between 35 and 50 places. The 'break even' point is around 25 places.
Approximate costs involved
Speaker fees £500-£1500
Venue hire £900
Eventbrite fees £250
Print and design £400
Total cost: £4,650
Find out more about Soulful Marketing here.
Managing the costs
As you can see,the biggest expense is speakers. And you be well thinking that we could make a much bigger profit if we didn’t pay speakers. But I believe we should.
- I value peoples’ time and experience (including my own). Unless there is a very compelling reason to do so, I don’t speak for free - so why would I expect others to do so? My speakers are the best in their field, so they deserve to be paid for their time
- People don’t always value what they do for free. If you don’t pay speakers, they prioritise their paid work (and why shouldn’t they?). This means their presentation may be underprepared or even sloppy. They’re also far more likely drop out at the last minute. Many of my speakers are journalists; if a hot story comes along, they won’t think twice about pulling out of my event - unless they’re being paid to do it.
- Our speakers generally stay all day. Our speakers sit on tables with delegates and are available to chat over lunch and breaks- which can mean arriving at 9am and staying past 6pm. Many of our speakers are journalists who already have a day job, so I don't think we'd have cat's chance of getting them to agree to spend a day with us for free (nor would I expect them to!).
I’m not into getting bums on seats. I want each and every delegate to be transformed by the experience of attending my events and believe they deserve the best.
Which is why I pay all my speakers - and ask them to stay all day.
That said, because many of our speakers are journalists - not professional speakers - our fees are actually pretty modest. If you want to get a sense of how much international keynote speakers typically charge, check out this post from Chris Marr, founder of the Content Marketing Academy conference.
A word on cutting corners
There are always ways to reduce costs - negotiating a price for multiple venue bookings, finding your own catering contractors (although many venues stipulate you must use their preferred provider) or negotiating with speakers, for example, but there are some things I believe you shouldn’t skimp on, including catering, printing and the venue.
While you may not care whether you get a biscuit with your coffee or whether your handouts aren't in full colour when you attend an event, others do. And if your delegates sense you’re trying to cut corners, they may leave with a less-than-favourable view of an otherwise good event.
Using a quirky room above a church works just fine for the Soulful PR Sessions, as it's only two hours long, and helps us keep the ticket cost right down. But I don't think we could get away with this for a full day, which is why we currently use the ballroom at The Trampery - a co-working space in East London, which is central, spacious and has plenty of loos (you can't underestimate the importance of having enough loos, I've found!).
We’re constantly working on improving customer experience - from sending photos of the tube exits, so delegates don’t get lost on their way to the venue to pre-event briefings (via video conferencing) and surprising them with gifts when they arriving at the venue - and are coming up with new ways to do this every day.
I'm often asked why my events are only held in London. This is mainly down to cost; most of our speakers are London-based journalists. If we had to put them on the train to Manchester or Birmingham, put them up in a hotel overnight, and possibly ask them to take an extra day’s leave to attend the event, not only would this push the ticket price up, they’d also be less likely to say ‘yes’ to speaking. Also, when we have tried to put on events elsewhere, the response has been quite lacklustre. I suspect that this is because (a) people like coming to London for the day (b) it’s often easier - and more direct - for people to get to London via public transport than travel cross- country. This is not to say we won’t hold events elsewhere in the future, but this is the situation right now.
Creating new revenue streams
You might be looking at these figures and think it costs a lot of money to put on a live event. You’re right: it does cost a lot of money. And there are so many other associated costs it would have been difficult to break down in this post e.g. event insurance (our annual policy costs around £400 a year), email marketing software (around £2.5k a year), social media scheduling software (around £400 a year) and so on. I also have a team of contractors (pictured above) who help with my events, along with other things, so it's difficult to quantify their exact costs for working on events.
It also takes time. We typically start promoting events at least 12 weeks before they happen, which means putting together a marketing campaign that includes email marketing, social media and blog/podcast content. For bigger events we work 6-12 months ahead.
But remember that live events aren’t just about the money you make on the day. Typically, ten percent of our delegates book onto our next event, on the day. Some buy my book, media diary, join my coaching programme, membership community and/or book me for bespoke radio/TV or writing training. The content from Soulful PR Sessions and live events is re-purposed for my membership community - which give a better return on investment for the AV spend.
We also create digital versions of some of our live events and sell them as a standalone product. And we’ve recently started partnering with other businesses to put on additional sessions (breakfast briefings, for example) at our live events. Sponsorship is another way to create additional revenue (or cut costs) and this is something we are keen to explore further in 2017.
It’s early days, but we’re learning more every day about how we can make our events more profitable - but I feel strongly that this must not be done at the expense of creating great content. Our customers must come first.
Over to you.
What questions do you have about the cost of running live events? Or perhaps you have insights to share. Would love to get your thoughts in the comments box below.
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