Lessons in Marketing – and Humility – From Failed Party Planning

Remember that Netflix documentary, Fyre, where everybody was invited to an exclusive party promoted by the world’s best-known influencers?

Scale that down by about a million, and you might remember a little ‘party’ I feebly tried to promote in the first half of 2021.

In November 2020, beleaguered by the thought of #Lockdown2, I came up with an ingenious idea:

Host a party to say thank you to all your clients, chums and general professional network for getting you through 2020.

The party was planned for July 2021 – no way would we still be in this situation by then! How wrong I was. The next eight months turned out to be some of the most stressful of my working life, partly because of this not-so-ingenious idea. Here are a few marketing lessons I learned along the way.

1. Brand names carry a lot of weight.

Marathon became Snickers, Opal Fruits became Starburst… When This Is Over really should have become something else. I’d proudly given the party its own hashtag, #WTIO, deluded by the notion of my party guests tweeting and ‘gramming the event.

The trouble is, when July came around, it wasn’t over. Far from it. Guests were being pinged left right and centre, many people hadn’t been vaccinated, and the Delta variant was in full swing.

Lesson: if you’re going to name a product, make sure you consider the long-term implications.

2. Reacting on impulse rarely works in your favour.

This applies to a lot of situations, actually – like controlling your emotions in business. Perhaps the silliest decision I made was moving the party date without consulting guests first.

When Boris pushed ‘Freedom Day’ back by four weeks, I felt I had a small window in which to react. August was a no-no, while September would just be full of all sorts of industry events. The date moved back by three weeks, and the cancellations followed.

Lesson: do your market research before you launch – like checking your guests are available.

3. Scarcity marketing really works.

I read a little anecdote recently that amused me. Man leaves grand piano outside house with a sign saying, “free to a good home”. Nobody takes any notice. Man changes sign. “Piano – $100.” Piano is gone within the day.

It turns out that giving things away doesn’t always work – people need the pull to want a product, like the scarcity. We could apply this to the (limited) free bar or indeed the guest numbers themselves. My lovely photographer chums La Vue Photographique told me people may have been more committed had they paid for a ticket. Hilarious, but perhaps true!

Lesson: scarcity works – rather than making it a free-for-all, make it scarce. Sorry love, VIPs only. Wink.

4. Marketing – even party marketing – needs to be targeted.

Some lessons from above ring true here. When the party was first conceptualised, the guestlist was for “anybody who had helped me through 2020” – whether that was a client, or my little brother looking after my nan.

It soon became chaotic – people would ask to bring guests, or friends of friends of friends…and ultimately corona would knock them all off the list.

Lesson: have a targeted segment in mind and stick to it.

5. Long-term relationships will always trump short-term sales.

This one wasn’t so much a lesson for me as it was my photographer. You see, in prep for the party, I’d hired a personal trainer. (Got the COVID 19…lbs, didn’t I?)

Turns out he was also a photographer, so I booked him for the evening. He’d had a booking for the same night but I’d got in there first – despite me assuring him I’m find somebody else.

When I cancelled the party at the last minute, I told him I’d still pay him in full. I did – we’d not written any contracts because we were chums, right? Anyway, the party turned into a small gathering of 12 at my house, and I asked him to photograph us there instead. He was already booked, after all. His response? “Too hot. I’m hibernating. Thanks for the offer and have a good time.”

He got his money but he will never get a PT session from me again. Call me petty but I don’t think that’s cool – and some even suggested he may have been at the other booking instead. Who’s to say? All I know is, I’d rather be fat and stick to my principles.

Lesson: be good to your current customers.

6. Don’t lose sight of the purpose.

This one is really difficult to admit because it applies to far more than the party itself. Somewhere along the line, the whole thing became a little bit like Carrie and Big’s wedding. (Don’t lie – I know you’ve seen the film.)

It was supposed to be a thank you – an informal gathering that gave me the chance to meet these people in person and buy them a drink. Between the Instagram videos, photographers, party games and fake tan, I feel I lost sight of the purpose.

Lessons in humility

Likewise, it was a lesson in humility. I’ll admit I’ve been a bit caught up in the excitement this year. After winning an award in February, I got a bit giddy at the idea of entering, seeing my face in the shortlists and (gulp) even going to awards ceremonies.

This party brought me back down to earth and made me realise that it’s writing that got me here. Every award I’d ever applied for was off the back of the #Write52 campaign – a commitment to writing one blog post per week. This year, between dealing with family issues, growing the business and getting caught up in the vanity of award applications, I feel like writing has taken a back seat.

Lesson: don’t forget how you got here.

Back to basics

Gosh, this feels like that part of the night when you’re having those drunk chats in the loos, doesn’t it? From now on, though I’m still booked in for talks at BrightonSEO and some awards dos, I want to strip it back.

More writing. Less time fretting over awards and fancy parties. More time delivering to the clients. More time supporting the community of writers I’ve come to love. More like 2020.

I hope you’ll join me.

Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
27th August 2021