Choosing the right location for your event can feel like you’re throwing darts at a map. National or regional organizations testing a new event concept, or expanding to new cities have a number of variables to consider when choosing the location. While this choice can feel daunting, we’ve developed a process for making this decision a little more structured.

Budget is always a part of the equation and can help you define the boundaries. If you have resources, like staff or equipment, that can be leveraged for the new event, you’ll likely limit your search regionally. We’ve rolled out a number of national event series where the simple geography of getting equipment from one town to the other helped us make our choice. It’s cheaper to take an event from Detroit to Chicago than from Detroit to Seattle.

Identifying your staff and determining if they are available to support the new event is another component. Factors from working in similar time zones to the ability to quickly and easily attend a jurisdictional meeting will be key considerations. Identifying your resources first, helps you to set the boundaries before you get into the more difficult marketing variables.

Available marketing dollars
Marketing budgets used to be a bigger part of the equation when choosing a new location, but that landscape has changed with the rise of digital advertising (where the costs have equalized across markets). For example, cities like New York or San Francisco have significantly higher “traditional media costs” (TV and radio) than smaller locations like Nashville or San Antonio. This is determined by the total reach to potential buyers in any given city’s MSA (metropolitan statistical area).

However, Digital advertising is becoming a significant part of marketing budgets because organizations have the ability to target the segments they want to reach without having to spend more to blanket all of the segments (like a traditional media model). MSA size is no longer as big of a factor in determining the cost of advertising — since you pay by the click not by the potential number of eyeballs. However, you should consider key relationships, like media partners, which can benefit your overall budget in a specific city.

Market dynamics
Demographics, MSA population, economics and the strength of your local presence are the next set of variables to consider. We’ve found that the strength of your local presence is the most important factor. How big is your local house list? How strong is your local office/chapter/affiliate? And how many people do you service/impact in one city vs. another? — are the first questions to consider. Going in to a new location without positive answers to these questions will always be harder and cost more time/money.

Next, make sure you understand and define the audience for your event. Demographics are not a decision factor in choosing a market but are a clarifying factor. Cities are not homogenous (every person exactly the same) — there will always be people in a city within your target demographic but defining your demographic will help you match a strategy to your list of potential locations.

The strength of the local economy needs to be considered as well. The credo “If we build it, they will come” never works the way we hope. MSA stats and GDP by city are easy to find online. Line up these variables with the quality of your local presence and the picture will start to focus in on a list of top candidates.

Quality vs. Quantity
Match your event goals to the location. If you have an event that needs high value participants who can leverage their peer-to-peer networks, you may want to consider the Midwest where participants have a higher propensity for following through with their commitments. If you need to get a lot of participants, then your larger MSAs should be considered. Just remember that Los Angeles, New York and Chicago have big populations but they also have a lot of events vying for attention. A midsize city, like San Antonio, where the economics are good might have more pull than a larger city because you’ll be the only event in town.

Weather and Competition
This might be obvious but don’t forget to pull out the almanac and make sure your event won’t experience snow or 90 degrees/humidity if your event is outdoors. Note whether a city has a huge annual event that defines it — think Dream Cruise in Michigan or Indy 500 or Kentucky Derby and how will your event complement or compete against that event?

After you’ve taken these factors into consideration, do the math on the investment and the return horizon. Sometimes you capture lightening in a bottle and the event takes off in the first year; that is the exception to the rule. We advise all our clients to look at expansion into a new market as a 2-3 year investment. The first year you create the relationships and base so that your second and third years meet your goals.

Ultimately, finding the best location for your event can be an exciting prospect. It means you’re expanding or trying something new. Make sure you inject that excitement with a dose of reality by following a process. Good luck!

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