Meeting planners want all their attendees to have a good time and feel important. But when it comes to ensuring VIPs have an elevated experience, the stakes are a little higher.
Whether the VIP is a CEO, a well-known keynote speaker or a generous donor, pulling out all the stops to impress them is a must. Fail to do so, and the biggest stakeholders may be unimpressed by the event.
The first step, of course, is determining who qualifies as a VIP. Then, how can planners not only meet each VIP’s needs but go above and beyond? Here’s what three experts had to say about catering to VIPs.
Who counts as a VIP?
There are no hard-and-fast rules in determining who is a VIP. While there is a lot of nuance in making the determination, a good place to begin is to consider the event’s goals.
“A VIP list always changes depending on the objective of the event,” said Dave Stevens, director of field marketing and global events at data.world.
For instance, for a company-wide internal event, the VIP list will include guest speakers and executives within the company. If it’s an incentive trip, all attendees would be considered VIPs because the event’s aim to reward them with a luxurious experience. For a sales meeting designed to win new business, the VIPs are the potential new customers. If the event involves press coverage, journalists may be considered VIPs as well.
“You’re trying to impress somebody or retain business,” said Alecia May, event strategist and consultant at her company, Eventistry by Alecia. “So, it’s really important to have that awareness to amplify their experience so that we can bring them back for business.”
VIPs aren’t just high-level executives or prominent influencers though. They can also be attendees who need extra attention or have special needs of any kind, from hearing impairments to dietary restrictions.
“Within attendees, speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, donors and staff, there are VIPs hiding in every one of those sectors that require proactive attention,” said Patty Stern, chief creative officer at PattyStern.com Creative Marketing and Events.
There also are different levels of VIPs. On a company incentive trip, the CEO who is tagging along qualifies as higher-level VIP. VVIPs (very, very important person) might be celebrities and influencers, guest speakers or extremely generous donors, who have more elevated needs than the executive team, such as a security detail or private transportation.
Do Your Homework
After the VIPs have been identified, planners must do research on each person so they can make their experience highly individualized and add attention to detail. To gather information about executives, celebrities and influencers — from their likes and dislikes to dietary restrictions — planners can rely on VIPs’ assistants, PR teams and publicists.
“You can’t deliver to the VIP level without the help and support of PR departments, marketing departments and administrative assistants,” Stern said.
Assistants are a planner’s best friend when they’re designing a VIP experience. In addition to giving the planner background information on the VIP, they can provide updates on their schedule, arrival time or any new needs that crop up. Often, assistants will fill out registration forms for their bosses.
Registration forms are another critical source of information. These forms give VIPs the chance to explain anything they may need or want to happen. For instance, a VIP who is hearing impaired may ask to sit in a certain location during the event so they can understand the speaker. If a speaker is elderly or has trouble walking, they may let the planner know they need to be closer to the stage. If the VIP has a food allergy, they can note that on their registration form so an appropriate meal can be prepared.
Stern recommends that planners make sure they are “asking questions, listening and being resourceful and creative” to deliver the best service possible to VIPs and come up with solutions before problems occur.
It’s also important to research cultural differences. If VIPs are from another country or culture, understanding different customs is crucial. Customs involving handshakes, eye contact and table manners can vary greatly from country to country; no one wants to offend a VIP.
“By putting in that effort to know those things, you’re conveying to them their comfort is important to you,” Stevens said.
“I reach out to etiquette experts,” Stern said. “I never shy away from reaching out to resources to make sure we’re taking care of people the right way.”
How to Go the Extra Mile
After VIPs have been identified and researched, a personalized and seamless experience can be designed.
“The better you are at taking care of your VIPs, the less they have to do because their potential needs have been anticipated,” Stevens said.
If VIPs don’t have assistants to fill out the registration forms for them, planners and event staff can set up a call to fill it out so the task is easier.
“Convenience is a premium they can really appreciate,” May said.
Airport transportation preferences can vary from one VIP to the next; sometimes executives want to avoid seeming disconnected from the rest of their team and will take the group shuttle to the hotel. Others, especially VVIPs, will want to have a private vehicle or even a limousine ready.
Because arrival sets the tone for the entire event, making it as personalized as possible is important. Customized signage or a welcome letter can make VIPs feel special from the start. The more authentic, the better; something boilerplate won’t make them feel as good as a customized basket of their preferred snacks and beverages.
“We recognize and greet them by name and send a welcome packet prior, so we make it personal,” May said.
Stevens also recommends advancing VIP hotel rooms.
“That’s where you go into the hotel rooms prior to their arrival on check-in day and make sure everything works,” Stevens said.
The VIP experience begins with arrival, but it doesn’t end there. Planners should be constantly monitoring the VIP’s experience.
“There has to be follow-through, and there has to be an understanding of how you accommodate a VIP request or situation that can arise when they arrive,” Stern said.