How to Avoid Event-Planning Mistakes

Christy Pittman
Pittman: “No two events are alike. Each one presents an assortment of lessons learned.”

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The world of public relations is evolving from standard practices – the usual press release writing and media relations – to a full communications consultancy model that includes activities like event planning. We’re now preparing to stage the 5th annual Run! Geek! Run! 8K  on Sept. 15 this year. It’s one example of many agency and client events we work on every year.

As any PR professional with experience here will tell you, no two events are alike. Each one presents an assortment of lessons learned. In coordinating Run! Geek! Run! for five years now, I’ve come up with these “classic event planning mistakes” – and how to avoid them:

Expecting everything to go exactly as planned. Remember “Murphy’s Law?” No matter how much planning you do or how organized you are, there are always things outside of your control. In D.C. or any metro area, for example, you can’t influence traffic. So come up with a list of “X-factors” that could cause something to go wrong, and get a contingency plan in place to turn it into something positive. For example, the traffic jam that’s delaying your star panelist could translate into more networking time for attendees.

Planning in a vacuum. Too many organizers go into “bunker” mentality when developing agenda, topics, schedules, etc. Instead, your event should reflect the overall communications strategy of your company or client. Also, take note of major events going on in the area and your industry. How will they impact your event? Is there a current news situation that can be incorporated into your program to make it more topical/relevant? Also, who is your audience? Are you tailoring your corresponding marketing/advertising efforts to reach them?

Going at it alone. We all want to prove that we can “do it,” particularly when starting a new job at a hi tech PR agency or entering the industry. You feel like you’ve gotten saddled with a big responsibility and you seek to demonstrate your worth. But you can only do so much on your own, and most managers appreciate this. So don’t discount the value of an outside perspective. Asking for others’ opinions/support can often improve your event – which takes priority over individual notions of “proving oneself.”

Getting a late start. Here’s what you learn quickly in planning events: It’s always later than you think. The sooner you begin planning, the better organized and prepared you’ll be. For last year’s Run! Geek! Run!, we started in December 2010 and continued work through September ‑ beyond race day.

Not learning from failure. Given that you’ll often produce an event on an annual basis, keep track of what went wrong so you can conduct preemptive strikes the following year. And take advantage of mistakes other professionals make – and are happy to confess to – along the way. There are a plethora of industry panels and roundtables available that demonstrate the best and worst of event planning. Attend those events, learn from the bad and apply the good.

Like many fields, experience is the best teacher. So, in the interest of future event planning, I’m curious to hear from readers: What are some of the best practices you’ve learned from your event planning?


Christy Pittman is a senior account executive at W2 Communications.