Cooking Up an Event Management Solution

Cooking Up an Event Management Solution

What a chef taught me about event management technology.

I'm getting technology lessons from a chef. How embarrassing is that?

Crissy Gershey works at Parties That Cook, a San Francisco-based company that does "hands on" cooking events in cities throughout the U.S. She used to be a chef at some pretty well-known restaurants in the Bay Area, and then did catering work. Now she's a director of marketing and is teaching me a few things about event management technology.

To coordinate the dozens of public cooking functions the company conducts throughout the year, Parties That Cook uses event management technology from Eventbrite. By coincidence, I've been using Eventbrite over the past month to help manage the software training webinars and seminars that we do. Guess who does a better job at this? It's Crissy, the marketing chef.

She knows how to take advantage of free services. Sure, like me she found setting up her events on Eventbrite to be pretty easy. But like all technology, if you want to do more, it becomes more complex. Crissy called Eventbrite's customer service frequently for help in the setup process. She leaned on them for assistance when setting up payment processing and formatting of the pages. She had them walk her through how to take the code they offered so she could embed widgets like a registration page and calendar on her own website. I could've gotten the same assistance that Crissy got. And it's all free. But I'm a guy. We don't ask for help. So I wound up spending way more time in the setup process than I needed to.

Crissy immediately understood how to use Eventbrite's social networking features to help her promote her events. As with everything that's social networking, I'm still trying to figure out what it all means. That's because I'm in my 40s and live in Philly. But she's much younger ... and from the Bay Area. So she's been connecting her company's events to its Facebook and LinkedIn pages. She's been using Eventbrite to tweet about upcoming cooking classes. She encourages registrants to share the event with their LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers and Facebook friends and to e-mail event details directly from the site to their friends. She recognized that her events, because they are listed on Eventbrite's site, are quickly picked up by Google's ( GOOG - news - people ) search engine, so she's created Google Alerts to track. She carefully crafts her event descriptions so they get found by other Eventbrite visitors when searching the site. Sometimes she sends out invitations to potential customers through the site, too (she's allowed up to 2,000 per day).

But I'm not a complete idiot. I signed up with Eventbrite for some basic things that would save me time and money. I'm happy with the progress. Before, attendees would register on my site. I would get their registration via e-mail. Someone in my office would manually send out a confirmation e-mail. We would keep a list. We would send reminders. We would manually process the payments. It was pretty tedious. Now when someone registers for an event they get an automatic e-mail. I just get a notification. Eventbrite keeps the lists. It manages the payments. It maintains a "wait list" if an event sells out. I can print out name badges and an attendee list on the day of the event. We can send out bulk reminders through the site. For a company running events, this is a big thing.

Crissy lists her company's cooking classes on a bunch of sites to attract potential attendees. This is very time consuming. But this is a smart chef, because she figured out how to use Eventbrite's tracking capability to see which sites were generating the most visitors for her events. So she focuses on just those sites.

She's also a big believer in using promotion codes and wait lists. That way if attendance is lagging at a location she can offer special deals. Users can punch in a code when registering and get a discounted price. For popular events, she lets users sign up for a wait list. This way if someone drops out, Eventbrite automatically notifies the next person in line that there's a slot opened and gives that person a specific period of time to register before reaching out to the next person on the wait list.

Eventbrite is not cheap. It's free. But it's expensive. What does that mean? If you're putting on free events, then listing them is free. That's perfect for me because my company does a lot of free training webinars and seminars for the products we sell. But I recently scheduled a few for-pay events and got sticker shock.

If you want to use Eventbrite to accept credit card payments you'll pay 2.5% of the ticket value plus $0.99 per ticket. When we set up a seminar where we charged $199 per attendee I was kind of surprised to see $5.96 charged additionally for each ticket sold. There is a maximum fee of $9.95 per ticket, though. You can eat these charges yourself or set it up so that the charges get added on to each ticket. Then there is a 3% charge for processing from the credit card company. Crissy chose to pass these costs through to her customers...and it hasn't been a problem. Me--I just eat the cost. I'm afraid of the backlash.

There are also some indirect costs. Crissy handled most of the setup on her own. I hire others to compensate for my inadequacies. To brand my registration page I paid a marketing designer. To embed the Eventbrite widgets on my site, I'm hiring my webmaster. To set up payment processing I've turned to my bookkeeper. Of course I'm paying my internal marketing manager to keep the event site updated and current, too.

One thing that took me by surprise when setting up the service is how Eventbrite's branding is all over the place. This doesn't seem to get Crissy too bent out of shape. I realize Eventbrite is a free service and it is doing its best to attract as many visitors as possible who will hopefully put on paid events so Eventbrite, too, can get paid. If you just put a simple link on your site for attendees to register they'll get bounced to the Eventbrite registration form, which has its logo and branding. Even though Eventbrite gives you the code so that your web developer can embed the registration form on your site, there's still Eventbrite branding on the form. There's no way to really hide that you're using their service, so be prepared for that.

So far, so good. I'm liking Eventbrite and so is Crissy. Of course, she's using their capabilities much better than I am. But I bet she can't cook a better steak than me. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course she can.

Gene Marks is owner of Marks Group, a technology consulting firm, and author of In God We Trust, Everyone Else Pays Cash--Simple Lessons From Smart Business People.

San Francisco Cooking Classes