Guest Post: How to design invitations that sell your event

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Thanks to Bill Post for submitting this guest blog post:

We all know that first impressions can make or break a business relationship. That's why standout job-seekers tailor their resumes to a company and then don tailored dress for an interview. That's why product representatives do their homework on potential clients' needs before sales calls. That's why successful colleagues arrive on time and prepared for every meeting. So why would a company give any less weight to a first impression when planning a corporate event? When it comes to catching guests' attention from the get-go, smart planners know it's all about the invitation.

Whether you're throwing a company picnic, hosting an industry conference, or arranging an elaborate affair, invitations are your initial communication with attendees and thus set the tone for the occasion. A corporate invitation also showcases the company's personality and provides a unique opportunity for marketing your business. No matter the type of event you're planning, be sure the invitation reflects the impression you'd like to convey. Here are 10 areas of consideration that will help you create invitations to effectively sell your event:

1. Delivery: Determine the most appropriate method for sending your request: print or electronic. If the event is part of your daily course of business, an e-mail invitation will probably suffice, but if it's of a classier ilk, a more formal print presentation may be warranted.

2. Timeline: Give appropriate notice, typically six to eight weeks prior to a formal affair and two to three weeks before a casual gathering, to allow guests to plan and respond. (Some experts suggest mailing "Save the Date" cards in advance for events on holidays or other in-demand days.) Also, allot additional production hours if a designer will be developing an intricate layout. Keep in mind that proofs need to be approved; leaving wiggle room to make corrections or changes saves a significant amount of time—and money—in the end.

3. Guest List: While you want to hit your target audience, take care not to typecast your guests and miss an opportunity for a more creative approach. Just because you're hosting a suite of suited clients doesn't mean they're all "suits." Try to think of your guests as people with emotions and imaginations. At the same time, address invitees according to your familiarity with each—first names for comfortable colleagues and more formal titles for those less familiar.

4. First Glance: Whether it's the subject line of an e-mail invitation or an envelope in the mail, you have just a few seconds to grab guests' attention. Be concise yet informative with an e-mail subject line so that the recipient can quickly garner its contents. And with printed pieces, don't limit yourself to the standard white jacket. With all of the options on the market, custom envelopes can offer a quick glimpse of the character of your event. Remember those first impressions!

5. Design: We live in a visual society, so high-quality graphic design is a must. But don't go overboard—smartly simple layouts often get the best responses, as they possess professional appeal. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't have fun with interesting invitation shapes, folding, paper stock, and finishes (embossing, foil stamping, or varnish, for example). You may even think outside of the cardstock box and develop an invitation from a three-dimensional object. If your mailer includes several pieces, such as an agenda, map, and response cards, the components should all coordinate.

6. Wording: An invitation's job is to get guests to attend, not teach them all there is to know about an event, so be concise and stick to important details: date, time, and location; general agenda, which can be included as an e-mail attachment on electronic invitations or a separate card with print; and any other necessary information, such as availability of food/beverages, instructions on how to prepare, what to bring, fees, if attendance is required, and specific dress code). Also remember that too many words on a single line can appear cluttered, so be sure to break up text across multiple lines with strategically placed line spaces.

7. Tone: Adopt a voice appropriate to the event situation as well as the guests. Invitations that use an overly casual approach may be ignored, while those that are too grandiose and elaborate could be difficult to understand.

8. Font: Simple is often best when considering the font and type size for an invite. It won't do any good to boldly tout your event if invitees can't make out the time of place of your great happening. Experts suggest limiting yourself to two typefaces for any one piece of communication; in fact, one typeface, when displaying in varying weights, may be quite enough.

9. Response: An invitation is a call to action, so be clear about what you'd like invitees to do. Politely close with a request for response, if necessary, and be sure to include contact information. If your event requires a reliable head count, steer clear of "Regrets Only" and ask guests to RSVP.

10. Printing: To make the most of your invitation creation, you'll want to partner with a professional printing team. Poor color output, the wrong finish for the job, and cheap materials can all detract from a great layout. To ensure your invitations turn out as expected, choose an experienced printer who has demonstrated quality work.

Small business research analyst Bill Post has been providing research on issues of concern to small businesses for 123Print.com Business Card Design for three years. A former business owner prior to his involvement with 123Print Custom Business Cards, Bill spent several years after receiving his degree in the fast-paced corporate world before going out on his own to provide marketing and branding services to other small businesses in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

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