President Obama will be speaking about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) today in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. The Boston local in me is a little miffed that traffic downtown is going to be unbearable, but PR pro is impressed with the decision. Regardless of your support (or lack thereof) of the ACA, the decision to use Boston speaks to several important lessons about venue selection for event planning.
When it comes to choosing a venue, make sure that the venue is aligned with your brand and messaging. The ACA was modeled after former Massachusetts Governor (and presidential candidate) Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan. In an attempt to draw uniting parallels between differing perspectives and political positions on the topic, choosing Boston makes a great deal of sense.
When you’re setting up an event plan or event tour, look at the locations available to you from a brand alignment perspective. Take the time to do extensive research, to examine media and influencer lists for people and places that can support the message either consciously or subconsciously through association, and develop your creative and design to reflect those ties.
Venue selection is also about logistics and ensuring that the event goes as smoothly as possible. With an issue as polarizing as the ACA, having the event in a place where a significant portion of the audience is also aligned with your brand makes sense, not only from a security perspective, but also from an image perspective. When planning your own events (especially if the event is controversial), it’s logical to host it in “friendly” territory. If your brand has suffered image and reputation damage in a certain region, you may not want to host a controversial event in that region. Better to host the “hot topics” on friendly ground and have separate events that are more aligned to audience viewpoints in contested regions.
For example, if you were a fast food company that had wild fans in one region and hostile opponents in another, it might make sense to do the big show in the friendly region and do a smaller event that appealed to at least the neutral audience in the hostile region.
Messaging preparation for any controversial event is absolutely essential. The President and his communications team must be prepared to address the many criticisms of the ACA implementation, and that began long before the event with a media tour and talking points development.
Be sure in your own events to coordinate with your PR team or agency to refine and focus messaging to be ready to handle dissent. Invest a lot of time into role-play, into creating messaging that can address every potential criticism, into crisis communications scenarios so that you can anticipate and handle the worst case scenarios.
Again, by choosing a location that’s aligned with your brand and messaging, coordinating a media tour in advance will be significantly easier to deliver the talking points you need to distribute so as to defuse as many criticisms as possible. Create as much “air cover” as possible from a friendlier media base in advance of your event, controversial or not.