Empty seats at the Olympics – what lessons for corporate sponsorship and entertaining?

30 July 2012 By Northern Lights

Empty seats at the Olympics – what lessons for corporate sponsorship and entertaining? image

The pictures of empty seats at the Olympics will no doubt resonate with many a business that struggled to fill seats at their own events.

I’ve always said to clients and contacts that I’m happy to be asked to dinners or events at the last minute – we can all be winners – so I know just how often companies are rushing round to fill seats worth hundreds of pounds.

1.       Why do guests fail to attend?

Why do people fail to attend an event?  Well in this day and age, there is sadly a trend towards accepting an invitation without real commitment to going.  It seems nice at the time but it was never a priority in the diary. 

Of course there are genuine reasons for not turning up – a family crisis, urgent business trip abroad – but these should only ever account for one drop-out per event.  Unless you are extremely unlucky.

2.       Make your event must-go-to

So the answer is to make your event the one in the year that will take priority, regardless of whatever other pressures you have in your diary.  Here are our tips.

3.       Events with partners

There are certain events that a spouse would give their right arm to attend.  Chelsea Flower Show will do it for many.   Getting partners or families involved can increase commitment – though make sure you haven’t created an event that teenagers are cringing about attending!

Of course, Chelsea Flower Show tickets are scarce and coveted, but there are affordable alternatives. 

I am on the board of Northern Ballet and organised an evening for 50 clients and friends – everyone paying for themselves.  A number of male clients came with their wives – they were personally not interested at all (though we won many over to ballet!) but they were scoring brownie points!

4.       Secure an anchor guest

We all have clients or contacts who everyone else wants to meet.  Getting them on board at the start means you can mention them to others when sending out invitations.  It gets the ball rolling.

 5.       What deals can be done?

We always try to invite people who ‘ought to meet each other’.  This is the way to get your anchor guest initially – think of someone who they would like to meet for business.  Then piece together what business could be done at your event.

 6.       Tell your guests why they should attend

In advance we send a note to the guests with a short biography about everyone attending and who they should meet for business on the evening.  We never include their own biography – keeps them intrigued as to what we have said about them!

7.       Send out guest list in advance

For larger events, we probably can’t do this level of detail.  However, we do produce an advance guest list with name, title and company and send this out in advance.  It’s a good reminder and inevitably there will be a number of people others want to meet.

 8.       Make it easy to attend

It sounds obvious, but haven’t you been invited to events where it was just all too much hard work?  You weren’t sure of timings, exactly where it is and if you can drive or get a train, what time it will finish and if you should book a taxi, what to wear, who’s going ………. And so on.

The less effort for your guests, the more likely they are to attend.  Transport may seem an extra cost you can’t afford – but it can increase commitment.  And it’s a small additional cost if it makes your event work – and you aren’t inviting people like me to fill the gaps!

What one thing makes you committed to attending an event?  Apart from a World Cup Final of Germany v England (for some!)?



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Written by Northern Lights


  • Sound, solid, evidence and experience-led advice from Northern Lights – as usual. I totally agree with all of it based on my own evidence and experience.

  • Thanks Chris
    These things are such a cost – not just in terms of money but also senior people’s time. And a considerable stress! It seems such a shame if businesses aren’t recovering that investment.

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