how to create event collateral without losing your mind

Whether you’re hosting your own conference or simply manning a booth at your first trade show, there’s a lot of preparation that needs to be done before the big day. From brochures and banners to signs and sales sheets, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by just how much work goes into preparing all of the various collateral needed for an event.

While we don’t have any secrets for how to get your event collateral created in the snap of a finger, our experience has taught us that the easiest way to meet deadlines, ensure nothing falls through the cracks and generally stay sane in the months leading up to your event has everything to do with proper planning and good project management.

Planning is crucial when you’re juggling a variety of different projects. When you and your team know precisely what they’re expected to do, when it needs to be done and what they need to know or have to get started, you eliminate miscommunication and create a truly streamlined process.

Of course, we know some people recoil at the thought of planning. That’s why I’m sharing a free downloadable event collateral project management spreadsheet here. This spreadsheet is exactly what I use when working with a client that hosts two major conferences every year, and it has kept my team and theirs on-track and in-sync the entire time.

So, open up the spreadsheet and follow along: I’m going to break down every step you need to consider during the planning process to help you organize and manage your event collateral development process without losing your mind.

The 7 Steps for Smooth Event Collateral Project Management

  1. Write down every piece of collateral you’ll need for your event

First things first: what pieces need to be created?

Write it all down – and don’t forget the seemingly “small” things like name badges, a sign pointing to the restroom (your attendees won’t be happy if this one is skipped) or minor but important website updates.

It’s important that you write down everything you will need now, before you begin assigning tasks and creating deadlines. It will be easier to map out your collateral development timeline with a full project list rather than having to update your timeline again when you realize you forgot to write down a task (please take this opportunity to learn from my mistakes).

  1. Determine the specs for each piece

Next, write out all the specs for each piece of collateral. This will include information like dimensions, paper stock and file formats.

Don’t make any assumptions here: just because you think a brochure would probably be 8.5 x 11 in size doesn’t mean it will be. Having the specs up front will ensure your designer develops each piece to meet the proper parameters the first time. If they don’t have the right dimensions upfront, they’ll need to redesign the piece (and surely miss your deadlines).

If nothing else, having it listed upfront will save them and you time from trying to find this information later.

You may need to work with your printer, ad vendor or your designer to determine the specs. Do this all before you get started so you don’t have to rush to find this information further down the road when you are in more of a time crunch.

Having the specs is also important for copywriters: they’ll need to know how much space they’ll have to work with as they develop copy for each piece. If you’ve ever written a killer page of brand copy, only to be told it needs to be slashed in half to fit on the page, you’ll understand why knowing your space ahead of time will save you headaches.

  1. What quantities do you need?

How many brochures will you need to print? Do you need one copy of 15 different event signs? Should you bring two banners, just in case one gets damaged in transit (hey, it happens).

Knowing the quantity upfront allows you to work with your printer to get quotes for your project sooner. When you’re ready to send your design files to be printed, there won’t be any time wasted on the back-and-forth needed to get a quote, or sharing information with the printer, like what type of paper they need to be working with.

One thing to keep in mind: printers typically offer price breaks at higher quantities. So, if you’re confident you’ll have a need for the pieces beyond the event, it’ll be more cost-effective to order more now rather than re-printing down the road.

  1. What is the final deadline you need the finished design files by?

When do you need to send your artwork to the printer or have website updates completed by? Get the turnaround times for your printer and development teams upfront so you can plan accordingly.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I always make this deadline earlier than it needs to be. Why? Something along the way will almost always delay some your work: whether your computer crashes and you lose all your files or you are having trouble getting a high-res photo of the conference location, you need to be realistic about the fact that something may go wrong along the way.

I usually make the final deadline a few days to one full week earlier than the real hard deadline to get the artwork over to the printer and still have everything printed in time. You don’t need to advertise the fact that your deadline has wiggle room with your team, though: this is a safety net for you, not an opportunity for them to take their sweet time completing their part of the project.

  1. Work backwards to determine deadlines for various drafts
    Designing event brochures

Once you know your final deadline, work backwards to determine when drafts of each collateral piece will be due for review.

Let’s say you’re designing a brochure to hand out at your conference. You can think through the planning process like this:

Event Brochure Timeline

  • Final deadline: Friday, April 21
  • Third draft deadline: Friday, April 14
  • Second draft deadline: Friday, April 7
  • First draft deadline: Friday, March 31

You’ll need to give the people responsible for edits and proofs enough time to carefully review each piece and share feedback, as well as give your designer and/or copywriter enough time to update the piece with the revisions shared by your team.

  1. Assign tasks

For very small organizations, one or two people may be responsible for all of the collateral projects (drinks on me after the conference – you need it!). If you’re working with a slightly larger team, it’s crucial that everyone knows what they are working on from the get-go.

When assigning tasks, be sure to consider not only who is best skilled to complete each project, but if they will be able to handle all the deadlines. When working on many large projects that are due in a fairly short period of time – as often happens when designing collateral for events and conferences – it may not always be realistic to have one person be responsible for five tasks due in the same week.

For the sanity of your team, keep this in mind when assigning projects.

  1. Share additional project notes

It’s possible that there is additional information your team needs to know about to successfully complete each piece. That’s why we recommend having a “notes” section on your spreadsheet to make sure all team members have access to notes on direction or other considerations. This can include both notes to know before the project is started as well as notes regarding the progress of the development.

For example, recent notes I’ve included in spreadsheets I’ve used with clients include “use template from last year’s brochure,” “waiting to receive a logo from the sponsor for page 5,” “waiting on approval for stock photos from client,” or “make website updates anytime within the week before the event starts.”

As you and your team work through each of the tasks in your spreadsheet, be sure to keep it up to date with the status of the project (“not yet started,” “in-progress,” or “completed”).

When these steps are all taken prior to developing collateral for your event, you’ll see what’s coming from a mile away. That means no missed deadlines, no designs that look like they were rushed (because they were) and no horrifying realization that you forgot to create something when you’re standing at your event.

In other words, it’ll make your life a whole lot less stressful.