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Woman of the Week: Sarah Jacobs Barrs

Named one of the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Future Leaders and one of Canada’s 2016 100 Most Powerful Women, Sarah Jacob Barrs exudes passion for what she does. On the phone with Women’s Post, Barrs doesn’t glamorize her profession, but instead stresses how much she enjoys her work. As she says, “It’s important to have fun in everything you do.”

Barrs is the director of events for Klick, one of the largest marketing and commercialization agencies in the world, headquartered in Toronto. She manages a small team of women who organize internal and external events for the company. Some of the special guests that have spoken at Barr’s events at Klick include include Bill Clinton, Margaret Atwood, Arianna Huffington, David Cronenberg, Deepak Chopra, Craig Kielburger, and Steven Page.

It’s hard work that involves long hours and impressive people skills. Barrs’ events are highly curated for a wide audience, whether it’s 20 people at a managers’ retreat or 2000 guests at a town hall or a conference. She is also responsible for Klick’s external marketing events and coordinates international events for clients. All of this is in addition to the internal leadership conferences, wellness or fitness courses, and retreats she plans for staff.

“People come to me and ask about event planning. It’s a lot of work. There is glamour behind it,” she says. “But it’s also understanding your industry and knowing you need to stay on top of trends – you are constantly having to recreate what you do and change and do new things – not every career does that.”

Barrs was brought up with a strong sense of community, something that inspired her career path. In particular, she wanted to help the sick because everyone has been touched by loss or illness in one way or another. Since she was unable to donate money, Barrs decided she could help fundraise and plan events, which she did with great success. Throughout her roles as an event coordinator for Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary, Chair of the Leadership Board Toronto for Save a Child’s Heart, and Community Development Coordinator for the SickKids Foundation, she was able to land her dream job of working in both the event planning and health sectors.

“I grew up in a family where giving back was really important,” she said. “Over the holiday season we supported families to ensure they had wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah – picking out gifts for children my age,” she said.

One of Barrs’ first jobs following graduation was with Women of Influence, an organization dedicated to the advancement of professional women. She started working there as a receptionist in 2007, but was promoted a few months later to event coordinator. For Barrs, this opportunity spearheaded her career as well as a passion for helping other women. She even helped start a group based in Toronto for young women in business.

Although Barrs no longer works with Women of Influence, she continues to try to mentor and offer advice to young women pursuing event planning. She is also active in planning celebrations for International Women’s Day within Klick, something she is incredibly proud of.

When she isn’t working, Barrs enjoys fitness, spending time with family and friends and traveling. “I really enjoy doing nothing,” she says. “Sometimes you just need your downtime with this type of career.” She also finds a bit of relief through shopping, finding clothing that allows her to showcase her creativity.

Barrs is working on a big internal celebration in September to mark Klick’s 20th anniversary, as well as the company’s annual town hall marketing event in December.

 

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How to expand your email campaigns and event planning

Never underestimate the power of communication.

At an intimate learning workshop series at the Centre for Social Innovation, communications professionals from various non-profits, including Sierra Club of Canada, Community Environmental Alliance and Scouts Canada, gathered to learn from the best. The workshop, “Supercharging Your Purpose”, offered important tips on how to gain support and donations to succeed in the world of non-profits. The workshop was run by Second Revolution Communications, a communications company that leads workshops in conjunction with the Sustainability Network, a non-profit that provides learning networks to non-profits across Canada. The workshops run about three times per year.

Over the course of two days, non-profits were invited to learn about strategic planning, designing a better brand, event planning, and email campaigns from speakers Brad Pearson, Creative Director of Second Revolution Communications, and Keith Treffry, Director of Strategy at Second Revolution Communications. Both speakers come from an extensive background in the environmental non-profit sector. Previously Treffry was the Director of Communications for Earth Day Canada, a non-profit that has been around for over 25 years. Pearson is a graphic designer by trade, and previously worked for Greenpeace.

Women’s Post had the opportunity to attend the event planning and email campaigns workshops and left with valuable takeaways on how to plan for success in the world of non-profit.

Event Planning

“The biggest challenge in event planning is creating a unique event that will resonate strongly with your supporters,” Treffry says. “There are so many variables in events, you could have the best event semantically, but screw up by charging too much for tickets. Create a unique niche and separate yourself from your competition.”

When planning an event, begin by creating a steering committee. Researching finances, potential partnerships for the event, timing, competition, and venues is critical to a successful event. It can be dangerous to jump the gun and start planning before all these details are considered. The second step is to define the budget and consider important things like food, speakers, A/V, marketing and insurance. Don’t forget to developing a theme and brand for the event that can be used on social media.

Only after all of those factors are taken into consideration can you choose the venue. Make sure to ask about indoor/outdoor, A/V capacity, food and beverage options (if you are using their catering), size, and location. From there, implement your communications plan, which includes event materials, an Eventbrite or other ticketing system, a website, and signage for the event. Be sure to focus on getting speakers, deciding on catering or food options, and venue décor.

On the day of event, be sure to have a run sheet that lays out A/V needs for speakers or panelists along with any required images needed throughout the event. Don’t forget to make sure your sponsors are front and centre. Pearson recommends to obtain presentations from speakers in advance, noting that it can be difficult, but will make the event much smoother.

Both speakers focus on different aspects of the most integral elements on the day of the event:

Treffry: “Execution of the event is essential. Make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and knows what to do and when. Make sure they stick to the script.“

Pearson: “I focus more on A/V aspects of the event. At larger events, I’ll be in the sound booth coordinating with the presentations. My background is in design, but I’ve enough multimedia experience to be reasonably efficient. You learn how to wear multiple hats.”

Finally, after the event is complete, don’t forget to debrief with the team. Engaging with the people who contributed to running the event will make future events even more successful. Communication is key!

Email Campaigns

Emailing campaigns continue to be an important part of communications and marketing for non-profits. Though various social media outlets can appear to be more effective, emails are still an essential form of engagement for online communication. Pearson says that people have three times as many emails as other social media accounts and 56 per cent of people check their email first when they wake up and last before they go to bed, more so than other social media networks.

When building a subscriber list for emails, provide a banner and button on the website that will engage people to click on it. Providing click-bait such as a fun phrase or compelling image will draw people to subscribe. When asking for information, keep it simple as well. Simply ask for an email and provide an option for people to give additional information such as gender or city to build a better idea of the demographics your website is reaching.

Be sure to test different times, various subject headers, and different images in email campaigns to gauge success with your audience. Try using videos as well. Using video or other multimedia storytelling will raise email engagement by about 35 per cent. Be sure to focus on who you are audience is. Pearson pointed out that 80 per cent of people who have stopped opening emails feel it has become irrelevant. Engaging an interested audience is imperative to the success of an email campaign.

There are key challenges that remain to email campaigning, but there are solutions. “It is a difficult process. You can’t buy lists anymore because you need explicit consent,” Pearson says. “It isn’t so much about the size of your list as compared to the quality of your engagement. Make sure not to miss an opportunity. Testing different variables is also important and improves engagement rates. It is about long-strategy vs. short-term panic.”

Communications is key to creating relationships with supporters when working in the non-profit sector. Using events to network and engage with people will help create lasting partnerships and loyalty. Likewise, email campaigning can foster an online relationship that could further the success of a given cause. Most importantly, focus on the purpose for your non-profit and you won’t lose your way.