In Knoxville, “Manning” is a name that packs star power. Just ask the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley.
The organization secured Archie Manning as keynote speaker for the 2015 Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony, which is a primary fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs. The former Ole Miss and NFL quarterback – and father to former Vol Peyton Manning and fellow pro Eli Manning – drew a crowd of more than 1,300, the second-highest attendance in the event’s history.
“The only time we’ve had more people in attendance was in 2006 when Peyton was the keynote speaker,” said Amanda Brummerstedt, director of special events for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley.
Attendance at the 2015 event on Aug. 4 likely could have matched the overflow response to Peyton’s presence if the ballroom had room for even more tables.
“Our staging took up more floor space,” Brummerstedt said. “The response was phenomenal – we almost sold out before the PSAs started running.”
Arranging Archie Manning took about three years and was helped by the friendship between the elder Manning and Boys & Girls Clubs board member Tim Priest, a former Tennessee football player and broadcaster for the Vol Network.
“We have the most amazing board,” Brummerstedt said. “Their contacts and connections help us do a lot of things that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”
Carol Evans, executive director of Legacy Parks Foundation, also credits a board member, Will Skelton, with something big – coming up with the idea to bring Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of the memoir, Wild, to town. Skelton, who helped to form the Knox Greenways Coalition in 1991, is an avid advocate of the outdoors.
The memoir describes Strayed’s 1,100-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 and was made into a hit movie starring Reese Witherspoon in 2014.
“Will had just seen the movie based on Strayed’s book,” Evans said. “He called me up and said that we should try to bring her to Knoxville as a keynote speaker. I knew it was a long shot but figured it was worth a try.”
The event sold out, and for the first time included a crowd of 1,000 people. Evans said that in addition to increased attendees, the event drew a more diverse audience.
“At least 15 percent of our guests are new to the event, and at least three book clubs bought tables to the luncheon,” Evans said.
“We’re thrilled to be reaching an entirely new audience.”
Big numbers, big visibility. It may seem like there is no downside to drawing big name talent.
There are, however, potential pitfalls and things to keep in mind when “shooting for the stars.”
Never lose sight of the budget. High-profile speakers or entertainers bring a larger crowd, but if your event is a fundraiser and their appearance fees eat up most of the profit, you’ve missed the primary target for your event.
Watch the details. Be sure to work early and thoroughly with the talent’s manager or handler. Have all the fine details worked out in advance and included in the contract. Otherwise, you may face added expenses or last-minute changes that can affect the success of your event and increase planner stress.
Be flexible. The bigger the names, the harder it will be to get them on the calendar. Improve your odds by working around their schedule instead of trying to steer them into yours. Sometimes you can cut down on expenses by piggybacking with another appearance.
Evans said Legacy Parks used that strategy when lining up Strayed, who had an East Coast appearance close to the same time as the luncheon.
Always have a backup plan. Things happen. Flights can be delayed, people get sick, or your star may be arrested or facing a sudden and serious PR challenge. Whatever the reason, it is important to have a solid backup plan in place well before show time.
Should you add “star power” to your event? Doing so can be advantageous by being thoughtful in the approach, careful in planning and flexible with talent.
Michelle Henry is a recovering event planner who now serves in a part-time role at Moxley Carmichael with a focus on writing. When not at the keyboard, you’ll likely find her at the pool enjoying the stretch of warm weather before fall or somewhere reading a book. Or both.