I am hesitant to share this post because apartment communities often like to lean on their vendors to help with their resident events. So I don’t want to further that problem, but there ARE good ways to work with other businesses to provide free elements to your apartment community party.
First of all, the key is to understand what companies could be helped by contributing to your event. Rather than see the companies as an open checkbook, instead look at what ways your party could help them increase sales or exposure to different audiences. For example, we recently shared a clothes drive event on Resident Events, where we suggested working with local clothing companies to provide gift cards. The event was all about clothes, so it made perfect sense to reach out to that type of store. Similarly, an event about creating planters on resident balconies would be a great tie-in for a home improvement store or nursery. Conversely, asking a vendor that provides pool supplies for funds for your party doesn’t make any sense, because they simply won’t get any value out of the arrangement.
Once you establish what companies might be a good fit, you need to make it compelling for them. You already have the “story” part down, by having the event related to their offerings. But now you need to make it compelling from an investment point of view. In other words, is it worth it for them to donate elements to your party? So along with creating your event plan, it is a good idea to create a very simple marketing plan for “selling” the company on participating! In general, this will be a function of what locations you can showcase them and how big the audience is. For example:
“We can share your logo and information in the following places:”
- Newsletter shared on every door – 413 Residents
- On our website – 2,935 Monthly visitors
- Poster in our community office – Hundreds of residents and prospects
- On our Facebook Fan Page – 312 Fans
- Through Twitter – 196 Followers
- Logo at the event
The key is to quantify every element as best as you can so they can see the audience size. Also, when discussing residents, it is often to use the number of residents, not the number of apartments. Since many apartments have multiple occupants, that number will generally be higher and have a bigger impact. Also, if you have a high-end community, it would be a good idea to make that apparent, as well. This helps convince them that not only do you have an audience, but that audience has disposable income!
In certain circumstances it may even make sense (or be required) that the company attend the event. For example, a caterer will likely be present, so the ability to do more overt marketing by letting them put up a banner might help. Or I’ve seen a salesperson for renter’s insurance actually attend an event and set up a table and talk to residents directly, which could be a good opportunity to them. The key to this part of the process is simply understanding all of the resident touch points, and how they will be displayed during each touch point.
Once you have a marketing plan, you need to decide how you want to handle what is asked. Sometimes, you need to know exactly what you want out of the deal. But sometimes, it is best to leave it up in the air and let them offer something. For example, if you are looking for gift cards, you could keep it vague and ask if they would like to share any gift cards for being included. Of course, you need to have an amount that is fair for the “deal”, but leaving it up to them may yield you more than what you would have asked for.
Lastly, if you ever want to go back to the company again, it is good to share the results of the event!
We often rattle on about ideas that we develop within our industry, but I often find more value in hearing candid conversations from residents themselves. Today I found a conversation that asked, "Best way to introduce myself to neighbors?" This question was actually posed in regards to a single family development, and most responses had something to do with "while out working on the lawn..." Although this topic isn't specifically about apartment parties or resident events specifically, I think it is important to delve into the mechanics of how people interact, cross paths, and develop relationships, whether it is at a party or not.
Let's dig into this question, and how their answers in single family developments could impact our multifamily communities. For the moment, let's assume that the single family development had no yards or other outside areas to hang out, meet, etc. This scenario would actually be quite similar to a garden-style apartment community. While our communities have gathering spots like the community pool or gym, most of the buildings are stand-along structures that just have adjacent parking strips. So a resident most often simply gets out of his/her car, walks up to the door, and enters the apartment. So if a single family neighborhood didn't have any yards/etc, it would be similar, but potentially even worse, as the front doors would be spaced apart rather than together as in many multifamily buildings. So to boil this down, one of the main social elements for single family communities, at least for adults, is working on the lawn, which gives them an opportunity and a common reference point. They may not know anything else about their neighbor, but they can at least talk about lack of rain, lawn equipment, and lawn care in general. Of course, apartment communities often lack this outdoor activity to facilitate this social interaction.
But it isn't just the lack of a yard... Another element at play is a simple one for many residents: "why bother?" This is where our high turnover hurts us. If someone owns a home, they will be there for years, maybe decades. But a renter is gone in probably less than two. So even if we had the equivalent of a lawn to work on, would our residents even bother striking up a conversation?
The last element that builds into this social interaction is the ownership aspect. Let's take an example where you borrow a friend's car, and a person with the same car ends up parking next to you. They might chat with you about the car, such as if you have had similar quirks or how well you like it. But since it isn't your car, you'll probably feel awkward and explain that it really isn't your car. In many ways, that's how some renters feel about their community - it isn't their community, they are just renting the apartment. So there might be less of a common denominator for two residents to build upon.
I wish I could give some magic option for apartment communities to implement to create this opportunity for our residents, but I'm honestly not sure at this point. I think the first big step is to start looking at social interaction as a science, and examine how people interact in different environments. For example, what causes two people to stop and talk, versus just give a nod and keep on walking? Once we do that, we can start developing more effective communal environments, developing an ownership mentality, and developing a cure to those residents who ask themselves, "why bother?"
Do you want your event to be a hit and have lots of participation? Great events don’t just happen, they take a clear idea and plan of execution and lots of repetitive advertising.
- Advertise in ways that have never been used before:
- Rent may be due, but tag little reminders about your event to notices
- Emails have to be sent to residents for various communication-put something at the bottom about your event reminding them
- Cut signs out in creative shapes, use creative colors, and buy special paper- don’t leave them in the same location, change it up every few days
- Buy or Make doorknob hangers
- Hang signs in unusual places. Attract attention with how high, low or crooked the sign is – move these signs to a new location
- Put your event on your resident referral letters. What better way to earn extra cash if you’re a resident? Ask a friend to check out the community by coming to an event!
- Use eye grabbing graphics to get people’s attention- which picture would make you look and read the details about a BBQ
“I am not your father…but, you are going to be my dinner…mmm BBQ”
- DON’T LIE IN YOUR ADS…Even though “free airfare”, “Free tanning” “FreeRent” will get attention, residents will stop reading once they realize it is a gimmick
At least one month ahead…
- Put it in your newsletter
- Use Evite, MyPunchBowl or PurpleTrail to send invitations and track attendance or regrets
- Post on your community FaceBook Page- schedule it as an “event” you can check back to see who is attending
- Get it put up in a common area like the mail kiosk/center
- Put a yard sign/boot leg sign– just enough info to keep them watching for more details
Two and one-half to three weeks ahead…
- Put up posters/flyers
- Make a smaller flyer and tape to all packages being picked up at the office
- Post signs in the halls, lounge, computer labs, behind each bathroom stall, at the pool
- Prepare more doorknob hangers or flyers
One week ahead…
- Repeat announcement in the weekly bulletin or on a resident activity board
- All leasing consultants should invite prospects to the event, give them a flyer- great reason to call them back
One or two days before…
- Talk it up amongst residents and prospects- invite them to the event
Last month, we talked about the IKEA effect, where people who participate in creating something, have a higher satisfaction in the finished outcome. So translating that into community events, if you get residents involved in actually creating the party, they will be happier with the event once it happens. To extend on that idea, April Boham has some notes on finding volunteers and some specific ways they can help out!
Look to your residents to help out. Search for a person from each building or floor (depending on your property). You know those folks; the happy, friendly, always stopping by the office types. They will become your ambassadors and a great source of advertising.
Explain your event and how you think they would be perfect for this special occasion. Ask them if they would like to help out with something easy like the refreshment table. They just make sure everything is kept tidy or replenished every 30 or 40 minutes throughout the party. No one wants to clean up or set up, that is your staffs’ job. Give resident volunteers the fun things to do. Here are some ideas:
Door Greeter- direct people to the event, drinks and food are there, activities are over here…
Talent Focused- face painting, caricatures drawing, bartender (non-alcoholic fun drink maker), animal balloon maker, kids or a mini-manicure, pedicure, chair massage therapy or a Barista at the coffee bar
Attendant- They can let you know when the garbage is overflowing or the ice is running low, you need more paper towels or toilet paper in the bathrooms.
Game Runner- for the more outgoing resident they may feel comfortable spinning people around to whack the piñata’, or calling numbers for BINGO, conducting a trivia Q & A game, helping kids with pin the tail on the donkey or some other game.
Set up/Break Down- I did say not to ask residents to do this kind of stuff, but some people love this part of the party. I, myself am one of those people. I would much rather set up the tables, blow up the balloons and take the trash out!
Planning a resident event can seem overwhelming due to a small staff or a limited budget. You cannot do everything, but that shouldn’t detract you from planning resident events. You just might be amazed at the resources you have living right next door!
Imagine for a moment an apartment community absolutely no frills or amenities. This means there were no granite countertops, appliance upgrades, or hard wood floors inside. And there was no pool, no gym, or no community clubhouse in the community itself. If you took away all these elements, you would still have a big construction project, right? It would still be a big real estate endeavor, but it just wouldn’t have anything special beyond a stack of boxes. In other words, it is still a lot of wood, appliances, plumbing, etc, but it is fairly uninspiring.
For many apartment communities, that is how they plan their community events. They get a basic theme, a basic plan for catering, and some basic decorations, but they miss the added elements that make it unique and interesting to the residents. Recently, we were working on an event idea on Resident Events for a Gumbo cook-off. It was actually inspired by some friends of mine, and it sounded like a fun thing to do as a community event. Now, here is how most communities would share their event: "Gumbo cook-off! Cook your best recipe and we'll have guest judges determine the winner!" That's all fine and good, but it's the equivalent of just a stack of boxes apartment community - there isn't a whole lot there beyond the basic idea.
However, as I started getting deeper and deeper into the planning, I realized there were so many opportunities with partnership marketing. For example, wouldn’t it be neat to have a local restaurant participate in the cook-off? Or what if you could talk to a restaurant and explain the contest, and see if they would be willing to feature the winning dish for a small period of time in their restaurant? Many people would think that is out of the range of possibility, but there are actually a ton of benefits for a restaurant to do that, including free marketing and a great story to tell.
My point is that if you stop your brainstorming after you have decided you want a Luau and select a caterer, you are only providing the most basic of community events, one that will likely not entertain that many people. So learn to dig deeper – devote some time to let the planning simmer in your head as you drive to and from work. Don’t plan it last minute where brainstorming is more difficult, but rather let the ideas float around for a while well in advance. Eventually, you will learn what that secret sauce is for your apartment community event!
A while back, I wrote about requiring residents to actually participate in community events, whether it is during the event or in the planning process. At the time, all I had was anecdotal evidence based upon my own experiences at events. Essentially, those events where I simply showed up and relaxed left a much smaller impact on me compared to those that I actually actively participated in the event. So although most people would assume that requiring participation would be a turn-off for our residents, it actually ensures that they have a memorable time, rather than simply eating, drinking, and leaving.
Today, I ran across a concept that helps support this very idea: The IKEA Effect. Essentially, this concept explains how people who put in effort into a project tend to be more satisfied with the result than if they did not. With Ikea furniture, often the purchaser has to take the time to put together the furniture once they purchase it, and that act of building something creates a feeling of appreciation for that product greater than if they had just purchased the finished product. Purchasers tend to then overvalue their own creations.
When you think back on similar situations, this is actually quite common, even going back to when we are little kids. I remember writing a “book” as a little kid and being so incredibly proud of it, just because it came from my own effort. But if I had just read that book, I’m sure I would have been less than impressed. Same thing went for the garden I built and countless other masterpieces throughout my life. Even when writing blogs, I find myself reading back over them, self satisfied with the final product.
So going back to apartment parties, this means that having residents be a part of the party-planning/creation process will not only provide additional volunteer labor, but also provide a greater satisfaction level for those that participate. It changes your community events from events that you throw for your residents to events they throw for themselves. Are you ready to create your party planning committee?
When we discuss the alcohol issue for our resident events, there are two things we need to consider: Legal issues and the effect it will have on your party. I’m not going to go in-depth on the legal issues, whether you are offering alcohol or whether you are having residents bring their own, mainly because I’m not a lawyer and can’t give any advice on that. So for the purpose of this blog, I’m just going to assume you will figure that part out independently.
This now brings us to the question of whether you offer alcohol at your event from a party planning point of view. The first consideration is cost. When serving alcohol, you absolutely must have a bartender. I’ve seen residents go absolutely crazy when serving themselves food, and that was potatoes versus free booze. So there is a likely a cost to having a bartender at the event. And then there is the cost of the alcohol itself. Kegs can provide a cost effective solution, but it still can add up.
Cost aside, and assuming drink controls are enforced with your bartender, let’s talk about the effectiveness of alcohol at your event. Try thinking back to the last party you have been to that didn’t have alcohol… Hard to remember, right? Sad as it may be, alcohol loosens up people, and in an environment where most of your residents likely don’t know each other, this loosening up will probably smooth things over immensely in getting the party going.
Ultimately, if your goals include residents getting to know each other, then alcohol will go a long way to facilitating this interaction, even if that is somewhat of a sad commentary on our ability to meet new people without the use of booze. Just put safeguards in place to make sure that the system doesn’t get abused and your residents are safe, and your party will be greatly impacted by a tasty beverage.
A few weeks ago at the NMHC OpTech conference, a big emphasis was placed on mobile strategies beyond apps for residents. For example, solutions for apartment maintenance technicians and due diligence apps for multifamily acquisitions were interesting options. But let's take this option to our resident events. Imagine if we had a iPad app where the "host(ess)" could welcome each new resident and enter them into a simple system for who attended an event. We could then gauge each resident's engagement level with the community by attendance, track their guests (who are potential prospects), and identify how effective our events were in the retention process! If this was tied into a social media-based resident portal, the app could also import pictures and attempt to tag all attendees seen in the pictures, or at the very least, give the on-site team a list of attendees to pick from to tag the pictures themselves.
Taking this a step further, the app could make friend requests within the resident portal based upon mutual tags within the same picture. For example, if Joe Snider from apartment #428 and Harriette Bilmun from apartment #715 were tagged in the same picture, there is a chance that they were sitting at the same table and chatted during the party. But in a normal event setting it is very likely that they did not trade phone numbers or email addresses, so that connection is potentially lost. But with new technology-based capabilities like this, the system could send them an email that they were tagged in a picture, and ask if they would like to connect with each other in the system! Suddenly, we have taken a tenuous, short-term connection and potentially developed a longer-term connection between two residents.
To date, our data-mining and tracking systems for events are subpar, where we play a guessing game of who attended what event and whether that event was successful in its goals. But mobile technology allows us to track these elements much better to determine whether our event strategy is on the right track!
It is amazing how much time we take trying to brainstorm new apartment party ideas, and yet so often we are simply off-base. So why not do something incredibly simple to find out what your residents are interested in - just ask. On a Monday, send out a one-question survey to your residents asking one question: "What did you do last weekend?" With this simple strategy, you will find out whether your residents are bar people, like live music, enjoy lounging at a coffee shop, hanging out with friends, are movie-goers, etc, etc, etc. Use this invaluable data to create event strategies for your residents based upon their actual entertainment preferences rather than simply dream up events based upon your own interests.
Over the last several weeks I have been talking about group pictures for your apartment parties, and how they can impact a sense of community. Not only do I think that taking a group picture bonds residents together, but I also think seeing the final product can have a huge impact on both residents and prospects. For residents, they can either pick themselves out of the crowd, or inspire those that couldn’t make it the last time. For prospects, they want to find people who they can connect with. Without some sort of visual, all the residents who live in the community are an unknown. But seeing a ton of smiling faces shining back at them makes a prospect feel more comfortable in their decision.
But event group pictures are really going to only cover a portion of residents – those that could make the party. So I think it would be fun to buy a green screen and ask each new resident to take a picture in front of it. For those who don't know, taking a picture in front of a green screen allows you to isolate just the people without a background a lot easier, like they do for the weather forecaster. Then, once a month add all new residents to a composite group picture! That picture would grow and grow over time, and will be a neat time capsule of all the residents who had lived at the property.
Note: if you do this, make sure you ask every single new resident! By not asking one resident, you could open yourself up to Fair Housing issues.