10 Steps to Power Happy Hour

Brandon K. Chicotsky, Ph.D.
Brandon K. Chicotsky, Ph.D.

Dr. Brandon K. Chicotsky is a business faculty member at Johns Hopkins University specializing in business communication. Since beginning university lectureship in 2014, Dr. Chicotsky has taught over 1,000 students in various topics ranging from information management to media entrepreneurship. His research interests center on media branding with interdisciplinary aspects of human capital valuations, organizational management, and corporate PR. Dr. Chicotsky may be reached at chicotsky@jhu.edu or on twitter @chicotsky.

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The term “power positioning” may be interpreted as strategic relationship building with leaders and organizations who yield influence beyond the scope of your preceding professional and social network. Such network advancements may bolster your career or propel the professional network of your associates.

Consider the oft-utilized adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Logically, someone seeking venture backing would pursue introductions with private equity and angel networks (i.e., groups of hobbyist investors seeking opportunities to inject capital in growing enterprises). In a similar scenario, someone seeking early-entry employment in a competitive market segment would engage hiring managers and executives to gain mentorship and build useful inroads. The functionality of either scenario applies to various contexts of professional pursuits for upward mobility. Ultimately, young professionals must meet influential people to unlock opportunities.

So, how can this be accomplished? Below are ten steps to making this happen. The blueprint may be somewhat unexpected, as the steps focus on event planning … more specifically, planning happy hours. The guidelines provided are among the most actionable steps you can take to power positioning.

  1. Explore the Market of Meetups and Identify Your Niche

Browse every online professional community posting board in your city to identify which particular communities are actively gathering. To get started, browse through MeetUp, CitySocializer, and Facebook Groups to assess the market of groups publicly identified by demographic information (e.g., “Young Professionals in Advertising,” “Women in STEM,” or “Hackers for Social Good”). Once you have exhausted your search, assess how your professional demographic profile might “fill the gap” of what’s lacking among community gatherings.

  1. Organize Your Core Organizers and Draft Your Mission

After identifying your professional profile niche (in terms of what community gathering groups are lacking), then organize five to eight committed colleagues or friends who you trust will actively work to host or promote happy hours. Together, create a conceptual organization, but don’t worry about official filings, opening up a bank account, and obtaining a tax ID number. Those administrative steps can come after you have successfully thrown your first happy hours and require an upkeep of funds for responsible management.

To begin, name your organization with a clear demographic signifier (e.g., “Public Sector Professionals,” “LGBTQ and Allies in Business,” or “Young Real Estate Investors”), but be careful to avoid alienating anyone who may not fit your profile. Your happy hours should be open and accessible to all professionals, while hosted by people who identify with your organization’s name. After your core team has settled on the name and demographic focus of your organization, draft a mission statement.

Next, formulate a website, which can be easily templated on drag-and-drop sites like SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix, and GoSpaceCraft. After that, render a logo and tagline for your organization, which can be accomplished through freelance platforms like TaskRabbit. Other branding elements to consider organizing are social media profiles, which will later be useful for happy hour promotion.

  1. Map Out Your Hot Spots and Line Up Libations

Consider the people who would prospectively attend your happy hours. If they are plutocrats, your venue should align with their social preferences. If they are musicians and artists, consider venues that include staging, areas for art showcasing, and other elements associated with your demographic’s interests. Starting out, choose venues with a built-in bar and server so you can avoid the challenges of finding a reputable third party to serve alcohol.

Identify five different venues and contact each one with a stated goal of bringing them more business. Ask when they would hope to increase drink sales (e.g., Monday or Tuesday evening when partygoers typically stay home). In exchange for increasing patronage during their “downtime” and promoting their venue to your happy hour invite lists, negotiate a waiver of any host fees and arrange a bar tab if you have the budget. Don’t let incorrigible negotiators from the venue deter you. Bar owners have likely served behind the bar for years and are strong with interpersonal exchanges, but maybe less skilled or patient on the phone. Thus, a personal visit may help secure your arrangements.

  1. Formulate a Target List of Connectors and Honorees

In this step, lock in your first honoree target before building a more extensive list. Simply call the company your target-honoree leads, or message their staff online with an official invite. Be brief. Furthermore, do not let shyness prevent you from completing this step. It’s better to fail in a concerted effort than to allow any crippling reticence prevent you from power positioning.

Your honoree can be an industry leader who relates to your organization’s demographic profile or someone with another logical tie-in to your industry. Ultimately, you want to honor someone you believe will significantly contribute to your network. To schedule an industry leader, you will have to assure him/her (or their staff) that at least thirty attendees will be present to acknowledge them. For your first happy hour, this should be achievable with a core team of five to eight organizers working together with promotion and recruitment.

To help secure your prospective honoree, explain that the happy hour will be promoted as a gathering to acknowledge their career accomplishments. Explain that the honoree is a person of inspiration to your community and the organizers. You may also mention that a gift will be given. The gift can be a small but thoughtful memento, like a plaque or a framed and signed picture of the organizers, with a heartfelt “thank you” message.

At the happy hour, one of the organizers with a strength in public speaking should formally present this gift with everyone’s attention. Upon presenting the gift, acknowledge the honoree’s career and inspirational work to your community (be mindful of your organization’s mission in these brief remarks). The applause from attendees and the opportunity to be revered for an hour is often enough for an honoree to become ingratiated to your organization. This may result in strong referrals for future honorees or help in promoting future happy hours.

As for building an invite list, focus on connectors and general invitees. Keep your promotional content and messaging consistent, tastefully branded, and shareable. Utilize one RSVP system such as Facebook Events or EventBrite, to which all promotional and shareable content should direct. After anyone RSVPs, send a personal message expressing your excitement for their attendance and assure them they may bring anyone along or extend the invite to their network. Be careful to avoid sounding overly promotional in this outreach since you already have buy-in from the prospective attendee.

  1. Build Two Happy Hours, But Announce One

This approach sets your organization up for growth. To launch your organization, focus on the first happy hour and honoree. During the first gathering, begin discussing the next happy hour (scheduled weeks apart, most likely) in conversations. Don’t overly promote  because those interpersonal conversations and exchanges should focus on relationship building and human connection, rather than promotions. If you do advertise the second happy hour during the first gathering, do so subtly. Your second event promotion will be most effective immediately after the first gathering. Follow-up emails and social media posts including media captures (pictures and a video mashup) can build interest for the next event.

At the first happy hour, if you have a table at the entrance of the venue, you can give attendees an option to RSVP for the next event. This is likely the most appropriate place to discuss any future events as an organizer unless prompted from attendees in organic conversation. Otherwise, focus on connecting with people and introducing attendees to the honoree.

  1. Attend to Details and Be Creative

Arrive early and take care of the venue beforehand. If they require any upfront payment, make this transaction before any attendees arrive. Make sure parking arrangements and any other accommodations for your honoree are all set. Test all audio and visual equipment well in advance. Make sure all artists and live performers are ready for their designated start time or showcase time.

Visual and audio stimulation are tremendously valuable, but they have limits and must be contextually appropriate. Factor the happy hour’s theme and your organizational mission. If you have a live performance of any type, check their acoustic levels to prevent surpassing conversation-level volume. This is best arranged upon booking any live acts.

At the happy hour, arrange to have non-intrusive “quick-shot” filming, such as a friendly cameraperson who politely and tastefully engages attendees for photos or video shots. Consider having a photo backdrop branding opportunity, or another form of volunteer media participation for attendees that adds to a shareable archive of media for your organization. This content helps attract interest for prospective attendees and their network for future gatherings.

  1. Honor the Honoree Beyond Happy Hour

Make sure your honoree, not your organization, is the central focus of your happy hour promotions. Let your organization be a secondary brand beyond the name and profile of your honoree. Without explicitly requesting the honoree share the event to their network, the central focus of your promotions of the honoree may motivate him/her to share the event. If not, don’t let this deter you. Your attendee list will grow incrementally as your organization builds more high-powered relationships and connections among your market niche of professional demographic(s).

Be sure to send a handwritten follow-up acknowledgement to the honoree’s office after the event. In this letter, you may ask for any recommendations for who they believe would inspire your organization’s community. Provide your contact information, and make sure all of your writing is gracious and brief. With permission, promote the honoree beyond the happy hour event. Your website may have a “Past Honorees” section, for example.

  1. Don’t be Trigger Happy Online with Happy Hour Media

Any time anyone refers a friend or ends up in a media piece for your organization, tag them online. This may prompt the attendees featured in the media to share your social media posts, images, and videos on their public profiles. Make sure you manage this process carefully, as some people may find tagging intrusive or inappropriate, especially if alcohol or candid gestures are inadvertently shown. Check with a team member before making tags to have a second interpretation. Be discerning as to which images and videos you share by maintaining a level of professionalism conducive to growing your organization’s respectability

  1. Follow Up with Play Buttons and Follow-Up Incentives

The most shareable and exciting content after an event likely has a play button. Create a mashup video of the happy hour and include commentary from the honoree. Do your best to avoid showing anyone consuming alcohol, even though it’s well implied what happy hour entails. Ultimately, the focus and theme of your media should be the mission of your organization and your honoree.

Follow up with the venue to double-check all transactions have cleared and to thank them for their partnership. Follow up with any third party services or vendors with the same approach. Be sure to follow up with the honoree and their staff, but handwritten acknowledgments are recommended at this stage. Send them promptly after the event.

When reaching out to attendees after the event, provide incentives for them to bring guests. Be creative with your incentives. If you ever need a source for inspiration, check out Kickstarter or other crowdfunding sites to see how pre-product or pre-event promotions utilize incentives to motivate buy-in.

  1. Go Forth and Prosper … Again and Again

Power positioning can be achieved by offering value to peers, colleagues, principals, and leaders beyond your immediate network. In such an effort, join or launch an organization dedicated to offering a social experience, a charitable cause (if this is part of your organizational mission), online promotion, and honorary public acknowledgments.

With each happy hour, have another event ready to promote, and execute the next event bigger, better, and with more enjoyable features than before. Always be mindful of the necessity to capture media and produce shareable content as you build your attendee lists and honoree acceptances. With a committed core team, you can rise beyond your individual capacity to network. Go forth and rise, and be sure to bring your friends with you along the way.

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