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the challenge

Daniel Mirkovic, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Square One Insurance Services Inc., poses for a portrait at his office in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, January 30, 2012. Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and MailThe Globe and Mail

Every week, we will seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue it is facing in its business.

Startup Square One Insurance Services Inc. has opened for business and, to get the word out, co-founder Daniel Mirkovic wants to throw a launch party.

But he wonders whether such events have become "maybe a little outdated" or are still a smart way to build buzz.

The president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver-based company, which specializes in selling home insurance and offers quotes online, says the insurance world doesn't traditionally hold launch parties – which is why he wants to invite friends, clients and insurance industry professionals to such an event.

"We're borrowing ideas from other industries to run this business, and, in other sectors, common practice is to have an event to get your name out there," says Mr. Mirkovic, one of three co-founders of the company.

With a budget of $10,000 to $20,000, he knows he has to spend wisely. "We want to get the word out there and to show people what we're doing with their money," he says. "But it has to make business sense, too."

The Challenge: Is a launch party the best way to spend up to $20,000 to build buzz for the business? And how best to make it a success?


Mark Evans, principal of Toronto-based communications firm ME Consulting

I'm not big on launch parties. They're old school and they don't offer a lot of bang for the buck, other than for the people who attend. Yes, they're easy to put on, but if it's not exciting, it doesn't matter. While people may be having fun, they don't care about the product as much as you think. And they don't matter to anyone else [but attendees] No one will be on social media raving about how great the party is.

The only reason to throw a launch party, and the only way it will work, is if you can turn it into a quasi-news event. He has to do something really creative or have some kind of draw, like a personality, that would put the spotlight on the party.

Leyland Pitt, professor of marketing at Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business

You can probably use limited resources better than a launch party. It only makes sense to have one if you invite the right people. He needs to invite people who will give him the most impact. That means inviting people who influence others. Doing that requires market research in order to build a picture of who the big influencers are.

It doesn't matter if they are industry leaders or clients – the people you want to invite should be linked to 50 or 60 other people who they'll tell about the product and will then refer them to you. It's possible to do this research, but it's expensive. If he can't do this, then he shouldn't throw a party.

Stacey Zhang, Montreal-based fashion designer and co-owner of two Stacey Zhang clothing boutiques

When we opened our store in Toronto, we did a cocktail launch for media only and I would definitely throw one again. We thought if we wanted to get the word out more widely, we needed to get to different media, including bloggers. But we also invited tastemakers, such as stylists and models.

But he can't just throw a party. It needs to have a hook to work. We created a specific message … and we talked to people about that at the party. That gave us a lot of press. The message is the hardest thing to come up with, but if it's not developed, then the party won't stand out.


Create a newsworthy event

Turn your party into something that attracts attention beyond the invitees. Hire a celebrity or do something so creative that it gets people talking.

Target influencers

For a launch party to work, invitees need to be influencers who can spread the word. Before holding any party, do the market research to find the right people to invite.

Develop a message

Come up with a message that explains why your business is different and what makes it stand out. Talk about it at the event and hope it will resonate with others.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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