Gear Up For Business Events in a Down Market

Meetings, conferences, seminars and events are a critical part of a business communication strategy. Events say, “We are doing business, and we are confident in our business position.” When reviewing your marketing budget, look at events as investments, not expenditures. Don’t give events the boot, tighten your belt and give them the squeeze. Don’t bail on your events; plan them smarter.

How can you make your events smarter? First, plan them strategically. Events are tools. They are planned in response to a need for face-to-face communication. Why are you having the event? What do you expect from the event? Who is coming to the event? Research these factors extensively. Then use the data to determine how to deliver the richest amount of content to the targeted audience in the shortest amount of time.

Next, plan them professionally. Does your staff have the time, skills and resources needed to effectively plan implement and staff an event, while continuing to do their own jobs? Event planners do. They manage thousands of logistical details and provide resources for professional contract negotiation, content development, speakers and specialized vendors. In addition, event planners know the elements that are essential to a successful event. We tell our clients that the success of their conference will be based on the content, not on the chicken.

Here are some belt-tighteners for anyone planning an event, meeting or conference:

Do your research first. The greatest cost saver for any event is knowledge.
Hire professionals. Hotel, entertainment, food/beverage and travel/transportation contracts are complex, high-ticket items. Mistakes can be costly. The fee for an event planner or other professional to negotiate on your behalf is cost effective. Professionals have the resources and often have established relationships with vendors they know and trust. They are familiar with standard hotel, venue, and food and beverage contracts and can help you negotiate.
Hire professional speakers. Professional speakers or trainers make sure the message of the event is delivered. If your company doesn’t have a great speaker to deliver meeting content, hire one. If your material is industry specific, hire a presentation expert.
Don’t be afraid to reveal your budget. Create a realistic budget for your event. Event professionals and vendors expect to work within a budget.
Tighten up presentations and shorten the length of the conference. If your four-day conference for 100 people costs an average of $450/day/person for hotel room, meeting space and materials, food and beverage and audio/visual equipment, you could save up to $45,000 simply by eliminating one day.
Plan ahead. Time is a valuable cost cutter. You can shop for a less expensive printer; avoid rush charges for goods and services, and save money by booking travel arrangements in advance. A Silicon Valley high tech company spent $12,000 in copy charges at the conference site because presentations were not completed by the deadlines.
Evaluate costs before canceling current events. Hotel and catering contracts have strict cancellation policies. Canceling an event three to six months out can cost as much as it would to actually have the event. Two years ago, a client wanted to pull the plug on a high-tech partners conference we had spent months planning. With just 45 days until the event, it would have cost $80,000 to cancel it and $90,000 to have it. We convinced him to go ahead with it, and he signed a lucrative contract at the conference.
Understand your negotiating power. Understand your negotiating power before you sign any contracts. Flexibility of dates, addition of sleeping rooms, food and beverage commitments and use of other hotel services bring to a venue, the greater the negotiating power you have. Flex your negotiating power by combining other event efforts within the company.
Reduce “no-shows” and watch guarantees. Hotels routinely charge for rooms not used and not cancelled, and they have a prorated charge for potential business lost on food and beverage. Try telemarketing and e-marketing to insure that attendees keep your event in mind and to minimize “no-shows”. Some “no-shows” are inevitable, so pay attention to meal guarantees, hotel room counts, and transportation needs when negotiating contracts.
Consider back-end expenses. Awkward signage, demo equipment, heavy meeting materials and cumbersome guest gifts all have to be shipped home. These costs can add up.

To event or not to event? The answer is “To event”. In a world of e-mail and e-commerce, events are the real deal. They are an experience. They can stimulate confidence, promote networking, increase sales and encourage problem solving in a face-to-face format. So pull it in a notch or kick it down a peg but don’t cancel your event. Events say, “We are here to stay.