American Express’s Global Meetings and Events Forecast predicts that the expected meeting spending for 2021 in North America will be down 6% compared to 2020. This departure from previous years is essentially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted the events industry hard. As a result, most event planners have to work on tighter budgets.
Even before COVID-19 hit, marketing budgets were usually among the first to get reduced when the economy was suffering, especially the part related to events. The pandemic has literally stopped all in-person events for more than a year in most countries, and it’s not over yet.
For the past eighteen months, virtual events have helped many companies weather the pandemic, but people, for the most part, are eager to go back to in-person meetings.
There are still restrictions in place on travel and large gatherings, but professionals see the light at the end of the tunnel. They are, though, facing either a reallocation of budgets to other parts of the company or a significant reduction because of the economic difficulties and hardship brought by the pandemic. Indeed, MarketingWeek reports that 80% of marketers in the UK foresee cutting spend for events marketing, the worst hit as a category.
So, as an event planner, what are your options?
We’ve compiled four areas of interest that could help you work around a smaller budget without sacrificing the quality of the experience for your attendees.
Let’s give them a closer look.
Organize smaller events but make them count
Having a smaller event with fewer attendees means a direct reduction in your food and beverage costs.
You might not be able, though, to pick a smaller venue, which would typically be cheaper. Indeed, with COVID-19, you might need the same event space to accommodate fewer people because of social distancing measures and regulations on the number of people allowed to gather per square foot.
In any case, if you organize a smaller event and want to generate interest, try and create FOMO by promoting it as an exclusive opportunity for a few fortunate people. Make it the event they can’t afford to miss.
You could also sell access to non-locals through live streaming software, as people might be very interested in your event but not able/willing to travel to attend, especially with COVID variants still spreading. That will help you save big on food and beverage while still getting the revenue, as well as making sure the space you choose is adapted to social distancing measures.
Be aware, though, that you will need to devote part of your budget to live streaming equipment/technology or mailing swag to attendees who were not present in person so that they can have the best experience even from afar. Virtual events (or at least the virtual part of your hybrid event) need to be highly produced to be successful. It can’t be just a live stream anymore; people are tired of Zoom-type conferences and expect a lot more in terms of experience.
Choose the portable or modular option for your exhibitions
But, if you have to go custom, ask yourself if you really need that double-decker booth covering 2,000 square feet. Chances are, you can make it smaller and still attract the attention of potential clients by using a clever design that will showcase your products most effectively.
Smarten your Marketing
According to a study by Eventbrite, marketing and promotion represent the top costs for an event. It makes sense thus to try and reduce their impact on your budget as much as possible. Here are a few tactics to do that.
Put your existing audience front and center
As a general rule, it always costs less to get someone to attend one of your events again than it does to convince them to try you out to begin with. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to promote heavily towards your existing and former clients.
Use social media to your full advantage
Besides social media platforms being free to use, advertising on them is significantly cheaper than the more traditional alternatives. If you know exactly which platforms your target audience uses most, promote your event on these, and involve your speakers or performers by asking them to advertise their participation on their own social media feeds.
Widen your sponsorship options
Sponsorship is one of the most effective ways to increase your revenue as almost any area of your event can be sponsored: venue, food & beverage, swag, event tech, etc. You could also try approaching local businesses to offer them the excellent opportunity for promotional exposure that your event represents.
Reconsider printed materials
Invest in high-quality prints that you can reuse several times and keep branding generic whenever possible. This means no indication of a specific date, venue, etc., on anything printed. Instead, use screens to display this ephemeral information.
And, as much as possible, forget print, and go digital! This means offering online registration as your guests’ only possibility (no mailed tickets, badges, or documentation), using email invitations and scannable QR codes, sharing documentation and presentations online after the event.
Try local talents and offer VIP sessions with your experts
Having local performers will help you save big on travel and accommodation costs. As a second benefit, local audiences are usually excited to see experts who come from their own community. And if some of your experts are willing to play along, offering private VIP sessions with them can generate interest in your event (and help pay for the expert’s fee…).
On a side note, because of COVID-19, many people are not willing or able to travel internationally anymore. Therefore, if your speakers are not local, why not having them present virtually via a live video feed? It will save time for them and money for you. Be careful, though; the broadcast needs to be flawless for your attendees to enjoy the performance as if the speaker was there in person.
Work with DMOs and CVBs
Destination Management Organizations and Convention and Visitors Bureaus are eager to bring business to their area and often have excellent connections to the local community. They will help you, for free, with sourcing venues and suppliers and can get preferential pricing.
Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
Start the planning process as early as possible and be flexible
If you want the best deals, starting the negotiation process early is critical. Giving suppliers and vendors long-term visibility usually makes it easier for them to provide you with discounted rates. If you show up at the last minute, not so much…
Also, if your event doesn’t have to take place on a specific date, ask your vendors when their availability is the greatest for further discounted rates.
Try one-stop venues
More and more venues offer all-in-one packages, including catering, tables, linens, AV, etc. You might want to consider this alternative as that might come cheaper than having to pick multiple vendors. As a bonus, you will have only one interlocutor to deal with, which should save you a lot of time in the process.
Events help create new business relationships as well as strengthen existing ones. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the possibility of organizing in-person events for several months and created new costs, typically regarding health and safety. Also, inflation seems like a real possibility which means everything is getting more expensive, from lumber to ice.
All this means that your usual event budget might not be available anymore or, at the very least, significantly reduced.
Dealing with a tighter budget while attendees have constant if not higher expectations is indeed a balancing act for many planners. But as we’ve seen, there are some creative ways for an event planner to manage to keep their audience engaged and entertained while keeping their costs down.