The new rules for event organizing preach restraint and vigilance but leave room for panache.
As you read this, many organizations across the region are making plans for their holiday parties. And so they should — early preparation offers many benefits, such as the best pricing and choice of venues.
Yes, in September.
For some Central Florida businesses, however, the holiday bash may be the company’s first foray back into the world of event planning after suspending such activities due to the economic slowdown. If yours is among them, you’re not alone. Across the nation, the recession whacked all types of special events, from product launches to grand openings. Other similarly scarce activities included corporate conferences, parties and employee retreats.
Budget cuts and an overall slowdown in consumer marketing were to blame for the near demise of such events. Protecting corporate reputations was also a factor — any event that appeared excessive or risked garnering negative news coverage was taboo. Last December, for instance, ABC’s “World News Tonight” reported on the Federal Aviation Administration’s spending of $5 million of taxpayers’ money on a holiday party.
While economic uncertainty lingers, businesses are again spending on event marketing and entertainment. According to media reports, expenditures for hotel rooms, dining and entertainment during the 2011 Super Bowl week topped $200 million, beating the previous record from prerecession 2007. Most of this spending was on the corporate tab.
Events may be firing up, but implementing them at an appropriate level presents a new challenge. How much can you accomplish trying to be competitive while not looking extravagant, even when you have an ample budget? In this postrecession economy, these rules can help guide your organizational event planning:
1. Be strategic. Now, more than ever, each event needs a clear rationale. Identify business objectives — both internal and external — and determine whether the event is a good fit. Establish measurement metrics in advance, so you can evaluate return on investment and justify expenditures.
2. Scrutinize every cost. Be vigilant and look for every possible way to accomplish the same results for less. For example, we recently saved a banking client thousands of dollars by reviewing the technical vendor’s quote and finding redundancies. The vendor was charging for audio and lighting equipment that was already present at the venue and for labor that was covered by another budget.
3. Sharpen your negotiating skills. The recession removed the stigma of bargaining in the business-to-business environment. Everyone is looking for more sales, and most organizations are willing to negotiate. How to go about it? In plain terms, express your interest in the vendor’s goods or services while being candid about budget constraints. An open dialogue from the start can open the doors to a mutually beneficial agreement.
4. Consider hiring an event expert — but do your homework. Event professionals can save you time and money (as previously noted). But beware of so-called experts with a lot of flash and little substance or genuine experience. Vet your short list of potential partners and check references. Also keep in mind that some event companies receive commissions based on their recommendations (think invitations, florists and photographers), which can pose a conflict of interest when you need honest advice on saving money.
5. Go lavish (if appropriate). It seems counterintuitive, based on the rules just discussed, but certain brands require over-the-top events to properly convey their messages. Sometimes a low-key event just won’t cut it. For example, when my group traveled to the Washington, D.C., area to produce the kickoff for Gaylord National’s Christmas on the Potomac celebration, we pulled out all the stops, from original orchestral recordings to mass choirs to breathtaking pyrotechnics. Such elements were totally appropriate for that event. Sometimes, you’ve just got to flaunt it!
What’s ahead for corporate events? In this digital age, when social networking is unifying the masses, it’s tempting to dismiss face-to-face gatherings as being so last decade. True, virtual events like presentations can be far more efficient. But when’s the last time you shouted “Wow!” at a live-streamed launch? Or held your breath at a big reveal shown on your handheld device? And you simply can’t smell a freshly cut Christmas tree — no matter how great it looks on your high-def TV — without being there. The reality is that all this online activity is creating a pent-up demand for personal connections in a live setting. There’s nothing quite as powerful as a 360-degree, fully immersive, senses-intensifying live experience.
Employ these tips to make your company’s holiday bash and other events throughout the year a blast.