Cut costs, not quality: how event professionals get more for less
It’s an often-quoted, though never-proven stat that men think about sex every seven seconds. True or not, it pales in comparison to how often event professionals think about their current budget. You may be about to pull off the best bash your company has organised this decade. But miscalculate the costs and it won’t be praise that gets heaped on you afterwards – only questions about what went wrong. Event planners are used to facing decisions every single minute. But the best one you’ll make today is to take note of these savvy tips for keeping your project’s finances on track.
Don’t give attendees anything they don’t want
Memorable moments, big name clients, repeat business – it’s what we’re all after. And the event organisers that enjoy all those are generally the ones that think most creatively. So why are so many planners reluctant to break with certain norms? Even when it doesn’t add to the experience and, crucially, puts a strain on costs? It might be time to think differently.
1 Get to the point
Do pre-dinner drinks really have to kick off mid-afternoon, or will guests start to feel aimless come 5pm? Does a conference have to last the whole day, when six self-indulgent sessions could be trimmed to a fantastic few from the strongest speakers? Obviously different rules apply if your primary goal is for attendees to talk shop with one other (check out our guide to organising networking events here). But generally you want to keep their focus on what you are promoting, not allowing their minds to wander to whether they left the gas on. Stick to a tighter, slicker schedule and you can save hours of expense, plus everyone will come away with a far better lasting impression.
2 Choose convenient catering
If you’re willing to ditch the obvious options, then food and drink can come in at a fraction of the price. A multi-course sit-down affair is costly even before you factor in all the waiting staff required. The same goes for having pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres passed around. Instead give attendees freedom to choose when they eat by providing a buffet or different food stations. A baked potato bar could hardly be more cost-effective. Salad stations present an easy way to cover dietary requirements. And attendees are sure to gravitate towards anything barbecued. Get outside caterers on-board as event sponsors and you may be able to negotiate a cheaper deal still. Alternatively, ready-made lunches in grab bags are the ultimate in convenience – and branded bags are a cost-effective way to increase client visibility.
3 Don’t print pointlessly
It’s important to ensure every venue has enough refuse points. Sadly, that’s because they are where most printed promotional material ends up.. Sure, attendees want information, but reams of paper and bulky brochures rarely get filed anywhere other than the recycling bin. It’s money squandered and doesn’t do much for your green credentials either. If your company has already invested in event technology, an app is the most direct way to spread information without waste. If not, publish directions, schedules and other details on a dedicated event website or a section of your company site. Make sure it’s optimised for mobile. There will be some attendees that prefer a printed program, of course. For their benefit, you can create a PDF and email it out in advance, so they can print it at their expense.
Work with venues, not against them
Can you remember ever seeing completely eye-to-eye with any venue partner? The odds are you more readily recall growing frustration as your business models and needs continuously clash. But there are plenty of canny ways to work together to bring your venue costs in well under budget.
4 Dig a little deeper
If a venue offers more space than you need, look into renting part of it. It would reduce both the immediate cost and the number of staff required. Rather than cursing the seemingly unnecessary length of the venue’s PDF brochure, try actually giving it the once-over. It will give you a more thorough understanding of what is included in your agreement. Seating, lighting, decoration – there might be more available for use than you first think. You may discover more pleasant surprises by asking what the venue can provide even if it’s not in writing.
5 Be more upfront
On average, venues are the third largest budget item for events (Eventbrite’s Pulse Report breaks it all down) but they surely rank top in terms of who organisers are most secretive towards. They are resigned to planners refusing to share the name of a client or how many other venues they’re holding – which is why honesty can work in your favour. Try being truthful about your needs, and upfront if you have somewhere else offering the same package for less money. It can actually put you in stronger position than with all the sneaking around, as the venue will know what’s needed to beat the competition. They might also be able to supply your equipment, and cut you a deal because you’re using so many of their services. And if you’re going to stage similar events on a regular basis, ask for a discount for arranging an ongoing commitment.
6 If the date isn’t fixed, use it to your advantage
No event planner has ever failed to emphasise to a venue what a tight budget they are working with. Perhaps several times during each conversation, if we’re honest. But even without labouring the point, you can get deals on spaces by choosing less popular times for events (as long as it doesn’t inconvenience your attendees). Remember basics too, like hotel rooms being cheaper Sunday to Thursday. Cross off the last weeks of August from your list of potential dates, though. However good your event is, people aren’t going to cut short their summer holiday for it.
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Put together a grade-A team for next-to-nothing
Not even the smallest event can be organised in isolation, and it can be frustrating to think how many hands are going into the pot of money you have been allocated. But what about the grafters you can get on board for surprising little?
7 Allow volunteers to shine
Bumping up manpower on the big day can mean dreading the arrival of whatever misfit temps the agency has managed to round up. So getting staff who are more clued-in, and come at a much lower cost, has to be the more sensible option.
Attract the right volunteers – enthusiastic fans of the client, aspiring event planners looking to impress, community-minded retirees – and you can instantly put capable people into important roles. Whether it’s stewarding or litter picking, registration or admin, you need all those bases covered.
Spread the word on your own website and social media channels, and on volunteer site, do-it.org. Make mention of the perks they will receive in return, such as gift cards, company swag and – the bare minimum – free lunch or dinner. Keep everyone keen by ramping up the rewards based on the number of hours worked.
Just remember what you save in expenditure will be slightly offset by the time it will use up. You will need to brief volunteers, cover risk assessment, and have a plan so that they can contact someone at management level at all times during the event.
8 Be prepared to share a little limelight
Partnering with an impressive sponsor is surely second only to landing a dream client. However, it’s increasingly rare that this will involve money changing hands just to get their company logo tucked away in the corner of a few banners. These days, event sponsors usually prefer to offer services in kind and take a more active role.
Run through the goods and services that you need for your event. A/V? Furniture? Extra internet bandwidth? Consider whether suppliers of any of those would benefit from exposure to the guests at your event, and make a tailored approach, outlining the benefits of teaming up.
In exchange, offer to give them visibility on both digital and printed material, and name announcements over the sound system. Also suggest they help staff the event, which can be viewed as a good (and cheap) opportunity for team building.
9 Get value for money from logistics partners
A competitive quote is what will likely reel you in to an agreement with a logistics company. But it’s how you work together afterwards that will decide how much you can save on the associated costs.
Once you have identified a good transport, installation and dismantle crew, ask for the same members each time. The more familiar they become with your strategies, the more hours will be shaved off the clock.
If you’re taking responsibility for packing containers yourself, collapse down materials to their smallest size and put miscellaneous items in the corners. Packing tightly will reduce the risk of damage and also lower the overall volume – meaning it’s cheaper to move. Better yet, choose a transport company that also offers a storage service so they can handle all that for you.
10 Involve yourself at every stage
It’s a poor planner who reckons they’re above any job that needs handling at their event. Sure, when it’s in full swing you need to be central and visible at all times. Before and after it’s a different matter.
You can save a small fortune bringing supplies for which show service providers often slap on massive mark-ups. You’ll find essentials like soft drinks, snacks, electrical tape and cleaning supplies at your local cash and carry.
Bigger investments, but ones that will unquestionably pay dividends over time, are a lightweight vacuum and a handheld carpet-shampooing machine. A bit of extra work after the event and you can lower or even eliminate cleaning costs.
Make cuts your guests will appreciate
It’s not just about balancing the books. Some of the best budget-beating brainwaves can also improve the overall experience for event participants.
11 Fully embrace digital promotion
Wouldn’t it be satisfying to put a big fat zero somewhere on your event budget spreadsheet? It’s possible if you do all of your promotion through social media and email marketing. Cost cutting aside, it’s also the most convenient way for prospective attendees to engage with you and each other.
For starters, use WiseStamp to add an eye-catching interactive signature to your emails, with a nice plug for your event. Also create and use a hashtag for the event, which you should use as often as possible (just do a quick search first to make sure that it hasn’t been used before). Obviously include it on invites and promotional material, but don’t forget to use it on signage at the actual event too. That way it will be on everyone’s mind when they are snapping or tweeting.
Just pumping out promotional material won’t gain much traction on social media though. Engage with potential attendees and influencers by retweeting or commenting on their updates. Then drop in a plug for your event when it makes sense to do so.
Easier still on Twitter is to add people to lists. Every time you do so, the relevant account holder is notified of the fact, so it’s a simple way of getting your brand noticed.
12 Use clever lighting
Next to the actual programme and content of any event, infrastructure is usually the biggest event expense. But with some well-thought-out AV design, you can still create dazzling visuals on a tight budget.
Simple light fixtures can instantly add a brand’s colours to the venue walls. You can create a mood by uplighting smart curtains, or save on rigging by illuminating overhead elements in the same way.
Printing your client’s logos on a banner can be both underwhelming and surprisingly expensive. Instead, why not use a light with a gobo – a cut-out stencil – to project logos and associated images on to a ceiling, wall or other surface?
13 With wayfinding, put practicality first
Art, lighting and even puzzles have all been variously used at recent major events to help attendees get around venues. But keeping it simple will always have a place in the event planners’ handbook, and not just because it’s often cheaper. You should do all you can to stop frustrated attendees being unsure of where to go.
Be extra savvy and try to produce items that will see you through more than one event, such as simple signs featuring a company logo but not a date or location. You can similarly reuse directional placards and display materials to make best use of your budget.
Get your most approachable volunteers working as way-finding ambassadors. Place them at the main entry points and intersections of your event, and help them stand out by providing distinctive hats or clothing. Ensure they’ve got a handheld device with your digital information on it, and give them a hard copy for backup.
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