Special Events

EVENTS GET DOWN TO BUSINESS

EVENT planners are bullish on business this year (see our survey results, these pages) — but they will party prudently. That's because their clients demand events that not only look great but also communicate, according to members of the Special Events Magazine Advisory Board. And the event plans must be delivered with lightning speed and airtight budgets.

NEED FOR SPEED

The pressure to deliver creative, effective event design with ever-shorter lead times is no longer news, it's the norm.

“If you're not operating at the speed of light, you'd better start,” notes Steve Kemble, founder of Dallas-based Steve Kemble Event Design, “because you can bet your competitors are!”

Pembroke Park, Fla.-based ME Productions aims for a 48-hour turnaround time on proposals, finalizing complete, totally customized decor presentations in 96 hours. “Many times our clients tell us that we were the only vendor to respond with lightning-fast speed,” notes designer Ira Mitchell-Steiman. “This immediately gives us a leg up on the competition.”

To get proposals into the hands of clients fast, Hello Florida of Orlando, Fla., spent a good part of last year developing a Web-based proposal system that “gives our clients a shopping cart experience, much like Amazon,” notes creative services manager Stacey Paul Barabe, CSEP. “Now our partners can shop for decor, hundreds of linen, floral and entertainment options, with pricing and specifications, providing them with ‘instant’ pricing and creative control 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

STAY IN STYLE

This efficiency enables event designers to keep their events on fashion's cutting edge, another powerful client demand.

“We want to continue moving away from traditional skirting and chafing dishes,” notes Joseph Cozza, executive director of catering at New York's Marriott Marquis hotel. “We need to find ways to make our events resemble restaurant/club/home atmospheres.”

The ruthless pace of fashion puts pressure on anyone who owns inventory. “Martha Stewart hiccupped, so this china pattern is no longer in vogue — too bad we have place settings for 1,000 in it,” Larry Ott, sales manager with Newtown Party Rental in Newtown, Pa., says ruefully. “I hope the next ‘retro’ fad is the year 2003.”

BRANDING BUZZ

But many event pros say that the buzzwords for event design in 2006 won't be “hip” or “retro,” but rather “branding” and “ROI.”

“Whether it's a personal/private event, a corporate meeting/event or a promotional event, the core initiative is all about the brand — the person's or product's name, a company vision or their mission, the cause, etc.,” says Susan Weinstein, president of WeinWorks, based in North Miami, Fla. “What is a successful event? One that can be measured and remembered.”

Although Kemble says he used to pitch clients linen, lighting and entertainment, “Today, I spend 80 percent of the meeting talking about effective ways to market their event, ways we can work their brand and brand message into the event, and methods to measure ROI on the event itself.”

WHERE'S THE MONEY?

Client demand for accountability on the effectiveness of events extends to accountability for the budgets spent on them.

“We are migrating increasingly to a straight fee system for our planning services, with no markup on anything,” notes Howard Givner, president of New York-based Paint the Town Red. “This appeals to corporations' increasing desire for pricing transparency. The challenge, however, is that you need to very clearly define your scope of work; otherwise, as an event increases in complexity, you wind up doing more work for the same price.”

London-based Imagination Ltd. has a “significant advantage” in that it already uses transparent accounting policies, notes special events director Richard Foulkes. “However, we are seeing a trend to client procurement now wishing to target our suppliers to ensure we are quoting to more than one supplier and then making price/value judgments — all of which needs to be documented to clients.” This year, his firm will rely on its expanding operations worldwide to “capitalize on an increasing supplier base, global viewpoints and new ideas.”

What will make 2006 a good year for special events? As Foulkes puts it, “Clients need to see beyond short-term economic difficulties and appoint marketing teams with vision, budget and power.”

HOW WILL THE NUMBER OF SPECIAL EVENTS YOU STAGE THIS YEAR COMPARE WITH LAST YEAR?

(RESPONSES FOR EACH NEW YEAR, 2003-2006)

“WE WILL STAGE MORE THIS YEAR”
In-house event professionals
Response for 2003 43%
Response for 2004 47%
Response for 2005 52%
Response for 2006 51%
Independent event professionals
Response for 2003 61%
Response for 2004 60%
Response for 2005 62%
Response for 2006 69%
“WE WILL STAGE APPROXIMATELY THE SAME NUMBER”
In-house event professionals
Response for 2003 44%
Response for 2004 45%
Response for 2005 41%
Response for 2006 40%
Independent event professionals
Response for 2003 21%
Response for 2004 23%
Response for 2005 17%
Response for 2006 16%
“WE WILL STAGE FEWER THIS YEAR”
In-house event professionals
Response for 2003 5%
Response for 2004 6%
Response for 2005 4%
Response for 2006 3%
Independent event professionals
Response for 2003 7%
Response for 2004 5%
Response for 2005 5%
Response for 2006 4%
Unsure (2006 responses)
In-house event professionals 6%
Independent event professionals 11%
Source: Primedia Business Marketing Research Department Data collected October 2002-November 2005


CHANGING CHALLENGES

WHAT ARE THE GREATEST CHALLENGES FACING YOU PROFESSIONALLY THIS YEAR?

MULTIPLE ANSWERS POSSIBLE

In-house event professionals
Reduced budgets to work with
Response for 2004 60%
Response for 2005 56%
Response for 2006 51%
Shorter lead times
Response for 2004 43%
Response for 2005 40%
Response for 2006 42%
An uncertain economy
Response for 2004 51%
Response for 2005 40%
Response for 2006 38%
Labor shortage/lack of skilled labor
Response for 2004 29%
Response for 2005 28%
Response for 2006 26%
Demonstrating the value/ROI of special events
Response for 2004 n/a
Response for 2005 36%
Response for 2006 28%
My own company's uncertain finances
Response for 2004 17%
Response for 2005 17%
Response for 2006 18%
Dealing with my company's procurement/purchasing department
Response for 2004 n/a
Response for 2005 16%
Response for 2006 14%
Coping with new technology
Response for 2004 6%
Response for 2005 9%
Response for 2006 7%
No answer/Other
Response for 2006 6%


Independent event professionals
Reduced client budgets
Response for 2004 n/a
Response for 2005 70%
Response for 2006 59%
An uncertain economy
Response for 2004 79%
Response for 2005 64%
Response for 2006 50%
Increased competition
Response for 2004 42%
Response for 2005 39%
Response for 2006 41%
Shorter lead times
Response for 2004 n/a
Response for 2005 33%
Response for 2006 34%
Demonstrating the value/ROI of special events
Response for 2004 n/a
Response for 2005 28%
Response for 2006 28%
Dealing with my client's procurement/purchasing department
Response for 2004 n/a
Response for 2005 17%
Response for 2006 16%
Labor shortage/lack of skilled labor
Response for 2004 14%
Response for 2005 15%
Response for 2006 19%
Consolidation of client base
Response for 2004 22%
Response for 2005 14%
Response for 2006 9%
Coping with new technology
Response for 2004 7%
Response for 2005 6%
Response for 2006 6%
No answer/Other
Response for 2006 7%

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