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Attention, special event professionals: Your future is waiting

Take a deep breath-it's time to take the plunge into the Big 2-0-0-0.

Put your worries aside, because Special Events Magazine has been testing the waters for you. Read on for forecasts from our Advisory Board on the technology, threats and trends that will shape the special event industry.

HIGH-TECH TIMES Not surprisingly, our experts say that the high-tech revolution is revolutionizing the world of special events.

"The whole world is shrinking because of the Internet and e-commerce," says Richard Aaron, CSEP, CMP, of Mallory Factor in New York. "In the next five years, there will be opportunities to do our business in a broader way-a globalization-as the borders between regions and countries shrink."

Aaron, president of Mallory Factor's meetings and events division, suggests that those who want to keep up should "sharpen their sensibility about e-business. A whole vocabulary is evolving-such as the word 'netco' for an Internet company-because of e-business," he says. To stay in the game, "people need to find an expertise, a niche in event production, and post that information on the Web."

David Sorin, CSEP, president of Norristown, Pa.-based Current Events International, also acknowledges the power of technology. "We're going to see some sophisticated things coming from technology in the next five years that we can't even begin to conceive of now," he says. "Companies who can anticipate what things are going to be like and move in that direction will succeed."

He already sees a new direction in entertainment. "The line between the telecommunications and the movie industries has started to blur," he says. "As people strive to make their events more hip, we are going to see elements from mass media become more predominant. I suspect satellite communications will find its way into events. If Elton John can't make it to an event, he'll make an appearance on satellite from wherever he is."

Aaron predicts the advent of pre-programmed virtual events. "I'd like to be a part of designing them," he says. "We are going to be able to do a complete event using high-definition television. It will be like experiencing Mardi Gras in a 15-minute TV special."

Changing technology brings new opportunities, but it also brings challenges. Cheryl Fish, vice president of Mirage Events in Las Vegas, says, "Clients will require an immediate response to their needs and make decisions on what company to hire to produce an event by the manner in which the reply is returned. It will become mandatory to present preliminary concepts and visuals to clients through ever-changing technological equipment. "

"There is no longer the luxury of the few days the conventional mail system used to buy you," Sorin adds. "With e-mail, potential clients expect a proposal while you're speaking with them on the telephone." Is there a solution? "Unless you can train your clients to understand that reasonable response time requires some thought, they will continue to expect an immediate response," he says.

PEOPLE PROBLEMS Doug Lane, president of Denver-based Fastlane Productions, says that understaffed clients contribute to the time crunch. "Corporate clients are cutting back on the number of employees who book special event services," he says. "The ones left are overloaded with work and don't have time to devote to producing the event. So everything is last minute."

However, Nancy Kitchen, owner of The Flower Loft in Rahway, N.J., sees an upside to the deadline pressure. "Clients are getting used to us being able to produce sometimes complex and customized work on short notice and as a result they think that's the norm, not the exception," she says. "But the experience of doing things under pressure has helped me be more efficient with standard requests."

Our forecasters see other challenges facing the special event industry, however, that have little do with high-tech.

"The biggest challenges are in the administrative arena," Aaron says. "We are doing more and more administration on a simple event, such as making sure insurance coverage is in place. And it's getting worse because we are more accountable to the insurance people. Companies that don't focus on their potential liability will be severely damaged."

Ironically, the special event profession is a victim of its own success. "People today have higher expectations for their events," says Aaron. He also cites theme restaurants, which turn a meal into an engaging, themed experience, as a contributing factor. "We have to measure up to the 'experience' economy."

But the experts agree that the special event industry has plenty of room to grow. "The professional special event industry is just coming out of its infancy," Lane says. "The world is just learning how to use professionals to make their event professional."

THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE Where do our special event professionals see opportunity for their businesses? The possibilities are wide.

Sorin sees opportunities for special events in the political realm. His company already produces events for members of Congress in Washington. "Politics hasn't yet moved into the realm of event marketing," he says, "but I see new ways of doing political campaigning, and it's one of the things I'm looking forward to getting involved in."

He adds that his company was involved in 1,200 events in 1999, but he hopes to decrease that number this year. "We would rather cut down on the number of events we are working on and really target the type of event we would rather be doing," he says. "It's a lot easier to derive your revenue from a small number of large events."

John Svensson, managing director of Chicago-based Regency Caterers by Hyatt, expects "more contract catering with business clients such as law firms, where we would do all of their catering. It would be catering of an ongoing daily business, instead of a per-event business."

Our forecasters also see new alliances on the horizon.

"The wave of the future will be the development of in-house special event and production departments in large corporations that produce a myriad of events annually," says Fish. "It behooves a company to create its own in-house special events production department to ensure that every event is produced with the company image."

Sorin floats the idea of a one-stop shop. "Everybody feels that if they can be everything to a client, then they can control the budget," he says. "If you can make one phone call and write one check, then you're going to do that."

"The technical production industry will merge with the rental industry," Lane says. He also sees decor and floral companies merging. "The single florist is not able to do the business that a big design house can do."

Fish concurs: "It will be challenging for the small company to compete in the larger market alone."

But Kitchen disagrees, saying that "some people will choose not to merge in order to retain some identity and just focus on being the 'best prop people,' for instance. It's true, some mergers will happen, but there will always be smaller companies who specialize."

MAKE A WISH Our forecasters don't want just to be affected by trends; they want to shape the future for special events.

"I would like to see the education of our client base rise to the level where they respect us as individuals providing a valuable service," Sorin says, "and they accord us the time and the budget to help them achieve their goals."

He adds that it needs to start from within. "There has not been enough stress on educating our own industry members in how to act professionally in order to be accepted as professionals," Sorin says. "We probably have 100,000 businesses in the event industry, but a very small percentage in the International Special Events Society."

Lane would like to see universal safety and insurance practices instituted on the technical side of the special event industry, "as opposed to the various standards based on the region of the country. There is no standard in the business, but there should be."

Retaining the human element in business is a priority for Kitchen. "Technology, in all of its efficiency, cannot replace the human element," she says. "Tapping into my computer for information cannot replace interacting with another professional for ideas."

Richard Aaron, CSEP, CMP, Doug Lane and David Sorin, CSEP, are speakers at The Special Event 2000, sponsored by Special Events Magazine, Jan. 12-15 in San Diego. For details, call 800/288-8606 or 303/741-2901; or visit: www.

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