In the annual Special Events business forecast, just under half of respondents—49 percent—expect to stage more special events in 2013 than they did in 2012. This figure is a 2 percent improvement over last year's survey. One in three—33 percent—expect to stage the same number of events this year, compared with 32 percent last year, and a scant 7 percent say they will likely stage fewer events this year than last, down from 8 percent last year.
The statistics come from the survey conducted annually by Penton Media, the parent company of Special Events.
Special Events asked our Advisory Board for their take on the limping recovery and what it means for the event industry.
WHAT ARE WE REALLY WORTH?
The major challenges facing event pros—tight budgets and tight turnarounds—are regarded as the simple realities of business today. But the astonishing power that the Internet and social media have given clients to price-shop has some event pros taking a long, hard look at who they are and what they do.
A big contributor to the problem, according to Frank Andonoplas, MBC, head of Chicago-based Frank Event Design, is the wave of reality TV shows that make event planning look both glamorous and easy. As a result, the market is flooded with event pro wannabes who charge "next to nothing," he says. "It is getting more and more difficult to compete with so many using price as the deciding factor. How do the old dogs with years of experience and who charge more—because they are worth it—compete?"
Nancy Shaffer, founder and president of Washington-based Bravo! Events By Design, suggests that event pros themselves must get in the driver's seat on the cost vs. value debate.
"Clients continue to undervalue what any of us do and the impact we can make, thus diminishing our worth," she says. "Much of this comes from within our industry as we have no standards set regarding deliverables, quality or pricing. We are seen more often than not as service providers and not professional service firms. We are finding that client's expectations of what the cost of exceptional, unique and impactful are nowhere where they should be."
But Shaffer maintains the industry can move forward by standing together.
"I believe we need to come together stronger and more connected as an industry," she says. "Our overall economic impact is huge but we don’t seem to maximize this fact for our benefit. The hotel and travel industry does a great job, and I think we could learn from them."
FINDING THE RIGHT MIX
Several Advisory Board members interviewed for this article are carefully calibrating what mix of services to offer in order to stay productive and profitable.
"We did some serious soul-searching and tightened the image of our brand," explains Yvette Audrain, CPCE, CSEP, president of Dallas-based Mox Event Boutique. "In a luxury market, clients do not want a company that is all things to all people. We focus on being the expert in a niche. Image is everything, and ours needed a face-lift."
To that end, Audrain launched two new divisions to provide clients with certain services that up till now she had outsourced. "We still depend on an army of talented support vendors, but we chose to have more control in just a few areas where we felt like we could provide something that other companies could not in that segment," she says. "We identified an opportunity and took it."
As many companies work lean and mean, Mark Baltazar, CEO of New York-based Broadstreet, points to the time crunch they face.
"As clients become more pressed for time, they want a one-stop shop, from logistics management to event production to year-long partnerships," he explains. "We’re uncovering ways to be smarter across projects: mixing up teams, shifting seating arrangements to foster new ideas and best practices across projects. We host internal lunch-and-learns to highlight completed projects and brainstorm project challenges." (See an interview with Baltazar in this issue.)
Rick Jobe, president of Dublin, Ohio-based Jobe and Associates, agrees that client companies face a time crunch, but also sees them developing their own in-house capabilities.
"Clients seem to be cutting projects apart and taking some aspects in-house," Jobe explains. "For instance, 'We'll come up with the main design, and we'll have you guys create the details.'" But with challenges come opportunities, he adds. "The out-sourced projects usually start out small and continue to 'creep' in scope," he says. "The challenge is managing budget and expectations."
With the drop in worldwide conference and incentive business over the past few years, Culinary Capers Catering is looking for new worlds to conquer—literally. With operations in both Vancouver, British Columbia, and Beijing, Culinary Capers has a two-pronged expansion plan in place, according to president and CEO Debra Lykkemark.
"In Vancouver, we are looking for opportunities in other cities and are considering opening a division in Surrey, a city 1.5 hours from Vancouver that is growing very rapidly," she explains."We are also looking at purchasing a venue that has a great view and a good reputation. In Beijing, we have expanded into catering for international schools. Currently we have five schools and are feeding 2,300 children a day; we are planning on adding one more large school of 1,500 to 2,000 children in the fall of 2013."
After years in decline, the challenge of "coping with new technology" has taken a jump in the Special Events survey over the last two years, and that's due in part to the explosive growth of social media.
To Cara Kleinhaut, owner of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Caravents, social media is powerful tool for event pros.
"I see the growing importance of social media engagement built within events as our main area of opportunity as we specialize in tech-driven environments staged within a sexy, overall event look and feel," Kleinhaut says. "Whether it is ordering specially created thematic drinks via a custom created app featuring sponsored products or a 'who wore it best' virtual closet, offering unique interactions with brands curated with the right music, look, feel and location for guests to tweet/Instagam/post/share/pin about live from the event is what it is all about."
THE BIG PICTURE
A common theme this year: Event pros must see themselves as more than masters of skills such as logistics and design. They must also understand how events serve as strategic tools.
"We need to better understand how the events we are responsible for fit into the larger, integrated strategy or message," Baltazar says. "Most of the time, our clients know the answer. As true partners, we must as well."