What songs will be playing at special events this year? Try the blues.
Dour news about the economy worldwide has event professionals predicting a tough year of slashed spending. To keep event business strong, event pros will have to change their tune, focusing on delivering sensible events with skintight budgets.
Special Events Magazine Advisory Board members interviewed for this article point to a sober mood in the marketplace.
“Sales directives and education will be foremost,” says Greg Christy, CEO of Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based Brite Ideas. “Lavish celebrations and recreational programs will take a back seat for awhile.”
A galling aspect of the skittish corporate event market is that many companies are pulling back on their events simply to avoid appearing extravagant. Debbie Meyers, CSEP, head of Dallas-based entertainment company Bravo! Entertainment, notes a 20 percent to 30 percent drop in the budgets slated for her events this year. While some of the cuts are due to lower projected attendance at conferences, that's only part of the story. “The negative press that companies like AIG, for example, received over sending people on incentive trips has caused other companies to rethink what they are doing,” she says. “We've seen cancellations even when cancelled services have to be paid for anyway.”
BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS
Despite their fears about the economy as a whole, event pros are surprisingly optimistic about their own event slate this year. [See graphs, pages 25-26.] Twenty percent of in-house pros say they will stage more events this year than they did in 2008. Some 41 percent say they will stage roughly the same number of events as they did in 2008, while 26 percent expect to stage fewer events this year than last. A third of independents — 33 percent — say they expect to stage more events this year than in 2008, 25 percent say they will stage roughly the same number, and 17 percent say they will stage fewer events this year than last.
Indeed, Pam Dzierzanowski, director of events for New York-based Patron Spirits Co., not only has a stable budget for 2009 but is adding a staffer to her team. Because some big cash sponsors are pulling out of events such as Super Bowl and the Sundance Film Festival, “It appears I have more choices of what I can get involved with for a very low entry fee,” she explains. “I'm not saying it's as grandiose as it once was, but I do believe people are coming around and offering up unique ways to integrate our brand.”
Claudette Bouton, event planner for Atlanta-based AGL Resources, has already seen a sharp drop in events slated by her employer. But she is reimagining her role to stay in the game. “I have to think outside the box and find other areas within my company that can benefit from my expertise,” she notes. One idea: positioning herself as the “loaned executive” from AGL to assist the nonprofit organizations that her company supports in lieu of cash contributions.
CUT THOSE COSTS
With his special perspective as NACE president, Daniel Briones, CPCE, director of catering for the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, expects to see a chill on events both large and small through at least the first half of 2009. “People will still want to hold events,” he says, “but they will look to save costs where they can and avoid extravagance.” To help his clients, Briones often suggests they focus on one important element — a special drink, the entree — and then economize on everything else. “We are very flexible with our clients,” he says, “understanding that times are uncertain.”
Many Advisory Board members note the mood this year is akin to that following the 9/11 attacks, when independent event pros who formerly catered only to corporate clients found they had to shift to social events to stay afloat. Once again, “flexibility” will remain a watchword.
Atlanta-based A Legendary Event has found it pays — and pays big — to be flexible with its own management team. Creative director Steve Welsh explains that managers were recently asked how, if they owned the company, they would cut costs without shortchanging quality. “Some suggested that we can reduce our courier bills by hand-delivering the proposal or bill to the client or by offering them the opportunity to stop by for a tasting of some of the chef's recent recipes — both of which give us some valuable face-time with the customer,” he notes. “Our executive chef was able to cut his overall food budget by 20 percent simply by calling his venders and negotiating a better deal. By issuing paychecks every two weeks, we are saving over 50 percent of the cost of weekly checks! Many were so thankful to be included that they vowed to find ways to cut budgets in every department and to do whatever it takes to get through these uncertain times.”
Leslee Bell, co-president and chief creative officer of Toronto-based Decor & More, predicts a sea change in how event business is conducted. “I truly see relationships between fellow suppliers and even competitors being forged over shared trucking, shared staffing, shared lighting and decor for back-to-back events for fundraisers,” she says. She adds, “As with 9/11, SARS in Canada, Katrina in New Orleans and disasters in other parts of the world, we have all been through hard times, and we will all go through hard times again. Gold comes out purer once it has been in the fire and is the best version of itself once put to the test.”
A Legendary Event
Brite Ideas Lighting
Decor & More
Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia
Patron Spirits Co.
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