Meeting planners and event professionals are under extreme pressure to create and produce more with less.

Pat See Saw

Historically loyal clients are being forced to bid out jobs that were formerly fulfilled via long-standing partnerships.  Each year, the “noose” seems to tighten just a bit more. A quick comparison of how many inquiries start with  “I’m having/creating an event and want it to be AMAAAAZING…  what are the possibilities” vs “I’m having/creating an event and envisioning___(add extraordinary, Hollywood quality, never-been-done-before creative here)___ but the budget is reeeeeeaaaaalllyy  tight…”  prompted me to distill some thoughts from the past few years.  We know that clients are much more budget conscious than they were 10, even 5 years ago.  Naturally, our industry has responded.  On the client-facing side we continue to deliver more, for less, with quicker turnarounds than ever before.  The consistency tells me this is the new norm.

One natural outcome is that many articles, guides, and blogs have appeared advising how to save money at your next event; some in general terms (suggestions like book the event early) and others as more specific guides such as how to negotiate with F&B or how to get the best deal on chair covers or video game kiosks  These are the “tips and tricks” articles seen everywhere.  Unfortunately, they attack the symptoms, not the problem, and the thought landscape seems stuck in 2009.

I propose another way:  start at the end.

At the very beginning of the event planning phase, determine what the intended outcome should be 6 months after the event is complete.  Then work backwards until you get to the “next morning” after the event.  Bookend that time period (morning after to 6 months after the event is completed) and let’s call it “outcome.”  We can even give it a mathematical symbol, O.  So ask yourself, are you looking for a great “O” or will an average “o” suffice?  How memorable does the “O” need to be?

The formula that will help you get to exactly the type of “O” you seek looks something like this:   ? + ? + ? + ? = O.  Only with a clear outcome in mind can you solve for “O”.   The necessary steps avail themselves far easier and with better consistency.  Once you have solved for “?” it’s then possible work with vendors and preferably trusted partners to acquire exactly what is necessary to meet the outcome criteria.  This delivers the best value and the lowest cost per outcome to the end client.

Potential expenditures will sort themselves into three categories: those that positively contribute to the outcome, those that negatively contribute to the outcome and those that are neutral.

Let’s mock up an over-simplified fictitious scenario.  Sally is the event planner for Acme Corporation.  The company is planning a conference event in October to boost gross sales by 10% over the previous year.  Because Sally knows her $$ need to go as far as possible, she approaches the event strategically.  Her first step to maximizing value is to start early.  Sally knows that the closer she gets to the event date, potentially the more expensive everything becomes while choices atrophy.  Next, Sally works with the key decision makers to define the event outcome, including metrics to measure its success.  Sally now is able to align her expenditures with the outcome, maximizing the “O” and ensuring every dollar spent supports that goal.  For the outcome to be successful, Acme Corporation needs to be tracking 10% up in sales over the previous year measured 6 months after the conference.

*) Start Early

*) Define the Outcome

*) Align Expenditures to Maximize the “O”

*) Measure the Outcome, Compile Data, Adjust as Necessary In the Future

Approaching event planning this way quickly sorts out needs, wants, and waste.  When everyone at Acme returns to work the week after the event, what (specifically) will they be talking about?  30 days after the event will the experience still be top of mind for the people of Acme Corporation?  At 3 months, will performance changes be noticeable?  At 6 months after the event, is Acme Corporation tracking 10% gains in sales performance?

I encourage all meeting and event professionals to take a balanced approach that combines art with strategic thinking, anchored by discipline that maximizes positive outcome drivers, minimizes neutral outcome drivers and eliminates any negative outcome drivers. When all is said and done, if your event utilizes all of its resources to positively affect the outcome, supported by vendor relationships based on trust, you won’t need tips and tricks.