Event Exhale: Navigating & Overcoming Today’s Event Planning Challenges

January 17, 2023

Event planning has changed drastically since the COVID-19 pandemic—from cancellations and postponements to the new wave of virtual and hybrid events, event planners had to pivot quickly in order to stay afloat. After three long years of constant changes and new challenges around every corner, it’s time to take a breath. For our most recent virtual event, “Event Exhale,” we brought together four industry experts to pause and examine the true state of the industry as it is today. Together, Channing Muller, Principal of DCM Communications, Valerie Bihet, Founder of VIBE Agency, and Melissa Park, a Global Event Producer with Melissa Park Events joined our co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at MemberSuite, Ryan Costello, to discuss the current state of the event planning industry, explore recent planning trends, and give planners an opportunity to exhale and move forward with confidence.

 Where is the Event Industry Hurting?

It is clear that event planners have faced unique and new challenges since the start of the pandemic, and even today new challenges constantly arise as vendors, exhibitors, and attendees try to navigate the changes in their own worlds. Fortunately, our panelists were quick to identify some of the growing pain points within the industry and offered some solutions. 

Pain Point #1: Timelines and Budgets1670594459-just-breathe-my-photo

With increased inflation and still-reduced spending from many companies and non-profits alike, event budgets have taken a real hit over the past few years—and are only getting tighter. At the same time, the hectic culture surrounding us means that timelines are shrinking, with companies waiting until the last minute to decide whether to host an event or not. In addition, costs are increasing everywhere—with hotel pricing increasing by 30 percent in early 2022 and airfare up 25 percent since the beginning of the year (with another eight percent hike expected in 2023). These increased costs create a real puzzle that event planners are left to put together.

Given this information, Costello asked the group a very crucial question: “How do you get empathy and get support, but not derail management and have them say, Well, it’s not worth it, we’re just going to give up on it?”

The Solution: 

The first thing you need to do, the panel decided, is to know the goals of the company, the priorities of the event, and the mission you’re trying to bring to life. Then, come to the table with solutions. 

“It all comes back to mission and goals,” noted Park. “Your entire design—hybrid, virtual metaverse, whatever it is—comes down to where your people are and what you need to achieve.”

Muller agreed. “Instead of coming to complain about all the things that are happening, clarify what the goals are and make sure you’re on the same page. Educate them. Say, “Here’s what I’m seeing talking to all of my peers, doing the continuing education, making phone calls to vendors and hotels. Based on that, here’s the budget that we need to make your goals happen,” she said. Then, if they can’t meet that budget, you have a point to move from. “I’ll give you three other options that we can do, but we need to adjust our goals a bit for that.”

Pain Point #2: Lack of Staffing

When it comes to manpower, everybody is hurting these days. Not only are event teams more streamlined than ever before, but hotels, caterers and other vendors are all feeling the pinch. And whether it’s because of staff shortages or high turnover that brings new, less-experienced members to the team, building the perfect event team can be tricky, to say the least.

The Solution: 

Network. It may seem too simple an answer, but sometimes your best team member is already in your network—or should be. 

“Right now there is a great partnership that can be made because of the economy,” said Bihet. “Some of us might have more clients at some times and others have more clients at another time. The idea is to network and see who you have a great fit with, and who you can partner with. Sometimes, it’s all about teaming. You cannot do it alone, so find the right people to help you and support you. There are actually a lot of freelancers out there willing to help and join in on teams, as well.”

Pain Point #3: Low Attendance

Attendance and attrition have always been a big focus for event planners, but in a post-pandemic era of virtual options, online recordings, and limited (or costly) travel, getting registrants to actually show up is a whole new level of difficulty. Unfortunately, data provided by Event Farm shows that attrition is incredibly high—and around three people out of four won’t even show. 

“We have a lot of data on this from the last 15 years because of course, we have a registration tool,” noted Costello. “There is a dramatic increase in drop-offs…you can see basically 30 percent of your guests showing up, and that’s normal right now.”

The Solution: 

To address the attendance issue, there are two main things that event planners need to be doing: first, focus on getting the right people to your event. Then, make sure you are building engagement into every single touchpoint, to create a real experience for them all along the customer journey. 

While the panel noted that we need to start re-focusing our attention on quality over quantity, Bihet agreed.

“The top priority is not to attract the most attendees; it’s to attract the right attendees,” she said. “The demand is actually growing for simpler, smaller, more frequent events with authentic opportunities to meet face to face, to engage better with their audience and to build trust with their consumer.”

Once you have the right attendees in place, she noted, engagement becomes much easier, as you know who they are and what they’re looking for—and what experiences will resonate with them. 

As an example, Park shared a personal story of a startup client with a small budget who bought a 10×20 booth at one of the largest shows in the U.S.—Cisco Live—and had to make a big splash with a little budget. To do this, they focused on one thing: Engaging attendees and giving them an experience they wouldn’t forget.

“We knew that there were going to be a lot of developers there, so we set up Beer Pong at their booth. We set up a game of Beer Pong in this little 10×20 and before you knew it we were surrounded,” she recounted. “What ended up happening was all the booths around us were empty and our line was long the entire time.”

So where do we go from here?

Fortunately, while there are many challenges facing the industry—and many more to come—there are several things that show us that the future of event planning is still bright—and poised to become an invaluable piece of every great marketing plan. 

“Events got taken away from us, and I think the industry was taken for granted [pre-pandemic],” said Costello. “Everyone realized real quickly that, ‘Whoa, that was really important to me.’” For Costello, when we realized as a society the real need for human connection, it only boosted the need to bring back events as a way to connect and engage with others. 

“It put a huge light on our industry in a lot of directions,” he added. Muller agrees. 

“We have an opportunity with every challenge,” she said. “There is still a lot of opportunity that wasn’t necessarily there before.”

Guest Blogger:  Gizzella Diaz - https://www.eventproupdate.com/edition/weekly-event-design-sustainability-2022-12-03?article-id=22701549&article-title=event-exhale--navigating---overcoming-today-s-event-planning-challenges

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