It’s always important to incorporate cost-saving measures into any business effort — and the world of meetings and events within the financial and insurance arenas is no exception. Not only is it just good business practice, but also the importance of a return on investment (ROI) becomes much more “front and center” as businesses coping with COVID-19 begin to look at ways to reduce meeting expenses. So, when the focus within the meetings industry becomes budgetary — companies analyze and scrutinize what they are spending. They are asking key questions: “Why?’ — Why does this meeting need to be held? What is the benefit? What is the anticipated ROI in holding a live event? And what are the key ways cost-cutting measures can be implemented?
The Importance of Cost Savings
For specific meetings and events where spending is being analyzed and reviewed, measuring the ROI of meetings is increasingly crucial. Today’s meeting planners need to determine the ROI — providing details on what to do before, during and after an event to prove that the meeting was worth the investment.
Indeed, events are significant opportunities to enhance relationships with the attendees, as well as significant financial investments. Gaining insight into the event characteristics that drive progress against the objectives provides event managers with specific, actionable recommendations on where to best focus that investment to maximize their return on investment.
For example, let’s say a financial investment company participates in a large annual trade show. In addition to focusing on the number of new clients resulting from the trade show, experts feel it also is imperative for a company to calculate the non-financial impact the trade show has on the company. If the financial company chooses to have an innovative presence at the trade show, the memorability of the company name may resonate for weeks or months in the minds of trade show attendees. In this case, the ROI is not a one-time reward, but an ongoing effect.
Not surprisingly, the focus of the ROI of an event is dependent on the costs involved, so embracing cost-saving measures can go a long way in making an impact.
Heather Herrig, CMP, president and chief event strategist at Every Last Detail Events, says that, in general, the biggest detriment to an event budget is late planning. The earlier a planner can get started, the better, so decisions are not rushed, due diligence can be applied and multiple bids can be sought from vendors for comparison.
“That said, we all know sometimes we have no control over when an event comes our way,” Herrig says. “So, in terms of cost savings, the biggest areas of opportunity are your major areas of spend — room rates, A/V, and food and beverage. Don’t be afraid to have an open conversation with your vendors, suppliers and partners about what you have to spend. They want the event to be a success as well, and will do what they can to help you save money.”
If a budget is particularly tight, Herrig says it just challenges her as a planner to focus on what matters most with the event, keying in on what the core expectations and needs are from the stakeholders. “Once you are clear on what the event or meeting is about, you can eliminate spend that is not driving the overall event success,” Herrig says. “For example, we were trying to save money with one particular meeting that was scheduled to end after lunch on the final day. Everyone was heading to the airport or home immediately following lunch; so, I asked if we could instead end closer to 11 a.m, which would really be better for the attendees, too, so they could depart earlier. Also, this way, we wouldn’t need to provide lunch. We saved thousands of dollars.”
Steps to Take
Carly Nelson, marketing and events manager at Keystone Wealth Partners LLC, also says it is important to plan in advance and utilize connections within the industry. Even if there is a preferred venue or vendor a meeting planner often uses, see if they will price match their competition.
“Try local companies. There is an idea in the industry that they will be more expensive, but in my experience they are more likely to come down on cost as they get one lead for every 10 a big corporation would get,” Nelson says.
Longevity also is your friend. The more a meeting planner works with a company, the more of a discount they may tend to see. For one venue, Nelson went from orchestrating 10 events in one year to 20 events — doubling the business that venue was experiencing.
“Those extra 10 events added were at half the price. At another venue, we host 24 events a year. We never have to pay the $250 A/V fee since we have developed a long-standing relationship with the coordinator who offers this for us,” Nelson says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Know your environment. Being in Arizona, we have unbearably hot summers, but venues and vendors still need to make money and will typically do a discount to get your business during their slow season.”
Organized meetings and events are core components of today’s business environment, so it pays to make the meeting as well organized as possible as it can significantly streamline costs for the companies involved.
For example, well-vetted suppliers can save unnecessary costs that may occur with inexperienced suppliers who may make mistakes throughout an event.
Myesha Slaughter, meeting planner and owner of S.H.E. Event Planning, says when it comes to planning any meeting the most important step is assessing the budget and key expenses, including the venue, food, paper materials and, depending on the program, a keynote speaker.
“Choose an affordable venue that accommodates your needs and select a food menu that doesn’t break the bank. This is an easy option to save money on a limited budget,” Slaughter says. “Instead of a full spread of expensive lobster rolls and shrimp for lunch, you can opt for a ‘build your own’ deli sandwich station.” Travel cost is another area where meeting planners can try to save money.
“Companies spend thousands of dollars sending their employees across the globe. Having strategic partnerships with airlines or travel agencies is a great way to receive discounts, or even rewards, on hotels and flight arrangements,” Slaughter says.
For every event Slaughter plans, she strives to be conscious of how she budgets and manages each expense. Whether its an investment meeting, an annual charity event or holiday gala, she uses a formula to assess her client’s major needs and how her team can still get the best results without compromising the overall experience.
Another creative way Slaughter has learned to save money is sourcing her in-house team to task versus always hiring outside vendors.
“Or I even ask to see who’s willing to donate their services in exchange for exposure,” Slaughter says. “But, my tried-and-true techniques are to book and plan early, and always keep a stock of materials and equipment that we may continuously use to produce various meetings throughout the year.”
And don’t try to stretch your budget too far. Some companies will try to incorporate an added component, such as décor or an off-site activity, but if they really do not have a budget for it, it ends up failing.
“Take extra care when providing your final guest counts and guarantees for specific functions, so you are not wasting money paying for no-shows,” Herrig says. “You can save so much with this one simple step.”
Nelson suggests that meeting planners also pay in full if possible. Avoid giving deposits over a few months and instead pay upfront. Most companies prefer this and will give a discount for this option.
“Also, choose event times between meals. Price per head can really add up for a lunch or dinner. Instead, switch to a 2 p.m. meeting and provide light bites,” Nelson says. When possible, choose a day during the week instead of weekends and opt for daytime events.
“Do-it-yourself as much as you can. For our yearly client appreciation picnic, I was able to save $400 alone by tying ribbons onto cookie bags instead of having the baker do it,” Nelson says.
Incentive travel also can add up. Be sure to check with multiple airlines on pricing. Choose business or economy travel instead of first class. And, instead of the limo ride or a private black car from the airport, go with a large bus to accommodate everyone flying in around the same time.
“Hotels also can offer multiple discounts or concessions to gain your business,” Nelson says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for offers they can give you. Once again, shop around.” Hotels are very competitive and their sales teams are looking to meet their quotas. If a hotel a mile down the road will upgrade each room or discounted meeting rooms, odds are the hotel you want to be in will match that offer.
“And make sure you treat your vendors with respect and show them your appreciation. Our regular vendors get a nice cash bonus at the end of the year from us,” Nelson says. “If you can’t afford a large bonus for them, give them a meal at your event. I am always shocked by how many of our vendors aren’t offered a meal at other events. Our techs now go the extra mile with us by completing their work but also stepping in for any set up or heavy lifting I may have to do.”
The consensus among meeting industry experts is that meetings will again be a vital component of doing business. Some additional ways to accomplish this while keeping your budget in mind include:
• Focus on a venue, city and location that best fit your budget.
• Reduce the size of the meeting by inviting only those that need to attend.
• Condense and consolidate the number of days for the meeting.
• Incorporate fun activities that are cost efficient and do not add a considerable burden to the bottom line.
• Provide online registration, online documents, invites and reminders.
And, remember, not taking a holistic approach to executing a meeting can be costly. When things fall between the cracks, it takes time and money to make them right. Remember, last-minute decisions and changes rarely prove economical. A meeting does not have to cost a lot to be effective.
Technology has given meeting planners the ability to research and determine how and where to save money when planning. In fact, thanks to today’s advancements in technology, meeting and event costs can be reduced.
While, for smaller events, technology might not play such a big role in cost savings, for larger events, where the savings can be scalable, it can make a huge impact.
“With all the travel apps, budget managers, calendar tools and various search engines, planners have the ability to compare prices, vendors and create whatever we want at the fraction of the cost if we didn’t have access to all that information,” Slaughter says.
A great example is utilizing an app for a large convention, where you pay a fee for the app but save so much on printing programs, agendas, etc. “There wouldn’t necessarily be savings here for a small event, but it can be tremendous for a larger one,” Herrig says.
Also, using social media is apropos for large events. There should be no reason to print off an itinerary for guests coming to a meeting. Have everything built out on a website where attendees can see the calendar for activities throughout the day. Create an online check-in for each day — a new code can be presented each morning that the attendee needs to enter. Utilizing social media for communication throughout the event can keep attendees informed, and provide opportunities for them to share insights and further enhance the visibility of an event.
“Technology has already created amazing ways to save money. It will be interesting to see how large events with speakers will change,” Nelson says. “Now that anyone can live stream presentations, this can save a lot of money for a group by not needing to pay for a flight, hotel room and/or other amenities for the speaker.”
Learning From Mistakes
Meeting and event planners always want to carefully consider what line items are adding value, and if a planner is in the position where they need to make some cuts and eliminate anything nonessential.
However, as Herrig explains, one of the worst things a planner can do is try to save money by reducing or removing something critical to the success of the event as a whole, like proper staffing, signage or security. Trying to save money here can put your entire event at risk.
Slaughter says that the most common mistake planners — and most often clients — make is not setting a budget or continually assessing the budget as the planning commences.
“Oftentimes, planners believe they can maneuver the cost of meeting items as they come along, without a payment system, contingency plan or review of what areas money can be saved,” Slaughter says. “In the end, it results in overspending and insufficient funds.”
And, remember, embracing cost saving measures and subsequently demonstrating ROI is, at times, a “necessary evil” of the meeting business. While cost savings can be measured and inherently proven, good ROI from a meeting or event is never certain. It requires steady promotion before and during, as well as a thorough follow-up afterward. But meeting professionals agree that it is imperative to prove that a meeting or event had positive impact on an organization’s bottom line.
So what does the future hold for cost-saving initiatives within the financial and insurance meetings management arena? Herrig believes, going forward, establishing and utilizing relationships among those within the meetings and events industry will be paramount. Specifically, this means allowing planners and suppliers to feel like they’re working together toward a common goal. This type of reciprocal relationship is particularly important when cost-saving initiatives are required.
“I don’t think that we are necessarily working at odds right now, but I do think that perception exists. Certainly, this is a business, and businesses can’t survive without making a profit; but, if we are all open and transparent about our budgets and our needs, and can come together in a fully open conversation as we negotiate, the outcome will be much more mutually beneficial,” Herrig says. “I am seeing these conversations happening more and more, and I hope that is what the future holds for all of us in this industry.” I&FMM