A Well-Executed BudgetOctober 20, 2023

Event Planning Problems and How to Solve Them By
October 20, 2023

A Well-Executed Budget

Event Planning Problems and How to Solve Them
A well-selected venue can make an event unforgettable, boost attendance, and generate positive feedback from attendees. Deciding where to save and where to spend is often one of the least favorite parts of the planning process, but the most critical.  Courtesy of Mary Muldoon

A well-selected venue can make an event unforgettable, boost attendance, and generate positive feedback from attendees. Deciding where to save and where to spend is often one of the least favorite parts of the planning process, but the most critical. Courtesy of Mary Muldoon

Arranging a corporate event is a massive task. An event planner’s main role is to look for ways to not only provide memorable meetings and events, but to stay within budget.

Whether there is an in-house planner, third-party event planning company or a combination of the two, a well-executed budget plan must be in place. This includes budgeting tactics — controlling costs on hotel rooms, meeting rooms, food and beverage, concessions and travel — and in many cases, using technology to create engaging communications that offer a digital conference platform.

Selecting the perfect venue which suits your event is arguably one of the most important things in event planning. A destination sets the theme for the event. Therefore, it is recommended to choose a destination or venue that fits with your event, ads value to your brand and allows you to stick to your event budgeting to prevent overspending. As planners know, event expenses can add up fast. It’s easy to miss your financial goal by spending too much on unplanned or unneeded items.

The planning team at Brightspot Incentives & Events in Irving, TX, works with clients directly or with the client’s meeting planners. Every incentive trip or corporate event is different. And whether the client has a budget or a number in mind for their event, Brightspot Incentives & Events’ job is to point them in the right direction. “If they want to go to Mexico in peak season, we show them the rates and steer them on what would work within their budget,” said Mary Muldoon, sourcing manager at Brightspot.

Despite the uncertainty regarding the state of today’s economy, Muldoon does not see corporations downsizing their meeting and event budgets. “The budgets are pretty much the same, but financial departments are starting to backpedal on making commitments,” he said.

Erica Maurer, partner of EMRG Media, and owner and producer of The Event Planner Expo, the premier conference for top-tier executives, business owners, marketing experts and event professionals, is also finding that some companies are choosing the two sides of the spectrum: scaling back or going all in. “It depends on which client you’re working with at that moment,” explained Maurer.

Launched in 2012, the Event Planner Expo is a three-day annual trade show in New York City, which brings people together. The expo creates an environment staged to communicate company strategy, motivate, train or reward staff or influence external customers toward the brand.

According to Maurer, company events can often be the first item chopped from the budget in an effort to save money, but this action can affect company morale. “Some companies are doing more at their events because if they make their employees feel special, their employees work better. I’ve also seen it where people cut back but when you do that, the employees get nervous, and then that usually affects your team,” said Maurer.

For Tech companies such as Google in Mountain View, CA, the conversation is not about event budget cutbacks but about cost-effectiveness as it relates to in-person versus hybrid work.

“It’s very challenging for us to make business cases for people to come together, especially being at Google, because we make the technology that makes it possible for everybody else to adopt hybrid and remote working practices,” said Amy Badersnider, Head of UX Workspace Design at Google in New York, NY.

Badersnider works on Google’s summits and sprints. The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing ideas with customers. During the sprints, there are portions dedicated to speed rounds of talks for participants, which will typically have a hybrid element that costs Google nothing.

Like many companies around the globe, Google has implemented the hybrid and remote working practices. It has also elevated the networking experience. Networking has grown into many modes: face-to-face, interface-to-interface, etc. This is not only a tactic to keep costs down, but as an effective way to provide better work experiences and bring people together.

“In general, we’re leaning into our technology as much as possible, trying to reduce our footprint and overall costs, including our traveling expenses,” said Badersnider. “But to bring people together — from Japan to the Bay area — it costs us a ton.”

Budget Workarounds

To cut costs, some corporations have eliminated their in-house meeting planner positions. Maurer said they worked with a company recently that handed over the reins to Event Expo to organize the entire event. “They can eliminate a salary and raise their event budget because now they’re paying one less person and can still get the same job done. We just did an event in Orlando where we flew down there and handled everything — soup to nuts.”

Choosing a budget-friendly destination is another avenue companies are using to cut costs. Meeting planners review the city taxes, resort fees, parking and ground transportation, which all play a major role in overall budget consideration.

“If I had a client that said, ‘Hey, I need it to be around x dollars per person,’ I might not put them in Hawaii. If they have a lower budget, I might say why don’t you go to Pennsylvania or Arizona? There are certain areas that you’re going to get better pricing statewide,” said Maurer. “You don’t have to go to the most expensive location. You could do something in Massachusetts — the Berkshires or somewhere else — and it will still be an amazing team-building experience.”

According to Maurer, it’s important to look at the market and ask yourself these questions: How much will it cost to travel to this or that location? And once you get there, does the city have local transportation or will you have to rely on Uber? The answers to these questions will determine your budget and how much money you need to allocate for frivolous spending.

When working with vendors, it is important to get multiple quotes. This will ensure you get the best rates and services.  Courtesy of Mary Muldoon

When working with vendors, it is important to get multiple quotes. This will ensure you get the best rates and services. Courtesy of Mary Muldoon

Minimizing Food & Beverage Costs

One of the biggest line items on an event budget is food and beverage. So, when the budget needs to be cut, meeting planners focus on this first. Without sacrificing the flavor, they trim the fat off the food and beverage budget. The idea is to be creative with the selection of meals but not sacrifice quality or quantity. “We can piggyback on another group that’s already in house and maybe they happen to work with a caterer,” Muldoon suggested. “Or we won’t focus on higher-end menu items like seafood. Post-pandemic, there are still a lot of hotels offering set menus and you can get in on those, too.”

Maurer’s options on F&B cutbacks include bar expenses. “If someone says I need to be more mindful of the budget, I would suggest opting for a mid-level bar versus an ultra-premium or premium bar. Many people don’t even realize it is mostly the same bar package with maybe two different liquors in it.”

Aside from the bar choices, it is also common to have a large selection of hors d’ oeuvres passed around or set up at an event. However, if you really want to cut some extra costs, you should consider limiting the amount of appetizers, perhaps scale it to four or five and turn your focus to the main meal.

At the end of the day, there’s so many servers that you can get on the floor. That means there is only going to be so much quantity of food being served. So, that is a great way of cutting costs per person without skimping on the hors d’ oeuvres.

According to Maurer, the food package costs are determined by how low-key or upscale the company wants to be. “That’s an easy way of looking like you’re doing a good party, and it’s still being plentiful. You could get different food stations, such as a burger bar, and that might be equivalent to a carving station. It all depends on your budget,” said Maurer.

For Google’s summits, Badersnider likes to think outside the box to keep F&B within budget. For her team, she does a little bit of a round robin for dinner, in that one person will head a particular restaurant and everybody else will sign up for that. It makes it really crowdsourced and everybody gets what they like.

It also means that the person who is organizing it can take a look at their menu and ensure the budget is constrained. “Pre-pandemic, we might have done things a little bit more ad hoc, and it might have been a little bit more over the top,” she said. “But now, we host a lot of smaller dinners to make sure we can monitor the budget more easily. It’s also better experientially for smaller groups.”

Local Vendors

Other cost-saving options include using vendors that source locally. The question is, how do you find them? Using referrals from other vendors and meeting planners is the best way to find local event vendors. Another way is to visit the vendor and see their work before you hire them. Keep in mind that local vendors, because they know the area well are not just outsourced services but part of your team. In the end, local vendors can help you streamline your budget and significantly boost the chances of the event’s success.

Travel Costs

Inflation has increased airfare costs across the board, therefore, companies require more restrictions on travel costs. On a recent summit, Google brought people together from Sydney and the Bay Area, with everyone gathering in New York, but they had to compress the event into three days.

“Everybody traveled on Monday and Friday due to a lot of the company’s newer guidelines and restrictions,” explained Badersnider. “We did some pre work that was sent out for people to digest, then there were meetings that were set up for people afterwards. And there were copious amounts of breaks in between just trying to deal with the cognitive overload for people. Three days was a way to keep costs down, and also to meet people where they are at cognitively right now.”

Because budgets have come under more scrutiny in relation to hotels booking policies, Google provided a comprehensive list of travel maximums, defined by location, to his employees so they could book what they wanted. However, this created another set of challenges.

“In previous years, people would vote whatever they wanted to,” said Badersnider. “Now with larger summits, we’re making a much more concerted effort into getting everybody a standardized rate at a specific set of hotels, which has been challenging because there are just so many people. Also, now what’s challenging is everybody’s moved away in some capacity. Even if it’s not another country, they’ve moved to another state. And so really, there are far more people traveling than ever before.”

Learning the Industry

To have an effective event budget, meeting planners and show organizers must know the costs in the industry, about what’s reasonable and unreasonable. Sometimes the biggest challenge is not the budget itself but lack of knowledge. If you have an event in New York City for 200 people and your budget is $20,000, chances are that’s not going to happen. In that case, planners should choose another destination and decide where to spend and where to save.

While the industry is constantly changing, your event budget strategy can convey a huge amount of information about your event to many people. It can also serve as a helpful learning tool for future events. The way you plan today can save you lots of time and money tomorrow.   C&IT

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