Easy or Better? The Evolution Of Event Planning

JeffLowy

By Jeff Lowy, President Encore Creative

We live in a new world (as it pertains to events of all types) at least when you’re looking at it from my perspective: that of an “in-denial,” yet hopelessly middle-aged businessperson whose company was founded before the advent of fax machines and desktop computers, let alone social media, tablets, and terms like “engagement,” or “experiential marketing.”  Seriously, I started my company with a pegboard accounting system (you youngsters will have to Google that one), two IBM Selectric typewriters, and a couple of phones with red “hold” buttons.  Thank God I’m not old enough to have had rotary dial phones.

With all of the changes in technology however, some things remain the same or have become even more important given our current technological capabilities.  Our customers (you, the meeting/event planner who I’m desperately hoping is reading this) still have high expectations that we strive to exceed, budget concerns, and working diligently to demonstrate how exciting and engaging an event can be for that budget. Most customers still expect high-touch, high quality, personalized service so they can increase attendance or meet their company’s ROI needs and impress and engage customers, employees or other stakeholders.

Back in the prehistoric era, it was not unusual to find a hotel departmental configuration designed to use multiple, specialized vendors to assist in putting together the myriad of services needed to support an event. This team of people came together and in my experience, most professionals were able to play together in the sandbox, providing the end-user the solutions needed for incredible event, and now to the point, the ever-elusive “added value.”

Here’s where the buying behavior has changed with many event planners. Whether it’s a Fortune 500 company or a Fortune 100 company or a much smaller company, association, brand, etc., budgets and overworked planners need or want “easy”, thus the promulgation of the “one stop shop.” Overworked planners want to have one point of contact, one vendor in their system, one check to write, etc. The big change came when rather than a list of preferred vendors in their area of expertise, many hoteliers have opted for an in-house DMC or a contract with a DMC, so they can make one referral. The inherent challenge with working with a broker of services (aka one single contact)  is a lack of specific expertise. Specific expertise can be defined as something you’ve done all of your life, have a college degree in and would otherwise be considered to be an expert or a professional in your field.   So, in a world where “easy” involves dealing with one contact whose “expertise” is being the person who can hire all of the experts on your behalf, the question becomes whether there is any value-added, and/or how much? This person works with their network and brings the above mentioned experts together to execute your event, but they personally may not have the knowledge you need and they don’t allow you to interface with the actual team working on your event. So it may be “easy” to have one contact, but let’s explore what that really means.

I agree that easier is just that: easier.  It’s less time consuming, it’s less trying, there are less decisions to make and only one entity or person to praise or criticize should things go exceeding well OR not quite according to plan.

Regardless of your age, one thing your parents taught you (I hope) is that easier is not always better.

A bus is a bus, a linen is a linen, a band is a band, A/V gear is just gear, and on and on.  Much of what planners buy are commoditized in some way which is why sometimes the only added value needed is the relationship and the service quality and delivery.  But, what if you can have it all? There are more and more companies that are demonstrating that you, the buyer, really can have it all: a great relationship, great service quality and delivery and added value plus they enable you to get an off-the shelf or fully customized event put together by a cohesive team all working for you with as much or as little contact as you want. There are hundreds of extraordinary companies who make it “easy” and still provide the expertise that you want, the price that you need and the convenience that makes the process easy. Otherwise, there’s an account or project manager who will make sure that its done and you don’t get bogged down in micromanaging your events, whether they’re general sessions (and all of that content) or gala dinners, trade show booths, etcetera.

These concepts are being delivered every day to customers by numerous companies who have diversified enough to have the real people doing the real work on staff to limit the amount of sub-contracting and outsourcing and, thus enabling the company to provide “The Easy” with “The Value.”  Adding value, by definition is delivering what is promised with all that implies, including the relationship and the service, but also the product and the in-house expertise to achieve all of the goals including creativity, and innovation, all in a way that is still easy.

Here’s where the added value comes from and why one point of contact (in the literal sense of speaking to and dealing with only one person) isn’t where the benefits are derived.  You should want and need a team. You want all of the players to have play on the team and care about your needs and take pride in the outcome.  A company that simply provides “easy” is adding the easy value, meaning they provide the one-stop shop, single billing and single point of contact “easy.”  But they don’t provide real value that comes with teamwork and a comprehensive solution.

Think about how many fingers are in the pie that is your event, from the company that designs your incentive, to the in-house department working on criteria for attendance, the hotel, and all the people who actually do the work to make the event run. If you are using a “one-stop-shop” model to put on an event, that amounts to approximately 4 or 5 markups from the talent (talent is what drives great events on all levels) all the way up the food chain to wherever you started, third party or hotel/resort, and they’re all making money on almost every aspect of your event.  Before I get flamed by every other entity in the industry, there absolutely are scads of excellent “one-stop-shops”  who are truly working in your best interest. They work to get you the best rates on almost everything from room nights to Food and Beverage to A/V and more.  These companies also know how to source other suppliers suitable to your needs and can put a team together for you.  Here’s the key: finding a one-stop shop with the fewest hands in your pockets and a commitment to the highest level of quality and service delivery for every event. I do believe it is somewhat challenging to source very transparent “one-stop-shop” companies who allow you direct access to the teams who are executing on your behalf thereby gaining both “easy” and “added value.”

So to recap the essential question to consider is this: Where is the added value in your event, and who is providing it? Moreover, how can you obtain the most added value you can, keeping the process easy, saving money, increasing your ROI and still produce the best possible event for your team or client?  I’d love to hear your feedback!

 

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On February 25, 2014

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