Event Planning as We Know It Is Over (Welcome to a Brave New Era)

Event Planning Is Over - Welcome to a New EraEvent planning spans back thousands of years to the earliest royal pageants, pagan festivals and village gatherings, with hands-on coordination and personal relationships being the core skill sets for those very early “planners”. Event planning and management as a profession has its roots in the early 20th century when wealthy families starting hiring other people to coordinate all their fancy weddings, balls and receptions, and it grew into a larger profession as advances in transportation and communication made it possible for people to travel longer distances to attend industry meetings and social events.

Celebrity event planners like David Tutera have brought event planning to television and have made event planning a hot profession in recent years, but right now event planning itself is in the midst of a critical juncture that will dictate the future of the profession and how events are planned in the 21st century. We are seeing this firsthand at Planning Pod, and we wanted to share with you how this transformation is affecting our customers as well as other professionals in our industry.

In our humble opinion, event professionals and planners have not always earned the respect that is bestowed on other similar industries like marketing or design, but that is all changing, and for a few important reasons:

  • The events industry is the quiet elephant in the room among large industries. It generates well over $1 trillion in revenues in the U.S. alone and is bigger than the auto industry and the data/IT industry  . In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics predicts that the event industry will expand 44% from 2010 to 2020 , which exceeds most growth predictions for other industries.
  • As the industry proceeds to expand, more and more savvy, experienced professionals with considerable (and impressive) skill sets will be required. Event planners of the 21st Century must have a firm grasp on marketing and sales, customer service, project management, design, human resources, communications, contract negotiations and many other disciplines in order to be successful; few other professions demand such a broad base of competencies.
  • With all this growth and income pouring in, innovation is not far behind, and we are seeing an unprecedented amount of technological innovation in the event sector right now, which will also require a work force that is quipped with the requisite skill sets to understand and employ these event tech solutions.

So what does this mean for event planners, meeting planners and wedding planners? And what does it mean for other event managers who are on the front lines of coordinating events (like conference center and venue managers, caterers, hotel managers and non-profit marketers)?

Well, it means a quantum shift in what event planners and professionals have been doing for years and what you need to be doing to prepare yourself and your business for this new era.

Here are the four big differences between event planning of yesterday and event planning of tomorrow.

1. Yesterday’s planner was a master of details. Tomorrow’s planner is a master of systems.
You may still be tracking hundreds or thousands of details for every event, but in the 21st Century you will be employing more advanced systems to help you manage all these details. Lots of these event management software tools will automate the process so that you don’t have to “touch” so many details many times but instead will have a centralized place where tasks and details will “flow through” to the appropriate people and give you the appropriate notifications and reminders at the right times.

Will these systems add to your workload? Overall, they should save you tons of time. Upfront these event planning software systems might require a bit of time to set up and customize. But once you have them tweaked as you want them, they will save you many hours of busywork.

Right now, we are at the beginning of this event tech transformation, and the event management systems will only get better and easier to learn and use. But the days of juggling lots of spreadsheets, documents, email trails and post-it notes will soon be over, and the event professionals that effectively employ the latest systems, software and applications will have a big advantage.

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2. Yesterday’s planner was a master of face-to-face relationships. Tomorrow’s planner is a master of hybrid relationships.
In the past, planners had a very personal connection with their vendors and contractors. You personally knew every one of them and often met face-to-face to discuss important event details and jobs. You may have even done business on a handshake.

Tomorrow’s planner will still have personal relationships with many vendors, mainly because vendors are the key to the success of any event, and you have to be able to trust your vendors to follow through on their promises. However, maintaining these relationships and how you communicate with these vendors will change as we dive deeper into electronic communications and social media platforms.

In the future, you may rarely speak with certain vendors unless an issue arises or you need to clearly communicate and confirm certain details. Or you may find a new vendor based on a trusted recommendation you got from a colleague on Facebook or LinkedIn; hire them via an email conversation; and exchange vital information online regarding the job. All this is happening already, and it will be even more common as we move forward.

Just like you have Facebook and LinkedIn friends and real-life friends (with some overlap), you will probably have some online/electronic-based vendors and some offline vendors (again, with some overlap), and this may even apply to clients (for example, many destination event planners never see their clients until the day of the event). But the planner of tomorrow will be able to effortlessly move back and forth between the real world and the Web to maintain their relationships with vendors, contractors and clients.

3. Yesterday’s planner wore dozens of hats. Tomorrow’s planner distributes hats efficiently and manages the people wearing them.
Yes, you may still take on multiple roles when planning any given event, but as certain event functions become more and more specialized, you will find yourself coordinating among a number of professionals rather than taking on all those roles yourself.

A good example is event design. For the longest time, event planners and managers have included design in their roles, and mainly because they enjoy it and are good at it. But soon event design will become its own unique sub-segment of our industry, and it will make more sense to contract with these folks who focus on design, freeing up your time to manage other aspects of the event.

Event planners have always been savvy managers and coordinators of people, but this skill will start to move to the forefront as event planners start to manage more and more specialists and delegate more of these responsibilities.

4. Yesterday’s planner put on events. Tomorrow’s planner creates experiences.
Certainly the goal all along has been to create a mood and a feeling for guests and attendees, but in the past it was a pleasant surprise when you came out of an event with a specific experience that was envisioned by the planner (such an experience would be similar to how a marketer envisions a brand and takes specific steps to shape that brand image in the mind of the customer). Now attendees expect to be provided with an experience.

It is the audience expectation that has upped the ante here. Haute cuisine TV shows and foodie restaurants have multiplied almost exponentially over the last decade, so now people expect much more than coffee and canapés. Hipster weddings and gala affairs have given people a taste of themed events where every detail has been studied and considered, so people expect this level of refinement in all events. And there’s so much competition among venues, caterers and other event vendors that businesses are scrambling to create a lasting impression for both the clients and planners who hire them and the attendees who sample their goods.

Like in any other industry, it’s client needs and expectations that dictate the direction of the industry, and as client expectations continue to grow, event planners will have to focus more on creating that singular experience that attendees will remember long after they return home.

So what is your opinion on the event planner of tomorrow? We would love to hear your feedback.

Forecast for the event industry in 2015? Sunny, with a few clouds

2015 Event Industry Forecast - Sunny and PromisingEvery December we ask event planners and event professionals what their outlook is for the event industry in the coming year. This year, we posed three big questions to our audience, and here is how 420 event planners and professionals responded:

Do you anticipate revenues to be higher, lower or about the same in 2015?
The response: Overwhelmingly higher

79% of event planners responded that they anticipate event revenues will be higher in 2015, as opposed to 3% who think they will be lower and 18% who think they will stay about the same as 2014.

Overall, many event planners have seen positive growth in revenues over the last 2 years, and with the U.S. economy picking up steam, they anticipate 2015 to be another healthy year of revenue growth for the events industry. And even overseas event markets in Europe and Australia see positive revenue developments coming in 2015.

Do you anticipate event budgets to be larger, smaller or about the same in 2015?
The response: Either larger or about the same

Event budgets have been growing since the Great Recession (when they bottomed out), and event planners and professionals are anticipating another year of event budgets that are either a bit larger or the same as the previous year. That’s the good news.

The bad news? Well, it isn’t exactly bad, but it does pose challenges for event planners. One thing we heard loud and clear from our respondents was that event clients expect a lot more for their money now. This is probably a result of event planners, event venues and event vendors providing discounts and lots of value-adds during the recession to capture as much business as possible. And clients have become accustomed to this climate of added value and now for them it is business as usual.

So while event budgets may be growing somewhat, the value that clients expect from their budgets is growing even faster. This is requiring event professionals to get creative with budgeting and delivering unique solutions for clients who have become more demanding over the last few years.

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What is the biggest challenge you face in 2015 regarding event management and planning?
The response: Business development … followed by staffing, budget management and rising event costs

Event planners, event venues, caterers and event vendors overwhelmingly said that business development / lead generation was the single biggest challenge facing them in 2015. Finding new clients is never easy in any economic climate, and a few contributing factors that our event professionals cited were the growing number of competitors in the marketplace as well as the growing costs of marketing and advertising an event-related business.

Finding, hiring and keeping qualified staff members was also named as a big challenge for event professionals. A few event planners we talked to noted that, as the job market tightens up and unemployment rates go down, it’s more difficult to find Millennials to fill entry-level positions, especially part-time positions with employers like event venues, reception halls and hotels.

Budget management and rising event costs were also cited by event planners and event pros as looming challenges in 2015. Again, clients are demanding more value from their budgets, and as venue and catering costs rise, planners and event management pros are having to get creative with their budgets to accommodate these rising costs and still over-deliver on other items like décor, rentals and entertainment.

How do you see 2015 shaping up for the event industry? Let us know in the comments below.

Seven Do’s and Don’ts of Discounting Event Services

Do's and Don'ts of Discounting Event ServicesMost of the marketing books I have read over the years have discouraged discounting because of two reasons:
1. You train your customers to always buy your product/service at the discounted price so that they will wait to buy until they can take advantage of the next discount.
2. You are tacitly saying to your customers that your product isn’t valuable enough to buy at the discounted price.

Those are certainly two valid arguments, but as an entrepreneur, you tend to learn things in running a business that most marketing “experts” never encounter. And the events industry is unique in the mix of services and products we offer; the diverse customer bases we serve; and the seasonal cycles we experience every year.

I used to be strictly in the “no discounts ever” camp, but in the middle of 2014 we experimented with offering discounts for our online event management software during the 30-day free trial period, and it worked so well that we have continued this practice. So I have to admit that I am now in the camp of “offer discounts when it makes sense.” So here are some scenarios when it may or may not be advisable to discount your event venue, catering or event planning services.

One word of caution, though … discounting is like a drug. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. Your customers WILL expect to pay the discounted price moving forward, and it will causes friction if you try and raise prices on them.

DO consider discounts when you are trying to build a customer base.
It’s hard to start a business, and even harder to build a client base from nothing, especially in an industry like hospitality, catering or event planning where there are so many competitors.

As such, offering discounts and perks when you are just starting out can help you land clients that are a bit more price-sensitive and establish some operating revenue while you get scaled up. This is why we have been discounting our online event software this year, and it has provided us with a solid base of great customers and revenues that are sustaining us through our first few years.

DO NOT offer discounts in perpetuity.
Discounts are great for certain purposes for a defined time period (like in Scenario #1). But offering never-ending discounts just really means that your retail pricing is too high and that your customers don’t believe the services you offer are worth full price.

You would just be better off either lowering your prices or keeping your prices higher, removing the discount and emphasizing the value that your customers receive when they use your event services. Demonstrating value can be more difficult for service-bases businesses, but you can to this with lots of customer testimonials, polished marketing materials (especially your Web site and promotional videos) and making a great first impression.

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DO consider discounts during slow seasons.
Slow event seasons are slow for a reason … people simply don’t book certain events certain times of year. Fewer brides and grooms book weddings in the winter. Fewer trade shows and fundraisers happen during the summertime and fall.

However, if you give someone a very good reason to book their wedding in November or their meeting in the fall, they may reconsider their thinking. Providing such prospects with discounted pricing for booking your event services during off-times or off-season can provide some much needed revenues during those slow times when you weren’t expecting much income, and it gives clients more options. Many event venues offer these discounts to keep their venue booked, and it works very well for many of them.

DO NOT offer discounts selectively.
If you are offering a discount for a certain time period or purpose, make sure that you treat all customers the same. For example, if you are offering a limited-time discount to new customers, don’t offer it to some customers and not to others, because this is unfair and people will eventually find out about it.

I had a friend who worked for a company that was providing such a discount, and along came a fairly flush customer who they knew could afford full pricing. So they didn’t offer the customer the discount, and a few months later during the final preparations for the event, the customer found out that other customers received discounted pricing and she has never ceased badmouthing my friend’s company around town.

Whether you run an event planning, event venue or catering business … whether your clientele is local, regional or national …
people will find out, either via word of mouth or social media, so just treat everyone the same regarding discounts.

DO consider discounts when you are testing out new offerings.
Sometimes if you have a new product or service you are rolling out, you may have a vague idea of what the pricing for the new product might be but aren’t exactly sure. So a good idea is to establish what you think is an appropriate full price for the long term but offer a discount in the short term to get people into the product and establish a track record with the product.

An added bonus of discounting a new product/service offering is that you can start to gauge if people would pay the full price or if they wouldn’t buy the service if they had to pay full price, and you can adjust your full pricing accordingly.

DO NOT offer discounts to cover up deficiencies.
If you go to a store an buy a new television on sale, you don’t expect it to work 75% of the time or you don’t expect half the features to malfunction. If you buy a loaf of bread on sale, you don’t expect half of it to be stale and moldy. You still want an intact, fully functioning product for the money you spent on it.

The same goes for discounting event services. Your customers may realize they paid less than full retail, but that doesn’t mean they expect anything less than your best service and effort. If you have any deficiencies in your business, you need to fix those first and ignore discounting until you are able to provide your customers with the experience and value they expect.

This brings up an interesting angle on discounting your pricing when recovering from a bout of bad publicity. A batch of bad potato salad can ruin a caterer, and poor upkeep and uncleanliness have sullied the reputation of more than one event venue. So if you have an event business that has fixed troublesome issues and is trying to rebuild its reputation, discounting can be a good strategy to woo customers back and to prove to the marketplace that you have righted the ship.

DO consider discounts for special occasions.
Do you know how Corona now owns Cinco De Mayo? Or how Macy’s owns Thanksgiving? Well, you can also pick a day out of the year and offer a discount to your prospects and customers to enhance your top-of-mind awareness.

For example, many businesses offer discounts on their anniversary. But a better idea is to pick an occasion that people are already familiar with, like Groundhog Day, and every year promote an offer, maybe something like this:
“Spring is right around the corner, and now is the time to start planning those spring and summer events. To commemorate the arrival of spring, this Groundhog Day, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, you only get 5% off all event planning services. If he doesn’t, you get 10% because spring is coming early!”

Basically, have fun with it and be consistent with it every year, and you will “own” the day in your market and have a great way for people to remember you.

Event management apps that you’ll find handy

We thought we’d jot down a list of event management apps for the iPhone and Android that event planners would find useful, so here’s our short list of iPhone apps / Android apps for event professionals:

Dropbox – Yes, the popular file sharing software also lets you access all your files on your phone or tablet device. You can even sync your photos from your phone to your Dropbox account to simplify loading all your event pics.

Hootsuite – Another computer software app that also works great on a phone so you can track and post all your event updates to your favorite social media sites.

Easybooks – Great tool for bookkeeping and tracking all your income and expenses for your event planning business or your events department.

1Password – This is by far the best way to manage all your logins for your online tools. Store all your usernames/passwords and just remember one password to log into all your other apps and sites.

VenueFinder – The most aptly named event planning app in this post. Looking for a venue and have a special set of requirements? Just use this app and locate an event venue with the specs you need.

Palettes Pro – A great way to create color palettes on-the-go and to store color ideas for your events. It even gives you lots of options and ideas for complimentary colors as well as what is trending.

Shoeboxed – Awesome for taking pics of receipts, business cards and other scraps of paper that you can then store and pull up at a moment’s notice for your events. Beats the heck out of a cluttered purse or wallet.

Planning Pod – Yes, we have an app for that … an event management app, that is. Access all your to-do’s, contacts, calendars, notes, messages and much more from your Planning Pod account on any mobile device or tablet.

How to overcome negative social media reviews for your events business

Overcoming Negative Social Media Reviews and Negative Customer ReviewsBad or less-than-ideal customer experiences happen to all of us at some point. No matter how professional and diligent we are and no matter how hard we try to be perfect (and, BTW, nobody is perfect), sometimes things just happen. Sometimes those things are accidents (your caterer’s van got hit and ruined the luncheon meal … thank goodness nobody was hurt), sometimes they are acts of nature (your keynote speaker came down with the flu), and sometimes they are plain-and-simple oversights or mistakes made by you, your staff or your vendors or subcontractors.

I can attest that we here at Planning Pod aren’t perfect either, and although 99.99% of the time things go smoothly, it’s that 0.01% that always haunts you because you know you and your staff try your damnedest to get things right the first time.

In fact, for centuries businesspeople have made mistakes, and we will make them for countless centuries to come. But what has changed over the last several years is that our customers now have a huge megaphone called social media at their disposal to announce our occasional slipups to the world.

Despite what you think I might say, overall I think negative social media reviews have been a fairly positive development, because they force event business that behave badly to either improve their practices or find a new line of work, and it gives prospective clients another way to screen out mediocre or poor event vendors.

However, there are a couple of negative developments regarding negative customer reviews on social media, namely…

  1. Lots of unnecessary or unwarranted flaming and namecalling is directed at businesses that are trying to do the right thing, fix their problems and make things right for their customers.
  2. Internet trolls and haters who never have anything good to say about anyone or anything now have a forum where someone may actually pay attention to them (because if they acted this way in public everyone would treat them like the pariahs they are).
  3. Unscrupulous competitors can post patently false negative customer reviews about your company.
  4. The people mentioned in items #1, #2 and #3 can hide behind a cloak of anonymity and demean you with impunity.
  5. A permanent online record now exists of items #1, #2 and #3.

So what are you to do if you find customers or unnamed, anonymous people blasting you on Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.? Here are 5 steps you can take to control the damage of negative social media reviews and show the world that you care about your current and future customers.

1. Get in touch with the customer fast and fix the problem immediately.

If you have not yet had the chance to redeem yourself, now is the time. Do whatever you can to address your customer’s issue and make things right with them. 98% of the people on this planet are rational, sentient human beings who, once removed from the initial emotion of whatever happened, will be willing to work with you, mainly because they would rather have their problem addressed than continue to complain about it and not have it fixed.

The key here is to address the issue as soon as you are aware of it because customers appreciate immediate and tangible action, even if it isn’t a perfect fix. All this should be done offline and privately.

And what if you can’t make things right and fix the relationship? Well, unfortunately that’s out of your hands … all you can do is try to fix things to the best of your ability, and then it’s up to your customer to forgive you or hold a grudge.

2. Ask the customer to either delete their initial negative customer review or, better yet, add a comment that you addressed the issue.

This one will depend on the current status of your relationship with your customer, but if you have mended the relationship, it’s not unreasonable to ask them to delete the comment or post a reply that you fixed their problem. To be honest, having the customer leave up the negative customer review and add a positive comment is much better than deleting the negative social media comment because it shows that you respond to your customers in a timely manner.

If they resist, tell them that negative social media reviews do have an impact on your business and you want future customers to know that you will do the same for them by quickly fixing any issues that arise.

The best way to overcome negative customer reviews is avoiding them in the first place. Planning Pod gives you 24+ easy-to-use tools to streamline your event business practices and keep you and your staff on time and on task so you can provide great service to your customers.

Try our event planner and venue management software free today.

3. Post your solution as a reply to the negative customer review.

Your customer was the one who made this issue public by posting it on the Internet, so you have every right to post a reply regarding how you addressed their issue. If they want to leave the negative comment up, refuse to add their own positive comment and you have a decent relationship with them at this point, tell them you will be posting a response to how you fixed the situation. And if you your relationship is broken and unfixable, go ahead an post your reply.

However, there are a couple of best practices when doing this:

  • Take the high road – Avoid the blame game and don’t make any comments about the customer’s mental state or erratic behavior (even though you may be tempted). Be courteous and sound like the reasonable, attentive person that you are.
  • State the facts but don’t go into great detail – Just talk about the basics of how you tried to fix the situation and make things right with the customer. Avoid any editorializing or personal comments … stick to the general facts.
  • Don’t post anonymously – Let the world know who you are and what your company did to address the issue.

Again, the key here is to reply as soon as you have fixed (or tried to fix) the issue so that people who find this exchange online will see a quick reply posted, giving them the correct impression that you address problems quickly.

If the post is a completely fake online review one or one that you suspect is a fake online review , you should first reach out to the social media company that you believe someone is posting false negative customer reviews about you and that you want them investigated and/or taken down. They may take no action (and they may not even respond to you), and if this is the case then #2 above is your only course of action at this point.

Here are some great links for removing or addressing fake negative reviews on Facebook, Amazon , Yelp , and TripAdvisor.

And here is some great information on responding to negative customer reviews on the Better Business Bureau  and Angie’s List.

4. Encourage your satisfied customers to post positive reviews.

Most customer review sites have ratings that weigh your positive reviews against your negative reviews, so if you do have a few negative social media reviews or negative customer reviews on sites like Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau, one of the best things you can do is to encourage your happy customers to post positive reviews to outweigh or dilute those few negative reviews.

Put it this way … if you have dozens and dozens of glowing reviews and a few negative ones (with replies about how you tried to resolve the issue), your prospects will realize that nobody is perfect and also that haters will hate and give you the benefit of the doubt.

5. Monitor all social media channels

Even if you don’t regularly (or ever) post to social media, you will still need to monitor social media in case someone posts unfavorable customer reviews about you. One great free tool to use is Google Alerts, where you can set up daily alerts regarding mentions of your company online. Social Mention is also another great tool that works like a search engine … just enter in your company name and it gives you a rundown of your social media mentions and an overview of public opinion regarding your brand. Tools like Mention and Hootsuite also let you monitor social media postings with your name in them. We employ Google Alerts, Hootsuite and Mention to track our online mentions and respond back quickly to both customers and interested prospects.

Other paid online reputation management software tools and apps include Trackur, Brandseye  and Reputation.com.

Have any additional tips regarding responding to online customer complaints or reviews? Add them to the comments below.

How to gear up for event season / wedding season in 6 steps

Event Season & Wedding Season PreparationHere in the USA, we are deep in the November doldrums, which means that event season is nearly upon us. Caterers are prepping for banquet season, which starts here in a few short weeks, while wedding season officially starts during the holidays when newly engaged couples start to search for event planners. And convention season and annual meeting season both start after the new year.

Some event professionals dread this time of year because it’s slow (sometimes we event pros can be adrenaline junkies, and I’m as guilty as anyone) and revenues shrink a bit. But I must admit that I sort of like this short slow season because I have time to take a deep breath, focus on tasks I haven’t been able to complete during the busier periods and start preparing for the coming events season.

So whether your busy time is banquet season, convention season, wedding season or annual meeting season, now is the time to lay the groundwork for a successful 2014. Here are some of the things on my annual checklist for preparing for event season, and I encourage you to consider using your down time to focus on at least one of these items, because it could make your life a whole lot easier when you are in the weeds.

Boost your productivity and efficiency
Do you have some convoluted processes or old ways of doing business that you know slow you down and that can be more efficient? Of course you do, because we all do.

For example, are you tracking all your leads with a Google calendar and crossed fingers, hoping that nobody falls through the cracks? The spend some of your down time moving over to a customer relationship management tool that simplifies how you and your team manage your sales funnel. Tired of the inefficiency of spreadsheets to track and share details (and the hassle of emailing them back and forth and hoping you are using the right version)? Consider switching to more efficient event management software tools.

There are a thousand ways you can be more productive … you simply need to analyze what you spend too much time working on and look for a better solution.

Research new trends
What are the trending colors of the new year (Pantone always has a great take)? What event themes are growing in popularity (check out Special Events and BizBash)? What costs are driving up the expense of events (our 2014 event industry report says rising food-and-beverage and venue costs)? What new technologies will event professionals be picking up this year (see the Event Manager Blog)?

Now is the time to find the answers to these trending topics and more.

Your clients hire you (or your company hired you) for your inside knowledge of the events industry. And they count on you to be up-to-date on the latest industry trends and practices. So take a few hours to take the pulse of what is going on throughout the industry so you are prepared with answers to questions you know you are going to get in 2015.

Get ready for 2015 by streamlining your event planning processes so you can be more productive.

Try Planning Pod’s 26+ easy-to-use, online productivity and business tools for event professionals. Create a free trial today >>

Regroup with your key vendors
Lots of things change going into a new year for many event-related businesses … menus, price lists, inventoried items, policies, personnel, etc.

That alone is a great reason to check in with your key vendors and see if they have made any changes that could affect your event planning or preparations for the coming year.

However, the best reason to check in with your key vendors is to maintain your rapport and great relationships with them. Your most reliable vendors are also the biggest reasons why your events are so successful. There’s the old saw that nobody is ever successful by themselves … there is usually a large team of talented and dedicated people behind any successful endeavor or individual. And this goes double for event management, as our staff, vendors and contractors are indispensable in making our events run smoothly.

So reach out to your vendors, take them out to lunch and find out what’s going on in their world.

Try one new marketing tactic this year
Whether you run an event planning business or an event venue or plan big events for corporations, non-profits or higher education, you are always looking to improve your marketing campaigns. I’ve been in marketing for more than 20 years, and the most successful event professionals are the ones who are always trying new marketing approaches and tactics.

If you talk to any astute marketing veteran, they will tell you that marketing is all about trial and error (or success). You try something and you measure it as best you can. If it works, you improve upon it and put more resources into it. If it doesn’t work, you change it dramatically or drop it altogether.

So if you haven’t done much video marketing, focus on that this year and grow your Web traffic with video. Or try advertising on a new Web site or local magazine. Or spend more time networking at events that your target audience attends. Whatever the tactic, make sure you measure it as best you can so you can know if it worked or not.

Tweak your pitch
Is your pitch still relevant? Does it resonate with your target audience? Does it still accurately reflect the brand identity and promise of your company or events?

Often we spend a lot of time upfront coming up with our brand and our unique selling proposition and then put it on auto-pilot for years to come. But the brands of your organization and events are evolving things and aren’t static because they are changing as you and your audience change. So take a look at your pitch and your marketing messages and tweak them if necessary.

Incrementally raise your prices
When I suggest this to many businesspeople, they flinch, shake their head and say “That’s not really possible. Our customers would rebel.”

But is this really true, or is this just a kneejerk reaction based on fear alone and not facts or logic?

I completely understand where they are coming from because, first of all, people hate change, and second of all, people really hate higher prices. And most event professionals assume that higher prices will scare people away from attending their events or hiring them to plan events.

However, every year price inflation erodes the buying power of every dollar and eats into your profits, and you must raise prices to at least keep up with rising costs. In addition, luxury brands are proof that people WILL buy more expensive things (because they assume it is better and will pay more for things they believe are better and have an air of exclusivity… lots of social psychology studies back this up).

But the secret to raising prices isn’t to jack them up by a large margin every 3-5 years or so. Instead, you incrementally increase your pricing/rates every year. Most customers don’t notice few dollars more here and there each year, but you will notice it in your bottom line. And if you are great at what you do and your services or events are in demand, people will pay because they want the best.

What tips do you have for preparing for wedding season / annual meeting season / convention season / banquet season / whatever events season it may be? Leave them in the comments below?

5 Revealing Facts From the 2014 State of the Event Industry Study

2014 Event Industry Report Survey ResultsHow did the event industry perform in 2014 compared to 2013? What were the big developments and issues this past year for event professionals? Our annual State of the Event Industry survey has provided some great insights into these questions and more, so let’s take a look at the 5 most striking findings from this year’s event industry survey …

Note: Our pool of respondents included 418 professional event planners, corporate event mangers, event venues and non-profit organizations, who provided us with their input, and we thank them for their participation in our inaugural events industry study.

Finding #1 – Event revenues grew across all events in 2014.
The first big event industry statistic from our survey was that event professionals said that their revenues grew across all kinds of events – including conferences, meetings and fundraisers as well as social events like weddings and parties. Of all the respondents, 59% said that their revenues in 2014 were higher than 2013, and another 32% reported that revenues were about the same as last year.

All in all, 2014 was another growth year for events, and many of the event professionals we talked to are already very optimistic about 2015 just by looking at their current 2015 bookings.

Another shocking fact … most event industry professionals are still using 20th century tools to manage their 21st century events.

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Finding #2 – Event attendance also grew in 2014.
Not only were event professionals making more revenues from their events this year, but more guests and attendees were coming to their events, too. 55% of the respondents reported increased attendance at their 2014 events, and another 36% said attendance at their events was about the same as in 2013.

Finding #3 – Higher food-and-beverage (F&B) and venue rates are driving event costs up.
As event industry stats go, this one wasn’t too surprising. Event professionals have been reporting higher F&B and venues costs in various event industry reports over the last few years. In our survey, 70% of respondents said that F&B costs increased over the last 12 months, and another 57% reported that venue rates have increased during that time span … and these higher costs are pushing up the overall price tag for most events.

Finding #4 – The average event lead time in 2014 was 6.7 months.
This one shocked us a bit because it seems so short.

Granted, this is for all types of events across the board, and smaller parties and weddings don’t often require as much prep time as larger conferences or meetings (although that isn’t always the case).

However, even many meeting planners were citing event lead times as short as 6-10 months. And when asked about the shortest lead time they were given in 2014, 58% of our respondents said that their shortest lead time in 2014 was less than 30 days. Ouch.

What this points to is that event clients are waiting until the last minute to sign off on a final budget for an event (residual behavior from the belt-tightening practices of the Recession). Shorter lead times generally mean clients and event professionals have fewer (and often more expensive) options, but we have found that many planners are working with their venue, catering, decor and other vendors to expedite the proposal processes. In addition, event pros are getting more creative with tighter deadlines – like finding alternative venues, scheduling events on traditionally less busy days and hours, and choosing from pre-packaged deals offered by vendors (BTW – this is one key way in which vendors are accommodating shorter lead times on their end).

Finding #5 – Finding competent event staff is getting harder and harder.
Event planning businesses, event venues and caterers have been hinting to us over the last few years that it has become much harder to find qualified candidates for entry-level positions. And our recent findings back this up.

54% of respondents said that finding and hiring competent staff was as difficult in 2014 as it was in 2013, and 33% said it has become even more difficult in 2014.

This stat seems incongruous with current unemployment numbers, especially among twentysomethings who have been beaten up jobwise over the last several years due to a stagnant economy. However, as one event industry pro told us, finding people for open positions is one thing … finding a qualified person who is eager to learn about the industry and take on more responsibility is quite another.

In early 2015, we will be releasing more event industry statistics on the outlook for the new year, so stay tuned for more.