The Great Recession started a trend that has caused many sleepless nights and short fingernails for event planners and event venue managers alike. Because revenues and income dropped for many companies and individuals, event budgets got a lot tighter and people were reluctant to commit to a big event 8-18 months out. Instead, they often waited to the very last minute to call their event planning professional to start the planning process.
The positive that came out of this was that event planners and managers came through for their clients in a very big way, proving they can amazing things with short event lead times. The negative was that this practice has become business as usual, and so now, after the economy has recovered, clients continue to give planners as little as 4-8 weeks of lead time to pull together events.
Although there is some disagreement as to whether lead times for big events has gotten longer , the general consensus among event planners is that event lead times for all events - and especially medium to smaller events of short duration (1-2 days) - are dramatically shorter than they were 6 years ago.
There are certainly many disadvantages to shorter event lead times - including higher printing costs, higher last-minute airfares, difficulties of getting group rates at hotels, fewer venue options and a smaller pool of speakers and entertainers (many of whom are already booked). But these drawbacks have not deterred clients from waiting to get the ball rolling (and sometimes for very legitimate reasons).
So what is an event planner to do? Try to change client behavior by educating them on the drawbacks of short event lead times (and possibly lose clients to other planners who will gladly work with short lead times)? Or find better ways to deliver on short-turn events without having an anxiety attack every time?
Our opinion is that the horse has left the barn on this one, so here are 10 proven tips for overcoming short event lead times.
#1 - Get budget sign-off early
The minute a client calls, your first objective is to get them to commit to a overall budget and sign off on it. That way you know what you have to work with and can break down the budget into line items that they can then sign off on in short order.
#2 - Push clients to make big decisions upfront
With a short deadline, there's really little to no time to mull over big things like geographical location, theme, keynote speaker, entertainment, meal options, etc. So sit down with your client and have them commit to these big ticket items early so you can start the research and RFP process immediately.
#3 - Streamline your proposal process
Now is also not the time to send out 50-page proposals to your venues and vendors that could take them weeks to reply to. You need their proposals in your hands in a matter of days, not weeks, so shorten your RFPs so that vendors can read them in one quick sitting and be very specific about your requirements so they can formulate a reply fast.
Oh, and since you will have very little time to negotiate, ask for their best price out of the gate.
#4 - Clearly define roles and responsibilities in your internal kickoff meeting
Your team needs to function like a Swiss watch for short-turn events, so from the first meeting each team member needs to clearly know what areas of the event they are responsible for, what their goals/objectives are and who they report to. Confusion and fuzzy processes are your enemy, so eliminate them whenever and wherever possible.
Another best practice for overcoming short event lead times is having the right tools to help you streamline your processes. Planning Pod event management software lets you build templates for task lists, contracts, proposals, itineraries/schedules and much more so you can be pre-prepared for all your short-turn events.
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#5 - Templatize as much as you can beforehand
Yes, there are certainly tasks and processes that cannot be known until you begin the planning process. But there are many other tasks and to-do's that can be put into a template beforehand so that when the event starts, you aren't building a task list, you are simply assigning due dates and people to tasks.
#6 - Focus on securing a venue first
With short-turn events, everything starts with the venue. If your event is happening within 4-8 weeks, many venues will be booked up already, so you may need to broaden your search to alternative venues if more traditional settings don't pan out.
Event venues have also become accustomed to short lead times, so most of them understand the pressure you are under and will work with you to expedite the process. But be prepared to send out more RFPs - especially if your event is a larger one with many attendees - because you will most likely receive more "no bid" replies than you would if you were booking an event 12 months out.
#7 - Prioritize and compromise
Even for events with short lead times, some clients expect the world, so you will have to disabuse them of this notion and manage their expectations. They will have to make some tough decisions and they certainly will not get everything that they wish for. So have a frank discussion with them on things that they are willing to sacrifice and other things that they must have. And for their must-haves, let them know that they may have to compromise on many of those, too, if they want their event to happen at all.
By working with them to prioritize their wish list, this helps you know what you can negotiate with vendors and venues. You will have to make more compromises when you are given a short event lead time, so know beforehand your minimum requirements before you start negotiations.
#8 - Establish a "hot line" with your client
Games of phone tag and long email chains regarding event decisions will work against you with short-turn events, so make it clear to your client that you need to be able to access them and get a fairly immediate reply regarding critical decisions. Decision makers cannot simply "disappear" for hours or days, and you need to establish a way to reach them to get immediate responses.
In addition, many clients often have multiple decision makers for their events (this is especially true for non-profits, which often have to run event decisions by an entire committee), and this arrangement is counterproductive for events with shorter lead times. In these instances, the client needs to appoint a single decision maker who has the authority to make decisions for the group.
Many of the above best practices involve the participation of your client, but if you clearly document their responsibilities upfront and make them aware of every contingency, it will make your and their lives easier so you can provide them and their attendees the best experience possible.