9 Event Email Marketing Tips That Always Deliver

Event Email Marketing TipsI have been a professional marketer for more than 20 years now, which both makes me feel old and, shockingly, at times wise. Email marketing has changed immensely over the last two decades – including email marketing for events – and I admit I’ve made my share of embarrassing mistakes while learning how to properly conduct event email marketing campaigns.

For example, I once accidentally sent out a test email to a database of 10K people with the subject line “Test Monkey” (which oddly had a much better open rate than the actual email I ended up sending, providing more evidence that subject lines with the word “monkey” often perform well). About a decade ago, I also stumbled into discovering that the colors red and green are optimal for emails (and especially for call-to-action buttons) and that blue just blends in with everything else.

Now, I will admit that I have also tested and measured my marketing emails quite a bit (more than I want to admit, actually), and based on my years of research and diligence, I want to save you from all the mistakes and painful learning moments I had to go through in building event email marketing campaigns.

So I sat down and wrote out my best, top-of-mind event email marketing tips that have worked for me over-and-over again and that won’t steer you wrong, whether you are marketing events to potential attendees or marketing an event planning service or event venue.

#1 – Be honest and upfront with your intentions.
If your audience signs up for your list thinking they will get useful resources and value-adds only to later receive a slew of stale sales emails, you will anger more people and damage your brand more than you can imagine.

However, if you would have told them you would be primarily sending them crappy sales emails, your signups would be dramatically lower, but those people receiving your emails will be ready for your crap.

But lets turn that around … Better yet, never push lots of sales pitches to your audience (because they are sick of being sold), stay far away from salesy language and instead be courteous, positive and honest in what your email recipients can expect when they opt-in to your list. And yes, they do need to opt in.

#2 – Build and maintain your list with strategic content and surprising offers.
It’s a good thing you already know that self-promotional emails don’t move the needle much ;)  So what emails do work? For starters, timely studies and research conducted by you on topics that interest your audience. Videos detailing useful ideas and tips that educate them in their areas of interest and your areas of expertise. Images and graphics that illuminate, inspire and entertain (oh, and infographics are still very effective, too).

Beyond providing your email recipients with educational and inspirational content, occasional offers and discounts that are of value to them also make great email topics.

Yes, you can certainly provide the expected offers like early-bird savings or discounts off your services. But adding the element of surprise can make your offers more unique and appealing. For example, you could curate discounts from events industry partners and offer them to your list. Or you could offer discounts for people who tweet your event to 100 of their colleagues. Anything that varies from the norm but still reflects your brand and offers value is worth trying at least once. And email, if it’s about anything, is about testing constantly.

#3 – Mail to your list frequently in the first month, regularly after that.
If you are like us and garner opt-ins via a variety of tactics (like product trials, e-newsletters and how-to guides), you want your new recipients to understand the kind of value they will get from your emails. And you don’t want to wait too long for them to receive your first email; otherwise they may forget they signed up and mark your emails as spam.

So a good rule of thumb is to send six emails to your new email list members within the first month of them signing up. Usually a mix of educational content and discounts work well, and towards the end of the month you may want to toss in an opt-in confirmation email to make sure they are interested in sticking around.

After that, I would recommend emailing to your list not more than twice a month and sending out one (1) offer email for every four (4) educational emails. The reason for this is that people enjoy mulling through content and don’t mind getting more of these types of messages, but if they receive too many offers they tune them out and start ignoring them.

The key here is consistency, and dropping off will only hurt you because your list members will forget about you.

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#4 – Tap your blog for email content.
If you’re like me, you often don’t have spare time to write unique content for both your emails and your blog. So ask your blog to do double duty and use your posts as content sources for your emails and e-newsletters.

I have found that my social media friends and followers are much more likely than my email list members to read our blog, so I have provided my email list with abbreviated versions of blog posts. In addition, you can curate content from other blogs and industry Websites and include blurbs and links to those in your emails. Just make sure that the content you are curating resonates with your target audience.

#5 – Use your company name, alliteration and question marks in your subject lines.
For starters, subject lines should be less than 45 characters (including spaces) so that they can fit onto smartphone screens. Never use all caps. And, if you want to stay out of spam filters, your emails should never include the words “free”, “buy”, “cost” or “avoid.”

So what does work in a subject line? Well, by putting your company or product name in the subject line, people will more easily recognize you among all the detritus in their inbox and be more likely to open a mail from a known entity.

Using alliteration in your emails (words in a phrase or sentence that have the same first consonant) also catches people’s attention and has been found to regularly improve open rates. Word parings like “swimmingly serene” or “downright dirty” might sound glib, but try your own alluring alliterative phrases and see how they pump-up and bump-up your open rates (yes, rhyming works, too).

Generally I would say to avoid punctuation in subject lines (especially exclamation points … another spam flag). But question marks actually perform extremely well because people are intrigued by questions and want to know the outcome or answer, so consider using enticing questions in your subject lines, too.

#6 – Rely on text and links – not images – to generate interest.
Event professionals love to include lots of gorgeous pics in their event marketing email messages, and for good reason … you get lots of amazing photos from all the great photographers working your events.

Here’s the thing … quite a few email apps/clients like Google Gmail have images turned off by default. So any emails you send that are a single image or are image-heavy may not be opened by a large percentage of your recipients who have their images turned off.

A better practice is to focus on the messaging and basic HTML layout of your email, which almost all recipients will be able to see, and strategically embed one or two images in your emails that the user can turn on once they have opened the email.

Oh, and avoid using attachments in your email blasts … they are also a spam flag for Internet service providers and email spam filters.

#7 – Keep each email to a single message (and put that message in your headline).
This email event marketing tip comes from my journalism teacher in college Dr. Grace, who once critiqued my then fairly florid newswriting by politely but firmly reciting the age-old mantra of editors: Don’t bury the lead.

The “lead” is the one main message you are trying to convey, which also doubles as the most interesting and compelling idea in your email. If you have a unique or notable offer, lead with the special deal. If your big event secured a great speaker, lead with this exclusive appearance. If you are launching a new kind of event, lead with why it’s fresh and different.

And don’t just lead with your one big idea … make it the focal point of the email (including your subject line and headline) and don’t clutter it up with other offers or ideas. One email, one idea.

#8 – Send business emails in the middle of the week.
In my decade of hard core email event marketing, I have rarely had any success sending business event related emails on weekends or Mondays or Fridays.

If you are sending event email invitations for social events like weddings or parties, blasting your event emails on weeknight evenings or weekends may actually show better results. But for emails for business events, your best bet is to send out on a Tuesday or Wednesday between either 8-10 am or 2-4 pm, with Thursday being a close second.

Why do these days and times work better for business event email marketing campaigns? Mainly because many people take long weekends and are sometimes out on Mondays and Fridays, plus those are the two work days in which people are the most buried. And in the middle of the week people aren’t as buried and are more accessible.

#9 – Always, ALWAYS have a call-to-action that is the first place your readers look.
People make fast decisions on whether they should read or trash an email, and you usually have 1-2 seconds to get their attention. So you want them to dial into your message fast and be directed immediately to your intended action.

This is where your call-to-action (CTA) is vital. It needs to be direct, clear and short (less than 10 words), and it needs to be the next step the person should take regarding the email. If it’s an offer, the CTA is should be for buying or registering now. If you are providing content, it should be to click on links to navigate or to download something.

For your call to action to stand out, it should be in another color than the rest of your email; red is the most visible and garners the most attention, but green also works well. And it should be above the fold (visible in the email viewer or when the email is first opened) and the first thing a person notices when they open the email.

Bonus Extra Tip – Never sell or share your list.
This dilutes the value of it, and other people tend to overuse your list and do things with it you would never do. Your list is gold and your most valuable marketing asset, so don’t let someone ruin all your hard work and piss off your audience in the process.

Oh, and never buy lists. Purchased lists are often unreliable and the members of the list have not opted in to receive your emails, so your messages may not be welcome. Instead, take the time to build your own event email marketing list … it’s worth it.

Anything you’d like to add … then feed the comment monster.

11 proven tips for hiring event staff or event planners for your company

Hiring Event Staff and Event PlannersIn a recent survey conducted by Planning Pod, one of the biggest challenges facing event professionals and venues today is finding and retaining qualified staff members. This includes hiring event planning staff for full-time positions as well as hiring event staff who work part-time.

There are dozens of great articles that provide recruiting tips like here and here and here and here, but we wanted to offer up a handful of proven best practices used by successful event planners and venue managers. Here they are…

For finding qualified candidates…
#1 – Craft your job requirements and desired behavioral traits

The first thing you need to do is determine your company’s needs and what responsibilities the new staff member will perform. From this you can identify the skills sets and temperament that the individual needs to possess, and finally you are ready to distill this down to job requirements as well as desired behavioral traits.

Note that putting desired behaviors in the job description is just as vital as required experience and skills/abilities, because it conveys to job seekers the culture and drive of your business. So instead of just saying something like “At least 3 years of event management experience required”, elaborate a bit more with something like: “Idea candidate will have 3 years of experience in a high-energy workplace managing event details and interacting daily with clients, prospects and vendors.”

#2 – Consult your network
Your network is not only a great source of leads and prospects; you can also employ it to find great candidates. However, there are a few best practices when doing this.

Start by consulting professionals or businesses in your network who know your business and understand your brand and your goals. You want people referring candidates that fit your culture, so instead of blasting an email to all your contacts, hand pick the ones who know you best and will take the time to think about ideal candidates.

You can also leverage any relationships you have with your local event/convention facilities as well as local chapters of professional industry associations (like Meeting Professionals International or International Special Events Society) to see if chapter leaders have any people they can refer your way.

#3 – Use online tools like LinkedIn Groups
Sure, you could try posting job listings for event planners or event staff on Indeed.com or SimplyHired.com, but it will cost you money and you will get thousands of resumes, many of which may not come close to your requirements.

A better bet is to join LinkedIn Groups that are related to the events industry and post job listings in those groups. There is no cost and you can hone in on your target audience very quickly and efficiently. You can also seek out local job boards as well as industry specific job boards (About.com has a great summary of events industry job boards ).

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#4 – Consult local schools or specialty trade schools
If it’s a fresh, young face and a hungry attitude that you require for an entry-level position, a great place to find candidates would be a local trade school, community college or university that offers event planning or hospitality courses. I have found that it’s always best to first speak with the career services department of the school and see if you can get permission to consult their instructors so you can get references for their best students.

However, you can also contact one of the many online schools that offer event planning and/or hospitality training courses. Lovegevity Wedding Planning Institute  and The Wedding and Event Institute  are two examples, but there are many more you can consult, and the schools would be happy to refer local candidates to you as you pursue hiring event planners or event staff.

For screening candidates…
#5 – Ask candidates to describe specific examples of their skills
It’s one thing to list a set of generic skills and traits on a resume, but it’s a completely different thing to have to explain those skills in action during an interview.

By having a candidate provide real-life examples of when and where they put their skills to the task, you can gain a better understanding of their mastery of said skills and see if they truly do have the experience required to fill the position. This tactic really does separate the pretenders from the contenders, and the only question you need to ask is “Give me a real-life example of when you put your [INSERT SKILL HERE] to work in managing an event?”

#6 – Find out their motivations and values
Your company has a culture and a set of values that set you apart from your competitors and have a huge influence on how you treat customers and run your events. In order for an employee to fit into that culture, they need to share most if not all of these core values.

So during the interview, you should be asking questions like:
• What makes you want to work in the events industry?
• What would you say to a prospect who isn’t sure of the value of hiring an event planner?
• Give me an example of great customer service.
• How would you address a customer or attendee who is upset that something was not delivered as promised?

Questions like these will reveal how the candidate interacts with other people – a vital skill for working in the events industry – and their level of passion and commitment to their profession.

#7 – Attend more to body language and tone and less to looks
Social psychological studies have proven that attractive people are more likely to get interviewed for jobs, hired for jobs and given more perks than those of us more ordinary looking folk – even if they are less qualified for the job .

So don’t let yourself get swayed by the candidate’s looks and focus more on body language and tone when hiring event staff or planners, because these will be a much better indicator of their demeanor in the workplace. Does the person have good eye contact? Do they listen well and ask good questions? Does their voice put you to sleep or is it vibrant and inviting? Is their posture relaxed and comfortable or tight and defensive? Do they frown a lot or furrow their brow? Keep notes on your observations, as the new hire will be representing your company and interacting with prospects and clients.

For retaining candidates…
#8 – Offer competitive pay (and pay your interns)
The fastest way to lose a great employee is to not pay them enough. Fair or not, most employees mainly feel valued based on their salary, and if it isn’t as much as their peers at other companies are getting paid, they will feel as if you don’t really appreciate their efforts and start looking.

To determine what a fair salary is for the position, you can consult sources like PayScale.com and Salary.com; you can even consult your professional network and professional organizations and see what they think a fair salary would be for the position you are listing.

What if you can’t afford to pay industry-standard wages? Then think like a non-profit and get creative by offering other incentives like more vacation time or the ability to telecommute more.

In addition, if you are hiring an event planner or event staff as an intern, you will get better performance from the person you select if you pay them at least minimum wage if not a bit more. The person will not only be learning from you but will be assisting you with your events, and they will be more motivated to learn and help if they are also receiving some sort of compensation.

Also, the Department of Labor stipulates that an unpaid internship must be similar to the training provided in an educational environment and must not benefit the company in any way. Since most internships benefit the company (because the intern is doing work that helps the business advance its interests), by law they should be paid.

#9 – Create a rewards/incentives system
Another way to provide additional compensation for standout employees and keep them in your fold is to give them rewards for outstanding performance. For example, your event planning staff members may frequent many other events where they may encounter prospective leads, so offer them some sort of commission reward for bringing in and landing new clients for your business.

Or you could make your rewards simpler, like giving employees gift certificates to a nice restaurant for going over-and-above on a particular event or for a particular client. Regardless of the reward, make it very public and show how much you appreciate the employee by encouraging and praising them.

#10 – Give both guidance and responsibility
Your goal is to be a mentor who helps your employee grow and learn so that they can take on more responsibility. This begins with providing them with lots of guidance and goals on how to perform certain tasks and your expectations of the results. The key here is not to be exhaustive, as you want your employee to learn on their own and be motivated to learn more, so letting them struggle a little is good because they need to learn how to problem-solve without you always providing the answers.

Once you can rely on an employee to pick up new skills and apply them, you can start to give them more and more responsibilities, which makes them feel valued and like they are an essential part of your team.

Oh, and here’s one thing to avoid…

#11 – Don’t hire friends, family or hobbyists
You may have a great, close relationship with a friend or loved one and have intimate knowledge of their skills and abilities, but hiring them comes with lots of other baggage and emotions, and these will almost certainly get in the way of your business relationship with them (and, god forbid, what if you have to lay them off).

Your current relationship with them will also make it difficult for you to be their boss. What if you have to discipline them for not following through on a project? Or give them constructive criticism when they have done something incorrectly? Would you have to change your approach because they are a family member or friend? And how will they take it?

It is possible to have a harmonious working relationship with a loved one, but you are better off looking for someone else and avoiding any potential drama (and possibly damaging your relationship).

And hobbyists are people who simply think working in the events industry would be fun but don’t really have the skill set or dedication to follow through, and you will soon find yourself doing their work as well as yours.

Any other ideas you want to offer on hiring event staff or hiring event planners? Leave them in the comments below.

6 revolutionary best practices for sustainable, green events

Green Events Best PracticesSimply put … the human race needs to reduce our carbon emissions from 50-85% by 2050 to avoid an environmental catastrophe (basically making the planet inhabitable for many species, including ourselves).

I have recently been talking with a friend of mine, Reed Pritchard, who runs a carbon offset credit company called CO2 Forestry here in Denver, CO, and his passion on this topic was inspiring. His firm coordinates with companies and communities in Brazil to reforest the land there with trees that eat up CO2, and then they create carbon offset credits for people and companies to purchase, which goes right back to the reforestation efforts. This made me think about innovative ways we as members of the events industry can do a better job to create sustainable events.

Dozens of great blog posts (like here and here and here and here) have already been written by event planners and professionals on the benefits of recycling and conservation regarding the events we plan and launch. Green events are now a hot trend, but environmentally sustainable events must become a standard requirement moving forward if we as an industry are to do our part in addressing this huge issue. The greening of events can’t and must not simply be a trend; it must become a standard practice.

So instead of repeating what has already been said in many other places, I’m going to focus on six best practices for green events that you may not yet be familiar with but that will make a huge impact on reducing the carbon footprint of your events. But are they revolutionary? Yes they are … if enough of us employ them.

#1 – Add the purchase carbon offset credits to your budget
So what are carbon offsets? Basically, they are reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (namely CO2) taking place somewhere in the world that are subsequently translated into credits that can be purchased. One example of such a reduction would be the renewable energy generated by a wind farm that replaces energy generated by a coal-burning plant. Another example would be the reforestation of a barren territory that was once a traditional rain forest, planting trees and foliage that absorb more CO2 from the environment (basically what Reed’s company does).

Such reductions are called carbon offsets, and these are quantified and sold in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. So if you purchase 1 ton of carbon offset credits, you will have reduced 1 ton of CO2 emissions from being released into the environment. The money you spend on these credits essentially goes towards these carbon-reducing projects and programs and speeds our progress in permanently reducing carbon emissions.

In the U.S., carbon offset credits can cost between $10-$20 per ton. These credits are sold by companies specializing in managing carbon offset projects and collecting credits, and you should make sure that the carbon offset company you select has had their offsets certified by third parties.

You have a couple of options here. You can choose to offset the carbon footprint for your on-site event itself, or you can offset the carbon footprint of your on-site event as well as for the travel of each of your guests/attendees. The latter will be more costly, as guest/attendee travel has by far the biggest carbon impact of any event-related activity, so you may want to offset for your on-site event activities/practices and ask your guests/attendees to purchase their own carbon offset credits to help reduce their travel footprints.

You can buy carbon offset credits from CO2 Forestry (and learn about Reed’s inspiring story) and also see what the Carbon Fund  has to offer (they have some good calculators for figuring out the carbon footprint of events).

BTW … if you choose to do this, it is a GREAT marketing opportunity that you can promote the hell out of and create momentum and goodwill with many prospective attendees and sponsors.

#2 – Reduce or eliminate animal meats and proteins from your menus
Did you know that meat production generates 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions every year? In simpler terms, a half-pound hamburger that cooks down to a patty the size of two decks of cards releases as much CO2 as driving a 3000 pound vehicle almost 10 miles. Eeeesh.

By reducing the meat portions in your event menus or altogether eliminating meat and substituting other protein options (like tofu, beans/lentils, seitan, etc.), you can considerably reduce your event’s carbon footprint and green up your event even more.

Granted, eliminating meat from menus may not be feasible for some events (especially if you are holding an event for the beef or pork industry), so in those cases you should seek out in-season, locally sourced meats and produce. This will reduce the transportation costs of these foods.

In addition, you can seek out food providers that package their foods with environmentally friendly and recyclable or reusable materials, and you can have any leftovers sent to a local food kitchen or homeless shelter and compost everything else.

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#3 – Choose a truly green venue
A green event isn’t green without the involvement and participation of your event venue. In the U.S., buildings account for 39% of all CO2 emissions, so you can see that finding a event venue that has instituted many environmentally sustainable practice can make a big difference for your green event.

Today many venues offer recycling and composting options for you and your guests. However, truly green venues go much further than this, so when evaluating facilities for your green events, look for venues that:

  • Are a LEED-Certified facility (LEED certification is a standardized building industry certification granted to facilities that meet a number of requirements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions). This is by far the most important factor in identifying a truly green venue.
  • Have an Energy Star score of better than 50, with a score of better than 75 being optimal. Basically, the higher the score, the better.
  • Are within close proximity (1/4 to 1/2 mile) to public transit options.
  • Employ energy-saving systems (like convection heating/cooling and energy-efficient LED or CFL lighting) and water-saving strategies (like low-water toilets and showerheads).
  • Use vehicles with low emissions or low energy consumption rates (like natural-gas powered vehicles).
  • Maximize natural light to illuminate their event spaces and rooms as well as to heat those spaces.

#4 – Offer incentives for guests that rideshare or take direct flights
As we discussed earlier, transportation is likely to have the biggest impact when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions generated by your event. This can extend to a number of areas – like transportation of food items and decor/flowers and on-site transportation – but the biggest transportation impact is the separate trips all your attendees make to the event itself.

The first step here is to locate your green event centrally so that the largest number of guests have the shortest distance to travel. For example, hosting your event at a venue on the Mayan Riviera on the west coast of Mexico may make for a great travel experience for your guests, but if most of your guests are located in the eastern U.S., then your event will have a dramatically larger carbon emission footprint than if you held the event in New York or Philadelphia.

But the next thing you can do is to give your attendees incentives to share rides to the event or take direct flights (which are much more efficient than flights with connections). You could offer special prizes or discounts to these guests who choose these greener options and partner with a sponsor to provide the gifts. You could even give priority seating, menu options or value-added programming to these guests as incentives.

#5 – Reduce the amount of “stuff” dispensed at the event
Swag. Handouts. Gifts. Programs. Favors. Promo items. Gift bags. It’s amazing the amount of stuff we take home from events and never, ever use again. Eventually, most of it ends up in a landfill. When you think of all the energy it took to produce those items and the additional energy to dispose of them, it makes you shake your head.

So instead of handing out materials, opt for electronically distributing things like programs and guides for your event that people can load on their laptops, tablets and smartphones.

And instead of giving out another logo-emblazoned stress ball or post-it note dispenser, opt for giving out experiences or intangible-but-useful items instead, like tickets to movies or music shows, gift cards for local vendors or donations made by you on your guests’ behalf.  If you must give out a physical object, give out items that are environmentally sustainable, like beeswax candles or small flower/herb pots.

#6 – Set a casual dress code for your event
Suits may look spiffy, but lots of dress clothes can also contribute to the carbon footprint of an event. Dry cleaning releases lots of greenhouse gases, as does having to lower the temperature of your event venue or guest rooms so that guests in dress clothes are comfortable.

By instituting a casual dress code that fits the seasonal climate, you can avoid the above measures and have a greener events.

Do you have any revolutionary sustainable event best practices of your own? Then add them to the comments below.

39 proven event planning strategies for negotiating with venues and hotels – Part 2

How to Negotiate with Hotels and VenuesNote: This post is the second of a two-part series on event venue negotiation strategies.

Continuing where we left off….

#21 – Customize your event menu
Don’t just accept the pre-set menu from the venue. Sub out certain items that are less expensive (like in-season local vegetables instead of out-of-season vegetables that must be shipped in), or build your own menu by focusing on less expensive options.

#22 – Bonus insider tip: Piggy back onto an event that the venue has already booked by using the same menu as the other event. This can help you negotiate lower F&B costs because the kitchen does not have to prepare multiple menus; you can also use this tactic to minimize or eliminate any minimum F&B spend requirements.

#23 – Always negotiate for free meeting / event space
Many venues will provide complimentary event space if you meet your minimum spends for F&B and guest rooms. If you aren’t booking rooms (or if your venue is not a hotel but is a meeting/convention center or reception hall) but are still spending money on F&B at the venue, use this spend to negotiate a discounted event room rate, if possible.

#24 – Repurpose your event / meeting space(s)
If you are paying for your event space, you can potentially save money by using the same rooms for different purposes. For example, if you have an event with multiple sessions going on at the same time followed by a big session with a keynote speaker, you could look for a venue where a large ballroom can be partitioned. That way you can hold your breakout sessions first followed by an hour-long networking session in the lobby while the hotel staff sets up the ballroom for the big session. If you go this route, you should confirm with the hotel that they have adequate staff and resources to do a quick reset of the space.

#25 – Negotiate for a free hospitality room
If you meet minimum spends for F&B and guest rooms, negotiate with the hotel for a free hospitality room that you can use as a VIP suite, a lounge for your sponsors or an on-site office for you and your event management staff.

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#26 – Maximize your comped room ratio
Many venues have a standard ratio of one comped guest room for every 50 rooms booked, but often you can negotiate this down to 1:40, 1:30 or possibly lower based on your overall spend on the event.

#27 – Negotiate all minimum requirements and cutoff dates
Hotels want to ensure that, if they set aside guest rooms, event rooms and kitchen/staff resources for your event, they will make a certain amount of profit; hence their desire to have you guarantee a minimum spend for F&B and guest rooms, their most profitable items.

The guest room attrition rate clause in the event contract usually states that you will guarantee a certain percentage of the rooms in your reserved block will be booked by your guests; otherwise you will pay a penalty for the unbooked rooms. Standard attrition rates start at 10%-15% (meaning that you must book 85%-90% of the reserved room block to avoid penalties). You can fairly easily negotiate this to 20% or possibly 30% based on the total value of the event.

Your goal is to negotiate the lowest minimum F&B spend and guest room pick-ups as possible, as this will protect you against incurring penalties if your guest / attendee numbers aren’t as high as anticipated.

When negotiating attrition rates, set a date before which you can reduce or increase the size of the room block without penalty. In addition, have the attrition rate be based on total room nights and not rooms per night, and have the hotel work with you to conduct a post-event audit to identify attendees who booked rooms at the hotel but not in the designated room block. These room nights should also count towards your total.

#28 – Ask how flexible their service charges are
You can’t really negotiate sales taxes or tourism taxes, but you can often negotiate a venue’s service charges, which sometimes simply adds net profit on top of all the items in the proposal. Again the higher your total spend, the more you can probably negotiate the service charges.

#29 – Beware of the required vendor list
Some venues have a list of vendors that you must choose from, and these vendors’ prices tend to be much higher than if you used your own, non-approved vendors because the approved vendors are often paying for the privilege of being “approved” by the venue.

Negotiate to be able to use your own vendors, and if the facility will not negotiate on this, get pricing from outside vendors to negotiate with the venue to drive down the costs of their approved vendors. A venue doesn’t want to lose your business because their approved lighting vendor is double the price of a non-approved vendor; they would rather negotiate with the approved vendor to get the price down and keep your business.

#30 – Always negotiate the audio/visual rentals
A/V rentals are often the most marked-up item in a venue’s proposal, as up to 90% of the A/V cost is pure profit to the venue. Because this item isn’t tied to a fixed cost (like labor) and because the hotel is making most of its profits on rooms and F&B, they will be more likely to negotiate on this.

#31 – Bonus insider tip: Use a third-party A/V rental service to drive this cost down even further.

#32 – Ask for free in-room WiFi (and free WiFi in the event space, if possible)
Most hotel rooms already come with free WiFi, so your guests shouldn’t have to pay extra for it. However, some hotels charge as much as $5-$15/day for guest WiFi access, so use your total event spend to negotiate this down.

In addition, many venues have free WiFi throughout the venue, and you should also negotiate for free WiFi at your event. If you are holding a larger event where hundreds of attendees will all be on their smart phones/tablets, or if you are holding a high-tech event, you may need a lot more bandwith and the venue might not be as willing to comp this, so use your guest room and F&B spend to negotiate this down.

#33 – Negotiate both parking and transportation
If many of your attendees will be driving to the event, ask the venue to provide free or discounted parking for your event guests.

If your guests will be flying into town, see if your guests can use the venue’s transportation options (limos, vans, buses, etc.) at no extra cost.

#34 – Make sure you have a favorable payment schedule
Whenever possible, never pay the full amount upfront. Negotiate so you pay a fixed percentage up front and then backload the rest of the payments. This counts double for any registration or ticketed events, when you will be seeing most of your revenues in the weeks leading up to the event. You want to float as little as possible in covering the hard costs (like food, room rentals, etc.) of your event.

#35 – Amend the cancellation clause
If you have to cancel your event, you don’t want to lose your deposit or be on the hook for all kinds of cancellation fees. So add a clause that lets you change the date to hold the same or another event at the venue within a certain amount of time of the original event date.

Also, have the cancellation clause be on a sliding scale so that the further out you cancel the event, the lower the cancellation fee. And make sure the cancellation clause works both ways so that you are protected if the venue can’t host your event after the contract is signed.

#36 – Consider booking new venues
New venues are often hungrier than established ones, and they are often more willing to negotiate and provide discounts. Just make sure that the venue will be ready for your event (this is where the venue inspection is very important) and that you have a cancellation clause that protects both you and the venue.

#37 – Bonus insider tip: Venues with bad or fair social media reviews may also be hungry to book your business and could be more willing to negotiate. Read the reviews to see specifically what people are complaining about and make sure that you inspect these items on your site visit and have the venue address these concerns and correct any issues prior to your event (and put all this in the contract).

#38 – Make sure everything you discussed is in the contract
Promises are great, but people don’t always follow through on their promises, especially if they aren’t compelled to. But if every item makes it into the contract, then promises aren’t necessary because the venue is contractually required to carry out what is in the contract.

#39 – Sign the contract at the end of the month or quarter
Venue managers are often working to meet quotas, and often those quotas end at the end of a month or a quarter. You can even ask the manager, “Would I get a break on pricing if I signed this before the end of the month?”


39 proven event planning strategies for negotiating with venues and hotels – Part 1

Strategies for Negotiating With Venues and HotelsNote: This post is the first of a two-part series on event venue negotiation strategies. Click here to read part 2 of this article.

Not only is finding a venue the biggest decision you will make for your events, but it is also usually the biggest line item expense in your event budget. So it’s critical that you know all the tips and tricks for negotiating with event venues and hotels.

We talked with dozens of event planners about their venue / hotel negotiation process and wanted to share 40 of their best practices.

Note that you should approach venues with the understanding that EVERYTHING is negotiable. Never accept the first price you are given, and never sign a contract until you have read all the fine print and are comfortable with what is on paper. So without further ado…

#1 – Start with your 4 big requirements
At minimum, the four pieces of information that are most critical in starting venue negotiations are:

  • Budget
  • Event dates
  • Head count
  • Space requirements (occupancy, accessibility, electrical, A/V, etc.)

Of course if you are working up a comprehensive RFP to send to prospective event venues, you will include more requirements than these four, but often these are enough to get negotiations started.

#2 – Bonus insider tip: Many planners feel that initially divulging your budget puts you at a disadvantage in hotel negotiations, so you can always say something like “We are still working on our budget so just give me your standard rates for now.” At that point, the venue will probably show you their top pricing, and you can negotiate down from there and potentially share your budget numbers with them as negotiations proceed.

However, if you have worked with the venue before and have a comfortable working relationship with them, then sharing your budget out of the gate may enable them to help you work within it better and get more for your money. This all depends on your comfort level with the person and venue you are negotiating with.

#3 – Be realistic about your head count
Don’t estimate high when it comes to your head count. A high head count will lead to a high estimate for food and beverage and a larger reserved room block, and since most hotels will ask for minimums for both of these (more on this later), you don’t want to lock yourself into guaranteeing a high minimum spend for catering and rooms (which leaves you vulnerable to paying penalties if you don’t meet your minimums).

#4 – Provide clear timelines and expectations
We have seen event lead times shorten dramatically in the last 5-6 years, and as event turnaround times get shorter, you may have less time to negotiate. So when you start the process, provide the venue with a timeline that includes the date when you need a proposal; when you will provide a counter-proposal or feedback; and your target date for signing a contract with a venue. This makes your timeline and intentions clear to all parties from the start.

#5 – Get quotes from multiple venues
Even if you already know the venue you want to use, get multiple quotes from comparable venues so you can compare costs and make sure you are getting a good value. In addition, you can use negotiations with one venue to drive the costs down with another venue by playing them against each other.

#6 – Don’t be pressured by sales tactics
Once you have set your budget and your schedule for booking a venue, you should not let any sales ploys move you off course. Often venues will say that they have another party that is interested in booking the same space as you for the same time period. Or that their special pricing will expire after a certain day. Or that they don’t typically lower their prices because they have a premium venue that is in high demand.

Any or all of these may or may not be true, but you have no idea of the validity of them, and besides, you should not be rushed to make a decision based on their business motivations. Don’t take the bait … these are pretty standard sales tactics, and if the venue really wants your business, they will work with your budget and timeline. And if they don’t, then you can quickly eliminate them as a candidate and focus on other venues.

#7 – Consider non-hotel venues
Food and beverage and other ancillary costs are often much higher at hotels, and even though non-hotel venues may charge you for the event space, the savings you will see from using an outside caterer and other vendors may make it worth it to hold the event away from a hotel.

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#8 – Treat the venue manager as your partner (not an adversary)
The venue staff will be one of your biggest assets in making sure your event is a success, so why antagonize them out of the gate? In addition, you may want to book future events with the venue and so you want to establish a good working relationship with the venue manager. Approach everything as a negotiation and don’t make unreasonable demands or ultimatums that make them reluctant to work with you. The golden rule applies here, in that you should treat them in the manner in which you would like to be treated.

#9 – Look at things from the venue’s perspective
The decisions that venue or hotel managers make are often driven by two primary considerations:

  1. Booking the venue full every day of the year.
  2. Gaining maximum revenue from every event they host.

You should not fault them for these goals but should instead understand that this is their starting position and use these things to your advantage (more to come on this front).

#10 – Show proof of your value to the venue
If you have held similar events in the past at other venues, provide proof to the venue you are currently negotiating with that you regularly meet your food and beverage and guest room minimums. If you can provide a tally of your total spend for past events, this is a bonus, as the hotel will feel more confident that your event will provide the revenue and profits they need, and they may be more willing to negotiate on a number of fronts if they know you are a reliable source of revenue.

#11 – Have 2-3 date options in mind (and be flexible on the date)
Because venues want to be booked solid all the time (see #9 above), they may have open dates on their calendar that they want to fill. By providing the venue with 2-3 date options and being open minded about the event date, you are more likely to get discounted pricing for the dates they want to fill.

#12 – Bonus insider tip: Provide 2-3 date options around or near your desired date to see if the venue is starting to get booked up for that stretch of time. If they are, you know they may not be as flexible on price; if they aren’t, they may be more flexible.

#13 – Consider supply v. demand
Certain types of venues may simply be in higher demand than other venues and so they can command higher prices and aren’t as likely to negotiate.

Certain times of year (like May-June and September-October) are popular for scheduling events in the Northern Hemisphere, and many venues will charge premium rates for those months. Also, certain week parts may be in more demand depending on the venue (Tuesday-Thursday for business groups, Friday-Sunday for leisure travel), and those days may also be more expensive due to demand. Talk with the venue and see if you can get discounted rates by working around their peak demand seasons and times. Again, venue managers want the venue filled up on as many dates as possible, so a Sunday board meeting or a Friday wedding may be much less expensive to hold at the venue.

#14 – Book multiple events with the same venue or chain/brand
A great way to lower your event venue costs is to agree to host some or all of your yearly events or meetings at a single venue. Or you could book your annual event for multiple years at a single venue. Or you could book multiple events at different hotels under the same brand umbrella. Inquire to see what breaks or spiffs you can get for bulk bookings.

#15 – Clarify what you and your staff can and can’t do
Many venues have contracts with third-party companies or unions to carry out certain duties (like carrying luggage, building stages/displays, setting up meeting rooms, etc.). All these items will impact the pricing, so as part of your discovery process, find out what you will be paying extra for when it comes to staffing on the venue’s side.

#16 – Bonus insider tip: Find out if your staff can take some responsibilities off the plate of the venue staff. For example, if one of your staff members can be posted in the venue lobby to direct your attendees and answer their questions, this might save the venue from having to station a representative or concierge there, and they may be more likely to discount your fees elsewhere because you saved them staffing overhead.

#17 – Use guest room bookings as leverage
With net profit margins as high as 70%, guest rooms are the most profitable source of revenue for hotels. As such, the more guest room bookings you can guarantee, the more likely the hotel will negotiate on other items.

Venues typically require a minimum number of guest rooms booked and will include an attrition rate as well as a cutoff date for bookings in their standard contract (more on these later).

#18 – Negotiate for discounted guest room rates
Make sure that you aren’t paying list rates for the rooms in your hotel block. Ask for the hotel’s group rates and then compare these to their rates posted on popular sites like Hotels.com, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, etc. Also consider negotiating for discounts for shoulder rates (the day or two before and after the event for which some guests might want to book nights).

#19 – Use food and beverage (F&B) spend as leverage
The second biggest profit center for many hotels is food and beverage (F&B) revenues for events, and so a larger spend here can also help you negotiate on other expenses.

F&B can include plated or buffet meals (note that plated dinners can often cost less because there is a finite amount of food on each plate that the kitchen has to prepare) as well as snacks, happy hours, coffee breaks and continental breakfasts. All of these can increase your total spend, and the higher your spend on these items, the more leverage this gives you to negotiate on other things.

Note that many venues will want to include a minimum F&B spend in the contract, so be very realistic about your number of anticipated attendees, and push back the deadline for being able to change the attendee head count and F&B minimum as far as possible.

#20 – Use your total spend numbers to negotiate
The venue manager knows how much profit they need to make for each event and is always aware of the overall value of each event. They break down all this into line items because it’s frankly harder for you to negotiate item by item than it is the overall cost.

So you should add up all the costs in the estimate as well as consider the venue’s other potential revenue sources (like guest expenditures at the hotel bar/restaurant, in-room video rentals, gift shop purchases, spa treatments, etc.) when you calculate the overall value of your event to the venue. This way you are both working with similar numbers and you can use this overall amount to negotiate.


How to avoid event disasters: 8 risk management principles to add to your event management practices

Avoid Event Disasters With 8 Risk Management PracticesI was talking the other day with my good friend Terry Hardy, a highly respected system safety and risk management consultant who has worked for NASA and the FAA, and we were discussing a system safety book he was reading. He mentioned an example from the book about a 2005 amphibious plane crash in Miami that was caused by wing failure, precipitated very small fatigue cracks in the plane’s wing that were not noticed by maintenance personnel or detected by FAA inspectors.

My first thought was “I’m never getting on a water plane ever again.”

My second thought was how similar flying an airplane is to planning and managing events. Each has thousands of moving parts and processes and potentially dozens of team members, and all these elements and systems must work together properly to ensure a safe landing (literally for the plane, figuratively for your events). And sometimes it only takes a loose bolt or a small oversight by a tired employee or contractor to start a disastrous and irreversible domino effect.

So I read through some of Terry’s insightful risk management articles and found eight principles that every event professional should apply to your event management practices.

1. Reducing risk is a team effort
Just as amazing events are not produced and pulled off by a single person, reducing risk is also a team endeavor. Each person has a set of responsibilities that must be clearly spelled out from the outset of the planning process. And one of those responsibilities is to look for potential flaws or issues and account for them in their preparations.

2. Your team is only as strong as its weakest link
You may be great at seeing flaws in your plans and sniffing out potential disasters. But how about that intern who you put in charge of the entertainment and lighting? Or the new caterer you just hired because they were the low bid?

You must be aware of where your weak links may potentially reside; give extra attention to these areas; and even create contingency plans in case those people or processes don’t come through. And speaking of contingency plans…

3. Build in redundancy and backups wherever possible
Every experienced event planner knows the value of backup plans. If you’re managing an outdoor event, have a plan for inclement weather. If the keynote speaker is sick, have a backup in town who can more than adequately cover for them.

Planning Pod can help you reduce risk for your events by helping you create a streamlined system for your planning process and giving you and your team a place to collaborate, share insights and provide feedback.

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You can even create redundancy in your planning processes, like backing up your event planning details online in case your computer crashes (shameless plug alert … this is never an issue if you use Planning Pod) or having two or more co-workers check each other’s work or be involved in planning important details.

4. Look for holes in your plans, systems and logic
A great point in one of Terry’s risk management posts  is about approaching your work with a healthy skepticism. Skepticism in this respect does not mean being negative or pessimistic. Rather, it means that you should be inquisitive and not accept simple answers.

Asking lots of questions and digging deeper makes your team members will consider alternatives and reflect on their own assumptions and processes, which hopefully will mitigate risks. But it also gets you in the mode of being constantly on guard and reluctant to assume things will just go smoothly. They will only go smoothly once you have identified all the potential flaws in your event planning processes and systems and addressed them adequately.

5. Set priorities and focus on high-risk items
Granted, in some cases it may not be feasible to create a backup plan for every little thing that can go wrong in an event. So it’s also important in your event management processes to identify two types of items:

  1. Those items that would cause the biggest impact if they were to go south. For example, spoiled food from a subpar caterer would be more detrimental to the success of an event than if the venue had dirty restrooms. Neither is desirable, but one is dramatically worse than the other; people won’t remember the dirty bathrooms (and most guys won’t even notice), but they will all remember getting sick on the bad shrimp at the Acme company picnic.
  2. Those items that are most likely to cause problems. The entertainment vendor that your client wanted but who is known to hit the bar one too many times before performing is a much higher risk than the stable DJ you have hired over and over again because of his reliability.

6. Beware of the expert
Yes, that’s you. You are an expert at what you do, which can also make you a risk factor. How? For starters, experts in all professions can get complacent. You have planned loads of events and have seen “practically everything,” so you know what to expect and know what will probably go wrong. Until the unexpected suddenly happens and you have no backup or contingency because you never planned on it. This is where success can actually work against you.

Experts also rely on our own internal processing and often do not ask for outside input because we know what we are doing and our approach has pretty much always worked (I’m guilty of this myself). This internal processing may in fact have flaws or be incomplete, but we aren’t aware of it because we haven’t asked for feedback. And maybe things have worked out in the past because we’ve just been fortunate. As Terry says, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re lucky or smart.”

The moral here is to never assume you know everything and expect – and plan for – the unexpected.

7. Take care of the small things
Nary a year goes by when one or more plane crashes are attributed to a loose bolt somewhere on the plane that fell out and caused a domino effect leading to engine failure or prop or flap malfunction.

Likewise in event planning, small errors or omissions can bring everything to a screeching halt, from a malfunctioning projector to a misplaced car key that significantly delays delivery of food or people.

Event planners almost always sweat the details; that is why people hire you and why you are great at what you do. But like all of us, it’s easy to get swept up in the rush of work, especially when your lead times are getting shorter and you have less time to plan. So while the rest of the world wants you to speed up, you need to remind yourself to slow down enough to make sure you are attending to the small things.

8. There is no boilerplate approach to reducing risk
Every event is different and has different variables. Different client, different attendees, different venue, different vendors. And although it is good practice to have lots of templated checklists and processes to guide you in managing the event (which you can create and manage with Planning Pod), you should be aware that risks and potential issues will also be unique to each event.

When we need to be, human beings are rather adaptive creatures, and your approach to managing risk at your events should also be adaptive and take into consideration all the variables at play. So if a certain event has more transportation requirements for moving guests from venue to venue, then devote more of your time to ensure that that process and those vendors are prepared for anything.

Thanks to Terry for all his great ideas, and feel free to provide your feedback and insights in the comments below.

How to overcome short event lead times in 8 steps

Short Event Lead Times Best PracticesThe 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.