The B2B meetings and events industry is booming, according to American Express’ Global Meetings and Events Forecast, as events are perceived to be one of the best ways to attract and retain new customers. The pressure is high to benefit from this trend by organizing more events, but there are only so many days in a year, calendars are already crammed with well-established larger events, and event budgets show little signs of budging.
The solution many have found are smaller events packed into the calendar between the larger.
Unfortunately, marketing budgets are finite, and 65% of event planners don’t anticipate any changes in their event budgets (Research by EventMB). Conversely, expectations are always high as event planners are more than ever competing against each other for the time and attention of prospective attendees.
So how do you keep up with the demand for more meetings on the same event budget without compromising the larger events and while keeping standards high?
The solution is to go back to what probably attracted you to being an event planner in the first place: the opportunity to be creative. And we are going to show you how to inject some creativity into your event planning process to deal with reduced budgets for these additional events.
We’re going to cover subjects as varied as marketing, talent sourcing, venue options, and alternative event formats. We’ll talk negotiation, sponsorship tips, and technology that can help you make the most of your budget. As always, we’ve got your back.
More Events, Smaller Event Budgets
In 2017, B2B events drew a record number of 1.5 billion attendees globally. North American business meetings alone generated $381 billion in direct spending thanks to 329.7 million participants (Events Industry Council, 2018). There is no question that events bring incredible value, and people want more of them.
But with event budgets expected to remain the same, planners will have to find a way to deliver on higher expectations for transformative event experiences and compete with an ever-growing pool of planners to do so. [In the USA alone, the growth of the profession is expected to be around 7% between 2016-2026, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations (The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018).]
The upshot is that planners will have to stretch their creativity, resourcefulness, and tenacity to execute on these additional events and capitalize on the opportunities they represent.
But this is good news!
In addition to satisfying the demand for more events, smaller events offer planners a less risky way to try out for creative ideas before they’re introduced at bigger events. The smaller scale also offers a better opportunity for qualitative data collection that can help planners refine their ideas before using them for larger events.
And to make the most of the trend, here are 7 ideas to reduce the costs for these small events without compromising the attendee experience.
1. Use Smart Marketing to Motivate Attendance
Capitalize on FOMO with exclusive opportunities
The fact that it’s on a smaller scale means you can promote it as an ‘only-for-the-select-few’ meeting opportunity. Playing on the exclusivity and the scarcity effect (only 50 spots available!) can help you position your event as a must-attend for an elite audience.
Nurture your existing audience
Promote heavily towards the people who already attend your other events if the target audience is similar. It costs a lot less to sell someone on a familiar brand/event than it does to convince them to try you out in the first place.
If your using an event management platform, import lists and make use of built-in tools to optimize your marketing.
Use discount tactics
If your small event is thematically or substantively connected to your larger ones, why not offer a discount in the form of ‘register for the small event, get 10% off the big event’?
You can also set early bird rates to increase registration ahead of time.
Capitalize on social media
Social media platforms are free to use, and advertising on them is significantly cheaper than some traditional alternatives that take more out of your event budget. Small events make certain social media marketing strategies more manageable and are a great opportunity to do things you might not be able to scale, like contests and raffles. For example, why not host a crowdsourcing game on Facebook or Twitter where people can submit pictures that you can then use the day of your event as part of a digital wall?
The more focussed discussions in smaller events are also a good opportunity to discover which platforms your core audience uses most (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, but also smaller niche groups and forums).
Get local media involved as partners
Contact industry- or topic-specific local media to offer them exposure at your event in return for publicizing it through their channels. If it is too much involvement for them, a softer approach could be asking them to run a competition for their readers to win tickets.
Connect them to the event by inviting them as press / guests, or incorporating them into event activities, like by asking them to judge the contest, meet with the winners and interview them.
Get speakers or performers involved in the promotion
The talents you choose are integral to your event. Incorporate cross-promotion on their usual distribution channels (social media feeds for example) into their contracts and offer them co-branded marketing opportunities that are relevant to their audience (webinars, podcasts, interviews, written publications, etc.) in order to position your event directly in their line-of-site.
2. Find Alternate Sourcing Ideas for Your Speakers and Talents
Hold an open call for speakers in advance
There may be speakers or presenters who are keen to get some exposure, share some new ideas, or position themselves as thought leaders within their industry. Holding an open call well in advance gives you an opportunity to find the best presenters willing to speak for free.
Look for people who have something to sell
Find people in related fields or who offer complementary services, and package a trial or sample with the price of the ticket in exchange for speaking at your event. They might be inclined to give you a discount on their speaking fees if you give their product preferential exposure in return, especially if your audience is very qualified.
Try local talents
The benefit of having local performers at your event is twofold. First, you will save on travel and lodging costs. Second, the local audience will be excited to see experts or performers who come from their own community.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau of your destination can be of great help in providing you with a list of local talents and experts within your event budget that could add a unique cultural perspective to your event. Best part? They do it for free!
Offer VIP sessions with the speaker/expert
If one of your experts is willing, why not offer private VIP sessions that attendees pay additionally for? The revenue of these extra sessions could help pay for the expert’s fee.
Consider peripheral or interdisciplinary experts
Depending on your event theme, there may be new speakers or influencers in related fields that you wouldn’t normally use to secure a large audience for your main event, but that could offer an interesting take or perspective at a smaller event.
3. Look for Less Expensive Boutique Venues
Utilize a supplier network
The Cvent Supplier Network™ connects meeting and event planners to over 255,000+ venues worldwide. Through it, planners can send one eRFP to multiple properties at once, giving them visibility into their meeting and event spend in order to negotiate the most competitive rates.
Leverage the smaller size of your event
Besides the fact that smaller spaces are often cheaper, the size of your event could actually give you more options to choose from, including new or unusual venues that could spark even more interest in your event.
Highlighting the exposure and visibility the venue will get (smaller venues might not be as fully booked as others) could help you get prices that are kinder to your event budget.
Try getting in touch with the venue very early on, as they might be more willing to discount their rates.
Booking for multiple events is also a good way to secure lower rates from both larger and smaller venues, as it gives them long-term visibility and increases your CLV and overall value as a business partner.
Research one-stop venues
Some venues now offer packages, which can include AV, tables and linens, catering, etc. That might come cheaper than getting multiple vendors, and it will save you the administrative expense of dealing with multiple vendors and contracts (only one point-of-contact to deal with, less back and forth, etc.).
Work with DMOs
Destination management organizations can assist (for free) with sourcing and vetting venues and suppliers, which can save you a lot of time.
They are deeply connected to the community and can, therefore, suggest local culture, themes, and talents that will enrich your event with a unique local flair. They also have better connections to local venues and suppliers and can get preferential pricing, without you having to negotiate for days.
4. Master the Art of Negotiation
Strive for clear visibility on all your options
Since the Cvent Supplier Network connects you with thousands of qualified venues worldwide and greatly simplifies the RFP process, it represents a catalog of prospects that allows you to clearly compare and contrast your options and their relative costs so you can negotiate the best rates.
Consistency in vendors and suppliers for all events
Partnerships are good for event budgets. If you are producing a lot more events, it can be beneficial to work more closely with vendors and suppliers and form relationships closer to partnerships. Leveraging the continued and more frequent business you represent will help you get better deals. You could also be able to secure enterprise deals, which typically offer better value for money.
Moreover, using the same suppliers and products across events reduces administrative costs in going over contracts, conducting internal onboarding, etc. As a trusted user, your supplier may also add you to a list of preferred clients who get access to new features early for the purpose of trying them out and helping the supplier work out the kinks.
Provide as much long-term visibility as possible
The sooner you start negotiating, the easier it is to get good deals. Suppliers and vendors are more inclined to discount their rates if you give them long-term visibility than if you show up the week before your event is due to take place.
The Cvent Supplier Network can help you with the sourcing of your suppliers (there’s a free version), including designing and sending your RFPs.
Hunt for economical calendar dates
If you are not confined to a specific date, some flexibility in your calendar can be a godsend to your event budget. Ask your vendors when they have greater availability, or ask for quotes on a series of dates at different points throughout the year to get a sense of when they’re likely to be cheaper. Off-season events have less competition as well as being generally less expensive, though you want to be cautious of planning around holidays and popular vacation months (unless your event is taking place in a popular vacation spot).
5. Develop Sponsorship Opportunities
Build sponsorship packages
Incorporate your smaller events into the sponsorship packages you design for your larger events. Include more nuanced deals, like a degree of sponsorship exclusivity in certain spaces at the larger event, like on the app.
Make sure you marry the sponsor’s needs with your audience's needs: give your sponsors flexibility in choosing the kind of package they feel will be more beneficial to them but provide them with insights into what the audience is looking for. That means abolishing the old silver/gold/platinum offers in favour of more tailored packages where the sponsor can pick and choose the options that speak more to their audience and goals.
It also means coming up with new and exciting ideas to convey your sponsor’s messaging. Why not a sponsored chatbot that will provide your attendees with all the useful information? Or branded photo booths, which are always fun for attendees and can provide a lot of exposure for the sponsor when the pictures are posted and shared on social media?
If you need help designing packages and price sheets for sponsors, consider giving Cvent’s Sponsorship Package Generator a try.
Approach local businesses
Approach local businesses and show them what a great opportunity for promotional exposure your event represents to attendees from the area. Even an attendee base of mostly visitors can be a valuable audience if tourism is a key aspect of the local economy or the event is recurring.
Increase sponsorship opportunities
Smaller events are just more occasions to interact with your brand, which creates greater and more consistent opportunities for your sponsors.
Smaller events also carry a smaller sales potential for many suppliers, so they may be more inclined to sponsor a service in-kind or heavily discount them – especially as part of a larger sponsorship deal that incorporates other events.
Pretty much every area of your event can be sponsored: break out event websites, event app, sessions, venue, catering, etc. Don't be shy in approaching suppliers about in-kind sponsorship opportunities as well. These allow sponsors to claim the full retail value of their services (and save you the same), but actually cost sponsors significantly less.
6. Use Technology to Save on Logistical and Human Resource Costs
Many tasks in the event planning process can prove tedious and place a heavy burden on your team (if you’ve ever handled registration data in an Excel spreadsheet, you understand).
To reduce your team workload and save on human resource costs, focus on technology that prioritizes automation, such as event management. Many of these not only streamline the provision of registration websites and the data collection that follows, but also facilitate integrations with other tools in your workflow so the data can flow freely from one to the other.
Find an all-in-one solution instead of using disparate tools for different event functions. For example, Cvent offers software solutions to event planners and marketers for online event registration, venue selection, event management and marketing, onsite solutions, and attendee engagement.
As briefly mentioned above, using one platform has the added benefit of facilitating data integrations. That, in turn, reduces the burden of data entry and tedious setup from one stage of the event to the next – and even from event to event if your events are recurring and the same people are likely to attend.
There is a lot of optimism among event planners these days as the request for events increases. However, there is some concern that event budgets won’t grow proportionately.
One strategy some event planners might want to look at is organizing smaller-scale events, in between their main events.
Although these smaller events have to continue to meet the expectations of the audience on a potentially smaller budget, there are some creative ways for an event planner to still manage to wow their audience while keeping their costs down. You might not get the biggest or the flashiest event money can buy, but you can still create an impact and build a true experience for your attendees.
Technology, in particular, can help with many areas of the event planning process. If chosen wisely, technology will simplify logistics, reduce your workload, and allow you to dedicate more time to the creative side.