The room was packed for “Can You Really Manage Rising Costs?,” the last session on the program for Sept. 21 at Convening EMEA 2023 in Copenhagen — proof that the challenge of dealing with increasing expenses is among the most pressing event professionals face. “We all sense a feeling of belonging,” said Kenes Group CEO Ori Lahav, who served as the session moderator, “but not on a positive note.”
Of course, rising costs is not a new pain point for planners. It has topped of the list of challenges identified by planners in Convene’s Annual Meetings Market Survey for years, including in the 2017 and 2020 surveys, conducted in 2016 and 2019, respectively, and in our most recent survey (to be published in a special Convene November Forecast issue). Indeed, almost all businesses are affected by external factors like inflation and cost-of-living increases, including the events industry, panelist Clare Melton, executive director and head of enterprise events at S&P Global, pointed out.
We aren’t now experiencing the extreme fluctuations that occurred during and soon after the pandemic, with constant changes in safety measures and travel restrictions, Melton said. And in fact, many regions are now experiencing slower inflation rates and longer lead times, especially noticeable for corporate events, she said. That gives corporate planners a much-needed breather to assess their events and implement cost-alleviating strategies.
Melton and fellow panelist Adrian Ott, CEO at the European Federation of National Associations of Orthopaedics and Traumatology (EFORT), shared strategies and tips for navigating rising costs, with some additional ideas coming from a few audience members. Here are highlights of the conversation:
Get Your Arms Around the Costs
It is important to understand the components that make up a budget, Ott said. This was a vital lesson for his association — understanding the fixed costs to deliver an outstanding experience and where there is room for negotiation. Lahav suggested that a better grasp of the budget and helpful tactics to tackle it can now come from AI, using it as a strategic partner in potential negotiation conversations or asking AI to review contract clauses, highlighting opportunities for further discussion.
Be Resourceful When Budgeting
Melton’s strategy is to consider inflation levels and budget accordingly, so she isn’t caught off guard by changes. In other words, build in inflation. She also works with long-term partners to leverage economies of scale. Ott’s approach is to bundle items together to reduce costs. The suggestion to co-locate smaller and larger events in the same location and negotiate venue and hotel contracts together came from an audience member.
Get Creative With the Planning
Both Melton and Ott agreed that being creative in planning and event delivery is key to avoiding unnecessary expenses. Ott prioritizes content and experimentation with formats, while Melton explores destinations with lower carrier prices, shortening program days to reduce hotel room costs, and selecting cost-effective catering whenever possible.
Ask Hard Questions
Attendee Claus Raastead, director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, suggested planners ask more radical questions early in the planning stages. For example, questioning whether certain elements are necessary and considering opting out of them: “What would it look like if we didn’t have this?” Raastead’s recommendation prompted Melton to comment that the removal of swag from some events or doing away with conference bags is an easy place to start trimming expenses. Sponsors at her events now display gifts onsite for the delegates to choose from, instead of placing them in conference bags, which results in “cost saving for the sponsor,” said Melton, as they order less gifts, but also is “a good sustainability effort,” as waste is minimized.
Ott emphasized the importance of explaining budget challenges to board members, although, as he heads up a medical association, that’s not always easy: It’s an ask of “doctors to become businesspeople,” he said. For Melton, open communication with suppliers is essential, recognizing that they also can face challenges beyond their control. She advises focusing on the overall experience that needs to be delivered and how that can be accomplished through better stakeholder collaboration.
Magdalina Atanassova is digital media editor at Convene.
Watch the Session
The session is available on demand for registered Convening EMEA 2023 participants: Can You Really Manage Rising Costs?