Looking Forward — and Planning for More Uncertainty in Business Events

While the worst of the pandemic may be behind us, one event organizer sees the fallout as affecting business events into the “near future,” and is preparing for more uncertainty.

Author: Curt Wagner       

PTTOW! party

Organizers of PTTOW! events try to up the wow factor for the members-only community of influencers — a challenging goal during uncertain times.

Several times a year, members of PTTOW! — an invite-only community of 325 CEOs, CMOs, entertainment executives, celebrities, and sports stars spanning 70 different industries — gather for events that are created by an in-house team led by Kathlene Stakely, vice president of events and operations. Those high-end members almost had to meet without chairs at a recent event, a situation that perfectly illustrates what Stakely sees as continuing uncertainties caused by the pandemic.

Kathlene Stakely headshot

Kathlene Stakely

For the event, the supplier building a tent structure for an outdoor general session was unable to provide the labor to get the furniture and other specialty-room setups to the venue. “They told us we had to find our own labor and rental trucks to pick up the furniture, set it up, then strike it and take it back to their warehouse,” Stakely told Convene.

When her team tried to find suppliers they’d previously worked with who could handle the job, they were told the same thing: “They had a labor shortage,” she said. They ended up using a vendor recommended by the host hotel and the challenge was met, but “at a hefty price,” Stakely said — 35 percent more than her budget.

Ballooning expenses and supply-chain issues — including labor shortages — are her team’s biggest struggles right now, Stakely said. The possibility of a recession could make those challenges even more vexing for event organizers in the near future.

For Stakely and her team, staying on budget for their 2022 events was a particularly daunting task. The annual PTTOW! Summit is known for over-the-top performances and unusual experiences. At the 2022 Summit, held June 7-8 at the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, California, attendees were treated to what The New York Times has called the “innovative circus performance” of the artist collective Quixotic and go-kart racing at RSF Kart Club, a members-only racetrack in Rancho Santa Fe, among other activities.

It’s difficult to offer those kinds of experiences without breaking the bank. But after all of the uncertainties of the pandemic, Stakely has developed a philosophy to help deal with current challenges. “There are certain things you control and certain things you can’t control,” Stakely said. You need to let go of what you can’t control and be open “to whatever’s going to come next,” she added. “I love a roadmap — that is why I’m a planner for a living. Yeah, uncertainty is troubling, but you just find ways to adapt.”

Eyes on the End-User Experience

When Stakely presents a budget that’s 30 percent more than the previous year to her bosses, she has to explain her team isn’t doing anything different, but the reality is that prices are rising across the board. “It’s just not possible to keep costs down without affecting your [attendee] experience,” she said.

She gets approval about 80 percent of the time, she said, “as long as I can show that our members … will notice that something is different [if she skimps]. We will generally not do anything that affects our end-user experience.”

It appears the worst of the pandemic is behind us, but despite that, Stakely and her team still are applying all the information and practices they learned during the crisis — like favoring outdoor events — to their planning for future events. And they’re budgeting earlier than they ever have in the past. If they don’t need the extra money, she said, that’s “great. But we’re just planning ahead for it because you can see what’s coming.”

Curt Wagner is digital editor at Convene.

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