Strike up the brand Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2010

During the course of the last year, executives at a large company in one Midwestern city scheduled an event to thank their present clients for remaining with them through the recession and to reach out to potential clients in an effort to prepare for growth. They rented a hall in a beautiful building for the morning, hired a speaker with a prominent name and attracted a crowd of about 2,500 people.

Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps, you have even scheduled a similar event.

But as the event neared, the executives realized that they had a large problem. They had scheduled the event during the middle of the week, and with hundreds of thousands of other people already in the city, there was no parking anywhere near the building. So they scratched their heads. They worried. They wondered how they could have overlooked such a simple detail. They wondered how they might solve the problem. And only then did they call an event management firm.

When the recession started to rock the financial world in 2008, internal event management personnel were among the first to be laid off. Many then planted roots with independent firms or started firms of their own. Less than two years later, a December 2009 feature in U.S. News & World Report posited that a position as an event manager or event planner ranked among the 50 best jobs for 2010. The industry has transitioned and is positioned to grow a projected 16 percent between now and 2018.

That might be good news for you and your business because the odds are high that, at some point, you will want to hold some sort of event, and unless you have an event manager on staff, you might find yourself in a situation every bit as sticky as those Midwest executives with thousands of guests and no parking spaces.

“Meeting planners like helping people,” says Virginia Finnerty, owner, Plan Ahead Events of Coral Gables. “If companies would simply develop a relationship with a meeting planner, they would find that they could never live without us. You have to find the meeting planner you can work with, but once you find that person, you will find them to be a lifesaver.”

Plan in advance

Event managers are more than just party planners. In fact, those words are like nails on a chalkboard to many in the industry. Event managers aim to feature your message and work with you to help you reach your goals for each meeting, each conference, each event. They are able to save you significant amounts of money and time, measure the returns on your investment, and, of course, coordinate an event that will be effective and leave your employees and clients talking.

“Those companies that are canceling their events are not taking advantage of what that face-to-face interaction offers,” says Nan Lyons, vice president of sales and marketing, Nth Degree. “It is more important than ever to be out there, face to face, to capture any and all of the business.”

Just look at those Midwest executives, for example. During the 24 hours after they called the event management firm, the firm started to contact all of the guests to relay the parking situation, then the firm paid parking lot fees to ensure there would be available spaces somewhere within the city limits, hired buses and created a route to the building. All of that would have taken weeks if an internal employee with little event management experience had handled the task. It took the firm a couple of days. On the morning of the event, those thousands of guests parked at remote lots and were shuttled a couple of miles on city roads. It was hardly ideal, but it worked.

It also cost the company an extra $20,000.

“When you plan ahead, when you plan way in advance, you can save a lot of money,” Finnerty says. “Often you get a huge break when you pay in advance. Venues are real happy to know that they are secured for a particular date, and they are willing to work with you.”

Many firms also have considerable influence at hotels and venues and with vendors. Because they direct so much business and so many sales to those outlets, they often receive a discount somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, which they normally pass along directly to you. Their knowledge of your city — and the state, nation and world, for that matter — allows them to track down the lowest prices in a matter of hours or minutes, as opposed to days or weeks.

There are four primary reasons to work with an event management firm. First, you will save a little more money in the end, even if you spend a little more at the beginning. Second, many businesses no longer have the internal resources necessary to handle events. Third, companies often need fresh ideas for old events, and an objective pair of eyes can provide those new thoughts. And fourth, it does simplify your work.

“Many companies certainly know their own marketplace but not outside marketplaces,” Lyons says. “With an outside firm, you do get that perspective that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Open your doors

Just as with any business partner who provides value-added services — your attorney, your accountant, your banker — you need to develop a relationship with your event management firm. It is not enough to call once and spend a couple of minutes determining when and where you should hold the annual sales meeting.

The more your firm knows about you and your business, the more it will be able to implement continuity in your events from one year to the next. The firm will also be able to understand how each event fits into the larger scope and culture of your business and be able to remain on budget throughout the year.

“What many smart event management companies in our position do is to really embed ourselves in the businesses of our clients,” Lyons says. “We look at the event side but also at what their objectives are, what their business goals are, and really understand that.”

They can help keep you up to date on newer technology, too. Online event registration has proved popular during recent years because of low costs and the relative ease with which event attendees can sign up. Virtual events are also popular, especially now that travel budgets are reduced and fewer people are flying extensively. And social media is gaining momentum. Event management and social media work hand in hand. Whether promoting an event or a product launch, many event managers embrace the technology because of its ability to all but eliminate marketing costs while also reaching a far wider potential audience.

“Social media is just a better, faster, cheaper version of word-of-mouth,” Lyons says. “But how is that Twitter post better? Who owns that dialogue? How do you manage it? We definitely have that full integration.”

The world is smaller. Your events might be, too, but keep holding them. Maintain your public image. The business world, after all, might not be a party right now, but it is an event not to be missed.