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 even scheduled a similar event.

But as the event neared, the executives realized 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.

“Any time a business makes a decision to have an event, they’re not just having it because they want to throw a party,” says Casey Mahaven, owner, Casey Mahaven Events. “There is an ultimate goal. It might part of their marketing strategy, it might be part of a long-term campaign to build brand awareness or part of a fund-raising goal, but there is an underlying goal there.”

Plan in advance

Event managers are more than just party planners. 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 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.

“Businesses might wonder why they should spend money on an event planner, especially if they don’t even know if they can have an event,” says Ashley Moss, marketing and event director, Hello Productions. “What we can do is take whatever budget they do have and see where we should allocate the most money.”

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 event guests to relay the parking situation, then paid parking lot fees to ensure there would be available spaces somewhere within the city limits, hired buses and created a route. All of that would have taken weeks if an internal employee with little event management experience had handled the task. 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.

“There are certain times that are less expensive, times when we can get a lower rate because of either the day or the time of year,” Moss says. “There are some vendors who offer lower rates. Get assistance wherever you can.”

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, event management firms often receive a discount somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, which they normally pass along directly to you. Their knowledge of your city 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.

“If you’re planning an event, especially a large event, it’s a big time constraint you and your staff,” Moss says. “If you’re using that time to plan an event, that takes away productive time from running your business. Using a firm really makes everything less stressful.”

Open your doors

Just as with any business partner who provides value-added services, 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 in the larger scope and culture of your business and be able to remain on budget throughout the year.

“When I’m working on an event, I’m a part of their team,” Mahaven says. “I’m an extension of their brand, their company, their purpose and their mission — and it’s not just me, it’s my team of people I have working on it, too. They’re able to access our resources — media contacts to promote the event, vendors who can help provide the best price, even just knowledge of contracts.”

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

“It can be used to promote an event, to build awareness about an event through Facebook and Twitter, and to have that instant feedback from the attendees at an event,” Mahaven says. “If you are dealing with a limited budget, you are looking to social media, because it’s inexpensive, it’s accessible and everybody is on there — you can reach your target audience.”

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.