The price tag of live events is escalating. With help from seasoned professionals, The Vendry dives deep into today’s world of event planning during this less-than-ideal economic climate. Here’s how others are feeling it, as well as advice on how to flip this tricky time into a win.
Event professionals have successfully weathered the bumpiest, stormiest time of planning in modern history. The hunger for live events has never been so ravenous, as planners try to feed the starving public with face-to-face entertainment, information, and interaction. But after this unprecedented downpour, event planners saw something else at the end of that proverbial rainbow instead of a pot of gold: inflation.
Event planning in today’s economic mood can feel like awakening from one bad dream only to fall straight into another. But there’s a way to get through it.
Defining what professionals are currently feeling is important. Inflation happens when there’s high demand for goods and services, but those items are in limited supply, pushing prices up. In the event world, that “supply” can mean venues, caterers, services, and even staff. Layer in production delays, and the cost for live events rises even higher, causing many to wince when forwarding on that forecast.
It’s also key to point out that the definition of live events has evolved. Planners are bringing crowds together in different ways, including cross-platform formats, like sound, video, live performers, and music through technologies like augmented reality and projection mapping. This has spawned a new generation of in-demand, tech-savvy specialists who also come at a cost.
Inflation is the highest it’s been in America in 40 years. But the good news is, we are all in this together (some old Covid tropes die hard). Below are insights from some titans of industry on how to ride this next challenging wave.
While it may feel too broad to say that everything has gone up, event professionals are saying it’s an indisputable fact. “Where we are feeling it is with the labor. Not only being a brand ambassador at the events, but installing for the events themselves, like venue staff,” says Carter Parrish, Senior Producer at Robotproof. “This means you have to pay them more, which means vendors have to charge you more. The types of event Robotproof produces are IRL and staff simply makes it.”
When it comes to large, in-person conferences, Vice President of Events at Rakuten Sara Gorlick has been shocked at the cost of audio/visual, as well as the price tag it takes to even get to the event. “I’ve been surprised how much A/V has increased – almost 2x,” she says. “And booking travel in the future is just so high. I don’t see hotel and air travel costs dropping anytime soon.”
One overriding theme has been the difficulty of booking venues in advance. Major venues, particularly ones that hold 500+ in major metropolitan areas like New York are being booked up a year in advance. And finding rentals or furniture to dress up those spaces? Just as difficult.
“I always try to lead my team like we are ahead of the game,” says Jitter Garcia, Vice President, Event Marketing and Brand Experiences at TelevisaUnivision, Inc. “Before, our planning timelines were three months out. But now I’m finding that three to four months out, you are already late to the game, especially if you are looking for a venue for a large-scale event. Our planning timelines are being pushed further and further.”
Inflation is changing the way event planners budget. What was once a task fairly easy to throw together, forecasting for costs is not what it was just three or four years ago. “Usually I would just pad our budgets, just in case. But now that padding is the actual cost, ” says Gorlick. “For us tenured event planners, we could estimate the forecasts of costs in our sleep. We didn’t have to do research just from the nature of hosting so many events. Now, I really have to dive in and do lots of checking because the costs of so many items are going to be significantly more.”
Looking back on past years is rarely accurate these days. Ballpark figures can’t be trusted and roundabout numbers from vendors won’t fly. Historics are helpful as a gage, but thanks to inflation, availability of goods and services, supply chain, and the high demand for live events, its best to take on a new approach.
The advice is to start fresh. Begin by looking at what the true needs of an event will be. Be sure to get accurate estimates from vendors and partners. The feedback seems to be that roles have been reversed when it comes to the planner/vendor relationship. Before the leverage was with the planner, telling the vendor what they had in terms of budget to make it work. Now, with supply chain issues and decreased labor, the vendors are in smaller number and in higher demand.
Also, consider time. “Give yourself enough time to pull together the aggregate of all those additional costs,” says Garcia. “In order to get true quotes to pull together a true estimate, you’ll need to add an additional layer of planning and time. That extra time will make you feel confident about the number you are putting in front of your stakeholders to get approved.”
Finally, come up with ideas for your events that are sustainable and reusable so production items are treated as investments. “We are pushing clients to not build one-offs,” says Parrish. “Yes, you might be spending a little more money upfront, but in the grand scheme of things, your items will be refurbished or touched up to be used multiple times.” Spending the money and taking the time to build something durable ends in long term use and less cost. And happy clients.
With the rise of inflation, event professionals have seen a grateful uptick of something else: client and stakeholder transparency and communication. “I’ve always been a big advocate for transparent communication to the C-suite,” explains Gorlick. “As event planners, we aim to please. It’s always tempting to say ‘I’m going to make it work in this restrictive environment’ in order to give people the event they want. Instead, go straight to the C-suite or the stakeholders and be realistic. If the event needs to be done the way they want it, this is how much it will cost. Transparent communication with executives is just so important up front.”
This type of conversation also brings to the forefront the idea of the “non-negotiable”. Explore with your stakeholders or clients what elements of their events on which they will not budge, either in scale or price. “I always ask my clients ‘what is the ultimate goal you are trying to achieve?’ then we go heavy on those,” says Parrish. “I suggest that instead of doing all this flash, let’s do a couple of things that are really important, and let’s do them really, really well.”
The ability to justify the increased costs is a challenge. But if the elevated prices are articulated in an eloquent way – purely from a business and numbers standpoint – executives, clients, and stakeholders should listen. Afterall, event planners successfully demonstrated during the pandemic that virtual events are not necessarily less expensive than live events. Constant education comes with greater understanding.
“This climate has allowed me to have these honest conversations with my stakeholders,” says Garcia. “Before, I wasn’t fully confident there wouldn’t be pushback. Now, I am much more empowered across the board because inflation is impacting everything. Our stakeholders are getting a better understanding of what goes into these productions.”
From increased communication and transparency, plenty of good can come out of the squeeze the industry is feeling. Each event planner is trying to find the best ways to use their dollars. The ability to pivot and be openminded is why the event industry can thrive in any environment, at any cost.
Navigating the current event climate can be a challenge. That's why The Vendry created Circles — an exclusive networking group for event professionals. Get the chance to connect with industry leaders to discuss best practices, challenges, and new ideas. By joining Circles, you'll gain access to our exclusive Slack group, 1:1 networking, live events, and more.