Leading corporate event experts in three great, big markets lead off “On Trend,” Special Events Magazine's newest department.
ESSENTIAL EVENTS: “Anything that can be done digitally is being done digitally, so information-based events are being scaled back,” notes Mark Baltazar, CEO and managing partner of this top New York strategic communications and brand experience firm. Marketing events “are still going full speed,” he says, but with “reduced budgets and higher expectations.”
FOLLOW THE MONEY: Procurement-driven purchasing is forcing a cutback on management costs — which means established companies like Broadstreet have to reduce their labor costs to remain competitive. “We've lowered our margins, but now we're also having to lower our costs, and go with lesser qualified, younger, less experienced, up-and-coming people rather than the tried and true,” Baltazar says.
SOCIAL STUDIES: While event-related social media is hot — especially Facebook apps — clients tend to be “taken aback when they find out there is a cost associated with developing managing, maintaining and promoting these tools,” Baltazar says. These cost concerns naturally put limitations on their use — limitations Baltazar says he believes will disappear as clients begin to better understand the huge benefits of well-managed social media.
RH EVENT GROUP
ESSENTIAL EVENTS: Business has bounced back big time since the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike crippled the L.A. entertainment industry — and that's good news to Russell Harris, CMP, the CEO and owner of RH Event Group, which serves clients such as Disney and FOX. Harris notes that the trend is toward bigger groups — he's seen attendance double at some of his annual events for the past two years — and bigger events, including premieres, launches and hot-ticket branding bashes.
ONE UP: In a party-savvy, talent-filled town like L.A., the top creative trend is to “set trends, not follow them,” Harris says. “Whatever I do has to be better, different, more upscale than what I did before.” But budgets are still tight, which is another trend and one that seems here to stay for the foreseeable future. As a result, the key is to create “focal points” and areas of large impact — unique treatments, dynamic flooring, exciting palettes — to get the most bang for the client's buck, Harris explains. “With no money,” he adds, “it's hard to do details.”
SOCIAL STUDIES: Look for Facebook event pages to become more important than ever in 2011, Harris says. With a Facebook presence for your event, “You can reach out to so many more people and get a better response,” he notes. It used to be that “if you sent out 1,000 invitations, the response rate was 10 percent. Now, with Facebook, you get 50 percent.”
XA, THE EXPERIENTIAL AGENCY
ESSENTIAL EVENTS: “Events taking precedence are launch and brand messaging events,” says Jean Wilson, chief operating officer of this nationally recognized event-marketing agency, whose clients include Microsoft, Marc Jacobs and HBO. In some good news, “Galas and fundraisers are still going strong,” she adds. On the down side, clients are buckling down internally, and as a result, “Awards and employee events have been on hold,” she adds.
FOLLOW THE MONEY: Wilson notes that clients are spending on unique, non-hotel venues that offer the opportunity for total customization. She sees a trend toward big, blank-slate rooms, such as the 18,000-square-foot empty retail space where XA recently staged a liquor-label launch for 800 excited attendees. Clients are also crazy for raw, edgy sites like Gallery 1028, an industrial space XA manages. Here, the growing demand for raw space brought in 50 events in 2010, compared with a mere handful in 2009.
ROI PDQ: If there's an overarching business trend in her market, Wilson says it's the demand for measurable return on investment. Particularly in the area of social media, “You do have to be able to show your client a data-reporting stream and an element of measurement to justify it,” she says, a rule that applies to other event areas as well, including giveaways and calls to action. Her firm offers a patented XA interactive platform “that can deliver very robust data to our client.” And with event microsites, the company can monitor just about anything the client wants covered using geo-targeting, visitor tracking and any of the countless “bells and whistles that can be added on to a social marketing campaign.”