With few exceptions, the way special event professionals are doing their jobs today is very different from five years ago—and it might never go back again.
Nowhere is this obvious than in the world of corporate special events. Whipsawed by a miserable economy and public fury at perceived "excesses" by companies bailed out with taxpayer money (the notorious "AIG effect"), corporate event professionals now work in a vaguely Alice in Wonderland world, where even for events that succeed on every score, perception can trump reality.
Here, veteran in-house event professionals share their insights on the new day for corporate events.
BUSY WITH EVENT BUSINESS
The event workload is up this year for Valerie Ulrich, director of special events for San Francisco-based First Republic Bank, compared with the 2008-09 period. Her guest counts at events have also stayed the same.
The one area she must keep an eye on: "I try to avoid anything that appears to be 'resort' or 'spa'-like at hotels because perception is still important," she notes. Even though she can get bargain rates at many properties, "We try to make it 'feel' less opulent," she says.
But not all in-house professionals are in the same boat.
The events manager for a major high-tech company, who asks to remain anonymous, notes certain events are on the chopping block.
"Top management continues to host their annual meetings, and long-term, there are no plans to cancel them," she says. However, "Smaller meetings that cannot show a clear ROI are being canceled or scaled back." She adds, "Events that don't add a value proposition to the company and its business are being canceled, with nothing in particular replacing them."
Another senior event manager, who also remains anonymous, sees her company's special events moving into a "'no frills' environment," she says.
How can the vendor/partners of in-house event professionals help their clients succeed? By showing up and showing costs, these professionals say.
Her smart vendors "volunteer to be at the event to ensure whatever I ordered from them is flawless," Ulrich notes. "I am amazed at how often vendors drop things, set up and depart. I would want to see the finished product!"
Another professional recommends dumping the mark-up model and instead pricing goods and services on a "cost-plus transparent basis."
In an environment where glitz and glamour are out, another in-house event professional urges vendors to deliver "substance." Vendors help her when they take a more altruistic stance, by "focusing on diversity/inclusion, and 'greening' events," she explains.
EVENTS WILL ENDURE
The special events created by Los Angeles-based Herbalife are key to helping the global nutrition and direct-selling company recruit and retain top distributors. As a result, vice president worldwide/events and video Margaret Launzel-Pennes is increasing the number of events she oversees.
And she sees a brighter future for corporate special events as a whole. "It's been lean for too long," she says. "We have overreacted and overcorrected over the past couple of years, but people need to connect, and events are the way to do it."
Next week, we look at the new day for independent event professionals. Read the full story in the May-June issue of Special Events.
Photo by iStockphoto.com / © Andrzej Wojcicki