As the outlook for the event industry begins to brighten, special events experts plan to up their own game to win in a competitive environment.
The mood is brightening among special event professionals, with 47 percent predicting they will stage more events this year than they did in 2011. The findings come from a survey conducted annually by Penton Media, parent company of Special Events.
Thirty-two percent expect to stage the same number this year as they did last, and 8 percent say it's likely they will stage fewer events in 2012.
While these figures are roughly on par with predictions from last year, they are a marked improvement from three years ago, when fully 21 percent of respondents said they expected to stage fewer events in the new year, and only 28 percent expected to stage more.
SAME OLD STRUGGLES
While the improved outlook is welcome, some of the same old headaches for event professionals linger on.
Special Events polls members of its Advisory Board annually for their take on what the New Year will bring. And Paul Neuman, president of New York-based caterer Neuman's, foresees continued pressure to deliver plenty but at a low price.
"What was once an accommodation is now an expectation," Neuman says. "Clients have become accustomed to have us provide more and more service at the same price."
The roller-coaster ride of economies around the world is making the job of event pros tougher.
"The ongoing instability in the euro zone is the main challenge for us as it spreads anxiety and fear across the corporate and association world," explains Padraic Gilligan, managing director of global DMC Ovation DMC, headquartered in Dublin. "Clients are finding it hard to commit budget to medium- or long-term plans."
This client caution puts the pressure on event pros. As Gilligan puts it, "There are two outcomes here: Clients do nothing or they do things at the very last moment. While a gig is always better than no gig, the last-minute nature of the process is not ideal, and it doesn't optimize creativity, resource planning, budgeting, etc."
POLISH THE PROCESS
To cope with these challenges, several Advisory Board members note they are examining and improving their own internal processes.
At Neuman's, for example, this has meant migrating to a new software program.
"We have spent the last year putting a software program in place that will drive our ability to manage multiple, simultaneous events more easily," Neuman explains. "This will drive efficiency and productivity and should allow us to continue to drive down expenses and do more with less."
Last year, Sally Webb, CSEP, head of The Special Event Company of Durham, N.C., brought in a consultant to help her and her team analyze and systematize every step of her company's processes, from initial client call to post-event review. The overhaul was necessary, she says, to ensure her company can service such sophisticated clients as big pharmaceutical firms. (See an interview with Webb in the January-February issue of Special Events.).
In the old days, special event pros could succeed on a simple mix of creativity and energy. But ever-shorter lead times and ever-more-demanding clients are changing the nature of the business, requiring a more structured approach to operations.
"For agencies or companies with great technology and processes in place, the 'lastminute.com' scenarios become real competitive opportunities," Gilligan says. "If we can live within this new business paradigm, then we can actually prosper. This means that event agencies will need to offer more than creativity and logistical expertise; we'll need to be business-savvy and process-orientated."
See the full story in the January-February issue of Special Events.
Photo by iStockphoto.com / © Peter Nadolsk