Flexibility, paying attention to client demands, and cutting costs to the bone are key strategies that special event professionals are using to stay afloat during the current recession.

In a May 13 article, Special Events reported that a growing number of event pros are becoming more confident that economic recovery will begin this year rather than next. This is a sharp improvement from a March Special Events poll, where only 7 percent of respondents expected a turnaround to start this year.

As they wait for the rebound, event pros from all disciplines have been forced to be flexible to stay in the game. Their strategies:

"Just like an investment portfolio, it is crucial to diversify At MGM MIRAGE Events, we are working tirelessly to service events in a variety of markets and price ranges. We are in the business of saying 'yes.' High-end, mid-range, and modestly priced programs all have an important place in our overall event production portfolio. Additionally, we have expanded our presence in out-of-market areas."
King Dahl, MGM MIRAGE Events, Las Vegas

"During this downturn we've added more capabilities, added staff, expanded to London and targeted a couple of acquisitions. For our clients, we're doing smarter programs that are measurable and provide true value. We are asking all of our suppliers to tighten their belts, and all are accommodating."
Mark Baltazar, Broadstreet, New York

"We are trying to convince our customers to give us concept jobs at this time so that they can start much faster than the competitors if the economy recovers."
Michael Leroudier, Circ Corporate Experience, Wiesbaden, Germany

NOT REPUTATION, BUT RESULTS

"In this crisis, your company history and prestige doesn’t count much, and it’s actual solutions that our customers want. So, we have designed a new line of products--our Event Packs--a menu from which our customer selects what he wants on his event, as if choosing in a restaurant from a series of dishes. This way, the customer has complete control of all his costs and knows what he will get. Another initiative we have taken has been to 'get together' some of our customers with a certain affinity and make them share expenses at the organization of an event. A convention is held in the morning, and attendees leave at lunch. Then, a few logos and posters are changed and a new convention, using almost the same equipment--which has only been set once--is held in the afternoon. Otherwise, none of them could have afforded a top-notch convention."
Jorge Hernandez, Global Events, Madrid, Spain

"I believe I am doing well because I am organic in my personal relationships. You cannot expect to maintain sales with media alone like e-mails, Web sites and marketing. You have to do it the old-fashioned way—boots on the ground, face to face, glass to glass."
Jim McManus, Party Rental Ltd., Teterboro, N.J.

"Set up a business plan, set your prices based on profitability, do the best job every time, stick to your business morals--survive the downturn. There is a ray of hope; we see a rise in smaller 'backyard' events. It appears all of us won’t let the downturned economy stifle our addiction to sharing a pleasant day or evening with our comrades."
James "Smitty" Smith, Kirby Rentals, Orlando, Fla.

"We still have not increased labor [staffing], which means salaried employees are working longer hours as work does pick back up. We're trying to find niche markets that we can capitalize on."
Sherri Creighton, Pleasanton Rentals, Pleasanton, Calif.

DO WHAT YOU DON’T USUALLY DO

"Doing things we normally would not is a trend in our company. We currently offer free delivery for customers who rent at least $500 or more."
Steve Anthony, American Event Rentals, Stockton, Calif.

"What's working? Thinking outside the box and adding new events to your normal protocol. For example, graduation weekend events, reunions and assisting more local companies."
Della Guidry, PRA Destination Management San Antonio, San Antonio

"We are reducing expenses—including layoffs—for the first time in 33 years."
John H. Crabbe Jr., Vermont Tent Co., South Burlington, Vt.

"Because of [high] unemployment, we have hired over 50 on-call employees. This cuts out using temporary labor, comes at a lower price, and these employees want to work. It helps then by not having a large full-time staff on board. We also are offering special package pricing at times."
Philip Silverman, Raphael's Party Rentals, San Diego

"We are tweaking our Web site to make it a bit more conducive for the social market while not screaming that we are exclusively weddings. We have hired a wedding specialist to be the ‘face’ for these brides, which is totally separate from our corporate ‘face.'"
Mike Berk, M&M The Special Events Co., Carol Stream, Ill.

"The copy machine now only makes black-and-white copies unless specially programmed--we spent $1,000 on color copies in the last billing cycle! Any new product must be paid for on the first rental. We reuse, repaint, and re-create props and old accessory items. We did a mailing on a special tent package for graduates—quite successful!"
Sheree Bochenek, Apres Party and Tent Rental, Edina, Minn.

"In the fall of last year, we had anticipated a much different scenario and opted for a proactive approach to the looming threat of a recession by hiring another full-time salesperson. Additionally, we began offering consulting services to the regional governments in our area as they began developing policies directly dealing with festivals and events. Recognition of this industry by the government, particularly the major metropolitan centers, as a tool to drive tourism dollars is paying dividends to all involved."
Chris MacLellan, Affair Rentals, Mississauga, Ontario

CSR DOES WELL BY DOING GOOD

"We are offering our clients more CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility]-minded activities and community giveback events in place of traditional team-building and leisure time activities. Each PRA destination has developed 'Experience Solutions' that educate planners on ideas for events with lesser program budgets in mind."
Madelyn Marusa, DMCP, PRA Destination Management, Carlsbad, Calif.

"The most important, and most successful, steps that we have taken are to educate our local supplier partners on the environment that our clients are facing, developing flexibility in contracts, pricing, attrition, deadlines, etc., to make our joint policies flexible and fair to our clients, who are facing new challenges each day in the form of direction from upper management and varying attendance."
Jeffrey H. O'Hara, CMP, DMCP, PRA Destination Management New Orleans, New Orleans

"We are in 'fire-drill' mode—being ready for business—as it can be booked very last-minute. And when it is, expectations are not different—quality and service are still No. 1!"
Debra Brash, LES, Hyatt Deerfield, Deerfield, Ill.

"As an entertainment company, we are trying to identify great new talent at a lower price point and offering these options to clients who may not have thought they could afford entertainment at all for their events."
Donna Iacobazzi Pecci, Leverage 8, Chicago

"In the past we would let the social work come in on its own and spent time trying to boost the corporate, midweek events. Now, we're being aggressive on the social events and focusing on any lead that comes in the door. We've managed costs and have renegotiated everything from cell phones to insurance carriers. We have not seen a reduction in bookings and have not lowered our pricing, which has helped give us confidence as we head into the later part of 2009 and into 2010."
Larry Ott, Open Aire Affairs, Newtown, Pa.

AND KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR …

"A casual support group with many of my event buddies who are going through the same and worse has a backup plan. If it all goes south, we've got a plot of land where we are going to grow organic vegetables, invest in chickens and a goat or two, and pitch some tents so we can make our own little 'event pros refugee camp village.' I am sure it will look fabulous!"
Stacey Paul Barabe, CSEP, Exhilarate Events, Orlando, Fla.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/ © Baris Simsek

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