By Bailey Roth
In the post-recession economy, cost consciousness is king. Not surprisingly, the trend towards financial prudence has not spared the corporate events industry. In fact, event staff and costs are often the first to be sacrificed on the altar of “corporate austerity.” As a result, the need to justify specialized event staff is heightened. However, the problem is compounded by the difficulty of proving value before an event is successfully executed.
Unlike our professional colleagues practicing law, medicine or accounting, event planners do not require advanced education or accreditation and cannot rely on these to prove value. Moreover, there are relatively few structural barriers to planning one’s own event. Yet event planners routinely expect clients to rely on (and pay for) their expertise when it comes to tasks with which their clients have considerable experience of their own.
How should event planners justify their review of supply contracts to an association of commercial lawyers? How do planners validate time spent recruiting volunteers for a client conference on innovation in the recruitment industry? Put simply, how does an event planner communicate and demonstrate value before the event is completed?
Here are four top ways to communicate your value:
Process vs. content
When it comes to value, a key pitfall is confusing procedural expertise with substantive expertise. The example of negotiating an agreement is helpful to understand the distinction between these two categories of expertise. Suppose an event planner is negotiating a contract for a venue on behalf of a client with legal expertise. Conventional wisdom suggests that the client is better placed to handle the negotiation and contract execution. But this overlooks the planner’s substantive expertise. A lawyer might be well-versed in the process of contract formation, but it is the planner who understands the content of the agreement – the going rate for the venue space, the inclusions and exclusions, and any common trade practices.
A real-world example of this distinction arose in my own planning. While working with an experienced group of Bay Street leaders raising funds for children’s charities, my team and I were able to re-negotiate additional amenities on the executed contract based on previous experience with common amenity inclusions. The client was savvy, but we knew the substantive details.
It ain’t over til it’s over
Until the event is a wrap, there is always an opportunity to change a detail, correct a mistake and improve the end result. Contracts may be subject to re-negotiation even after they are signed. Budgets can be adjusted even if money has already been spent or earmarked for something in particular. In the post-recession economy, mistakes – particularly those affecting the bottom line – are amplified. Too often, planners fail to appreciate the costliness of an error or the availability of a solution. If your clients see you persist in looking for ways to improve their initiatives, they will see you in turn as an expert.
It’s all in your head
For better or worse, value is about the client’s perception. Of course, results are fundamental. But equally important is attitude and mentality. Be part of the client’s team! Be invested in their successes (and disappointed in their failures), and remember to articulate this investment in discussions and meetings. Use language such as “we” and “us” in place of “I” and “you.” Make sure you are always contributing!
The volume factor
An old joke has it that a watch salesman boasts to his client of selling watches below cost. The client asks the natural question: “How do you make a profit?” The reply? “I make up for it on volume.”
Unlike the watch salesman selling at a loss, event planners do enjoy a distinct benefit by virtue of the sheer volume of events they manage. Sure, a company can have an HR employee or social events committee throw a handful of events here and there. But being a part of the action on a day-to-day basis means an intimate understanding of the events marketplace. In particular, ongoing involvement in events allows for an appreciation of current tastes and trends.
Often, this knowledge can mean the difference between tired mediocrity and cutting-edge success. In my experience, an awareness of hot topics and trends in the client’s industry or sector is especially valuable. In addition to demonstrating innovation and relevance, this type of sector-specific knowledge shows an individualized commitment to the client.
About the author
Bailey Roth is Event Director, Human Resources at Managing Matters Inc. After gaining experience at an established non-profit, Bailey moved to Managing Matters with a view to bringing for-profit knowledge and efficiency to the company’s not-for-profit and professional association client base. Bailey manages the company’s events department, human resources, recruiting and retention, and internship program. Bailey holds a BMOS (Dean’s List) from Western University with a specialization in organizational human resources.