Before the pandemic, one could argue that jobs with life-and-death consequences were surely more stressful than planning an annual conference. But things have changed.
According to a study by the World Scholarship Vault, event planner stress levels are hitting a new high — the third-most stressful job in the world for 2023.
Meanwhile, nearly every article I read or industry panel I attend is proclaiming that our industry is nearing a full recovery. If this were the case, your stress levels as a planner would be declining rather than escalating. The truth is that most of the data points and recovery opinions are coming from the supplier — not the organizer — side of our industry. Unless you plan events for a booming industry, your reality working for professional and trade associations is that revenue from your 2022 and 2023 meetings is 15 percent (or more) lower than 2019.
When you combine that with soaring cost increases — around 20 percent higher than 2019 levels — the bottom-line result is a significant reduction in net income. That net income is often what funds an association’s year-round member programs and services. This perfect storm significantly threatens the sustainability of associations and adds tremendous pressure to those who are organizing events to find ways to improve their financial performance.
Event Planner Challenges
For an association’s senior leadership team, annual conference revenue generation is more of a priority than ever before, and it’s natural for planners to feel overwhelmed and as if your job is on the line. You’re faced with lots of problems, but few solutions. Let’s take stock of some of those brutal challenges:
- Rebuilding attendance loyalty. If the industry or profession the association serves experienced major turnover or a high rate of early retirements during the pandemic, it will take years for the organization to rebuild its loyal attendee base.
- Shifting marketing budgets. Exhibitors are being more selective about the conferences they will support. To offset cost increases from drayage, labor, and building services, large investors are scaling back their exhibit space and sending fewer people to man their booth. Exhibit service contractors are now directly competing with the association for their share of exhibitors’ marketing budget.
- Price increases. Annual conference budgets are usually finalized 12-plus months prior to the event. Event planners are experiencing sticker shock from rising costs for audiovisual, food and beverage, and other direct meeting expenses. Many senior leadership teams don’t understand why the increases are so much higher than inflation rates. Planners are charged with making the problem go away but have little to no negotiating power. Their most likely option is to cut expenses in the areas that attendees value, creating a vicious cycle — dissatisfaction with the attendee experience leads to decreased registration and therefore lower revenues at the next event.
Can Vendors Be Part of the Solution?
One of the other challenges planners are dealing with is less support from their event suppliers. For larger conferences, planners can’t wait until the last 30 days for a convention services or catering manager to be deployed against their program.
Tough times require creative thinking. Event planners should consider asking key suppliers to add a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to their contract. This should include a path for escalation for problem resolution. Better yet, major suppliers can help their customers by guaranteeing service levels for their premium clients.
How have you managed expectations of increased costs with your senior leadership? What creative solutions have you found to mitigate high costs?
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2023.
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