As Benjamin Franklin famously noted in 1789, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” For everything else, something is left to chance. Meetings and events, with countless moving parts, are no exception.
How can you ensure the odds are in your favor to produce a successful gathering? We asked four Colorado meeting and event planners about what makes them lose sleep and searched for solutions to help mitigate the nightmare scenarios so they can rest well before the big day.
Demonstrating Return on Investment (ROI) of an Event
Ezana Araya, senior account executive with Andavo Meetings & Incentives in Greenwood Village, points to an under-reported challenge: “Estimating the value of your events program.”
Corporate accounting “has a lot of meetings identified as cost centers,” he explains. “We’re looking to have clients classify events as investments.” The million-dollar question: “Should you be spending that much to begin with?” asks Araya. “That’s a question you’re able to answer.
He believes a more in-depth cost-benefit analysis considers the long-term impact on employee education, marketing and other areas of value. “It could involve your CFO,” says Araya. “It’s something people need to focus on.”
Based on methodology from the Phillips ROI Institute, Avando’s solution involves before and after surveys for attendees to measure the impact. The Philips methodology “has been certified by over 500 companies,” says Araya. “We’ve simply adapted it for the meetings and events business.”
“[CFOs] are being held to a more transparent standard,” he adds. “This approach drives greater focus on all of your expenses.”
Araya offers a case study detailing the process with one Andavo client, a major telecom company that spent $2 million on an annual sales summit, but didn’t have any data on its impact. Andavo worked with the CEO, COO and internal event planner to apply the Phillips framework and evaluate the event’s ROI.
The staggering result: The $2 million event delivered more than $80 million in impact, a 3,700 percent ROI.
Check-In Snags & Snafus
“It’s the little details that will come back to bite you in the butt,” says Bre Brasseal, founder of Distilled Events in Dacono, not far from Erie.
Check-in of attendees can be one such thing, she says. If it’s seamless, nobody really notices, but if it’s a human traffic jam, everybody sees it right off the bat. “Registration is something I over-engineer,” says Brasseal. “It sets the tone for the experience.”
She typically has early-bird check-in during a cocktail party the night before the big event. “The first hour or two of registration is the craziest time,” she says. Early check-in “makes things easier.”
The first morning, Brasseal has people to check in attendees before passing them off to the registration tables for their badges. She’s used Splash for recent events, after using Eventbrite and Tito in the past.
Lone Tree, Colorado-based EventSquid, offers another solution that began in the remote-control airplane competition space and has since grown to include a wide range of markets, including corporate events, starting with Comcast in 2015.
CEO Michael Kranitz says corporate events are on the simpler end of the spectrum when compared to some of EventSquid’s verticals, such as competitive bodybuilding or archery. “A good check-in system does several things,” says Kranitz. “One, it not only checks the person in for that event, it also allows the host to track that person through the event.”
Another key, he says, is a system based on smartphones and tablets, not proprietary hardware. “You don’t want to have to buy scanners,” he says. EventSquid’s solutions are HTML5- and QR-based and require no native app.
Kranitz also says that user choice is another desirable feature. “Give them multiple different ways to check people in,” he suggests. “Maybe you have a badge, maybe you don’t.”
EventSquid consolidates contact management and other features along with check-in. “[Corporate planners] are coming to us because they crave what we’ve offered from the very beginning: simplicity,” says Kranitz.
Using Excel spreadsheets, planners “waste inordinate amounts of time,” he adds. With a good system, “the level of efficiency gain is staggering.”
What if you planned an event and no one showed up? That’s what keeps Hugo Hellberg, director of business development for the Colorado Association of REALTORS, from getting a good night’s sleep before a big event.
Case in point: The attendance for the Colorado Association of REALTORS’ annual Fall Conference went from 2,300 in 2014 to 1,500 in 2016 (due to various reasons).
“Education is offered everywhere nowadays,” says Hellberg, citing events focused on technology and other specialized angles. “It’s hard to compete with them.”
“Our members are getting bombarded with stuff,” he adds. “How do you cut through the clutter?”
Sponsors and vendors are easier sells than attendees. “We have no problem selling out our expo hall every year and getting sponsors,” he says. “But you can’t sell 500 booths if you only have 800 attendees.”
“When you have big expectations, there’s a lot of focus on numbers,” Hellberg adds. “It kind of kills morale. Ultimately, we want to have more people there.”
Steve Kinsley, president of Littleton-based Kinsley Meetings, has focused on association meetings for most of the last decade. He says a comprehensive, year-round approach is the best way to maintain and boost attendance. Starting with surveys from the previous year, every aspect of an annual event needs to be evaluated as part of planning the next one.
“Make sure you’re producing an event that’s relevant,” says Kinsley. “You can have five different generations there, and they all learn differently.”
Networking always will be a key component, he adds, and marketing often falls by the wayside. One of the firm’s customers recently upped the marketing spend from $10,000 to $30,000 and saw a revenue increase of about $60,000.
But there’s no single magic bullet to growing an event’s attendance, Kinsley adds. “It’s not a quick turnaround process. You have to commit to it.”
“It’s always the weather,” says Denver-based contractor Stuart Holden, who most recently worked for MorEvents and Four Five One Events, regarding what keeps him up at night. “I don’t care if it’s an indoor event or not, I don’t know if it can be mitigated. If there’s two feet of snow, it doesn’t matter if it’s an indoor event or an outdoor event.”
Holden’s advice: “Don’t do an outdoor event in March. If you do an outdoor event in March, start with a backup plan.”
The contingency plan might well involve rental umbrellas and tents, from providers such as Weather or Not or Wright Group Event Services. An outdoor venue with a backup indoor space is also good insurance, but it won’t help plow the roads.
The best cure for weather-related insomnia, however, probably involves elbow grease, quick thinking and a good attitude. Holden has earned a reputation for going the extra mile for clients. He once joined the crew of a hot-air balloon when they were one person short. At another event, he rescued attendees from a stranded boat on a Jet Ski.
As far as weather nightmares go, Holden helped pull off a big Under Armour event in Ward, Colorado, after a blizzard in 2016, despite the fact that it involved a trail run with the company’s sponsored athletes to demonstrate a new activity tracker. The solution involved renting several four-wheeldrive vehicles to replace helicopters.
“We all took a run in the snow,” says Holden, “and then we had a big party. It turned out to be the best night ever.”
You can’t necessarily control the waves, but you can learn to surf. And that means being prepared. Better make that over-prepared. Check your list, then check it again. “Make sure you have backup plans A, B and C,” emphasizes Brasseal. “Inevitably, backup plan A will fail.”
But crafting a backup to your backup—and then coming up with one more for good measure—might just be the best sleep aid for event planners