I had the opportunity to lead a panel at The Special Event show in Orlando, Fla., last month called Event Planners: What Keeps You Up at Night? The show is sponsored by Special Events, our Primedia Business sister magazine.

This is an industry that has been hard-hit by the economy and felt the squeeze more than most. That's because many companies have decided either to turn special events into meals or to “do something creative” with the same impact as they've always had — for half the price. And with half the time to plan it.

Here are a few of the hot buttons we hit:

  • Finding a reliable vendor — Panelist Cami Bailey, director of communications at The Integer Group, said she's recently been faced with local planners misrepresenting their services or overstating their capabilities. Event planners are stretched to the limit, and many are trying to find ways to stay in business. Asking for references doesn't help; she now relies only on ISES (the International Special Events Society) members.

  • Virtual meetings — Laura Vickers, event coordinator, NCCI, said her organization recently replaced a meeting with a webcast. Not only did this mean various hassles for her (and in the end, she admits, not much money was saved), but it raised the question of whether more of the company's meetings will go virtual.

  • Budget cuts — “They were a huge factor in 2002,” Vickers said. “Corporations are cutting their meeting budgets and the travel budgets of people who would attend meetings. When hotels scramble to meet their bottom lines, it affects event planners and their budgets. Hotels are really beginning to nickel and dime customers.”

  • Getting creative with the same event, year after year — Panelist Laura O'Connor from The World Bank said one of her biggest problems is when an event's budget is cut and people still have the same expectations as the year before. “It makes sense to just start all over, to wipe the slate clean and treat it like it's a whole new event you've never done before.”



For more on The Special Event, see page 9.




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