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Events on a tight budget

We ask the experts for their top tips on keeping costs down.

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"If you book a number of events throughout the year, consolidate your conference or event bookings with the one venue - then you will have more negotiating power. Even on a low budget, you can try participating in trade shows by approaching complementary exhibitors and ask if they'd be interested in sharing booth space with you splitting the costs." – Debra O'Brien, Director, Festa Event Consulting

Look offshore

“Never assume! Associations are often put off convention centres due to their size and their perceived cost. However, an enquiry costs nothing and you may be surprised that more often than not the spaces within these venues are flexible and can easily be adapted to meet an association's size and budget requirements. When coupled with a favourable Australian exchange rate, offshore events can often work out more financially attractive. My Australian clients are often surprised that they can save money by meeting in New Zealand and with the open departure gate agreements between our two countries they feel it's easier to travel to Christchurch from the East Coast of Australia than it is to other inland destinations.” – Hayley Stevens, International Business Development Manager, Vbase, NZ

Select the right style

“Theming and styling can help turn any event into an unforgettable success, no matter what the budget.

Choosing a single colour can be chic and effective. All-white is stylish and sophisticated, or add just a splash of colour as a contrast. If the budget is tight, don't spend money on lots of little items spread out around the room. Instead, spend big on one impressive focal point that becomes the talking point.

Lighting can be incredibly effective. Speak to your project manager about some of the amazing lighting effects on offer and how they can transform an event.” – Toni McAllister, AV Project Manager, Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre

Promote wisely

“Target your marketing and encourage word of mouth by creating opportunities that don't cost an inordinate amount of money by using free online methods like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – all free communication methods that help to encourage word-of-mouth buzz. However, you should avoid relying solely on online marketing for raising awareness. Also encourage your exhibitors to take a more proactive role in promoting their presence at the show to their database of clients. It doesn't cost an exhibitor anything to include an invite in with their invoice, or to include the event link in their signature.” – Simon Cooper, Managing Director, Interpoint – also winners of Best Australian Show for Splash! at the 2010 EEAA Awards for Excellence.

Utilise your members

“Utilise your members' strengths by enlisting their help in all aspects of the event – copywriting for your website, securing speakers through their own networks, filming podcasts and Tweeting live from the event.   Encourage student members to get involved by giving them basic (but vital) tasks such as greeting guests, ushering and distributing flyers on-site.  Reward contributors with a complimentary ticket and recognise their efforts in your eZine.” – Caroline Cook, National Operations and Events Officer, Public Relations Institute of Australia

Costing is king

“Be honest about your available budget. To ensure you get the best bang out of your buck tell your event supplier exactly what the available budget is from the start. If suppliers are aware of the budget they will be much more willing to throw elements in or discount in order to ensure that even with the tightest of budgets a quality event is produced. The same will most likely not be the case if a budget is not provided and your supplier submits a $50K quote only to have you reveal the budget is $10K” – Thomas Brown, Director, Backdrops Fantastic Australia

Define your goals

“Consider carefully how you intend to put together your conference to fulfil your objectives and whether outside assistance is required. Generally there are essentially two levels of services: complete event management supplied by a PCO; or the provision of specific conference logistics, registration systems, onsite co-ordination, and sponsor/exhibitor management. Each has its place and must be driven by your needs and not theirs.” – Mike Schrafft, Executive Director, VMS Event & Conference Logistics

Negotiate well

“Almost every part of your event is negotiable. Don't just accept the first price provided. Take the time to get several quotes and negotiate on everything – room hire, hotel rooms, food and beverage, networking tools, etc. By taking the time to shop around you can save big dollars.” –Julian Moore, Director, Strategic Membership Solutions.

Have a perfect program

“Conference organisers have to be careful with expenditure and, at the same time, be aware of the risks of losing their audience if the program does not appeal. If there is an extreme lack of funding, it is important to both negotiate with suppliers and increase the value of your sponsorship packages. This is where creativity and experience are worth their weight in gold. Assuming that marketing channels are under control, it is important to deliver a conference program that keeps the audience interested and builds long term momentum.” – Justin Holsinger, Director, Eventcorp

Think creatively

“Use a member's office venue for free (even a boardroom and foyer area can work surprisingly well for up to 50 people). Use the fact that one member has donated their venue as leverage over other members to donate their venues, or get a member to approach one of their suppliers and ask to use their venue for free. Also, people eat less than you expect and much less than what caterers advise. Depending on the crowd, you don't always need staff with silver trays moving around the room feeding your guests food items. They don't really appreciate the cost of and feel more obliged to eat than they really want to.” – Andrew Crosby, New Zealand Manager, RICS Oceania

Evaluate suppliers

“Reconsider preferred suppliers – event managers have ‘preferred suppliers' who are tried, tested, proven and trusted in the supply of services. However, you should always ask the organiser what their views are with regard to the use of other suppliers. Are there any restrictions or terms in their contract which may not permit this and if so why?” – Francis Child, Managing Director, Conference Action Pty Ltd

This article first appeared in Associations, Edition 28 – March, 2011

 

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