Unless you’ve been living on a remote island for the past few years, you’ll be aware of the power of face-to-face communication and its growing prominence in companies’ marketing strategies. But communicating with your staff or clients in this way can come with a hefty price tag, which is why companies are looking at how to get maximum impact for minimum outlay.
This is not to say that they are looking to penny pinch, as even the most foolhardy are aware of the negative impact this could have on their brand or message, but a successful event is a delicate balance between getting your message over as effectively as possible and justifying the financial outlay. To this end, companies need to be as creative as possible with their ideas, not just from a point of view of design and delivery, but also in terms of shaving costs without being seen to cut corners.
For Alix Francis, head of events for marketing agency the JJ Group, getting the most out of your event is about clearly defining your objectives from the start. "An event needs to have energy, content with impact and creative execution," she says. "But most of all it needs to be well planned and organised, and it’s imperative that you always view the event from the eyes of the delegate, not the organiser."
Ian Irving, sales and marketing director for brand experience agency Sledge, distills this down further. "The most successful way of ensuring you get the best from your event is by implementing a process of evaluation prior to any activity. This will ensure that you and everyone involved have clear objectives and that the content is relevant, well constructed and positioned correctly for the intended audience."
Irving believes that knowledge of what has and hasn’t worked in the past is invaluable and can keep you focused on audience expectations and meeting objectives. His final tip/ "Rigorous execution."
Whatever you think the most important issues are, one thing is certain – the more people you consult and draw ideas from in the process, the better. "It is imperative to sit down with colleagues and suppliers before any event to plan its format, structure, theme and content," says Francis. "Any event should be a process of collaboration and consultation, including involving the audience. Making assumptions or going it alone is a high-risk strategy and can undermine the effectiveness of your event."
Greg Orme, chief executive of the Centre for Creative Business, agrees. "As many people as possible inside and outside your organisation should be involved in the planning. Don’t be arrogant enough to think you have cornered the market in good ideas."
Orme goes on to suggest holding an ideas day at a neutral venue, and inviting as many of the potential attendees and stakeholders along as possible to air their views.
"We have found this very useful as it ensures buy-in from all those involved, which is crucial and sometimes difficult to achieve if there are many people all with different agendas."
Orme says that great ideas and lateral thinking always come from away-days providing they are done "right" – in other words, that they use genuine tools to help people stand back and think as well as working in collaboration.
This sort of pooling of ideas and resources allows companies to draw on a number of different perspectives and experiences, ensuring that all the best possible ideas are being used. This is what keeps the events industry competitive and cutting edge.
One area where this sort of group brainstorming can be extremely effective is in coming up with ideas of how to shave costs. "By consolidating numerous training opportunities into one large training day, costs for the event are reduced and company losses due to unproductive employee time are minimised," says Samantha Jameson, director at events company Organza Events. "Even the smallest things will save company money given the correct consideration. For example, a buffet lunch as opposed to a three-course meal will have an impact."
JJ Group’s Francis says: "You can also save cash by researching your destination carefully. It is sometimes cheaper to run an event overseas than in the UK. The cost of accommodation, venue, food and beverage will be significantly cheaper in some parts of Europe, such as Spain, than in the UK. The cost of transporting kit and crew may offset a considerable amount of the saving, but it could be cheaper overall in comparison.
"Alcohol can also be an expensive part of the bill. Why not arrange a pay on consumption agreement as this usually ends up being the more cost-effective route."
Jameson continues: "Another way to actually generate cash through an event would be to give employees the opportunity to pay for one upgraded option in their package. Instead of a standard wine tasting team-building event, they can pay a small supplement for a champagne tasting event."
However, for some the concept of third-party sponsorship for an event is a thorny issue.
Nick Harvey, managing director of creative live communication specialists MMM, says: "Companies have to be incredibly careful when thinking about using sponsorship at an event. After all, you wouldn’t randomly stick a sponsored business on your billboard. Equally you need to be sure that the sponsoring business is adding event value, not just saving you money.
"You need to make sure that any paid-for brand placement fits perfectly with your business objectives. For instance, you are introducing a new range of products or line of business, in which case it makes perfect sense to ‘share your event’."
But there are many fans of sponsorship. "You can certainly save yourself cash by talking to your partners and seeing if there are messages that you can share," says Sledge’s Irving.
Organza’s Jameson believes that most companies will be positively itching to sell their services to a targeted group of people. She says: "Dell computers would love to sell its products to a media company, especially one with employees who work from home on a regular basis. It is an untapped market in the events industry."
Jameson also suggests that companies could pursue the option of sponsors having an onsite presence at the event to sell equipment. A percentage share of this will then go to the company in question. "Some companies make use of tactics like these already, a common example being reduced gym memberships," she says.
Jameson also cites the example of an event the company organised at Arsenal Football Club, with Sony providing standalone game consoles for the employees to have fun with. This resulted in employees buying accessories or gaming software to accompany the console they already own.
Chris Zachar, senior operations manager at Grass Roots, agrees/ "External sponsorship can be a very effective way of supporting a corporate’s internal meetings. Grass Roots has operated a programme recently which included a number of the corporate’s third-party suppliers providing sponsorship funds. The benefits of this were that while the corporate could reduce financial expenditure by a significant proportion, each of the third-party sponsors were able to communicate directly with a larger audience than their spend would have generated had they operated their own event.
"Ensuring there is a balance between meaningful communication and direct selling ensures that each of the sponsors found the event value for money, while the audience had the opportunity to visit a range of suppliers that met their own requirements."
This is all about shaving the costs but giving something back in return, thereby avoiding the accusations of penny-pinching.
Of course, one added benefit of getting as many people involved in the planning process as you can is that they will be able to see clearly the reasoning behind your decisions. Essentially, we’re all interested in the impact on the bottom line, but it’s important to remember that it’s often the little things that make the differences at events – food, lighting, hygiene, etc – get them right and people won’t remember, get them wrong and they will never forget… no matter how creative your planning.