Blog: Event management
10 ways to make your event budget go further
30 March 2023 minute read
If I asked you what your number one concern was as an event manager right now, there’s a pretty good chance your answer would include the word ‘costs’.
Event costs are out of control at the moment. On average, across Europe and North America, the overall cost per in-person attendee was around 25% higher in 2022 than it was in 2019. And it’s predicted to go up another 7% during 2023.
The average catering spend per attendee is up 120% for food and 70% for beverage compared to just two years ago.
Airfares rose by an average of 25% in 2022, with an additional 8.4% spike expected this year. Even the cost of meeting space Wi-Fi has increased by as much as six times the 2019 rates.
It’s never been more important to focus on ways to contain costs and to question the conventional wisdom of ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’.
Here are our top ten tips for making tight event budgets stretch that little bit further.
1 Find your vendors and suppliers early
Start searching for your venue, vendors and suppliers as soon as your dates are decided.
When vendors still have a lot of availability, they are much more willing to work with you on price and may be able to include a few extras at little or no cost. Everyone likes a full order book.
Being early also gives you plenty of time to get alternative quotes, hold other options and discover the optimal transaction price for your chosen dates.
Leave it late and the venue or supplier will hold all the cards which means you’ll be paying top dollar.
2 Re-think your venue requirements
Does your crowd really need the standard 4* meeting hotel with a $150 DDR, or could you deliver your event somewhere a bit different at a lower cost?
Finding an affordable venue that meets all your requirements is a challenge, but it’s typically also the biggest single element in your budget – so take some time to reflect and think outside the ballroom for a moment.
Are there any universities, galleries, foundations, municipal facilities or public buildings that could offer you interesting space at a much lower cost?
Would these venues also allow you to bring in your own catering and alcohol? Food trucks or local restaurants can be a cool, memorable (and cheaper) way of giving guests a great lunch or party food.
Can you find a venue that already has the AV facilities and technicians you’d need on-site? Again, there goes a huge chunk of expenditure.
Be fully prepared before you start making lots of enquiries. What’s your headcount? What space do you need? What facilities are essential vs just nice to have? Then you can start to strike a balance between the money you could save along with location, transport links and other facilities.
Remember: just because you always had the meeting at a Hyatt, doesn’t mean you always have to have the meeting at a Hyatt.
3 Always, always negotiate
Many of us are uncomfortable negotiating over price. You need to get comfortable with it. Here are some tips.
The first question everyone asks you when they’re trying to sell you something is ‘what’s your budget?’ Your answer to this question should always be ‘we’re still figuring out the budget, just give me your standard rates.’ Start from there and negotiate down.
Figure out any leverage you can deploy. New venues and vendors will be more hungry for business than the more established ones, so they’ll be more willing to negotiate price with you.
If you’re organising multiple events or are planning on creating a follow-up event, don’t forget to highlight this. The prospect of repeat business is a great tool to negotiate the price on the first event.
It’s not uncommon for venues to host multiple events on the same day or within a relatively short time period. Find out what other events are taking place at the venue you’re considering and see if you can negotiate down the price if you order the same catering or other features.
It’s not always feasible to get the absolute dollar reduction you want on the price of a venue or a service. Sometimes, it’s better to ask for extras to be added to the package that you’re discussing instead.
This is because many businesses (especially larger chains) will have a base price they need to achieve for their quarterly targets and zero discretion beyond a certain point. But what’s often easier for them is to throw in additional services at little to no extra cost to themselves. The markup of coffee, alcohol, Wi-Fi etc, is typically ridiculous. Often, vendors will slash prices on consumables like these to secure your booking. So push.
Always be specific. Don’t ask for ‘a discount.’ Ask for ‘a 10% discount’ (or whatever number you think is achievable). Don’t ask for ‘a better package’. Ask for specific items that you need to be added to or removed from the package you’ve been quoted. And always try to give a reason why you need that specific percentage or that particular benefit in order to be able to make the deal. It doesn’t have to be true! But giving a rational justification for a request makes it easier for the vendor to make a concession. It encourages them to take you seriously and makes them worry that if they can’t meet your needs, they’ll be turning their back on a likely sale.
Don’t be afraid to walk away if you can’t get what you need. Not all venues and vendors will be equally flexible or willing to negotiate with you. Some of them can be downright unreasonable. In that case, take your business across the street.
4 Lose the merch
Swag bags overflowing with branded freebies may seem like a good idea, but in reality a lot of it is pointless junk and merely perpetuates an endless cycle of needless consumption. More to the point, this stuff tends to be expensive to buy. So we recommend ditching the swag bag.
Increasingly you’ll find this can actually be spun as a positive attribute of your event since your attendees are increasingly likely to be concerned by unnecessary waste and its impact on the planet.
If you have sponsors who really want to give people gifts, that’s one thing. But does your event budget need to order any of this stuff? Probably not. Maybe offer access to some exclusive digital content instead.
5 Go paperless
You can reduce printing costs associated with show guides, programme schedules, follow-up surveys and mailings by using a mobile event app to keep attendees informed, engaged and connected with your event programme.
Push notifications can be used to manage overflow rooms for popular sessions, while polls, speaker Q&A and ratings allow you to dial-up event engagement and track who is interacting with your content for potential follow-up.
When it comes to networking, a mobile event app can facilitate connections through contact information sharing. Attendees can also scan exhibitor QR codes for downloadable collateral, and set up meetings with exhibitors and sponsors before arriving at the event.
6 Use volunteers
You always need more staff on-site to set up and deliver your event, and billable hours from venue personnel or third-party staffing can really add up.
To help reduce costs, consider reaching out to volunteers. Many associations, for example, have members all over the country.
If your event is geared towards a particular topic or discipline, try recruiting students to help out on the day. They get access to content, experience, and the chance to meet people who might help them with finding a job or internship. You get a day or two of hard work from bright, personable people, without stressing your budget.
Consider developing a ‘volunteer packet’ with key information and requirements that will help set the tone and expectations required of the volunteers. It also pays to have a dedicated staff member who manages the volunteers, and set up a WhatsApp group so they can keep in touch with each other on-site.
You can even offer volunteers free registration to an event, drink tickets, a specific VIP-level experience, and access to networking opportunities, in exchange for their work.
As long as you can find people who care about the content of the event, and you take the time to make the experience fun and personalised, it can work really well.
7 Consolidate your event management tools
If you’re using multiple, different tools or suppliers to handle registration, attendee management, email marketing, websites, badging, apps and more – chances are you’re incurring avoidable costs.
Consider switching to a single full-service platform, and you could save time as well as budget.
Legacy event platforms are notoriously expensive, charging a fee per event, plus a percentage of ticket sales, and thousands of dollars for simple things like removing their platform branding or mapping a custom domain.
AttendZen gives you everything you need to manage and market in-person and virtual events on one powerful platform, with unlimited events, unlimited registrations, unlimited emails and unlimited web pages, all for one transparent annual fee. The savings can be in the tens of thousands of dollars (even hundreds of thousands for larger organisations).
8 Get more from your sponsors
Of course another approach to dealing with higher costs is generating more income.
You might be able to realise additional revenue from your event with sponsor-branded directories, pre-recorded content, live-streamed sessions, web pages, online networking events, blog posts, downloadable product brochures, chat lobbies and more – by thinking outside the traditional gold, silver, and bronze categories.
Ensure sponsor visibility beyond the duration of the event with additional podcasts, webinar series, digital display advertising and social media takeovers.
Invite sponsors to send push notifications through your mobile event app and give them the tools to drive interest in their product or service, with pre-session pre-roll video and dedicated online networking areas.
You can also try reducing costs by asking for sponsorship in-kind. Maybe one of the companies in your community doesn’t have cash to spend on sponsoring your event but they could lend you equipment, or supply food or transportation or whatever it is they happen to do?
9 Re-think your ticketing strategy
To price and ticket your event optimally, you first need to define its value – for attendees, sponsors and for the organisation itself.
Maybe you can use a tiered pricing system to add flexibility to your events. Offer packages ranging from free to super-premium in order to create the right balance of reach and engagement.
Having a premium ticket package alongside other cheaper options may create the impression of making lower price tickets seem more attractive, thereby stimulating demand and driving sales. Even if you don’t sell too many of the higher ticket prices, it doesn’t matter as long as the tactic is helping to shift regular priced tickets. The VIP offers, which may include exclusive access perks, will appeal to a segment of your attendees who are looking for the best.
Can you use scarcity to drive demand? If your audience knows your previous event was sold out, chances are they might feel rushed to get their tickets early for the next event you host. You can play on this to increase demand and urgency, reducing the need for paid advertising.
10 Be open-minded
The key to managing a challenging budget is to keep an open mind. Just because a conference is traditionally held at a certain hotel around a particular date doesn’t mean it’s written in stone.
Always be willing to revisit your core objectives for each event and ask whether everything you’re paying for is really needed to achieve the outcomes you need, or if you’re just maintaining certain standards and features out of habit.