Planning meetings and events are difficult enough. Factor in the economy and bosses or clients with high expectations and even lower budgets and you’ve got an equation for madness. Or, at the very least, an opportunity for a gullible miscalculation. Everyone knows the saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” but sometimes it’s hard to put it into practice. Plan Your Meetings talked to several planners who have been burned a time or two and have since found the lesson in their mistakes.
“My tip to fellow meeting planners: If it sounds too good be true, ask more questions,” says Joseph Lipman, CEO of Summit Management Services, a corporate event design and production firm. “If you pay too little for your meeting, you might be getting duped and later find that your expectations are not met.”
Lipman continues, “[Recently,] I was working with a hotel in Europe. They advised me that if I were to postpone the meeting by one day, they would offer an incredible rate that would include breakfast. Further questioning, however, revealed that had I taken the deal, I would have ended up with 250 people in a conference room with low 10-ft. ceilings. After I declined, they conveniently had a backup offer: I could use the hotel rooms and hold the meeting in the adjacent meeting space (a convention center) attached to the hotel for an additional cost of 17,000 Euros per day. Imagine that cost, plus tables and chairs, stage and other rental costs!”
With so much focus on proving return on investment (ROI), it’s imperative to get what you pay for — and a lot more, but dollars only stretch so far. So, when they stop stretching, and rock-bottom rates start to look enticing, maybe it’s time to consider the pitfalls of proceeding. Which could be anything from acting as a caterer because the budget is too low to hire one, or putting attendees up in a roach motel as Lynne K. Tiras, CMP, president of International Meeting Managers Inc., once did.
“I recall one speaker at a hotel (that has since been demolished) commenting the next day that his entertainment for the evening had been watching two roaches [breeding] in a corner of his room,” says Lynne K. Tiras, CMP, president of International Meeting Managers Inc. “That is the most embarrassing comment I have ever heard.”
Joella Hopkins, CSEP, CMP, and president of Simply Mumtaz Events Inc. in Burbank, Calif., says that embarrassment isn’t the only thing to be concerned with. When you start sacrificing the quality of the event for the sake of budget and thinking, “I don’t want my name attached to this,” you’re also likely putting the success of the event at risk. “Discuss the options with your clients,” Hopkins says. “Is going [too] cheap going to jeopardize their objectives for having the meeting to begin with? If so, that’s a sure way to get their attention.” And perhaps, increase the resources available.
However, if clients are not willing or unable to increase funds for the event, it’s time to get very creative.
“The very first meeting I planned, 30 years ago, we had such a limited budget that I bought soft drinks on sale at the grocery store, and I brought in my own coffee maker to make the coffee on-site,” Tiras says. “The only outside catering for the meeting was to pick up sandwiches. We definitely planned the meeting on a shoe string, and it was very successful.”
Tiras adds that although they now have better budgets to work with, most clients today are looking for ways to cut back and save money. She says that serving drinks like teas and lemonade by the gallon and working directly with the chef (and explaining your budget, to allow more creativity) are cost effective ways that have helped her in the past.
Marilee Karamanski, owner of Madison, Wisc.-based Planned Spontaneity LLC., offers an additional F&B tip: “If the client doesn’t want to pay for a sit down meal, it’s okay to offer nice sack lunches or appetizer platters,” Karamanski says. “[But,] it is not okay to offer a beautiful sit-down meal with insufficient staff to serve it and bus the tables.”
If you’re dangerously close to the edge of being too cheap, it’s not too late to pull yourself back. But first you have to re-shift your focus, turn your attention to the meeting or event’s objectives, decide what’s absolutely necessary to achieve them, then move on from there. But keep in mind you may not have the best solutions immediately.
“It’s not a talent you learn in books, but by years of experience and trial and error,” says Greg Palomino, CWP, CEP, LTC, of Cre8ad8, a Texas-based event marketing agency. “As you grow, you learn where you can cut and how to actively manage your margin.”