In-person events are back in full force and high demand—but the economic challenges are top of mind for many event professionals and leadership teams, and corporate event budgets are being examined more carefully than ever.
The numbers are slightly startling: A recent study estimates that attendee costs are a whopping 25% higher than in 2019—and are expected to rise another 7% in 2023. Prices are being driven up by an influx of events along with shorter lead times, rising fuel prices, and just general inflation, all of which are leading to more expensive venues, food, labor, and more.
On the flip side, we know that face-to-face events are more valuable than ever. So, how do you do more with less? We’ve rounded up some practical tips to combat the budget challenges facing corporate events today.
1. Look For Ways to Reduce Your Event’s Requirements.
The math is simple: Shorter events cost less with less travel and fewer attendees. In a recent Skift study, when asked how they’re responding to the budget squeeze, over 60% of event planners are managing their limited budgets by reducing the requirements of the events. This could be reducing a day off the agenda, staying on-site, or selecting a destination closer to your attendees or a lower-cost hotel.
When asked how they’d respond if their budgets were reduced, survey respondents from American Express’ 2023 Global Meetings & Events Forecast said the first two areas they would cut were off-site optional activities (23%) and the number of nights (20%). Those items may change depending on your event’s overall goals, but consider whether rethinking your event’s format, duration, or even location can give you more bang for your buck. (As an added bonus, this revamping process can offer a much-needed shakeup to longtime events, forcing event organizers to focus solely on the most important content and connections.)
Turn the same purpose-driven lens to your attendee list, too. Can the in-person event include only the most critical players, for example, while secondary attendees can be incorporated virtually or via smaller local events? Similarly, is there a way to virtually include the international audience to cut down on transportation costs?
2. Work with Full-Service Vendors and Demand Transparency.
Events don’t happen without great partnerships. And the best partnerships are built on trust and transparency. Rather than dealing with ten different vendors—with ten different changing budgets and compounding markups—consider working with more full-service vendors who can handle multiple aspects of your event program.
Working with fewer partners and vendors also helps establish trusted relationships, which help you demand transparency every step of the way. Work closely together to understand where and why cost markups may occur, and do cost analysis by getting competitive bids.
It is reasonable to ask for itemization and markups from your vendors. It gives planners more ability to make acute decisions around costs, what they may need, and how much things truly cost.
The same idea applies to audiovisual production, which can be expensive. Fostering an environment of trust, transparency, and collaboration means your AV suppliers can bring their ideas to the table and thereby recommend equipment and solutions they already have so they don’t need to cross-rent or buy.
In short: Invite your partners into your budget constraints, and work together to find solutions.
3. Carefully Think Through Which Extra Items are Crucial to Your Event’s “Why.”
By carefully defining your event’s primary goals—and keeping that “why” on your mind through every step of the process—it becomes easier to determine what’s necessary and what’s “nice to have.” It can be tempting to wow guests with a high-impact gift or a celebrity keynote speaker. But think carefully about what’s actually mission-critical. Maybe instead of a top-tier speaker, you can find someone lesser-known (aka, more affordable) to add a more personal, authentic, and unexpected touch.
The same may apply to a band or entertainment. Hire a local wedding or cover band that still has the impact of live music without the cost of top-notch entertainment acts.
4. Lean Into Sponsorships to Augment Costs.
Sponsorship has long been a great way to augment event costs. But just like event hosts’ budgets are tighter, sponsors are also looking for a bigger ROI right now. The most effective sponsorships go beyond traditional, static signage, and lean into interactive, experiential moments that let sponsors create more authentic connections with attendees.
Working with sponsors to find these types of out-of-the-box ideas—whether it’s a hosted reception, a great photo op, a fun activity, etc.—gives them a better return on investment, and makes them more likely to help you augment costs for future events.
5. Reuse Items Year After Year.
Thinking sustainability isn’t just good for the planet—it can be good for your bottom line. Consider creating evergreen graphics, signage, nametags, and lanyards that can be reused from year to year to cut down on printing fees.
Regarding swag, save your budget on low-quality items that will end up in the trash. Are there fewer, but higher quality, gifts that can be given just to V.I.P.s? Or can you focus on reusable and sustainable swag that attendees will want—and reduce the amount of branding or event dates on them so you can reuse the leftovers the following year?
Or, take it a step further and go digital. Switching to digital signage and event apps might mean a bigger initial cost, but over time, it can be far more cost-effective than printing large amounts of banners and signage, and can be easily updated with real-time information for the next year—or even for the next day.