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Where ignorance is not bliss

Poor planning makes perfect events unachievable

Professional organisers like to get all their ducks in a row before they commit themselves to any event. There is nothing worse in event-planning than organising as you go along and hoping for the best. Unfortunately, the perception by internal non-specialists that ‘events are easy’ does not promote clear thinking and good planning.

Most event organisers within client companies tend to be an offshoot of marketing or HR and have a reputation of being unsung heroes or heroines. They are often too busy to get involved with organisational politics and, anyway, they are rarely in the office long enough to make a difference to policy or procedures. For the most part they simply get on with the job and deliver good and sometimes great events at a reasonable price.

But the fact that they are low profile executives means that others take advantage of them and expect them to ‘perform miracles’ when more senior executives would simply say: ‘It can’t be done’.

The first casualty of good planning is a sensible lead time. Professional event planners know that with six to nine months’ notice they can secure a choice of suitable venues for budget-holders to get the best possible price. Unfortunately most sponsors leave it until the very last minute to commit to the event itself and so they end up with unsuitable venues that cost much more.

The second casualty is a change of brief. The event planner may have chosen the hi-tech venue because the theme is ‘The Future’, only to discover some months later, after contracts have been signed, that the CEO has decided to return to ‘traditional values’ and so favours a ‘grande dame’ property.

The third casualty is lack of rooms. Senior executives can be annoyingly vague about room numbers when providing a brief. It only occurs to them a few weeks from the event that perhaps they need extra rooms before and after in order to hold executive meetings or specific team briefings. By asking for, say, 50 more room nights it is quite likely that the venue suddenly becomes unsuitable and the organiser ends up bussing people all round the destination.

The fourth casualty is a flexible budget. Many briefs start off with a fixed budget, say $150,000. Detailed, line-by-line menu costings are done to show how this budget could be best allocated for maximum efficiency. A few weeks before the event ‘marketing’ suddenly finds $50,000 more budget and so all the penny-pinching in terms of dining options, room allocations and on-site activities need to be re-planned, because the CEO wants delegates to have ‘the best of everything’. No-one talks about ROI anymore.

The fifth casualty is destination choice. How many times have event planners been told that this event will be domestic and that overseas guests need to fly in and re-charge any travel costs to local country budgets? Then, some months later, the internal sponsor says that as there are so few delegates actually based in the home country, it would be more efficient to have it in a central, global destination, thereby saving on travel and destination costs.

The point about all this griping and moaning about sponsors changing their minds is how costly and therefore time-consuming it is to change the brief mid-project. All the basics are well-known and so problems are easily avoided by thinking about these issues at the very beginning.

I guess that whilst event planning remains a tactical arm of the marketing budget and whilst event organisers with no political clout in the organisation continue to succeed in pulling the proverbial rabbits out of many hats, poor planning by sponsors will persist. But wouldn’t it be great, even once in a while, to run the perfect event, on budget, on brief and on time.

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