There’s no doubt about it. Budgets are a pain in the neck, whoever you are.
If you’re an agency, it seems there’s never enough to realise the creative vision you’ve developed for your client. If you’re a supplier, there’s a risk that someone else with greater economies of scale might undercut you to win the business.
And if you’re working client side, you’re always trying to define the cost and value for every project. Spend too much, and you’ll have to justify it to your ‘higher ups.’ Cut too many costs and there’s a worry that you’ll have less to work with next time around.
In the end, everything is reduced to line items on a spread sheet. Sixty hours of a person’s time. Twenty units of that furniture, venue hire, catering and travel. Everything all accounted for and thoroughly negotiated to ensure best value.
But there’s one hidden cost that rarely gets factored into proceedings – usually because it’s not something that has to be paid for out of the project budget. It’s the cost to every business of having their people out of the office at an event.
Think about an internal communications event for a minute. Let’s imagine that a company is inviting 300 of its senior management from around the world to a three-day conference. Chances are, there’d be a day’s travel either side of the event itself, which means that every attendee will be out of the office for a full week. Now just think about what that would do to the event budget, if those costs were factored in.
It never fails to surprise me, when B2B events end up being a just a platform for content delivery. Day after day of presentations, panel discussions and keynotes, with little or no opportunity for the attendees to really get involved.
This isn’t just the case for conferences, either. In the rush to fill every minute of an agenda with ‘content,’ many event organisers forget the old adage about two ears and one mouth, and using them in the correct proportions. When you’ve got your target audience all together in one place, you should be listening to them, and not the other way around.
They can tell you the future of your brand. They can solve your problems. They can validate your strategy and refine your messaging. As the mystical shop-keeper explained at the end of Gremlins: "To hear, one has only to listen."
The fact is, it’s never been easier to listen to your audience. There are apps, throwable microphones, web browser-based solutions, and all manner of other technologies designed to help you understand your audience better.
And it’s not just about encouraging them to speak up while they’re in the room. Listening to your audience also means filtering the information they’re constantly pumping out into the universe. A smart social media strategy can give you unprecedented insights into what makes your delegates tick. It’s all there in the public domain – you just need to know where to look. Once you do, you’ll realise that there’s a wealth of valuable information out there.
When people ask me what the future holds for events, I try not to think in terms of technology. For me, the future is about opportunity. So the events of tomorrow aren’t about gadgets, widgets and three dimensions. They’re about insight and understanding. Tailor-made experiences. And intuition. Giving every attendee an effortless experience that anticipates and meets their every need.
All we need to do is put down the microphone and start listening.
Gareth Dimelow is executive director, engagement planning, at George P. Johnson.
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