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May 29, 2008

Matt Storey: Late booking is the least cost-effective approach to event planning

It won’t come as startling news to many that event planners are currently showing a tendency towards late booking. Short lead times have been the bane of this industry’s existence for years, but even so, there’s been a marked increase in last-minute decision-making and this trend is exercising the minds of those of us at the very sharp end of event delivery.

This may well be a reaction to the creeping unease about the state of the economy, although my own company hasn’t yet recorded any drop in confirmed business. So, at the moment, we are looking at a holding of breath rather than a tightening of belts. But if planners are concerned about spending, there’s a certain irony in their sitting on purchase orders until the very last-minute.

Smart planning
Agencies and suppliers alike will deliver the best events if they are able to allocate the right people and resources to each project – whether it’s a question of production kit, freelance staff or even the requisite number of screws. The late booking trend makes forward planning of such resources a lot more difficult.

The events industry relies on the ability to source the best people for each job, and I speak on behalf of a company whose very product is manpower – the crews that build event infrastructures – so, for us, this is a particularly pressing concern.

Smart event planning early on is by far the most economic strategy because it enables people and skills to be deployed cost-effectively. Not surprisingly, planners may not be able to get the venue they want, for the dates they want, at the price they want, if they have left it too late.

From my own company’s perspective, we can’t always put together the crew that we would ideally want at short notice, and it may be necessary to double-up on skills when all the experienced multi-taskers have been allocated elsewhere. On occasion we have had to turn work away rather than send out insufficiently experienced or inadequately supervised crew.

Proactive approach

But the responsibility for smart planning doesn’t have to lie exclusively with our clients. By taking some time to analyse booking patterns over several years, it’s possible to predict those events that are likely to be repeated and, in the case of annual events, plot them on a calendar. Rather than sitting and waiting for the phone to ring, suppliers in such situations can take the initiative and offer a gentle reminder to clients well in advance, prompting them to start thinking about the event sooner rather than later.

Clients may be initially surprised at such a proactive approach, but chances are that they will be impressed as well, and maybe even grateful for the nudge. It makes sound business sense to seek ways of building good client-suppler relationships and this is a prime opportunity for our industry to show a professional face by getting closer to, and assisting with, our clients’ planning processes.

And the other positive spin-off of this approach is that it produces some good internal disciplines for our own companies at the same time. More time spent analysing and projecting business patterns means fewer last-minute panics and less seat-of-the-pants reaction.

Matt Storey is an Eventia board director, and head of business development at Gallowglass

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