Trust, tech and transparency: events' biggest challenges

Client demands and expectations are rising while budgets remain stagnant, meaning event organisers can't always invest in the latest must-have technology. These are just some of the challenges facing the events industry in the past year according to corporate event organisers from KPMG, Cision, G4S, ITV and the Evening Standard.

C&IT in partnership with Cvent, held a roundtable at the Savoy, London in October to shed light on these issues and more. Editor Calum Di Lieto revealed a sneak-peek of our State of the Industry: Corporate Report 2018 and led the debate as guests tackled three pivotal challenges: technology; budgets and external relationships over a three-course sit down dinner.

Event tech - worth the investment?
The industry’s use of tech was first on the agenda. Di Lieto kicked off the discussion by asking guests to consider their business’ adoption of event technology.

MFS Investment Management senior event planner, Charlotte Groom explained that some people are intimidated by technology. "There’s a fear that if you don’t input data correctly it’s going to mess up," and explained that technology "isn’t always user-friendly". New tech needs to be simple to use not just for delegates, but for event organisers behind the scenes, too.

ITV's Natalie Davies said that it's important to devise clear objectives and measurables when engaging with new technology, "you could have the best tech in the world but if you don't know how you're going to apply the data post-event then it's a wasted opportunity," she explained.

Jessica Badminton, senior events manager at Intrinsic Financial Services added "it’s also about not using tech just for the sake of it, what you put into the system is what you get out."

Cision’s Victoria Morrison said you need to ask yourself: "Are you going to gain anything from it?" And think about what value the technology is going to add. "You can’t do any of that without being strategic," she explained.

The table agreed that getting senior buy-in is also a major factor. Not only that, but: "Working cross-divisionally within your organisation, mapping out budgets, thinking about different stakeholder needs and how quickly events need to be turned around," added ITV’s Natalie Davies.

Tightening budgets
Budgets, or rather the lack of them, was also a hot topic of discussion. A recent C&IT survey found that 43% of corporate event planners said their event budgets have remained stagnant in the last year. While over 50% said they found it difficult to prove the ROI of their events. KPMG’s Danielle Roberts said on top of this, event managers are "expected to do more for the same, with some clients expecting more with less budget."

Despite this, you don’t want to appear to be cutting corners she explained. But it comes down to the objectives of the event in the first place, you need to map the collective objective and there has to be an agreement on what you’re going to get out of it. "Some things are not feasible within your budget and sometimes we have to communicate that as event organisers. It’s about quality not quantity."

Kevin Christensen from Cvent asked guests to think about where their budgets are coming from. The table discussed the link between budgets and overall company performance. If the company does well, budgets increase and vice versa.

Kate Scully from G4S said: "Event budgets are like babushka dolls, they sit within budgets, and those budgets sit within budgets."

A mere 7% of corporate event planners who C&IT surveyed said they found it ‘easy’ to prove the ROI of their events. Di Lieto explained that events tend to have a long tail in ROI which "might not come to fruition for five or so years".

Davies said that instead event planners need to consider qualitative success, return on experience (ROX) rather than ROI as a better way to prove value. "We should be asking delegates ‘what did you really enjoy?’ and spotting trends in their responses. That’s the kind of stuff we want – there’s been a value exchange there."

External relationships
Di Lieto revealed of those C&IT surveyed, only 39% of corporate event managers work with external agencies; most choose to manage events in-house.

Badminton added: "When relationships get stale that’s when you have to readdress." But, "ultimately, it comes down to trust and transparency," added Julia Mastrogiannaki from the Savoy.

The guests agreed that the fewer people in the chain the better.

The Standard’s Emma Mercer said in venue sourcing, she always goes with agency recommendations. But when it comes to transparency on commission taken, she admitted she had "no clue".

Scully sees no issue with commission as long as it’s all on the table: "Keep your relationships fresh across the industry. If you’re a corporate and hide in an ivory tower, you’ll have the wool pulled over your eyes."

Roberts said that speed and being able to match requirements also comes into it a lot, which "makes my job harder". She explained how she doesn’t trust agencies anymore. So: "I do it myself."

The consensus was that tech must be user-friendly and if you do invest, ensure you get out what you have put in. Budgets don’t always sit within the department and when it comes to external relation- ships, the fewer people in the chain the better it is for corporate event organisers.

But two things are vital: trust and transparency at all these levels.

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