Based on information gathered from a customer survey in November, metroConnections has identified Return on Investment (ROI), e-commerce and mobile apps, social media, vendor relations and branding as key themes and areas of focus for the meeting/event planning as well as transportation services industry for 2013.
According to David Graves, President of metroConnections, the survey was conducted to identify key challenges in this fast-paced marketplace that is experiencing tremendous change.
”In order to make sure we have a pulse on the industry and key challenges in the marketplace, we polled our customers. “As expectations and technologies change in the meeting industry, it is essential to understand as well as guide our clients on how to meet these trends,” said Graves. “This survey validated that 2013 will see a huge emphasis on technology, partnering, branding and ROI.”
With the economy still struggling to rebound in many sectors, event planners are challenged to eliminate discretionary spending as well as prove ROI. According to Sam Berube, Senior Event Planner for Creative Memories, the current economic uncertainty will continue to be a challenge.
“Event planners will seek more inexpensive technology to help support their events and to fill the gaps of limited resources. Proving the value of an event – for both attendees and the company decision makers -- is a continual challenge for meeting planners so they can strategically plan their functions and provide worth for all involved,” she said. “As a result, we are looking more and more to single-source solution providers who provide volume discounts, streamline the planning process as well as help us prove ROI.”
Jolene Bergmann, Manager – Meetings & Events for Eaton Corp., also noted that cost containment and tougher negotiations on attrition and cancellation were key themes for 2013.
“With overall business conditions being more challenging at the end of 2012, we are being asked to limit or eliminate as much of our discretionary spend as possible”, she said. “We are asking the properties that we work with for more leeway on attrition and cancellation clauses specifically, but also must ensure all event expenditures are appropriate, reasonable and clearly adhere to approved budgets.”
The tight budgets also impact organizations when the economy does rebound. For example, Charmell Davis, CMP, Operations Manager, Learning Solutions, The Institute of Internal Auditors, Global Headquarters, noted that their biggest challenge is related to managing the trending increase of registrations for conferences based on conservative contracts and commitments that were made in a more challenging economic time.
“It’s a great problem to have but at the end of the day, there still lies a challenge for the planner if the venue is struggling to accommodate our growth,” she said.
Another key theme for 2013 is the push for mobile apps and e-commerce platforms for both the planning and registration functions of an event, as well as the actual event itself.
Erin Howe, Manager, Meetings & Special Events for General Mills, said they have started using mobile apps specific to their larger programs, and they are evaluating how to use Twitter as a means to poll their audience.
Berube noted that her team also is evaluating various ways to integrate the iPad as a means to track and manage sales transactions, create instant invoices and more. “Our goal is to integrate technology wherever possible in order to create a smooth customer experience while still meeting the needs of our business,” she said. “Social media allows us to easily communicate and promote our events to our customers. We use Facebook and Twitter to hype certain aspects of an upcoming event to build excitement. Facebook also serves as a communication channel for our customers to ask us questions related to the event and receive immediate answers. Finally, social media is a great tool after an event to recap the attendee’s experience by sharing photos, testimonials and videos which also serves as excellent promotion for the next year’s event.”
In addition to technology integration, Howe noted the importance of focusing on younger generations, specifically the Millennium market, as they are the new audience.
Brad Neuman, Director of metroConnection’s Attend-eSource® Technologies, responded to this trend by noting that there are numerous considerations when working with social media and apps in the event and meeting planning industry. Although there are several new and improved technologies such as GPS mapping functionality, community chatter for specific events and personalized agenda options, it is key to understand how to best utilize each platform.
“Too often, technology is implemented simply because of the ‘wow’ factor without really analyzing the benefit to the attendees,” said Neuman.
For example, budget is a key consideration in deciding whether or not to employ a native or a web-based app. In the case of social media, it is essential to know what platforms attendees are already using before implementing a solution for a particular meeting.
Although budgets and technology are key themes, survey respondents also noted the importance of keeping events fresh and innovative. Further, with tighter budgets and greater acceptance and expectations related to technology, hybrid events will be key.
McCulloch also noted the heightened role of branding in events, a theme that is already prevalent in events the firm is planning for 2013.
“Integrated branding – the concept of having all aspects of marketing communications for your organization work together in unified force with a consistent message – continues to gain acceptance in the meeting industry,” he said. “As such, it is key that the meeting planning industry find meaningful ways to incorporate these branding experiences into events and conferences to maximize their company’s exposure with attendees during a dedicated time-frame and focused attention-span. Key to success is integrating the brand into the strategic plan from onset and then managing it throughout the process to ensure cohesion with your message.”
As a final thought, McCulloch urged meeting planners to look for partners in 2013 that understand the aforementioned challenges, have technology expertise and branding experience, as well as serve as a partner in proving ROI.
“Challenging times require the industry to work together,” he said. “Look for partners that don’t simply want a contract, rather, they want to be an extension of your team and care about the success of your events as much as you do.”
Since 1984, metroConnections has provided complete conference, event, stage production and transportation services for meeting and event planners nationwide. With annual revenue of $13.4 million, the company operates from its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn. and produces more than 1,400 programs per year. The metroConnections team uses its expertise and resources to specialize in the design and implementation of themed events, stage productions, transportation, tours and conference program logistics and meetings. metroConnections also offers audio/visual and production services and is the creator of Attend-eSource®, a web-based solution that includes elements such as online registration and custom-built event websites. For information on planning conferences, events, stage productions, transportation logistics or group/companion tours, contact metroConnections at 612-333-8687 or visit www.metroconnections.com.