Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A New Direction for RDL?

As independent meeting planners, we are all wondering “where is all the money that used to go into meetings and conferences?” More state agencies are doing meetings in-house and, even in the private sector, companies are cutting back on the number of trainings and events that they are doing. So is anyone still doing meetings…?

I recently spent three days in an intensive training on how to find opportunities to work with the one sector that seems to have money to spend – the Federal Government. Not having done much work with the Federal Government before, there was a lot to learn! Once we learned how to navigate the government websites and received the correct codes and labels, we began searching for agencies looking for meeting planning services. To our surprise (and great pleasure), several opportunities have already come up in the short time we have been searching. They are still doing meetings and hiring meeting planners to do them!

We’ve also learned that the government expects you to do a lot of work before you can even submit your bid – and that work has to take place in a very short amount of time. Unlike most of our clients, where fees and event costs are separate, the entire cost of a federal event is included in the bid and if you underbid, then you pay the difference. This means we do a great deal of research, gathering numbers, looking for available meeting sites, hotels, etc. prior to putting the proposal together. Most of the time, writing up the scope of work for the bid is the easy part.

We have not yet had any success in this new endeavor but we are looking forward to beginning work with the Federal Government and expanding into this new arena. Though taking RDL in this “new” direction could certainly change our business to some extent, our core services will remain unchanged. And, no matter what new path we follow, we will always be meeting planners.

- Linda R. Begbie, Executive Director & Meeting Planner

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Quick Tip...

for reducing your meeting’s food and beverage bill.

Serve dessert at your afternoon break.

It is such a simple concept, yet it is one that is often overlooked by novice planners. Indeed, most planners I work with when they are new to the field tend to treat each meal function as a separate event, unconnected to any other on the schedule. Although this is true to some extent, when it comes to breaks, you have a golden opportunity to save some money while providing timely snacks to your group.

I have often seen draft agendas that have lunch from 12:30 – 1:30, with a break (including more food!) set to occur at 2 or 2:30. Now, I love to eat, especially when someone else is paying for it, but this is a lot of food in a very short time. Your attendees will have just had lunch, including dessert, and you are now offering them more food – which is likely to be just as sugary as dessert…

Some planners believe that, in a situation like this, people will self-regulate and eat less at the break than they would if the break were served later. From my observations, though, that does not seem to generally be the case. People still pile up their plates with cookies (or whatever else is served). They then snack on the pile for a while and end up leaving most of the plate sitting on a table somewhere – uneaten! Not only have we failed to have people take less food but we have also generated a lot of wasted food – and spent a fair amount of money to do so.

The two primary solutions I offer to clients are (1) to change the time of the afternoon break and/or (2) to serve the dessert from lunch at the afternoon break. If they also need to rein in their budget, then I really will push for option #2. In fact, I will often recommend option #2 even if the break is or can be scheduled at a later time.

Serving dessert at the break instead of immediately after lunch helps spread out the meal a bit. People eat a bit less (or there is less wasted food) at lunch and their stomachs will not be as full – they will be ready for dessert when you serve it later. And, since dessert is typically included in the price of the lunch you provided, you are not spending more to have it brought out at the break. [So long as this option is arranged ahead of time, most hotels are quite willing to work with you on it and do not charge extra for serving dessert separately.] So… not only have we saved some money by not serving a whole new set of snacks but we will also, hopefully, find ourselves with less food left over both after lunch and after the break.

While this solution does not work for all groups in all situations, it is one more option to be aware of that you can use to trim your food costs while still providing your event’s participants with an enjoyable conference food experience.

- Karl Baur, CMP, Project Director

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Budget Busters 101: Open Bars

Those are two words that can make your meeting planner cringe – especially if you have a limited budget for your event. Legal issues aside, having an open bar means that you have relinquished control of your budget and placed it the hands of your guests. They will decide how much money you are going to spend, not you, and they (typically) care the least about the final bill.

But, you say, my folks won’t order many drinks, so I can easily cover them. Perhaps, but many people will get more of something when it is free (to them) than if they have to pay for it. I have seen a lot of people who would normally buy just one drink have four or five drinks when someone else is picking up the tab. Get a large enough group of those people together and say good-bye to your budget…

The easiest way to control this is to simply have a “no-host” or “cash” bar instead of an open bar. With this method, your attendees pay for their own drinks. At most, you may have to pay a bartender fee (if your group orders very few drinks). And, if they do drink more than you expect, that may even result in the bartender fee being waived.

Now, I know what some of you are going to say, that you want to make your reception guests feel particularly welcome and that you do not want them to have to pay for their drinks. There is a way to accomplish this, too, without giving up control of the purse strings: tickets. This is a hybrid approach in some respects. What you do is give each attendee one or two tickets. They then use those tickets to “purchase” drinks at your event. Sometimes, the price of a soda or bottled water is one ticket, while alcoholic drinks are two tickets. Other times, one ticket buys you any drink of your choice. If an attendee wants to have more drinks, they can either purchase them from the bar or go to a ticket station to purchase more tickets. Exactly how this is set this up is not the key – that you set it up is the key.

We typically recommend to clients who want to have alcohol at a reception that they go with a cash bar as this has the least financial impact on their budget. But when we have clients who do want to have an open bar, we encourage them to use tickets instead. It allows them to still be a “good host”, providing a drink or two to each of their guests, while still keeping the event budget under control. They go into their event knowing the maximum number of drinks they will be paying for and, since we negotiate for it ahead of time, how much each drink will cost them.

- Karl Baur, CMP, Project Director

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Thoughts on Collaboration and Cooperation

In these challenging times in which we find ourselves, it is more important than ever to work together to achieve not only our own goals but really keeping in mind the helpful, service-oriented attitude to help the other person or organization reach their goals as well.

As John Donne wrote back in 1624, “No man is an island ...” So while the “power of one” can and has accomplished seeming miracles, consider that the “one” was actually standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before.

By blazing your own trail you may just end up in the weeds or even off a cliff! How much better to have a map and some companions (or experts) to bounce around ideas with! Self-confidence is a great thing but use your wisdom and sensitivity to guide yourself away from arrogance.

You may not think my reflections apply to you but I’m just saying…

- Ginger Myrick