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Tips and Tools

Tip 0:
Cutting Costs Without Cutting the Experience: Five Easy Solutions
The biggest issue organizations and their meeting planners face today is how to reduce costs without negatively impacting the attendee’s experience. Here are five ideas for you to consider when planning your next meeting or event:

Tip 1:
It pays to shop around.
While this tip may seem obvious, many people are not aware that seemingly firm items can be negotiated. One good example is the hotel’s in-house audio-visual costs. Make sure to negotiate into your contract the option to bring in an outside a/v company. Even if you choose the in-house company, the hotel will be more willing to negotiate knowing that you have the option to use an alternate company. The other benefit is that you’ll have more control over an outside a/v company since they have competed to win the business. On the other hand, if you decide to negotiate with the in-house a/v company, they’ll realize you are a savvy business person and that they haven’t just been assigned the work due to their blanket agreement with the property.

Tip 2:
Negotiate all items up front prior to finalizing the contract with the hotel or convention center.
Many costs can be negotiated when the full suite of services are being considered at once because the venue is able to look at the overall scope of the business rather than just focus on one item. A contract encompasses items including room rate (which is typically fixed at the point of going to contract), food and beverage, meeting room fees, exhibit fees, internet access, resort fees, airport transfers, etc. Each of these items are considered profit centers for various units in the hotel, so there may be limited flexibility in negotiation. A good example (and a timely one) is Internet access. You may be unhappy with the internet access fee, but it could be venue policy that it can’t be changed. However, they may be willing to reduce a cost elsewhere to compensate. Or you may need to add space, such as a lockable room for supplies, but since that space is part of the profit base the hotel will offer you a discount on some other portion of your fees. Bottom line, you can’t be sure what affects the venue’s overall offering, so don’t chance it – negotiate up front!

Tip 3:
Actively seek out cash and barter sponsorships to offset meeting costs.
Although sponsorship deals are common for non-profits and are often incorporated into larger meetings especially when exhibits are included, sponsorships can be sought for any size meeting and in a number of forms. Cash sponsorships are the most frequently solicited form of support. With these arrangements, you are essentially providing a company a variety of advertising opportunities leading up to and at the conference in exchange for a monetary contribution. Cash sponsorships are the most flexible as they can be used toward any part of the conference expenses. Products sponsorships allow companies to directly donate items needed for the conference. Make sure you check with your venue before accepting product sponsorships to clear the use-especially with food or beverage products since these may conflict with the venue’s rules. Speaker sponsorships are another way to reduce costs, especially if your meeting typically reimburses speakers. Of course, with speaker sponsorships, depending on the purpose of your meeting, it may be advisable to disclose that the speaker has been sponsored to avoid a conflict of interest. You can easily do this in the program or in meeting visuals. Barter sponsorships are another way to defray costs or increase attendance. These can take the form of partnering with another group to “get the word out” about your meeting or provide links on their Web site to your meeting site. At your meeting, you can provide acknowledgment of the group and their products or services, making mutually beneficial arrangement.

Tip 4:
Use second- and third-tier cities as opposed to the major cities.
Your room rates will almost always be lower at these locations rather than at top-tier cities and often, taxes and related costs will be lower, as well. An added benefit is that a second- or third-tier city may need and want your business more than the most visited cities. Additionally, their cost of doing business is often lower for ancillary items so they pass these savings on to you. There are also other benefits to smaller cities that many planners overlook: for example, although the local airports may have fewer flight options, they are often less crowded and may provide complimentary shuttles which can be a plus to your attendees. Make sure you tell your planner to focus on cities that will still be easy to travel to for the bulk of your group. Ask for locations with some added interest or attractions that will cause attendees to come a little early or stay a day or two after the conference, as these room nights will also count toward your block and can reduce any attrition charges. Some good examples of these locations includes: Long Beach, CA, Kansas City, San Antonio and Charlotte, NC.

Tip 5:
Carefully manage your guarantees for food & beverage
Often, planners or clients will over-guarantee the number of attendees, in effect throwing money away. If you have a solid group history, this can be like gold when it comes to mining the data necessary to figure out how many people will actually be served. It is also important to consider the time and location of the function in determining the appropriate guarantee. For example, if you’re planning a meal in Vegas at the end of a long day, you may not retain as many attendees as you’d expect to have at a function with an open bar and full dinner. Remember, you’re competing with the more attractive extracurricular activities. And don’t forget, venues always allow for an overset of 3-5% which should also be taken into account.

Talk to your planner and make sure they’re using tips like these to help you manage your bottom line and remember, in the end it’s all about negotiating. Negotiating is a two-way street: you want to get a great deal, but you want the people you’re dealing with to still want your business and not feel slighted. Your planner is an expert negotiator – they’ve based their business model on this fact – so trust the firm you’ve picked to do the negotiating and you, and your attendees, are sure to come out ahead!

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