At Castle, the event management team works with clients of all sizes to create memorable events that are planned to leave a lasting impact on attendees. As we begin to map out our 2020 programs, I am reminded that the planning process to every event begins with a discussion about expenses. Even the most extravagant events must stay within a set budget and as event professionals, we strive to maximize every dollar.
My experience in higher ed and nonprofit event management has taught me that memorable events are not necessarily the product of an unlimited budget. Instead, I have found that attention to detail drives the success of a project, and that success is not measured by the amount spent, but by the feeling attendees have at the conclusion of the event.
So if you do find yourself tasked with planning an event on a shoestring budget, don’t panic! Staying within budget is easier than you think; It just requires a bit more creative thinking.
Before diving into any logistics, start by building a budget template. When preparing your budget, think of your audience. Take a moment to visualize the event through their eyes. Once you determine what is most important to your client, allocate a significant, but reasonable, portion of your available funds to that area and build out the rest from there. If you get stuck, reference the following guidelines to creatively cut costs and pull off a one-of-a-kind event.
Sites such as Paperless Post, Constant Contact or Eventbrite make it easy to produce collateral for free, using existing templates. Not only do these platforms allow you to create an invitation, but they are great tools for managing registration. Once your list is compiled, it is easy to not only email your constituents but also track their responses and send reminders as the date approaches.
If your event costs are supplemented with sponsorships, be sure to give appropriate recognition. Electronic invitations are a draw to potential sponsors because it is easy to link the logo back to their website, increasing traffic to their sites. Most platforms have the option to run click reports, providing accurate metrics when sending post-event recaps.
There are a variety of criteria to assess when selecting a venue: size, location, parking, in-house vendors, to name a few. It is important to come to a site visit with these factors in the back of your mind since anything a venue cannot provide will have to be outsourced.
Because they have a built-in infrastructure, hotels are an attractive option to inexperienced planners, especially for large events with many moving pieces. If managing multiple vendors sounds intimidating, but you find hotels to be outside your price range, consider looking at local universities. Many large institutions rent out meeting space to outside organizations and can offer competitive pricing and similar packages.
Less is more! In the age of mood boards and Pinterest, it is easy to get caught up in the latest trends. Incorporating too many design elements can overstimulate and overwhelm your guests. Choose one element as your focal point and use the remaining décor in the room to enhance it. For example, if your centerpieces are meant to capture the eye of the attendee, use in-house linens. For the remaining décor, let your creative juices flow. If you are feeling crafty, spring for the DIY project, but be realistic about how much time and how many resources it will take to complete your project.
Food & Beverage
Many will argue that food is the most important part of an event (and often the most expensive). Remember that when you are asking for catering proposals, most vendors will send a generic menu. It is important to know that custom does not correlate with expensive. Don’t be afraid to be forward with your expectations and make changes to general proposals. Building a menu is meant to be a process.
When considering your options, you may conclude that a sit-down meal is not in the budget. If this is the case, just be sure to adjust event times accordingly. For example, if your event is from 5:30pm-8:30pm, your constituents will expect dinner or heavy hors d’oeuvres, so shift it to be slightly later in the night.
Finally, while having an open bar is a nice touch, it is not necessary. Some organizers find it most cost-effective to offer an open bar for a portion of the evening before switching to a cash bar, while others will choose to offer just beer and wine for the evening. If alcohol is not in the budget, spring for a fun mocktail that corresponds with the event theme.
Does it make sense for event organizers who are working within a limited budget, to produce a branded giveaway? Look at the long-term impact: the truth is a low-quality trinket is likely to collect dust in a desk drawer before ultimately finding its way to the trash. While there is value in investing in a product that is targeted and customized to fit your event demographic, many affordable websites are marketing the same poorly-made goods as your competitors. It is often easier to stand out when you put your giveaway funds to better use.
When possible, create signage that is not event-specific. Rather than spend energy designing collateral that compliments the event theme, print signage that is on brand to your organization that can be repurposed for future events. Printing your collateral in-house is a great way to make the most of your resources. Because printing costs quickly add-up, those funds should be reserved for complicated pieces that require special stock.
Don’t let the stress of sticking to a budget take away from the fun of planning an event. Take advantage of available resources and don’t hesitate to ask for help along the way. An event is meant to be an experience, and as long as you are planning it with your guests in mind, it is sure to be a success.