Doing More With Less

Doing More With Less

Strategic insights into an evolving economic narrative.
Event budgets are shifting. New themes are emerging. And we are sharing ways to achieve maximum influence.

As the world continues to encounter increasing costs, companies are protecting their budgets. The teams at Opus Agency have been adapting event strategies to meet objectives — and protect the bottom line — while continuing to give attendees experiences that captivate.

As event professionals, we know how valuable it is to gather teams and communities. Doing More with Less is a framework to help stakeholders identify the "must-haves" to ensure event goals (in-person, virtual, and hybrid) are met during times of economic and workplace uncertainty. 

We’ll explore current marketplace themes that are causing shifts in event playbooks and then identify priorities and emerging trends for experience design in 2023 and beyond. 

Let’s dig in.

Marketplace Themes

Five current marketplace themes are impacting the business world and, consequently, shifting event strategies and playbooks.

  • Shifting Economy
    Inflation, recession fears, layoff increases, and stock market declines have proactive companies exploring new strategies for CY23.

  • Worried Workforces
    Employees across industries are experiencing burnout, and hiring remains challenging for clients and suppliers. Winter months are serving up increased COVID and flu cases, and ongoing social and political unrest amplifies uneasiness.

  • Travel Woes
    With rising costs, travel disruptions, and airline delays, many companies are putting freezes in place, only allowing mission-critical business travel. Remote workforces aren’t necessarily eager to leave home, and when they do, they opt for day trips, drivable destinations, and direct flights.

  • Virtual Fatigue
    While virtual meetings remain in playbooks, we are seeing an overall decline in performance metrics for virtual events. Event technologies are prioritizing in-person innovation, stifling virtual event tech, and metaverse hype is fizzling out. But sustainability objectives have virtual here to stay.

  • In-Person Rocks
    Pent-up demand is changing the playbooks, and audiences are eager to get back out there. New narratives and data reinforce the power of in-person gatherings, but frugality optics are causing event marketers to reconsider.

By the Numbers

Overall, the cost per in-person attendee was around 25% higher in 2022 than it was in 2019 — and it’s predicted to go up another 7% in 2023.

  • The average catering spend per attendee is up 120% for food and 70% for beverage versus just two years ago. 
  • Airfare is expected to rise 48.5% by the end of 2022, with an additional 8.4% spike in 2023. 
  • Even the cost of meeting space wifi has increased by as much as six times the 2019 rates.

Event Evolution

Proposition, Purpose, and Focus

Event strategy should always begin with a proposition. Reasons for creating an event could be to fill a gap in a portfolio or to enable sales teams. Over time, the proposition can become secondary to perpetuation—continuing to do the event repeatedly because it’s what has always been done. 

When we think about shifting the playbook to do more with less, we first need to consider the evolution of an event. From year one to year ten, the needs and objectives of an event often change dramatically.

A scale of event purpose from year one to year ten.

Returning to the original year-one event proposition is key to doing more with less. Questions to ask internally might be:

  • Why was this event conceived in the first place?
  • What was it attempting to achieve?
  • How has it changed over time?
  • Has my audience changed? Is there a better audience?
  • Is there a better way to reach my existing audience?

With current marketplace themes and event evolution in mind, the next step in doing more with less is exploring the intersection of business purpose and event proposition and using those findings to determine event components.

Once you’ve determined why you’re having an event (business purpose), you must determine why you’re having this particular event (event proposition).

Venn diagram of business purpose and event proposition.

Aligning Objectives and Components

After identifying the purpose and proposition, we can think about the components of the event, including journey, experience, content, community, and rituals/traditions. Aligning objectives and components will help determine where to maximize your budget. 

Alignment and Prioritization Table

If you’re looking to strengthen brand awareness, you might invest more in the attendee journey, where your brand visibility has a greater impact. If your business purpose is brand equity, you might invest in a really incredible experience where people leave and say, “Wow, I knew that company was great, but that event was next level.” In association with the great experience, attendees will think of the brand itself as more favorable than a competitor. 

The community component is essential to facilitate conversions if it’s a closing event, and content is king if you’re trying to convince people to buy your products.

In terms of loyalty and ambassadorship goals, rituals/traditions give attendee stakeholders (those who come to the event year after year) a feeling of ownership in the event.

While this is not a comprehensive table of business purpose and event component alignment, these examples can serve as a great starting point for maximizing the budget.

“If your goal is to make a spicier dish, you can search for the rarest and most exotic peppers… Or you can remove ingredients that compete with the spice.” 
Katie McIntyre, Associate Strategy Director, Opus Agency

Narrowing Scope

Doing more with less requires some “if this, then that” strategy to align your purpose with your components and formats. While there are some seemingly obvious ways to narrow scope (moving from in-person to virtual, cutting back on production elements, etc.), those tactics don’t always align with purpose and proposition. Let’s look at some examples of event components and corresponding objectives to get a clearer picture.

Scale comparing digital and in person event strategy.

Digital components are excellent for fact-driven conversations, content delivery, education, and convenient troubleshooting and service. In-person events are more likely to pull on the heartstrings and are better for building connections and communities.

Scale comparing in person event tactics based on budget.

The same strategy can be applied to in-person tactics. With more budget, you can design sophisticated laser festivals and drone shows, but with a smaller budget, you’ll want to lean into authenticity. Resident customer stories and other testimonials that speak to an actual user experience will resonate with attendees.

Higher-budget events are typically more brand-driven and prescriptive, with heavily branded spaces and sponsorship opportunities. With a smaller budget, events should feel more organic and community-driven. 

Scale comparing third party investments by type of event.

When we think about cultural moments (think SXSW, Collision, C2, and similar), you’ll want to prioritize brand presence and reach, but if you’re designing an industry moment, you’re catering to a knowledgeable, targeted audience.

Emerging Themes

Remembering our five marketplace themes (shifting economy and workforce, travel challenges, virtual fatigue, and demand for in-person), event marketers know: hope for the best and plan for the worst. 

Looking ahead to the next six months, we see two emerging themes that will come into the foreground: guarded investments and optics of frugality.

Guarded Investments

Protecting your investment is crucial to event success. Some ways to secure those investments include:

  • Digital Extensions
    Evaluate and create an implementation plan for low to no-cost content delivery systems to ensure fluid execution and consistency in messaging.

  • Contingency Board
    Identify key stakeholders tasked with defining a strategy for their areas of involvement and empower them to determine when these plans are set in motion.

  • Speaker Redundancy
    During the Call for Papers phase, ask speakers to identify an alternate who can deliver the content on their behalf should they be unable to attend. Ensure speakers are prepped and ready to present virtually should the need arise.
  • Source Alternate Vendors
    Identify alternate vendors for major deliverables and track cost differences in a separate contingency budget.

Optics of Frugality

In times of economic and workplace uncertainty, big spending may not sit well with attendees. At times, it may be necessary to eschew flash and spectacle in favor of the appearance of careful financial stewardship.

When this is the case, make it known—proud and desirable—that you prioritize investments in what matters most to attendees. Intentionality is everything, and these days, efficiency is in. 

A few ways to make more impact with less budget:

  • Streamlined Staging
    Massive screens are replaced by smaller rooms and solitary microphones.

  • Digital Swag
    Out with printing, manufacturing, and shipping costs and in with digital exclusives. Think playlists curated by relevant influencers or members-only access to premium content.

  • Roadshow Tour
    Meet your attendees where they are. Invest in a roadshow production that can facilitate in-person connection without expensing attendee travel and housing.

  • Networking for Good
    Replace expensive networking events with charitable and volunteer opportunities. Repurpose networking events as fundraisers for attendee-nominated charities (i.e., fun runs, silent auctions).

These days, maximizing investments is vital for designing events, regardless of format. The Doing More With Less principles can help identify priorities for your event strategy while providing insights to protect your bottom line. 

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