Our client, the AABC Commissioning Group (ACG), was focused on preparations for their first in-person event—CxEnergy—since the pandemic. The event would be hosted in Orlando, Florida, and CAM has been working on this conference with them since 2015. In light of pandemic-related changes, it is no secret that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding event planning. CAM partnered with ACG once again to ensure an event that would offer as much value for attendees as possible in 2022. In-Person Event
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, in-person participation had grown steadily throughout the years. From 200 attendees in 2014 to 700 attendees in 2019 and a sold-out expo hall of 50 companies, the interest in this event is certainly present. However, given recent changes in potential attendance following our transition away from COVID-19 limitations, we need the right strategy to accommodate the highest number of potential attendees.
Planning for Virtual and In-Person Attendance
In 2020, when the event had to switch to a virtual format, CAM proposed that the Board make the conference free for all members to help them cope with their own uncertainties. For our 2021 event, we were hoping to see a return to in-person attendance.
We considered various models for the event, ranging from an in-person event with 50% projected attendance to a hybrid model that would accommodate both in-person and virtual attendance. Ultimately, we decided against this because of the high AV costs, potential streaming difficulties, and the additional staff and coordination needs. Virtual attendance would save on food and beverage costs—but it wouldn’t really help with event fees unless we charged virtual attendees a higher premium.
Our team at CAM needed more information regarding potential interest and attendance. Without it, we would run the risk of not meeting our goals. Ultimately, 2021 ended up being an entirely virtual conference due to continued COVID concerns, but we were more prepared to plan for 2022.
Determining the Value of In-Person Attendance
After two years of virtual events, we needed to determine the value of in-person attendance. 2022 is offering a lot more potential, but the reality is that people have gotten more used to virtual events. First, we needed to determine what the interest would be for in-person attendance.
The first consideration was the repeated feedback from members who stressed that they were tired of Zoom meetings for daily work, and ultimately that they had very little interest in a virtual event. This meant that there was more to gain from an in-person event.
The target audience members were part of the construction industry, giving us a unique consideration. Unlike other industries, the construction industry could not and did not make a full transition to virtual work. This meant that these individuals were more open to in-person events. These members also could accommodate the fees associated with in-person attendance because they had a very busy couple of years, unlike some other industries.
Ultimately, we made it our goal to budget for 80% of pre-pandemic numbers, knowing that some people simply might not be interested in entering such a public space. To further support this, we sent a staff member to other industry-related conferences during the months leading up to the event. We, alongside our Board, were prepared to make any adjustments to the budget based on the information we gathered regarding attendance at other similar events.
As of today, we are meeting our projections.
Involving Suppliers in Budgeting and Forecasting
Depending on the nature of an event, we find ourselves working with different suppliers. For this event, our largest supplier is the hotel. Straight out of the gate, CAM maintained constant communication with the hotel to ensure that we knew the hotel’s realistic expectations regarding attrition based on the feedback that we were receiving from attendees and exhibitors, as well as our own observations at industry-related events.
Understandably, they were not as flexible for 2022 as they were for 2021, but we have found that this is an appropriate shift that reflects the changing state of the world. The situation does seem to be improving, and our early registration numbers hold a lot of promise for the event.
Another supplier that we work with is the company responsible for our attendee gifts. The client spent nearly $20,000 on attendee gifts for the 2020 conference. The gifts were specialty coffee tumblers with the conference logo—and, unfortunately, the year. It was feared that this would be a total loss, but in reality, it was an opportunity for innovation.
The CAM team was able to work directly with our supplier to add an additional engraving to the coffee tumblers, crossing out the second “20” in “2020” and adding in a new “22” to the tumblers instead. Not only did this save on time and cost less than simply buying new gifts, but we believe that it also acknowledges the difficulties of the last couple of years and will serve as a memorable reminder of how we made it through.
Ways to Be More Effective in Your Event Attendance and Revenue Scenario Planning
Our primary goal for success is to be more open and flexible. CAM staff communicated with our exhibitors about the attendance likely being lower than it was prior to the pandemic. In addition to this, we gave them options in the event that they had to cancel due to COVID-19—offering deferrals, webinar sponsorships, and even refunds.
Using this same transparency, we were as realistic as possible with the Board. By communicating the attendance at other industry-related events and being open about potential adjustments in the budget, we were able to keep them informed. The Executive Committee also appointed a single point of contact for quick and immediate decision-making should any concerns arise with a tight deadline.
At CAM, we believe that the following steps should be taken for successful planning meetings in these uncertain times:
· Close and ongoing communication with the Board
· Evaluate how the situation is affecting your numbers and how everyone involved will view these changes
· Be open to pivoting when the situation calls for it
· Accept the fact that the uncertain environment means that you will likely have to do—and redo—certain things
· Work with change, not against it
CAM is a small-sized AMCI accredited association management company, featuring a staff with over 50 years of combined experience in association management. Our core competencies include executive and board management, membership retention and recruitment, financial management, strategic marketing and communications, in-person and virtual conference/webinars and meeting planning, new program development, publications, certification and accreditation, committee management, and general administrative services.