Software tools help event planners get hard results

Canada’s winter frost seems to be melting away, and an early spring could mean golf season is on its way.

But as the global economic recession deepens, companies are working with smaller budgets and have fewer disposable dollars for charity golf tournaments, supplemental training sessions, or weekend conferences and speaking engagements.

Event planners and companies have to do more this year to fill seats, tables and build teams for their spring and summer shindigs, experts say.

Like everyone else, event planners too are feeling the brunt of a sinking economy.   

They’re trying their best to increase attendance at the functions they organize, and it’s an uphill task, according to Brian Pirkle, senior sales executive at Cvent Inc, in a Web cast this week.

Potential participants often neglect to RSVP, funding from the top is being reduced, and event budgets have to be stretched further than usual.

Virginia-based Cvent Inc., offers online software that automate the event management process.

How does this help?

By streamlining the planning process and improving efficiency, Pirkle said. When everything is automated, he said, planners can forget about logistics and focus on being productive in other ways.  

 

Automating the planning process could also lead to significant cost savings.

The average cost of the event could decrease by as much as 45 per cent, Pirkle said.

That’s because you eliminate several typical expenses – additional planning assistants, postage and printing, and other manual costs associated with the event planning process.

Five-step wizard

Cvent’s software uses a five-step wizard for creating an event.

By using this system, Pirkle says, planners spend less time with the little details, such as thank-you emails and follow ups.

“I always tell people to write all of the communication flow that will take place at the start. Then the system will send e-mails out when you want and take care of everything, such as reminders, for you.”

The software is compatible with other data sources, such as Microsoft Excel or Oracle and the user can use this information to send invitations or communicate with internal staff or sponsors.

Doing all this online, eliminates a lot of postage and printing, the Cvent exec noted. And that has cost and environmental benefits. 

Finding a location

One big time saver, he said, is Cvent’s supplier network – a list of event venues, which also displays images, and lists how many people each venue holds, the rental fee, whether parking is included and other details. 

The program compares bids side by side and allows the event planner to choose from multiple venues.

“If you search for a venue in Washington, D.C. on Google, you’ll get 10 million results. Here you can dwindle down your results to five or 10 places.”

Registration made easy

The software allows planners offers guest a range of registration options.

They can register from a link in an e-mail invitation, click on a button posted on their company Web site, register over the phone, or at a walk-in booth during the event.

Simplifying registration and allowing participants to register for your event in four ways improves the likelihood of someone RSVPing right away, he said.

Response rates increase by about 21 per cent with the use of event planning software.

“Nothing looks worse than room that’s half full,” Pirkle said. “We’re trying to help clients work with less, but still get the same number of RSVPs.”

He said e-mail is the simplest, most logical way to send out an invitation.

The software lets clients customize their invitation in several ways.

Users can add their own branding, design, images and “From” name, based on who might get the most open and read rates, such as the company’s CEO or president.

The software also allows companies to add sponsorship logos, which could help offset the cost of the event and save you money – a strategy that might be particularly effective for a large event with many invitations.

A viral marketing strategy could gain new attendees for this event, or your next one, and boost brand recognition or sales.

Adding a forward-to-friends option in the online registration process, could improve a company’s contact list by 40 per cent, he said.

The automated registration process allows you to improve the quality of the event by asking business intelligence questions at the end of the registration portion, such as What topics would you like covered? This will help tailor the event to the audience.

Pop-up questions could also be added throughout the registration process to improve planning, such as Will you need a golf cart or Do you have any dietary concerns?

Reporting

The event planner can easily store and send event-related documents at a click of a button, rather than search and build reports, Pirkle said.

A parked report can be built for individuals with whom you want to share reporting results, but who may not have access to the entire system – such as the chief financial officer or board of trustees.

Valerie Yersh, vice-president of events and marketing at Netrunner Inc., an Ottawa-based computer forensic analysis company, said she found the reporting function useful for sending just the financial updates to the sales department, without having them access all of the other logistics information.

Netrunner used the software for an event they were planning in September 2008 and said the reporting features provided a “tremendous” time and labour savings.

Yersh said the biggest cost-saving feature was the ability to build your own event Web page within the software.

“The Web site development function allowed us to launch the event without having to pay a fortune for back-end Web development,” she said. “We found creating a Web site would cost around $15,000.”

As a small business, she said, investing in the annual licensing fee was more worthwhile. “It allowed us to save by not having to hire assistants to write e-mails and follow up with attendees.”

Canadian event planning software company, EventPro Software – based in Saskatoon, Sask. – also names centralized, real-time reporting and planning as one of the most valuable features of its offering.

Documents are interconnected, which means when a change has to be made to one document, it is updated everywhere, helping companies stay on budget, said C.J. Leib, account consultant.

While the software will in no way replace an event planer, Lieb said, it does do away with the need to hire assistants. It also streamlines the planning process.

“A new client signed on with us and – after the first year – we were able to double the number of events they were doing.”

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