To pay or not to pay? It’s a question of value…

To pay or not to pay? It’s a question of value…

As the temperature rises and the last of the snow melts, we can reflect on the Beast from the East and the havoc it wreaked for many event planners last week, with arctic temperatures and blizzards resulting in inevitable travel chaos, delegates stranded up and down the country, and in some unfortunate cases events having to be postponed.

But it was business as usual for two major annual industry events, International Confex and the M&IT Awards. No weather extremes were going to stop these two going ahead – us event planners aren’t afraid of a little snow after all!

Confex has revealed that attendance was down by around 2,000 on last year due to the poor weather conditions. The organisers attempted to put a positive spin on the news, claiming that the bad weather put off the liggers (time wasters were their actual words) and that ‘quality over quantity’ meant the show was still a success. Around 5,000 visitors did attend, but still, that’s a pretty substantial drop.

The M&IT Awards on the other hand, saw more than 1,000 event professionals battle their way through blizzards to London’s Battersea Evolution. While there were a few who were beaten by the beast, social media was awash with stories of people finding innovative (and in some cases expensive) ways to make it there against the odds – with one agency head reportedly hiring a snow plough to clear the roads in her village just so she could make it!  Sadly, the Purple Dog expense account didn’t quite stretch as far… our loss it seems!

There are so many events in the events industry calendar, it’s getting almost impossible to keep track of them of all, and with suppliers wanting more face-to-face time with us buyers, we’re getting pickier about which events we choose attend. Yet there are very few that are deemed unmissable, and the M&IT Awards – easily the biggest networking night in the UK events industry calendar – seems to have found the magic formula to become one of these. There’s no educational content or one-to-one meetings – just the opportunity to catch up with pretty much everyone and have a good time. And people clearly feel that’s worth paying for.

We’re certain it’s not merely a coincidence that the paid for event – and tickets are not cheap – did not see a dramatic fall in visitors, while the “free” event did. Let’s face it, if you have shelled out a few hundred pounds on tickets to the M&IT Awards, you are going to get there come hell or snow blizzard. On the other hand, if you have registered to attend a show as a visitor or hosted-buyer, a little snow can be a convenient excuse to back out of your commitment.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how to solve the problem of industry liggers, following the UK events industry ‘blacklist’ of alleged bogus fam trip and event attendees that was doing the rounds last year. An Event Planners Talk hosted at Confex last week entitled “Hosted buyers – lifeblood or leeches” tackled the topic and came to the conclusion that maybe it’s time for the traditional model of hosted buyer and fam trips to change.

The idea of semi hosted buyer programmes and fam trips was again mooted as the way forward, where buyers make a small financial contribution or cover the cost of travel, to attend. Some suppliers already do this for fam trips (to cover airline taxes for example), while other industry events like inVOYAGE ask buyers for a participation fee.

The general consensus seems to be that this approach weeds out those who are purely coming for a jolly with no intention to buy or participate in the process, but also means those that do attend are more committed. The fact people are prepared to pay means they find the event of value. And herein lies the challenge that we as event planners are all too aware of – how do you provide value to your target audience?

If the industry does move towards more paid-for events – and we’re not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing – some of our industry’s events are going to have to up their game. It’s an incredibly competitive market out there, so events absolutely have to be a valuable use of our time to attend – whether that’s by providing unique networking opportunities, cutting-edge content or insight into new products and experiences – and even more so if we’re expected to pay!