The unknowns around hybrid events can make budgeting feel like a challenge. Here’s how event professionals are approaching hybrid event budgeting in 2021.
Budgeting for events is always a tricky task, but budgeting for a new event model is even more challenging. As we begin to see event organizers strategizing hybrid events, there are many questions about what they might look like and what new line items to expect.
So, how important is budgeting in setting you up for event success? “It’s the number one thing you have to do,” says Lauren Kerr, Bizzabo’s Director of Events. Because 66% of event organizers anticipate budget cuts for their Hybrid and virtual events in 2021, it’s all the more important you know how to work with what you’ve got.
Here’s some information about how hybrid will affect your budget, best practices to cut costs, and why you should invest anyway.
How Hybrid Will Change Event Budgeting
The number one concern for anyone working on event budgets is: How much will this cost me? The truth about hybrid in the near future is that it’s likely your costs will go up—or even double, in the case of tech—and your revenue will shrink. That being said, industry professionals see this year as a stop-gap before a return to the budgets of yesterday, and a way to solidify your place in the market in the meantime.
In order to create safe and enjoyable events during this period, here are some aspects you’ll likely need to consider when creating a hybrid event budget.
As we mentioned earlier, true hybrid events require professional streaming quality and interaction between a live and virtual audience, which means that tech costs are going to increase. “AV is double the price I was looking at before the pandemic,” says Lauren. “Cameras and operators for every room, more computers, a lot more on the platform side, and you can’t go for basic internet like you might have before.” Additionally, if you have in-person speakers, you’ll likely want multiple sets of microphones, unless you have someone sanitizing mics between each use.
Now here’s the good news: the spend you invest in tech will be evident to the potentially very large audience you’re able to reach around the globe with a hybrid event. The more seamless you can make the transition from in-person to hybrid for your attendees, the more likely you’ll see them return to your in-person events in the future. “Show them that there are can’t-miss opportunities to continue to help them grow by coming to the physical event,” says Stacey Gromlich, Director of Audience Engagement and Global Events for Siemens.
Health and Safety
Depending on your venue, this might already be bundled into your budget, but you’ll want to make sure you take health and safety precautions very seriously for the in-person part of hybrid events. Do you have someone who will ensure everyone is wearing a mask and properly distancing? “Are you hitting all the safety points so no one can call you out?” asks Lauren. “Make sure you’re covered.”
Attendees and sponsors will notice the care you’re taking to ensure their safety, which will make them feel more comfortable and boost your reputation and trust with your audience and partners.
This may seem like a small item, but it’s a perfect example of how every little aspect of a budget is affected during the pandemic, and how you as the organizer need to plan ahead and think creatively. “You can’t just put four people at a table anymore,” says Lauren. Build the need for personal space into your budget so you can assure your attendees, speakers, and partners that you’re taking their safety seriously.
There are many creative ways you can use your furniture and seating design to guide your attendees on-site and promote safety. Placing furniture six feet apart and seating fewer chairs per table are just a few examples of how you can leverage on-site design to create a safe space at your hybrid event.
Hybrid Event Budget Items: What to Watch Out For
Because we haven’t seen large-scale hybrid events in action yet, there are still a few question marks remaining in the event budgeting sphere. Here are some potential items to watch out for while you’re planning your next event.
Purchasing hotel room blocks and booking catering previously came with a minimum spend, one which usually suited the number of in-person attendees events would see. These minimums may still be in place, despite the fact that in-person attendees can only safely fill a fraction of the spots. “Incentives that may have applied pre-pandemic may not be as beneficial now if the in-person space cannot be guaranteed,” says Lauren.
While this is still merely a conversation amongst event professionals, the concept of rising taxes to compensate for a difficult economic year isn’t out of the question. Service charges, another one of the less exciting line items, might also be affected. It’s precautionary at this point, but keep an eye out for additional charges in your venue contracts in the future.
Take a look at the fine print next time you sign a contract, as cancellation policies are likely to have changed in the past year. The force majeure clause, related to unforeseeable circumstances beyond the control of the parties that make it impossible to fulfill a contract, might be up for debate. We’ve proven the impossible this last year, so the best defense is a thorough and clearly-defined new contract—don’t just take your current contract and push it forward. Look for key decision-making dates and build your contracts around them.
Remember that a valid contract must still be mutual, so you’ll likely be compromising with venues to come to a middle ground. And because it’s suddenly a buyer’s market, it’s in the best interest of, say, a hotel to allow a more relaxed policy regarding carry-over credits or other cancellation-related incentives. Above all, make sure you read and ask questions—no blind signing!
Best Practices to Cut Hybrid Event Costs
Despite the obvious challenges of spending more with less budget, Hybrid events present a unique opportunity to change the way we plan to suit both our audience’s needs and our budgetary constraints. Here are some creative ways to save.
Look for New, Unique Spaces
While hotels made sense for larger events in the past, most come with the aforementioned minimum spend, and many are tied to catering with a minimum spend of its own. Hotels are also notorious for added costs, especially from rentals like chairs, booths, draping, and lighting. While there was an ease of organizing with this model, the inability to shave down costs in a hotel space might lead you to seek out different spaces.
“Look for an independent venue where you can source your own labor as well as third party rentals and food,” says Lauren. Since in-person attendance is limited anyway, you might seek out a fun warehouse space, or a location specifically in line with a sponsor’s messaging. This way, you can negotiate on a per-contract basis for each spend and save overall.
Seek Out Partnerships
If you’re an agency, for example, it’s likely you have customers who have some of your needs already purchased and in place. If you can find a partner with space and some of the tech, it’s much easier to trade some of the branding control of the event for reduced costs on big-ticket items. “Ask yourself if you have any customers who already have their own Hybrid logistics in place,” says Lauren. It’s a win-win trade for anyone looking to attach their name to a successful event, who’s already invested in the items you need.
Why You Should Invest in Hybrid Anyway
Hybrid events will certainly come with additional costs and logistical challenges. But here’s the thing: hybrid events are the inevitable future of the industry, and they come with so many more exciting opportunities to drive value for our businesses, our audiences and our partners. Expert predictions on hybrid overwhelmingly point to hybrid as the way forward for the near future.
While it might be tempting to take a back seat for a while and watch hybrid events play out, choosing not to play the game could cost you much more than you’d spend on a hybrid event. “Branding is something people don’t want to lose out on,” says Lauren. “You might risk losing your spot in the market if you’re not willing to invest. Next year budgets will be back and you need to keep your spot in the event industry, especially with new competitors entering the space every day.”
And if you put your energy in the right place, hybrid events could ultimately work for you as a source of revenue once more. “I’m excited to see what we can come up with and what we can monetize,” says Lauren. “It’s a huge potential for revenue.”