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Trends in event planning.

Events and conferences are big business in Northern Ontario and not just for hotels and convention centres. From corporations to non-profit associations, the many benefits of hosting proprietary, face-to-face events are being increasingly recognized across all sectors.

But as events become a more vital component of annual marketing strategies, there is growing competition for participants, profile and sponsorship dollars. This has resulted in a demand for higher hospitality standards and greater industry expectations; a ham sandwich and a gift bag simply won't cut it in today's market.

Nowadays, events and conferences must be planned and executed right if they are to help an organization reach its goals and guarantee an enhanced return on investment. As organizations grow more event savvy and event planners strive for individuality, a number of new trends are emerging.


Theme and focus

Successful event models must have a strong theme and a clearly defined focus to attract the right participants and sponsors. With so many events to choose from, executives want to know that an event is deserving of their valuable time and resources and that the content will turn them into more valuable employees. Executives are seeking interactive experiences that offer new industry information and specific skills that can be applied to their own areas of influence. The most popular are events that emphasize education and knowledge sharing, with promotional and entertainment tactics being integrated into the learning process, rather than front and centre. An agenda that includes tried and tested case studies, on-site peer-to-peer training, and exclusive industry insight will add credibility and compel executives to attend in order to remain competitive within their field.


In recent years, many organizations have adopted a regional focus to their event-planning strategies, moving away from metropolitan cities like Toronto in favor of smaller urban centres. The Ontario Injury Prevention Conference for example now rotates between Toronto and a regional venue, and is slated for Thunder Bay in June 2007.

Responding to this trend, Northern Ontario cities like Thunder Bay and Sudbury are taking the potential economic and social benefits of event hosting seriously by offering event-planning assistance services and supporting local bid applications. The City of Thunder Bay, which has over 90 conferences and events registered with its tourism and economic development department for 2006, has even developed an online meeting and convention guide with the dual purpose of attracting events to the city and providing valuable resources to local organizations. With increased support available from local municipalities, many event planners are now incorporating a tourism component into their event plan by offering participants optional excursions and cultural experiences that help to showcase the host city to new audiences.


Gone are the days when interior decor and the lunch selection were the most important factors in choosing an event site. Technological infrastructure is now the top requirement in site selection to impress attendees and add value to the event experience. Organizers and participants expect to be able to access and display data when and where they need it, in multiple formats and using a variety of platforms. Free high-speed wireless internet access, email centres, web-casting, streaming video, av recording equipment and voIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) are just some of the innovative solutions that allow executives to stay on-site longer and enable speakers and sponsors to enrich their presentations. To keep up with these technological trends, hotels are now enhancing and promoting their technology credentials by offering futuristic boardrooms at reasonable rates that feature plasma TV, tele-conferencing facilities and upgraded wireless telephone services amongst other luxuries.

Planning tools

It started with simple online registration, but now event organizers are taking planning strategies to new horizons using sophisticated technology that allows participants to custom design their schedules, make meal selections, contact exhibitors and meet other participants online prior to an event. Some are also offering virtual trade shows to their exhibitors and sponsors as added value. This allows them to showcase their business and/or services to participants online for extended periods of time. The latest must-have in event planning technology is a digital conference program. Replacing the traditional paper program, the digital version allows participants to download the event program to their PC or handheld device in advance of an event via the organizer's website and offers detailed exhibitor lists, site maps and program schedules.

Data management is vital

For many organizations, event data management (EDM) is the most important aspect of hosting an event.

Today there are literally hundreds of products to choose from that will integrate data collected from registration lists, participant demographics, sales leads, financials and survey feedback forms into one centralized database. This kind of innovative technology is set to become increasingly popular in future years as organizers require more accurate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, particularly with respect to lead generation and expense tracking.

Make it interactive

Within the event planning industry, the latest buzzword is, 'interactivity.' Organizers who can create new ways to bring people together for one-on-one interaction and networking have the edge. At many events, formal opening addresses in large conference rooms are being exchanged for informal receptions and get-togethers that work as 'ice-breakers'. Complimentary meeting rooms and business suites with refreshments are also being offered for participants to make connections and conduct private appointments on site. The key is to develop a varied agenda that combines high profile keynote presentations with breakout workshops, panel discussions, seminars and social gatherings.

Michael Fox, resource sectoral advisor for Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF) is spearheading the bi-national forum--a Native American and First Nation business summit set for November 2006 and is planning a completely interactive event.

"The bi-national forum is about bringing people together and the start of meaningful dialogue towards regional economic activities and business linkages between two unique aboriginal-settings. The main value of the project will come from the business-to-business sectoral discussions. The only way we will be able to make any progress in this area is by talking; sharing knowledge and networking-leading to greater cooperation, sharing, trade and prosperity for all."

Securing sponsorships

Securing sponsorship dollars has always been the biggest challenge for event organizers due to heavy competition, a lack of dedicated sales resources within most organizations and the return on investment difficult to prove to sponsors. However, with an average of 15 per cent of event revenue coming from sponsorship, organizers are growing increasingly aggressive in this area.

More and more, organizations are recruiting dedicated sponsorship sales teams whose sole purpose is to raise sufficient funds to cover basic costs. Most commonly, organizers seek a higher number of sponsors for lower financial commitments and, in return, they are offered limited exclusivity on individual items such as registration bags and lanyards or breaks and workshops.

Organizers are also now dedicating more of their total budget to event marketing and promotion (approximately 10 per cent) in an attempt to entice larger sponsors. In addition to conventional media relations and advertising opportunities, sponsors are benefiting from e-mail promotion and Internet marketing strategies such as banner ads and e-newsletters, as well as access to participant mailing lists and post-event data.

A one-stop shop

With event planning trends constantly changing and growing industry expectations, organizations are now choosing to completely outsource their events to specialist agencies who offer a complete event management package from beginning to end. This approach is less of a strain on internal resources and more cost-effective than hiring additional employees. The biggest shift is towards event planning firms that offer a one-stop shop. Not only will they plan your event, but they provide services including custom data management software, travel booking, advertising, on-site staffing, sponsorship sales, lead tracking, post-event summary evaluations and everything in between. With a full-service agency, there is no need to deal with multiple third-party firms as in previous years. The average fee for these kinds of services varies from between 10 to 20 per cent of a total event budget. This may sound like a large expense, and it is. However, what you'll get in return is a guarantee that your next event is strategically planned with your organizational goals and objectives at the fore. Most importantly, you will have the right stage to build meaningful relationships with participants and sponsors for the long term.

Stephanie Ash is president of Firedog Communications.


For Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2006 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Ash, Stephanie
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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