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10 Tips for Keeping Your Convention on Budget

Steps to ensure your franchisees are talking about your convention until it’s time for the next one.

The annual convention is one of the most important elements in maintaining franchisee relations and support. Although we know the event is a necessity, the budget may not always be extravagant. What is the challenge? Working to ensure the convention is successful and meets expectations for your franchisees and your bottom line is the biggest challenge. Here are 10 strategies to consider:

1. Get Creative on Location.  Hold your convention off the beaten (convention) path in an interesting, yet less expensive, city. Instead of the usual convention venues like Chicago, Orlando or Las Vegas, consider alternate cities like St. Louis, Nashville, Denver or San Antonio. Choosing a city with less year-round convention traffic will allow you more negotiating opportunity with hoteliers.

2. Be Flexible. The time of year determines hotel rates everywhere. There is a high season, a shoulder period and an off season. Being flexible on the months you hold your convention can save you and your franchisees thousands of dollars in room rates. For example, fantastic rates are available at first-class resorts in Florida in the summer, whereas the winter months are prime time and generate the highest revenues for the same rooms and amenities.

3. Customize Food and Beverage. Most of the time, food and beverage is the largest expense on a budget. Cost-saving ideas include passing hors d’ oeuvres instead of “help yourself” tables; food stations and buffets can save money over sit-down dinners. Do not hesitate to give the venue your budget and ask them to customize accordingly. The hottest trend in food, “farm to fork,” sourcing local, seasonal food from the convention city, also makes the most sense for a budget-friendly event.

4. Negotiate Everything. In almost every case, contractors are willing to meet you halfway. And when you negotiate, you are able to offer favorable packages to both exhibitors and attendees. Nothing is off limits for negotiation from Wi-Fi to exhibitor resources, from room rates to food and beverage minimums.

5. Source Locally. Use the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. These organizations exist to help make your convention more fun, more productive and more budget-friendly. The CVB will help you make the destination part of the enjoyment of your convention. These bureaus will help you find free venues for off-site events and provide a wealth of information about local resources and things to do in the area. Use local vendors as subcontractors for work that you would normally have shipped in. You can easily find companies in the convention city that will produce items such as your graphics and awards. Local entertainment is not only less expensive, but also brings a local flavor to your convention.

6. Get the App. Generally speaking, print pieces are expensive to produce, expensive to ship and much of it winds up in the trash. Consider using an app for your event; you will find that your attendees, particularly your younger attendees, will expect one. The trend in conventions now is “e-lit” (electronic literature). Let your attendees download what they need − either to their printers for those who like hard copies or to their smartphones. The days are gone when attendees felt deprived if they weren’t given a three-ring binder to hold all their materials.

7. Promote Digitally. Once again, print promotion is expensive and, much of the time, it can be wasteful. Changes in your program often make the printed piece obsolete before your convention begins. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are invaluable and inexpensive when building excitement among your potential attendees. Creating both a convention website and social media page allows your exhibitors to connect with attendees and build a community in advance of meeting in person. Many savvy conventions are even forgoing the traditional website and replacing it with easy-to-use Pinterest, in conjunction with other social media, to solidify relationships before people get on a plane. It makes for a longer lasting experience.

8. Think Outside the Box. Get creative and schedule fun things to do, replacing some of the expensive, stodgy, traditional activities that have formerly been used at conventions. Have dessert parties with a DJ instead of a formal, sit-down dinner. Since golf continues to be popular as younger generations take up the game, give it a new twist by connecting it with a good cause − Chip for Charity, for example. And on that note, organize an activity with a local charity and give back to the community where you are holding your convention. Attendees can repair houses, assemble bikes, create playgrounds and much more. Fun runs in the morning or group workout sessions, followed by yogurt, fruit and cereal, are much more conducive to a convention than a first-thing-in-the-morning coffee and Danish.

Managing the budget is one of the most important tasks and knowing how and where to negotiate and reduce costs is a key step in stretching budget dollars.

9. Offer Unique Sponsorships. Help companies and individuals get noticed by your attendees with creative sponsorships. The options are only limited by your imagination: room keys, bus transportation and speakers are all possibilities. Review the various expenses that you anticipate and see what you can offer as a sponsorship. Refillable water bottles, branded with the sponsor’s name, are a great way to “go green” and eliminate the cost of bottled water. After you have negotiated Wi-Fi for your convention, offer it as a sponsorship. If you are going to have refreshments when your attendees visit the exhibit hall, voila, more sponsorship opportunities. While you can cover expenses with sponsorships, you can also create some revenue-producing opportunities such as Tweet-ups or peer-to-peer roundtables. Your sponsors want visibility and may even have some ideas of their own.

10. Hire a Professional. Although in the past you may have delegated planning the convention to internal staff as a supplemental responsibility, seriously consider hiring a professional planner.  Choose one who is a member of Meeting Professionals International. An efficiently run memorable convention is not a do-it-yourself project; it requires professional skills that are hard to acquire if someone is not actively involved in the meetings industry as a career choice. Professional planners will make sure your convention is produced flawlessly because they get to know your needs and goals and have the foresight necessary to minimize challenges before they arise. Managing the budget is one of the most important tasks and knowing how and where to negotiate and reduce costs is a key step in stretching budget dollars.

The annual convention is the most essential event for you and your franchisees, giving you the opportunity to meet face to face. It’s your No. 1 opportunity to strengthen relationships, improve productivity and increase brand loyalty. Take the steps to make sure your franchisees are talking about this convention until it’s time for the next one.

Rebecca Viani is vice president of operations of Plan Ahead Events. Find her at fransocial.franchise.org via the directory.

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