by The M&C Editorial Staff | September 04, 2008
/uploadedImages/MC_Departments/Features/SP8FRUGALCOV.jpgThe directive from higher-ups is loud and painfully clear: Save every penny possible without sacrificing quality. But with prices for virtually everything higher today than a year ago, replicating last year’s success at this and next year’s meetings, let alone topping it, will require more creative planning than ever. So where to start?

Begin with the big picture. Consider these 10 tips to save a bundle, then weave through the following pages to discover more savvy ways to cut costs. Learn which group venues are best for minimizing décor expenditures; which airports have surprisingly high-quality and affordable meeting hotels nearby; which destinations are easily accessible by train, and which cities are the best places to slash ground transportation costs simply by walking from venue to venue. Discover the latest in videoconferencing and exhibit booth technology that will help combat rising labor, shipping and travel costs.

The push for affordability is here to stay. Luckily, as this special themed issue of M&C demonstrates, opportunities to save money in smart ways are as prevalent as extra padding in the budget is scarce.

Thinking man illustration1. Attract sponsors

One way to save is to let others pick up the bill. Sponsorships can strengthen relationships with partners or exhibitors and give them needed visibility in the marketplace. Almost anything can be sponsored: education sessions or tracks, meals, meeting breaks, awards ceremonies, networking lounges, Internet kiosks or rounds of golf. To win financial commitment from sponsors, make the case that your event offers an opportunity for the sponsor to enhance its brand or to reach a target audience. Then entice prospects with perks like access to your attendee list or industry research; free or discounted hotel rooms or meeting registration; invitations to receptions, and opportunities to plaster their logo on anything from banners to key chains.

Westin Lombard Yorktown Center 
In the suburbs: Westin Lombard Yorktown Center
2. Avoid downtown

Affordable rates can be found without staying at an airport hotel or in a second- or third-tier destination. Book in suburbs or cities near major airports that offer better value than in the bigger, more distant downtowns and that are easily accessible. For instance, the Illinois cities of Lombard or Schaumburg are closer to Chicago O’Hare International Airport than Michigan Avenue; both have first-class meeting facilities with competitive rates, and both are cheaper to get to than downtown Chicago. Same story for Dearborn, Mich., between Detroit Metropolitan Airport and downtown Detroit; or San Mateo or South San Francisco near San Francisco International Airport.

3. Choose local speakers

According to a recent study by the National Speakers Association, the average bill for a keynote address costs 25 percent less if the speaker doesn’t have to travel to the event. Speakers bureau websites typically allow users to search for talent by location, and planners also can consider selecting a local corporate executive, professor or politician. Planners might want to consider speakers during the site-selection process, too. An area rich with orators from the medical field, for instance, might have other assets to offer a medical or pharmaceutical meeting, including a strong base of potential attendees, exhibitors or sponsors.

4. Be flexible with dates

It’s a money-saving cliché, but date flexibility is probably the best leverage planners can have when negotiating with hotels. Groups should look to book in shoulder or off-seasons, or at least on less popular days of the week. The best times vary by location. In Las Vegas, for example, planners can expect to find the best deals in July, August or December. According to M&C’s 2008 Meetings Market Report, autumn is the most popular season for association trade shows; better deals can be had from December to February, or during the summer.

Cup of Soup
Portion control: Use smaller plates, cups or dishes to artfully limit attendees’ intake.
5. Scale back on F&B

An obvious way to save on food and beverage costs is to opt for heavy hors d’oeuvres instead of a plated meal. But planners can be more creative. Shrink portions (and plates, dishes and cups, proportionally), or limit consumption by reducing the length of time allowed for F&B events, or by instructing servers not to refresh coffee or wine automatically. Offering a selection of sandwiches and salads is an affordable way to handle lunch — and more in tune with the way people typically eat than a three-course plated meal at midday.