by Morton D. Rosenbaum | August 01, 2004

illustrationFor the event on a shoestring budget, a crafty financial shortcut can be a planner’s greatest friend. Like any friend, however, such tricks can turn on the planner, especially if abused.
     “Don’t get carried away with bean-counting,” warns Suzette Eaddy, CMP, director of conferences for New York City-based National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. If the meeting comes off like a budget affair, she says, and your attendees are unhappy and uncomfortable, a few saved dollars will provide little consolation.
    Need to trim costs without sacrificing quality? M&C asked some sage planners for advice on where to cut and where to leave well enough alone. 

Venue selection
Go off-site.
“Too many times, a planner will keep as many functions as possible within the one hotel to keep travel expenses down,” laments Richard Pollack, president of Dallas-based Rainbow Entertainment. “In the process, though, they can end up spending a lot more by not letting venues compete for their business.” Look for reasonably priced venues within walking distance.

Find a hot spot. Consider trendier lounges and bars that buzz with hip weekend crowds but stay fairly vacant throughout the week. “These places are typically itching for corporate business, or anything that will fill their bar stools on a Wednesday,” says Michael Cerbelli, event producer for Englewood, N.J.-based Total Entertainment,  “and they’ll give you major breaks on the price.”

Never skip the inspection. No matter what the cost of a preliminary checkup, booking a venue sight unseen is never worth the risk, says Primavera Salva, an independent planner in New York City. “A thorough site survey can reveal that you have to change the entire format of the event,” Salva notes. “That’s not something you want to discover the day of your meeting.”
    While it might be difficult to arrange for a free inspection, most venues will credit the cost of that initial stay if the planner decides to book there, according to Pamela Block, CMP, director of New York City-based PHB Events.

Group the greetings. Consolidating airport meet-and-greets can save a substantial amount in staffing costs, says Ally O’Connor, CEO and founder of Boston-based NXTevent Inc. But keep in mind the status of every passenger as well as the proximity of the hotel.
    “You don’t want the CEO waiting for the same taxi as the intern,” says Linnette Kostel, a planner for Questrians, an events firm in New York City. “And you also don’t want someone waiting 40 minutes for a van’s final passenger if the hotel is only a five-minute drive away.”

Beware the bargain bus. If busing is necessary, Cerbelli warns against being too thrifty. “Sometimes the bargain bus has a bargain transmission,” he warns, “and nothing could be worse for an event than having your party’s bus broken down on the road somewhere.”