by Loren G. Edelstein | March 21, 2017
Pricing is a hot -- and dicey -- topic for independent meeting professionals. To address and discuss this important concern, Northstar Meetings Group's Independent Planner Education Conference began with a confidential planners-only workshop, "Is Your Price Right?" The two-hour session was led by Flavia St. Clair, principle of PCM & Associates, a Toronto-area meeting planning company. Using the PollEverywhere platform via their cell phones, the 45 planner participants anonymously answered a range of questions about their industry experience, client base, pricing structure and more. (For more about IPEC, see related article here.)
St. Clair, who has led many such workshops in Canada over the past 15 years, first posed general questions for a snapshot of the audience. Participants then were given time to determine what they would charge a client to plan three hypothetical meetings or events. "We always get very different results," St. Clair noted.
"We are definitely an undervalued profession," says St. Clair. "I don't know if we're our own worst enemies by undercharging. It's a real balancing act -- not undervaluing your services but not wanting to risk losing the business if you charge a little more. It's a matter of having the conviction that you are worth what you're charging -- and charging what you're worth.
"We need to use the word 'value' more, and emphasize our expertise using terms that really resonate with our clients. We need to be speaking the language of the C-suite and know how to describe the value of meeting professionals."
Experience as a pricing factor
The group was asked, "Should you charge more if you have more years of experience?" Participants agreed that doing so makes sense, but part of the challenge in doing so is a lack of understanding on the clients' part of all the strategic detail that goes into planning meetings and events, and the value that comes with years of experience.
St. Clair shared an analogy that she uses in such discussions with clients: "Independent meeting planners are like orchestra conductors. We don't actually play an instrument, but it is our responsibility to bring in all the right players and make sure they play beautifully together. The best orchestra conductors are very well paid. By the same token, the expertise you bring to your clients is worth a lot."
She added, "I have had clients suggest that I can do it faster because I have many years of experience, so I can charge less. I say yes that might be so, but what's the difference to you? You're getting the benefit of that experience."
St. Clair offered another analogy to illustrate that concept: "It is said that someone asked the painter Picasso to draw a doodle on a paper napkin, so he did, and then said, 'Here you go; that will be $5,000 francs.' And she said, 'But that only took you 30 seconds to draw,' to which he replied, 'Yes, but it took me 30 years to get this good.'"
Among the participants, per the PollEverywhere results, 56 percent charge management fees plus commissions; 28 percent charge management fees, commissions and markups; 14 percent charge commissions plus markups; 14 percent charge management fees alone, and 3 percent charge commissions and/or markups only. When asked if they would price differently if they knew against whom they were bidding, 44 percent said yes.
Other findings:
• 33 percent have been in the meetings industry for more than 20 years; 6 percent for fewer than three years;
• 71 percent are located in the suburbs;
• 76 percent have a home office, while 24 percent rent commercial office space;
• 18 percent have a full-time staff; 12 percent have a part-time staff; 71 percent hire contractors out as needed for projects;
• 68 percent of their business on average is corporate, and 22 percent association;
• Half of participants plan 11 or more events per year, and half plan six to 10 per year;
• 86 percent receive hotel commissions on their bookings.
Pricing the (hypothetical) business
Following are the three sample RFPs and the results of the pricing exercise.
Event: Appreciation banquet
Attendees: 100 guests
Client type: Charitable organization
Date: Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017
Location: Downtown (your city)
Accommodations: 15 rooms for 1 night
Planner requirements:
Recommend appropriate venue options (min. 3)
Negotiate contract agreement with selected venue
Contract audiovisual
Food-and-beverage planning
Creative theme/décor
Contract entertainment
Manage budget
Promotion (internal only)
On-site management
Design event website/online registration
Assist with design of awards for 5 recipients
Name tags
NOTE: The price does NOT include event expenses, travel expenses or out-of-pocket expenses on-site.
Pricing results
Less than $5,000         25%
$5,000 - $10,000         25%
$10,001 - $15,000       31%
$15,001 - $20, 000      13%
$20,001 - $25,000       0%
$25,001 - $30,000       3%
More than $30,000     3%
Event: National builders conference
Attendees: 150 members from U.S.
Client type: Association
Date: March 14-17, 2018
Location: Miami
Accommodations: 100 single rooms, 24 double rooms + 2 suites x 3 nights
Meeting space: Plenary - ½ Rounds x 150 people + front-screen projection
4 Breakouts - 40 people theater-style each + front-screen projection
Day 1: Arrivals/check-in
Presentation rehearsals
Evening welcome reception (on-site)
Day 2 + 3: Morning plenary session
Continental breakfast, breaks & buffet lunch
Afternoon breakouts (4)
Day 3: Evening off-site reception and dinner
Day 4: Morning plenary session
Continental breakfast, mid-morning break and boxed lunch to go
Planner requirements:
Venue sourcing/recommendations
Arrange site inspections with client
Manage budget
Contract audiovisual
Food-and-beverage planning
Theme development
Promotion to association members through website and e-blasts
Online registration, including polling for breakout sessions
On-site management
Prepare welcome kits and gifts
Name tags
NOTE: The price does NOT include event expenses, travel expenses or out-of-pocket expenses on-site.
Pricing results
Less than $20,000       3%
$20,000-$25,000         26%
$25,001-$30,000         26%
$30,001-$35,000         15%
$35,001-$40,000         12%
$40,001-$45,000         9%
More than $45,000     9%      
Attendees: 30 dental specialists and plus 30 partners/guests
Client type: Corporate (master account)
Date: November 2017
Location: Caribbean or Mexico
Accommodations: 30 guest rooms/night x 4 nights (all-inclusive resort)
Hotel type: Beachfront resort, close to shopping and activities; safe environment; on-site golf is an asset
Wednesday: Arrivals
Private welcome reception (60 people)
Thursday & Friday: Morning meetings
Plenary meetings -  8 a.m.-12 noon, U-shape for 30 people with front-screen projection
Saturday: Morning golf or spa options
Saturday: Evening private reception & farewell dinner
Planner responsibilities:
Site selection: Provide 3 destination options
Venue sourcing: Recommend 3 resorts per destination
Arrange site inspections
Contract negotiations
Contract audiovisual
Food and beverage for private events
Manage budget approx. US$3,000 per person incl. flights
Manage registration (including rooming list, dietary restrictions, etc.)
Manage program on-site
Personalized web-based invitations/RSVP
Coordinate travel for all attendees
Manage rooming list, air manifest and coordinate transfers
Trip planning to detail all information for travel
Book golf/spa/activities as requested
NOTE: The price does NOT include event expenses, travel expenses or out-of-pocket expenses on-site.
Pricing results:
Less than $20,000                   0%
$20,000 - $25,000                   21%
$25,001 - $30,000                   23%
$30,001 - $35,000                   23%
$35,001 - $40,000                   12%
$40,001 - $45,000                   12%
More than $45,000                 9%
Dissecting the results
The workshop concluded with a discussion regarding the huge variation in pricing for each scenario. Among comments: Since RFP #1 is from a nonprofit organization, some planners set their prices lower or would do the job pro bono.
For RFP #3, participants noted that it helps to know the client's budget; you can more easily gauge the caliber of the program they are expecting. Also, incentives tend to be more high-maintenance from the planners' perspective, as the attendees are high-achievers who are being rewarded. Often, higher-level smaller groups are more demanding than a larger group.
At the conclusion of the workshop, St. Clair asked, "Based on this experience, will any of you rethink how you price your services?" Said one participant, "Hell yeah! I'm not charging enough!"