By Ann Turner
Emerging business trends for 2013 and beyond
The special events industry has been a rollercoaster ride over the past few years. Some companies have survived—and thrived. Others have not. In this fast-changing world of ups and downs and twists and turns, it’s important to sometimes take a deep breath and consider new growth strategies, ways of doing business and innovative thinking that can help your company stay at the head of the pack. Here are some of the more intriguing business trends we’re seeing emerge in the events industry.
Ah, the glamour of international travel and exotic venues. A reception for 1,000 in Barcelona, a destination wedding in Thailand or a night of feasting and festivity in an ancient Irish castle.
Have you ever daydreamed of stepping outside your geographic boundaries and doing business around the world? Many designers, planners and event professionals are doing just this, fueled by the increase in multinational clients and the globalization of the world economy.
But before you leap, it’s important to consider the risks and rewards in going global.
So cautions Andrea Michaels of Extraordinary Events and Colja Dams, of VOK DAMS, two of the most respected and successful international events companies in the world.
“I started doing international work because I was too stupid to know better,” says Michaels. “I learned many painful, expensive lessons along the way.”
Back in the 1970s, when Michaels started going global, there was no internet or online resources to help her navigate the myriad of rules and regulations and quirky nuances of doing business in another country. It was a cross-your-fingers, hold-your-breath and jump sort of world. “There was no one to go to for advice and help,” she recalls.
The world of events has changed dramatically since then. Today, there are networks of people in every country that are instantly available with the touch of a key. Event professionals are also able to tap into local contacts who know local rules and regulations and who have the resources to make things happen.
Dams, who describes his company as a boutique agency with independent offices in Germany, France, New York, China, the Middle East, London, South America and Eastern Europe agrees. “It’s critical to have local people.”
Although the internet has made it easier to jump the hurdles, there are still many factors to consider before you make the decision to go global.
“You must be very careful,” Michaels says. “You have to thoroughly understand national and local work permits, union regulations, currency exchange rates, taxes and even colors, which mean different things in different countries.”
Work with your local sources to make sure that you keep money in the local economy. And hire your own translator, advises Michaels, one who works only for you to avoid miscommunications. Understand local culture, from attitudes towards women, appropriate greetings, handshakes, dress, gift giving and even bribes.
In Spain, for example, the most important meal is lunch. You will need to plan on serving your crew a hot, three-course meal—with wine. It doesn’t matter if sound checks are behind schedule or staging is only partly complete.
And be prepared with lots of cash. “It always costs more than you think it will,” Dams says. “Always.”
So why bother even thinking about expanding your business internationally, when the prospect is full of pitfalls and risk?
“It can be so much fun and adventure,” Michaels responds with a smile. That says it all.
Signs point to growing acceptance, new business opportunities
Ground-breaking legislation in last year’s elections and growing public acceptance of gay marriage is giving a boost to the fledgling LGBT wedding market, according to Kathryn Hamm, president of gayweddings.com, an online boutique and resource dedicated to serving same-sex couples since 1999.
“We are currently watching same-sex couples in MD, WA and ME enjoy their new access to legal marriage, she says. “We also foresee possible new marriage legislation proposed in IL and NJ.”
But perhaps the biggest story of 2013 will be focused on the Supreme Court. The Court has decided to consider challenges to CA's Prop 8 (which bans gay marriage) and DOMA (in which states can refuse to recognize same-sex marriage from other states.)
What does this mean for planners and other professionals who are entering this niche market?
Wedding Pros Embracing Niche
Of course, much depends on results of the upcoming legislation, but more and more wedding professionals are expanding their product offerings to include same-sex couples.
In a recent poll of more than 650 wedding pros conducted by weddingwire.com and gayweddings.com, vendors who are actively engaged with weddingwire are overwhelmingly embracing and serving same-sex couples.
• 74 percent of respondents reported that they serve same-sex couples.
• 90 percent reported that they provided services for one to five same-sex couples in the past year.
• 45 percent say they expect same-sex client revenue to increase.
• Across all service categories, a strong majority of pros expected the number of same-sex couples they serve to stay the same or increase. For example, 60 percent of respondents who represent a wedding venue said they expect the number of same-sex couples they serve to stay the same in 2013 and 25 percent expected an increase. Only 15 percent expected that number to decrease.
And what about wedding budgets? Hamm suggests that same-sex wedding budgets don’t differ much from straight weddings. “A wedding is a wedding is a wedding,” she says. “The cost of a Saturday night reception will be the same for any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, and the budget will reflect the economic status of the couple, the market they are in and the type of wedding they want to have.”
6 Tips for Entering the Market
• Never presume that any stereotypes about a type of couple are true. Meet the couple where they are and ask them open-ended questions about the kind of wedding they want to have.
• Make sure to tread gently around family issues; not all primary family members may be attending, invited or supportive of the couple.
• Following a couple's lead, strike the balance between planning for established wedding rituals, starting from scratch for a fully original event, or somewhere in between.
• Make sure that your team of assistants, staff or wedding pro referral list is also prepared and ready to serve same-sex couples.
• Educate yourself. Take advantage of online and other resources, attend seminars and help a same-sex couple with an event and have them review your services.
• Evaluate your current professional image and adjust your marketing and social media plans with the eyes of a same-sex couple.
Resources for Gay Weddings
Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography by Thea Dodds and Kathryn Hamm. An excellent resource for photographers and wedding planners who are looking for a deeper understanding about what can be different about working with same-sex couples. The book, available nationwide in March 2013, is also a great gift for newly engaged couples.
FreedomToMarry.org. An excellent online resource for those wanting to learn more about marriage equality legislation around the country.
The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Weddings (Third Edition) by Tess Ayers and Paul Brown. The first comprehensive wedding planning guide written for same-sex couples. Available through multiple retailers.
When Gay People Get Married by M.V. Lee Badgett. A primer on the current state of the same-sex marriage debate, and a new way of framing the issue that provides valuable new insights into the political, social and personal stakes involved. Available through multiple retailers.
NY Times Topics: Same-sex marriage. Information and articles on same-sex marriage, civil unions and other topics regarding same-sex partnership recognition.
Real Wedding & Engagement Inspirations: Enjoy same-sex wedding stories, albums and DIY inspirations by two brides and two grooms.
How One Events Company is Putting Theory into Practice
Designers, planners, photographers, caterers, venues: Have you ever paged through a magazine, online newsletter or social media site and discovered images of your creative work—with no mention of who you are or what you contributed to the project?
It’s a common occurrence, unfortunately, in the events industry. And according to Rrivre Davies owner of Rrivreworks, based in Los Angeles, CA, one that can be damaging to business partnerships and the industry as a whole.
“It takes the power out of the hands of the creators of the elements in the pictures. This hurts business and devastates motivation,” he says.
Davies is championing a new concept in business ethics that borrows from the coffee industry: Fair Trade. Based on the principles of giving credit where credit is due, being transparent with pricing and promoting the teamwork that goes into every event, this trend is beginning to bubble to the surface in the special events industry.
As Liese Gardner recapped in her column in the winter issue of Event Solutions, these principles are:
• Sharing photos with all vendors involved in the project
• Including all vendor names with photos submitted to magazines
• Sharing with vendors where work is submitted in case they want to follow up
• Doing business transparently; disclosing fees, commissions and markups
• Giving credit where credit is due
• Bringing vendors to the table early and being clear about who does what
• Letting vendors display logos on site, on T-shirts and trucks
How does Davies implement these principles in his own business?
“I treat every member of the team with respect and the principles of cross promotion,” he says. “I do not hide members of my creative team and I fight for them to get credit for their work. I am very clear with my clients what it is I do and do not do. In return, I find I get more creative partner loyalty, because they realize it is their name and reputation being showcased, so it is in their best interest to go above and beyond. We all end up looking amazing.”
In addition, Davies states that he never takes a commission that is hidden from a client. “If I do mark up a creative partner’s work, I line itemize it on my invoice. I never ask them to inflate their prices on their profile. I have never had an issue with a client being upset with this pricing.”
And just as important, Davies makes it a point to share all the photos of each event with all those involved. “I tell my clients from the start that if they are willing to allow their vendors to use pictures of their events, they are more likely to get more than they pay for—it’s a win-win for everyone. Creative partners can use their work to get future work and the client becomes part of creating a more spectacular event that more people will see.”
Expand Your Product Line for Strategic Growth
During these recession and early recovery times, event businesses have been trying every trick in the book to stay alive and position themselves for growth. Catering companies have become full-service events companies; production companies have added planning to their service offerings and wedding planners are offering day-of services to snag at least part of the market.
There’s another emerging trend that takes a different approach, according to Sean Low, consultant and owner of The Business of Being Creative.
Creating a “lite” version of your business involves offering a subset of what you already provide to clients. Not quite the same as day-of services, the lite version supports your core offering, rather than competes with it. And, your core business must support your lite version as well.
For example, a florist can offer spot lighting or specialized linens for floral arrangements. These can be introduced as product line extensions, but better yet as stand-alone offerings, adding their own value by highlighting the floral.
And by differentiating your business from the competition, you can charge a premium price, says Lowe.
“If a string group is trained by an entertainment designer who has a sense of an event, they can simultaneously entertain and set the stage for what is to come rather than just provide background music,” Lowe explains. “For example, if the event has a country-western feel, a string group that can break into Taylor Swift as well as classical is far better than a quartet seated on lawn chairs. The value of the entertainment designer and what the reputation and expertise they bring to the table, making his string group far more valuable than the competition.”
The proliferation of same-day event coordination has confused the market, Lowe says.
“Day-of coordination can work if it’s a stand-alone business,” he says. “But you’re putting your reputation on the line. Does the client really understand the difference? And are you willing to simply implement the creative vision rather than be a part of it?”
Time will tell if the lite trend will take hold in the event industry, but by knowing what questions to ask and what to watch for, it can indeed be a promising business strategy for growth and profitability.