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Looking At Your Operation with Fresh Eyes

Posted December 23, 2011

Yahoo is in trouble.  This one-time colossus of the internet world, that was for many years the darling of investors, has lost its way.  After firing CEO Carol Bartz in September, the Board of Directors Business launched a strategic review of the company.  Business pundits say it has time for one more CEO change, and if it hasn’t turned around by then it’ll be sold off for scraps.  Ask ten columnists how the company can be saved, and you’ll get ten different answers.  From my perspective, if Yahoo tries to cling too much to what it was, it’s dead.

Whether you own a small, itty bitty business, or a one-time behemoth like Yahoo, it’s very easy to fall prey to your own success, and fight to preserve the methodology that got you there.  That mentality works great, if the rest of the world will oblige you and stand still indefinitely.  Unfortunately, time marches on and the business world continues to evolve, your customers evolve, and your competitors evolve.  As the landscape changes, unless you continually re-evaluate your formula for success, you’ll be supplying solutions to yesterday’s problems.

Businesses that succeed over the long term are led by executives who are willing to challenge the sacred cows of their own companies, and often that involves risk.  But it’s equally risky to stand pat in a changing world.  Take two compelling examples.

At one point, IBM was the leading computer software and hardware company in the country.  It’s nickname, “Big Blue” spoke to its dominance.   Then in the 1980’s and early 90’s, faced with stiff price competition from domestic and foreign manufacturers, it fell into a downward spiral.  In 1993 Lou Gerstner was hired by the board to turn the company around.  After analyzing the situation, he said IBM was getting out of the computer game, and focusing on service and consulting contracts for corporations. He pulled the plug on their development of the OS/2 operating system and sold off the PC division to Lenovo.

The ensuing turn around of the company is now the stuff of business school case studies and many books.  Gerstner says that only an outsider like him could have come in and taken a fresh look at the company, and make the hard decisions necessary for it to thrive in the future by gutting its past.

In 1997, Apple Computer was 90 days from bankruptcy, when it hired back founder Steve Jobs, who had been ousted years earlier by his own board.  At the time Apple had over 30 products and was stuck in a seemingly endless effort to cut costs.  Jobs eliminated all but 4 products, and re-oriented the company to focus on  the next new products that would change the landscape.  This new mindset would lead to the development of the iPod, and would place Apple squarely in the new world of digital music content delivery.

What both examples have in common is the leaders’ ability to make their companies be their own worst competitors.  They were able to bring a fresh perspective and ask themselves, “if we were to invent THIS company today, would we be in the businesses that we’re currently in, doing things the way we’re currently doing them?”  If not, then change can’t start soon enough. Entrenched management usually can’t engage in that conversation, because they think it’s an admission that they’ve failed at their current jobs.

Think about how your business or department runs.  If you could re-create it from scratch with a clean slate tomorrow, would it look and function like it does now?  If the answer is no, if you think it could produce better results if configured differently, then why are you still clinging to the old way?  At some point, if you don’t make the changes, someone else will do it for you, and the results may not be to your liking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the recession has left the building.”

Posted November 25, 2010

At the risk of sounding insensitive to those people still out of work and/or struggling to keep their businesses afloat, the event industry is clearly no longer in recession.  (I just knocked my wooden desk for all you superstitious folks who think I just jinxed it).

Everyone is crazy-busy right now.  And I mean everyone.  Literally, I kid you not, every single person I’ve spoken to in the last week can’t seem to catch their breath.  People are jamming in every facet of our industry: corporate, social, non-profit . . . you name it.

Daniele Menache, Global Head of Event Marketing for Alliance Bernstein, is swamped. “You want a quote?  My quote is I’m too busy to give you a quote! 🙂 Seriously, between the actual work of booking conferences and all the year-end performance review for staff and 360, and holiday parties, I’m in the office for most of my 24 hrs!”

Mark Shearon

Mark Shearon, Executive VP of TBA Global, is reporting their best year ever.  On top of mega events for Walmart, Samsung, and T.Mobile, they were just named agency of record for one of the world’s largest energy companies.

Cheryl Kahn Bracco, Director of Catering for the Glazier Group, owners of a dozen different restaurants and banquet venues, says she is the busiest she’s been since 2007. First Protocol reports that their London office is jamming, while their NY office just landed a huge new client.  They too are working in overdrive.

Andrea Figman, former senior planner at American Express and now proprietor of her own firm Andrea Figman & Company, is  “extremely busy these days.  Some budgets seem to be opening up, and, where they are not, companies get creative by partnering with suppliers for funding or having some of their events sponsored.”

Morgan Connacher

Morgan Connacher of Fourth Wall Events says, “we had the busiest October on record.  Programs for several hundredpeople and several thousand people that all seem to have incredibly short lead times. RFPs for large and small programs flooded in our doors.  I’m cautiously optimistic.  Even with budgets coming back, the bottom line is still a huge concern.”

Welcome to capitalism.  Two and a half years ago came the train wreck, and event activity ground to a virtual halt.  Seemingly overnight, event-spend slipped out the back door while no one was looking, and into town rode the forces of the free market.

Suddenly, we had a lot less demand for event services, and way too much supply of planners and vendors.  Economics 101: either we find a way to goose demand back up, or a lot of excess supply has to be squeezed out of the marketplace.  And since our industry didn’t exactly get a chunk of the federal stimulus money (do we need a better Lobby in Washington or what?), it was the supply that had to go.

Fast forward to today, where the spigot for event spending has been slowly but steadily opening up again.  However, with many in-house planning departments now 1/3 or even ½ their previous size, and with agencies and vendors having trimmed down too, the demand is now outstripping supply.  And for the time being, people are not filling the gap with permanent hires, they’re just working harder, so everyone is busy and the freelance market is booming.

So we’re all very busy, but not necessarily very profitable.  (And if you confuse the two, you do so at your own peril.)  Why?

Right now, hiring, salaries, and fees have not increased much, but they will.  The longer this “boomlet” runs, the greater everyone’s confidence will be to raise their planning fees, and hire more staff.  Until then, enjoy the mad scramble to keep up with the work flow; we’ve come a long way from the thumb-twiddling idleness of two years ago.

Vote Early & Vote Often (for me): EventProfs Blog Contest

Posted September 1, 2010

So I’ve been nominated for an event industry blog and I need your vote.  My blog is one of 7 up for best “Thought Provoking Blog” in the eventprofs blog competition.  I know what you’re thinking, and there was no category for “Most Irreverent & Sarcastic Blog”.  Believe me, I checked.

CLICK HERE TO VOTE, (I’m on question #4)

eventprofs blog awards nominee

I’ll say up front that I am not a big fan of popularity contest style awards.  And not because I’m a cretin who has no friends.  I do have friends in the industry; trouble is most of them are top-of-the-food-chain folks who are running businesses or departments and have less time for online voting than others.  Read another way, you could say that many of my supporters are, well, older, and don’t find as much fun in online voting as they do in, say, finding novels that are published in large print.

But I am making an exception in this case, because the contest is run by none other than Lara McCulloch-Carter, proprietor of Ready2Spark.com, who, among other things, created eventprofs, a bi-weekly twitter chat that pulls people together from all over the world to discuss random event topics, make connections, and hatch grand schemes.  Lara taught me about tweet chats and hash tags.  (I know, there’s got to be an off-color joke in there somewhere, but nothing witty comes to mind.)

Lara’s one of what I call ‘smarties’, people in our industry who are quite clever, push the envelope, and otherwise drag the event industry (often kicking and screaming) to bold new places.  She brings both a professional big-company marketing background, as well as experience running her family’s tent business, to bear in her social media consulting business for the event trade.

So we like Lara and what she’s doing and want to support her efforts, even though she’s Canadian.  How can you do so, you ask?  By voting for the blogs you think deserve the title of best in each of several categories.  And if you are a supporter of my irreverent thought-provoking insights, you can vote for me!

CLICK HERE TO VOTE(IT TAKES 14 SECONDS)

As a judging mechanism, I’ve already said that popularity voting is a flawed model.  If the Oscars used it, the Best Picture winner would be movies like Adam Sandler’s Water Boy, not Gandhi.  (Though lets face it, if you were stuck on a desert island you’d pick Water Boy over Gandhi any day of the week).  But as a marketing mechanism, it’s sheer brilliance.  You empower all your nominees to promote your site for you.  And in this case, the ends justify the means, because it also exposes everyone to a slew of new blogs, many of which people will find stimulating, inspiring, and yes, thought-provoking.

So, as Al Capone said, “vote early, and vote often.”

CLICK HERE TO VOTE

If I Had A Million Dollars (for your business) . . .

Posted August 4, 2010

So goes the song by Barenaked Ladies, but I’ve also found it’s a great tool to use in diagnosing an event company, or any small business for that matter.  Here’s how it works.

ABC event company says to me, “We’re doing ok, but we can’t seem to get over this hump.  How do we get to the next level?”

Upon which I say to them, “If I gave you one million dollars today to invest in your business, or start a completely new one in the event industry, where and how would you spend it?”

Boy would you be amazed at some of the responses.  But in particular, it’s rare that someone answers the question by saying, “I’d do things exactly as I’m doing them now, only faster / bigger, etc.”  Anyone who says that believes firmly in their current business model, and deserves a pat on the back for their confidence.  (Whether their bus. model is correct is another matter.)bare naked ladies

Usually, however, people respond with surprising insight on their own business.  They would re-brand themselves differently, go after a different type of customer, offer a new service, overhaul the way they compensate their staff, etc.  And a fair amount say they would simply not invest in their business at all, but go into the industry in a completely different capacity.

Business owners are smart enough to know that the landscape in which they started their companies 5, 10 or 20 years ago is now very different.  There’s more competition, margins are tighter, clients are smarter, etc.  At the same time they see opportunities opening up in new areas in the event world.

This helps me to bring them to their come-to-jesus moment.  “If you would not invest that million dollars into your business the way it is today,” I say to them, “then why are you clinging to doing business that way at all?”  It’s really a fantastic moment of truth for an owner or manager to be confronted with their own business logic.

To be sure, making any significant change in the way we do business is time consuming and involves a degree of risk.   Our employees and customers may resist, and we may take a hit for a year or two during the transition.  But without making the changes we know we should make, I can virtually guarantee we’ll still be wishing for that next level for years to come.

And if you’re interested in what the Barenaked Ladies would do with $1 million, click here to read/listen.

False environmentalism, & other hotel pet peeves

Posted July 12, 2010

Most people who plan events for a living do a fair amount of traveling.  As I write this, I am sitting in my hotel room reflecting on a number of things that seem to annoy me in virtually every hotel I’ve stayed in.   Allow me to share them with you, and if they annoy you as well, let me hear a loud “amen” after each one.

1.  False Environmentalism. I don’t know if that’s a real phrase or not, but to me it encapsulates companies who endorse a practice under the banner of being eco-friendly, when clearly that is not their motive.  Case in point: towel washing.

How annoying are those little placards in the bathroom of hotel rooms that read, “Please help us save the earth by saving water.  We will only wash towels if you put them on the floor; otherwise we appreciate your efforts to reuse your towels.  And the environment appreciates it too!”

Nice try.  What it really should say, is:  “Boy, do we save money by washing fewer towels.  You know what our union labor rate is?  We’d never have the balls to ask you to reuse your towels so we could save money until the whole green movement came along.”

2.  Confusing Shower Mega-Knobs. OK, if this is just me, than I’m pretty embarrassed, but I have to tell you, I think you have to be in MENSA to figure out hotel shower knobs.  You know those single knob devices that control both the water pressure and the temperature?  Forget it.  I don’t even try to master them anymore.  I just turn or pull them until water comes out, then tweak what I’m doing in small increments, each time putting my hand under the water to gauge temperature, until I’m able to get into the shower without burning or freezing myself.   Maybe this is designed to encourage you to take fewer showers, and use less towels.  You know, to save the earth.

Oompa Loompas3.  Shower Curtain Rod Expanders. So after staring down at the tub while I try to figure out the knob situation, I am led to believe the shower is a normal size.  Then, when I get in and close the curtain, (you know, that curved curtain that extends outward?) I am suddenly in a gigantically large shower!  Goodness, how did that happen?  The hotel is magical!  I can’t wait for the oompah loompahs to bring me room service!

I’m sorry, I just don’t get the bow-shaped shower curtain rods.  I’d rather see the hotels put their money into, wait for it . . .

4.  Toothpaste! This is up there with the riddle of the sphinx.  Why on earth won’t hotels give you toothpaste?  Every other amenity is provided, even a sewing kit.  A sewing kit!  Toothpaste we use every day; a sewing kit we use, um, NEVER.  That’s up there with the bible in the nightstand.  (When do they think we read these bibles, before or after we’ve ordered the porn on pay-per-view while drinking the bourbon from the mini-bar?)

I am really at a loss for words as to why they won’t give us toothpaste.  It certainly can’t be a cost factor, especially not for those hotels that pay to install a phone next to the toilet.  Truly, truly, truly, I have no idea.  Someone please tell me.

Now, if you go to the front desk and ask for toothpaste, virtually every hotel will give you some; albeit in small sizes, but they do stock it.  So I encourage everyone to go to the front desk wherever they stay and ask for it.  Eventually they’ll find it more cost-effective to just stock the rooms with toothpaste in the first place.  hamster on wheel

5.  Snail-Net. You pay the $9.95 per 24 hour period for internet access in your room, only to find out it’s literally the slowest possible connection in the universe.  It’s as if it’s being powered by a hamster on a treadmill in the basement somewhere.  Those of you that have broadband cards bypass this annoyance, but for the occasional traveler, you’re stuck with this injustice.

There you have it.  My hotel pet peeves.  Love to hear yours.  And I’ll send you a $15 iTunes gift card if you can logically explain the toothpaste thing.

Does She Really Like Me, or Just Want My Business?

Posted June 10, 2010

DEAR HOWARD,

I am in charge of events at my company (I’d prefer to remain anonymous, but let’s just say it’s a very large technology company named after a fruit).  We do quite a lot of business with one hotel chain, and I’ve become good friends with our sales rep there, Amber.  Or at least that’s what I thought.

Amber used to always take me out to lunch, or invite me to concerts and other cool events.  Once she even flew me out to the Academy Awards where her company was a sponsor.  I know that’s her job, but we also became close.  We rarely talked about business; she knew everything going on in my personal life.

About a month ago I booked a huge conference at a competing hotel company.  My internal client really wanted it there, and to tell the truth, they gave us an amazing deal.  I had Amber bid on it, but they blew her away.  Since then, I’ve gotten the cold shoulder from her.  If I call her about personal stuff, she doesn’t seem to have time.  It’s like I have to dangle business in front of her to get some attention now.

How do I know if she’s really a friend, or just wants my business?

CONFUSED IN CUPERTINO

DEAR CONFUSED,

What are you, twelve years old?  Sorry, that was a bit harsh.  But think back to high school or college where people were sometimes very nice to you because they really liked you, and sometimes they were nice just so they could get you into bed.  Sometimes, if you were lucky, they’d be nice to you after they got you into bed.  We called those people boyfriends / girlfriends.

Well, the same is true for vendors.  Some of them just want your business, and others do become genuine friends.  It’s hard to tell which one Amber is without hearing her side of the story.  Could be that she really does like you and was hurt that you went to a competitor.  She might say “if Confused was really my friend, she wouldn’t give business to a rival.”

On the other hand, chances are you just woke up to smell the coffee.  Salespeople are good at fostering relationships, and the really good ones get clients to buy mainly because they like working with the salesperson, more so than any love of the product they’re selling.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they’re providing great service at a competitive price.  It’s great to like the people you work with, provided that you’re able to put the screws to her if she’s not measuring up on the business side.  Most friend/vendor relationships run into trouble there, where the client gets soft on the vendor.

To find out if Amber is a keeper, ask yourself if she’d still be your friend if you changed jobs so that you no longer wielded any potential business for her.  Odds are the answer is no, though it does happen sometimes.   I hate to break it to you, but that’s usually how it works.

That said, there are many of what I’d call “situational friendships” that all operate the same way.  People become friends working in the same office, and don’t always stay friends when one of them leaves.  Parents become friends because they have kids on the same soccer team; students taking the same class, etc.  A small portion of those relationships continue when the situation changes, but most don’t.

And if you feel you’re being “used”, do what you have to do to make it a two-way street.  If you guys are friends, then she should never put you in a position where she’s charging you more than her competitors, her response rate should be better, her customer perks should be better, etc.  So call her out if she doesn’t measure up.

Otherwise, don’t hate the playa, hate the game.  Amber’s just good at her job, which is getting people to like her.  And if her product is good, certainly don’t penalize her for that.

The Power of “Sorry”

Posted May 10, 2010

The client’s not happy.

Four words that send a shiver down the spine of anyone in the event or hospitality business.  Of course “not happy” in our world is customer service code for “furiously angry”.  The event can be spectacular, but if the client’s not happy, we are dead in the water.   Likewise, the event can be a train wreck, but if your client looks at you from across the room with unbridled joy and appreciation as he raises a shot of Patron toward you, all is good in the world.

Whether you’re a vendor or agency servicing a paying client, or an in-house planner dealing with an internal client, none of us are paying for our own personal events; we’re all accountable to someone.  And unlike most other service businesses, if a screw-up occurs during an event, there’s no pause button; you’ve got to roll with it.  When the CEO comes to the podium and the sound craps out, it’s hide-under-the-table time.  There’s often very little you can do.

One thing you can do, however, is not make things worse by blaming someone else.  When your CEO walks backstage, he does not care that the audio tech missed his cue.  He wants someone to be sorry, and since you’re his point person, that means you.

sorry mouse

Too often our initial reaction is to deflect blame onto someone else, so we don’t look bad.  Or worse, we push back, reminding the client that he signed off on the script change he insists you butchered.  All this serves to inflame the client further.  For now the discussion is no longer about xyz problem; now it’s about his frustration that you are challenging his need to vent and be heard.  And the anger he may have over the event mistake is nowhere near how angry he’ll be if someone doesn’t step forward and take responsibility.

Nothing takes the air out of an angry client faster than a sincere apology.  Once you accept responsibility for a miscue, there’s simply nowhere for him to go in the argument.  By not providing  resistance, he has no one to argue with, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets it out of his system.  Show your empathy, say what you’ll do to fix the problem moving forward if possible, and move on.

Try practicing this in front of the mirror, That should not have happened, and I take full responsibility for it happening on my watch.  Let me get to the bottom of why this occurred and I’ll debrief with you when the event is over.” Doesn’t exactly flow off your tongue, does it?  But said with the right combination of understanding and resolve, it comes off as extremely professional after a major gaffe.

Now, if event screw ups keep happening, eventually you’ll be out of a job, whether you become the ultimate apologist or not, as well you should be.  Otherwise, never underestimate the power of an apology.   Unfortunately we live in a culture where people don’t apologize until it’s too late.

Look at Tiger Woods.  His episode was front page news until, and only until, he issued a formal mea culpa.  On the flip side, when the Yankees’ Andy Pettite was found to have used steroids last year, he immediately fessed up and profusely apologized, and was instantly accepted back into Yankee fans warm embraces.

Yes, we live in a culture where nobody thinks to apologize.  The great irony of this, of course, is that we are an incredibly forgiving people once we hear one.

Where Our Big Ideas Go to Die. Part 2, Solutions

Posted April 28, 2010

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about the big ideas we have for improving our businesses and why we rarely get to them. They fall into Quadrant 2 of our four-quadrant grid (see previous post for actual grid), which is reserved for items that are important, but not urgent, meaning they do not appear time-sensitive and typically get postponed for another time. We instead spend our time on Quadrant 3 items, which are not important, but are urgent. In this post, I’ll review some strategies for making sure those big ideas actually see the light of day.

1. The first step is make them urgent, by giving them a deadline. You do this by breaking your big idea into smaller action steps, and then scheduling the time to work on them. And I mean really, actually putting them in your calendar, setting alarms for them and making darn sure, come hell or high water, that you follow through and do them. Think of this as scheduling your priorities, instead of prioritizing your schedule.

2. If you’re like me, that’s often not enough. Because deep down, you know they’re not really urgent; they’re kinda sorta urgent, but not truly. So you do the equivalent of hitting the snooze button and move on. One solution to this is to create a weekly chart each Monday morning listing everything you want to accomplish that week, which should theoretically only include items in quadrants 1 and 2. Then the following Monday you have a yardstick by which to measure your progress.

3. But perhaps you’re one of those people that can’t help but pick up the phone when it rings, or look at your email every time you get a new one. Normally such responsiveness is a good trait, but it’s a killer for quadrant 2 activities. A great tactic is to do your quadrant 2 activities in a different location. Often simply changing your environment can make it easier to focus differently. I found it hugely helpful to go into my conference room with my laptop and do my quadrant 2 work. In addition to helping me clear my head, my staff had an easier time leaving me alone when I was in there; they knew it was creative thinking time and respected my need for it.

4. If you’re still struggling, you need someone else to hold you accountable for progress in this area. It can be a paid business coach or an informal mentor, but it must be someone who is comfortable calling you out on your bullshit excuses when you raise them. A good business coach is worth their weight in gold if they can help keep you focused on your big picture tasks.

If you have solutions or tactics that have worked for you, please share them by posting a comment at the bottom of this post. For additional tips on getting your big ideas accomplished, take a look at Preston Bailey’s recent post on Procrastination.

There was a great movie a few years ago called Memento, about a guy with no short term memory looking for his wife’s killer. Every time he uncovers a clue, he has it tattooed on a part of his body so he will remember it when he inevitably forgets. It’s based on a clever short story by Jonathan Nolan, which I find very inspiring as it relates to this topic. I’ve included the key excerpt below if you’re interested.

Excerpt from Memento Mori, by Jonathan Nolan

Here’s the truth: People, even regular people, are never just any one person with one set of attributes. It’s not that simple. We’re all at the mercy of the limbic system, clouds of electricity drifting through the brain. Every man is broken into twenty-four-hour fractions, and then again within those twenty-four hours. It’s a daily pantomime, one man yielding control to the next: a backstage crowded with old hacks clamoring for their turn in the spotlight. Every week, every day. The angry man hands the baton over to the sulking man, and in turn to the sex addict, the introvert, the conversationalist. Every man is a mob, a chain gang of idiots.

This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here’s how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That’s the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.

But then the genius, the savant, has to hand over the controls to the next guy down the pike, most likely the guy who just wants to eat potato chips, and insight and brilliance and salvation are all entrusted to a moron or a hedonist or a narcoleptic.

The only way out of this mess, of course, is to take steps to ensure that you control the idiots that you become. To take your chain gang, hand in hand, and lead them. The best way to do this is with a list.

It’s like a letter you write to yourself. A master plan, drafted by the guy who can see the light, made with steps simple enough for the rest of the idiots to understand. Follow steps one through one hundred. Repeat as necessary.

Where Our Big Ideas Go to Die. Part 1 of 2: The Key to Why We Don’t Get Things Done.

Posted April 26, 2010

PART 1 OF 2

For anyone out there who, like me, constantly wonders why it takes so long to accomplish those big business-changing ideas, this grid is the key to understanding what’s getting in your way.  Let me explain.

Task Quadrants

Every year I’d go to at least 2 or 3 major industry conferences, the kind where I get on a plane, stay at a hotel, and immerse myself in new ideas.  These were my moments of inspiration & creativity, where I could get away from the day-to-day grind, get away from the clients, employees and vendors, and really clear my head to be open to new ideas.

I’d get on the plane home having figured so many things out to fix my event business, learned new ideas to pitch to clients, etc.  It was like when you returned from Club Med (do people still go there?) or some other really fun resort; you come back a changed person.  You’re going to exercise, eat right, whatever.  The clouds parted and you saw the light.

If you’re like me, those moments of clarity and inspiration would last, oh, maybe three days.  Then the notes, brochures and brainstorms go into “that place” where new ideas go to die.   For some people it’s a drawer that never sees the light of day.  For me, it was a round wicker basket I would place right in front of my desk so I could have daily reminders of my perpetual under-achievement.

These ideas all had two things in common: they were all things that would really help my business, and they were all things without any kind of deadline.  Eventually I got so frustrated that a friend recommended a great book called, “First Things First”, by Stephen R. Covey, who also wrote the more popular “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  I’ll save you the trouble of reading it and share what to me was the most compelling nugget of wisdom: the grid at the top of this post.

The idea is to take all your tasks and put each one in one of these 4 boxes.  Easy enough, right?  The hard part comes next, when you have to discipline yourself to spend your time in the following order of priorities: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Everyone can agree on what goes into box #1: something very important and very time sensitive.  Everyone can also agree on box #4: utter wastes of time that are neither important nor urgent.

Where most people get tripped up, however, is boxes 2 and 3.  Theoretically, you should do your box #2 task before box #3, but we usually don’t.  Why?  Because box #3 items are constantly in your face, and are deadline-driven.  They’re urgent, but not necessarily important.  E-mails are a major culprit.  We all get bombarded with e-mails that are not mission-critical, but where we feel compelled to respond in some timely fashion.

By contrast, getting your website redesigned, which is of HUGE importance to your business, has no deadline.  It’s a typical box #2 item.  Meeting with your accountant, developing new leads, properly training your new assistant (so she can start taking box #3 items off your plate); these are all the things that get put on the back-burner, but shouldn’t.

How do you do all that?  In my next post I’ll review two strategies I’ve seen people use successfully.

CHECK BACK IN MY NEXT POST FOR PART 2.

Are There Too Many Event Planners Out There? If so, What Does it Mean for You?

Posted April 15, 2010

Is the Market Over-Saturated?

“Uggh.  Everyone’s an event planner now.” 20 year planner in Chicago.

“My event department got cut in half, and they’re giving some of my events to admins.  Can you believe it?  Admins!” 12 year corp. planner in NYC.

“Just lost a wedding client who’s hiring a friend (with no experience) to help her.  She wants to hire me for day-of only.” 7 year wedding planner in Dallas.

“They’re like mushrooms.  You go outside after it rains and it seems a dozen more planners have sprouted under a tree. They’re popping up everywhere.” 15 year event designer in LA.

Can we talk about this now?  Is it heresy to say there are too many event planners out there?  The quotes above were all given to me within the last month by frustrated, no, incredibly frustrated, event planners.  They are pulling their hair out.

What I want to know, however, is why anyone is surprised.  It seems like only yesterday when practically every planner I knew was complaining they were not getting enough recognition as professionals.  They wanted to be taken more seriously.  Well, they’re taken more seriously now.

Event planners appear, as professionals, in dozens of tv shows and movies.  The number of colleges offering courses in event management grows every year.  Trade organizations continue to develop best practices & industry standards.   New conferences and seminars are developed every year.  And, most importantly, it is now widely accepted that you need to have professionals manage social and corporate events.  In short, everyone’s wishes have been granted.

Is it no surprise then, that all this advancement and publicity have attracted gazillions of people to enter the industry?  This is the logical consequence of everything we all wanted, isn’t it?  What did we think, that the industry would take giant strides forward but that we’d keep it all to ourselves?

Welcome to a maturing industry, and get used to it.  Yes, our industry has grown, dramatically.  It’s not necessarily that are more events out there, but that more of the events are looking for dedicated event pros to handle them.  This is a good thing.

But we are also in an industry with no barriers to entry.  That means anyone can jump in and call themselves an event planner.  Get used to that too.  No licenses required (like having to pass the bar before you can practice law).  No equipment to buy.  Just some creativity, good organizational skills, and a client.

Years ago, the PR profession didn’t exist.  You had advertising, and that was it.  It’s only in the last 40 years or so that a dedicated profession developed to mange the media.  And now, it’s part of the landscape.  Well, the event industry has just gone through the same evolution.  And like PR, anyone can enter it, but not anyone can be good at it.

So complaining about all the planners “out there” is like trying to hold back the tide.  Hey, you want someone to have a cocktail with and commiserate about all the new competition, you’ll have a lot of company.  Count me in too, cause that’s a fun bitch-fest.  But when you wake up the next morning, it’s time to go to work on identifying what it is that separates you from the newbies.  (And by the way, we were all newbies once; let’s not get too full of ourselves.)  And if you’re a newbie, get ready to explain why you deserve a client’s business over a more experienced planner.   And it can’t just be that your price is lower, because there’s another newbie around the corner whose price will be lower than yours.

One of the smartest people in the NYC hospitality industry is Walter Rauscher, who was the Director of Catering at Tavern on the Green for many years (before moving on to Ark Restaurants).  He’s someone I look up to, who’s not afraid to speak his mind.  Many years ago when he was still at Tavern he said to me, “Back in the day I only had two competitors: the Plaza and the Waldorf.  It didn’t matter what kind of food we all served, if you had a big event you had to go to one of us, and we all made a ton of money.  Now, there’s a boatload of competition out there; libraries, museums, exclusive clubs; they’re all taking events.  Would I love to turn back the clock?  You bet.  Do I waste a single minute complaining about it?  No.  We roll up our sleeves and my team goes to work”