A casual SMERF meeting in the park.

Anyone involved in meeting planning should be very familiar with the needs of Social, Military, Educational, Religious, and Fraternal (SMERF) groups. After all, SMERF meetings are the “old reliable” of the meetings market, continuing even while demand for many other types of conventions and meetings has shrunk. Still, no planner can take SMERFs for granted. Like every other market, the SMERF market has changed and evolved. Successful planners must stay alert. Social Groups It is essential to remember that social groups want more opportunities for togetherness. As always, these groups require careful balancing between limited budgets and memorable experiences. But there are new opportunities too. Family reunions and other social events are no longer limited to a mimeographed letter sent out in the mail to announce the event. Now there are e-vites, Facebook messages, emails, Pinterest, and smartphone apps to spread the news about the event. Unfortunately, this can be both good news and bad news for the social event planner. Cassie Brown, president and CEO of TCG Events, notes that planners for social groups are often overwhelmed by electronic input and burn out. Military Groups Military group members often consider the reunion to be a major vacation. They tend to drive to the location and want more time to sightsee. According to Sharon Danitshek, president of Reunion Friendly Network, other factors to consider include:
  • Space for memorabilia
  • A good hospitality room, preferably one that allows participants to bring their own snacks, alcohol, and other beverages
  • A planned banquet for which the group can choose the menu and the portion size
  • An appropriate site for a memorial service
Educational Groups Joan Eisenstodt, president of Eisenstodt Associates, acknowledges that education groups are a steady business but that they can be somewhat tricky to plan for. One new trend is the desire for first-tier destinations to increase the potential draw of the conference while keeping the budget small. Eisenstodt advises making use of local destination management organizations and convention and visitors bureaus to determine what similar groups have stayed in the area and how the destination has catered to those groups. She cautions to be very aware of the budgets for these groups. Participants are likely to stretch the occupancy limits of hotel rooms and look for every other budget extender available. The participants need to know about every charge that might come up: costs of getting to the destination from the airport, taxes or fees at the destination, and other extras. Religious Groups Don’t think religious means old-fashioned. In fact, one thing Reverend Cricket Park, assistant rector at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, finds very annoying is when a meeting space charges for Wi-Fi. Her diocese is moving toward a paperless system as much as possible, and that means that meeting spaces need sufficient room for each participant to have his or her own electronic devices and access to a large enough bandwidth for all the participants. Reverend Park also points out another trend she has seen in 30 years of event planning: more persons with disabilities attending meetings and conferences. She urges planners to be sure there is access for wheelchairs, medical equipment, and other adaptive devices. Fraternal Groups Big fraternal organizations like Elks and Shriners have continued to meet in almost any economic climate. But other parts of this market, such as college fraternities and sororities, are very budget conscious during more austere times. Kelly Sabol, account executive for Baltimore Area Marriott hotels, reports that many of these groups are booking more locally to save travel expenses. Their planners are cutting back on food and beverage choices and, says Sabol, “They are negotiating more and requesting fewer concessions.” Fortunately, fraternal groups tend to be more flexible regarding the time of year their meetings can take place. This makes hotel accommodations somewhat easier to negotiate.

7-13-2015 5-05-24 PM Personalization is in. In 2014, Coca-Cola took the 250 most popular names in the United States and put one at random on individual cans and bottles of their product. According to The Wall Street Journal, this campaign was responsible for reversing a decade long decline in US Coke consumption. Put simply, people like to know it’s all about them. But how do you use personalization to your advantage when you’re planning your meeting? Tagging It Take a look at the ubiquitous name-tag. Obviously, you want to provide a pre-printed name-tag for all your registered meeting attendees. And surely, we do not need to remind everyone that the name-tag and all other materials should be in a clear font (put away the script and Old English fonts for another time) and in a type size that does not require binoculars to read. But what name goes on the tag? Take Josiah Pickford Wellington III, who just happens to go by “Trey.” Do you put his legal name on his name-tag? All his friends and business associates knew him as Trey. Regardless of what name he used on his registration paperwork, which name should appear on his pre-printed name-tag? And shouldn’t he, and not the clerical person preparing the name-tags, be the one who chooses what he’s called? And what else goes on the name-tag? With some planning from the registration materials, you could determine what the attendee would like to publicize. For example, would he like his email address to be visible? His Twitter handle? The name of the product he is promoting? Or, at the cat fanciers’ convention, a picture of his beloved, pure-bred Persian cat? If you can add information that makes the attendee feel more connected at the conference, isn’t it worth it to you to go that extra mile to discover and share these details? More Sophisticated Identifiers Don’t forget the other personalization options you might want to make available at the conference itself. At an extended family reunion, perhaps stickers might be available to identify what state the attendee hails from, or a badge might identify what line of the family tree she is descended from. This would create an instant place to start conversations as the participant meets far-flung relatives. At a large company meeting, perhaps a ribbon identifies whether the participant specializes in the manufacturing side or the sales side of the business. This would allow similarly affiliated attendees to easily find people who share their interests. Strategically Designing Your Event There are more ways to personalize an event experience beyond customizing identifiers. For instance:
  • - Create custom Twitter or RSS feeds for each person or similar group of attendees
  • - Create a personalized agenda for each attendee that is built on that person’s personal or professional interests
  • - Use apps like Guidebook or Double-dutch that allow attendees to manage their own schedules efficiently and securely
Remember, every attendee experiences an event differently. Take advantage of those differences strategically by personalizing the event for a unique experience that makes you stand apart and sends your attendees home with a “Wow, that was made for me!”

Especially since the economic downturn in 2008, saving money on events and meetings has been one of the most important topics in every industry. One of the first items in any company or organizational budget to receive scrutiny and reduction is, without question, travel and meeting expense. The need to save pennies on the dollar in this area has brought sweeping change to the business of meetings, yet ultimately, even with advances in mobile computing and virtual conferences, there remains a high value on face-to-face encounters. We’ve identified three areas in which the meetings industry generally agrees you can realize savings when planning your corporate or association event. No matter your location or the size of your meeting, we think you’ll benefit from these ideas. Image: Wikimedia

1. It all starts with a budget.

Every event starts with a dream in the mind of its planner. Unfortunately, the dry reality is that every event should start with a budget. Frustration often sets in when trying to force an ideal event into the constraints of a budget that has been established at the beginning of the fiscal year. Here are a few tips to help any organization succeed with a budget:
  • Be sure to inflate older expenses to account for higher prices and add in an additional 10 percent for contingencies
  • Request a discount for paying in cash
  • Be flexible on event dates
  • Limit the number of individuals who can authorize purchases and expenses
  • Stress that your organization is a likely repeat customer

2. The right location means more than you think.

Planners will notice obvious and subtle differences between venues when trying to be budget-conscious. One of the emerging trends in the meetings business is the use of non-traditional facilities for corporate, association, or other types of events. Consider the following:
  • Nonprofit organizations or municipal facilities such as museums or medical centers have meeting spaces available at rates that make them highly competitive
  • Other new players in the market are collaborative workspaces and venues that specifically target smaller meetings and offer state-of-the-art technology
  • Find out from the first conversation what is included versus what is considered extra
  • Check out the entrance and parking facilities, hallways, and other exterior features

3. Control catering costs.

Image courtesy of Travelling Toast Few people planning meetings are experts on the restaurant or catering business. In fact, catering is one of the greatest mysteries that confronts anyone tasked with putting together a successful event and as such, can often end up being very costly.
  • Know what you are allowed to bring in, if anything, versus what you’re required to purchase from the venue
  • Determine if you can supply your own water and coffee
  • Buffets are always cheaper than a sit-down dinner—consider the price of servers, dishes, and clean-up
  • Bar service can be both innovative and cost-conscious with the right choice of vendors and beverages
  • Use fast-casual restaurants or delicatessens rather than fancier, more expensive caterers
eVenues can save you money by helping you to choose the right location. Contact us today to find that perfect venue for your next event.

You want to grow your event space rental revenue, but you’re not sure what you can do to achieve that. We looked at the top performing sites on eVenues and found that they generate up to $15,000 in new revenue per year. What sets them apart? They implement a few simple ideas that help them see their spaces from the eyes of a new customer. Here are some of those ideas that will help you grow your income and enhance your eVenues experience.

1. The right photos can double or triple your bookings

  • Professional pictures of your venue can dramatically increase your bookings. Industry studies have shown that great photos can lead to two to three times more bookings than the market average. Here are some simple guidelines for choosing photos that will help your venue’s profile stand out:
  • Show guests in your pictures. Photos that include people can help customers visualize their meetings and ultimately book the space while also showing that the venue has been rented before. This is a not-so-subtle way of showing your potential customers that you’ve successfully hosted events and can be relied upon to provide the perfect space for their event.
  • Show the entrance and/or the exterior to the meeting room or site. Renters want to know how the venue looks from the outside so that it creates a good first impression. An exterior shot of the entire building, including parking, is advisable, as are shots of the outside of ballrooms or meeting spaces.
  • Make sure that your image is resized to the correct dimensions and is high resolution. If you’re working with a professional photographer, let him know that you would like the original images as well as pictures that are resized for optimal display on both a computer monitor and a mobile device. We suggest that the images be sized to 600 x 377 pixels, ensuring that they display properly and are not automatically resized when uploaded.
  • Show multiple room configurations. Showcase the versatility of your space by providing pictures of varying room configurations during different events. Banquets, birthday parties, seated dinners, buffets, dances, corporate events—plan for images that highlight configurations that you’re planning to market to your potential customers.
  • Avoid timestamps or dated material on pictures. Customers will be wary of images that are dated—either from a timestamp in the corner of the picture or a banner or sign in the background that indicates a year. Even images that are two years old give the impression that details may not be accurate.

2. Consider a virtual tour of your facilities

From something as simple as a panoramic 360º view of your hall to a short guided video visit, a virtual tour speaks directly to your potential customer in ways that static content does not. Virtual tours are a way to connect with renters who have never visited your venue and help get them in the door or make that first phone call or email inquiry. eVenues has multiple options to highlight the unique qualities of your venue, enabling you to customize the way in which you make a first impression with your customers.

3. Prominently link to your eVenues profile from your website

Take full advantage of the services we provide by linking to your eVenues profile in prominent places throughout your own website. The simplicity and convenience of letting us manage the booking process will save you considerable time, and the “Book it now!” and “Book this space” banners we provide are eye-catching and lend a professional touch. To link your eVenues profile to your website: First click the Venue Manager dashboard. Go to the top menu and select “Rooms” in the menu bar. Then click “Link Banner.” You’ll then see a variety of banners to choose from as well as the HTML code needed to put the banner on your site.

4. Encourage your customers to provide reviews

“Your service is invaluable for a small venue like mine – not only did you drive new business, but you helped me find a long-term renter for my space. I can’t imagine why all venues don’t use eVenues!” – Ed Freeman, Ed Freeman Gallery, Los Angeles In the age of Yelp and social media, studies indicate that reviews provide significant motivation to customers. We provide a simple means for your satisfied customers to review your venue, but we also encourage you to ask them to submit reports to other online review sites or through any of their social media accounts. According to a major e-commerce site, 80 percent of their customer reviews are 4 out of 5 stars or more, meaning that most people who take the time to review goods or services offer positive reports. Other data shows that reviews have the potential to double or even triple online purchase rates. All you have to do is access your Venue Manager dashboard and then click “Manage your space” in the top right corner. Then click “Venues” and select “Reviews” from the drop-down menu. Once you’re there, click “Get reviews” on the left. You should this dialog box pop up below: Type in the email address of the customer who rented your venue and add a short note if you like. The customer will receive an email like this: Once the customer clicks the link, he or she will be directed to a simple review form (below). The great thing about this is that there is no login or signup required!

5. Responsiveness = Results

From choosing the right organizational contact to setting up mobile notifications, eVenues helps you ensure that you’re always in touch with potential customers. A quick response to an inquiry is often the difference between booking your venue or having someone move on to the next available site. We offer you the tools that will bring you in constant contact with renters so you can make a powerful first impression on new clients. Chances are that renting your facilities is not your main business. However, it’s also a significant portion of your revenue stream, so you want to be prepared to provide excellent customer service no matter the situation. We suggest that you have more than one individual who receives inbound requests about your venue, with a clear plan for response including a minimum time to reply. You can define the protocol for booking as best suits your organization, but please feel free to contact eVenues if you have any questions. We also offer you the ability to receive SMS messages to your mobile device when someone has a booking request. Setup for this service is easy. After logging in to eVenues, go to your Venue Manager dashboard. Choose the “Edit” option from the “Venue” menu. From there, scroll down to the bottom of the Venue profile, enter the cell phone number at which you would like to receive SMS alerts, and check the box below the field:

Image courtesy of Omni Hotels According to a recent survey conducted by meetings software company Active Events, half of all 2012 eRFPs tracked across the study’s five major cities were for meetings of 0 to 50 people, an increase of 5 percent over 2008. In addition, over the same time period, the number of events of 51 to 100 people fell 2 percent, while the number of meetings of 101 to 250 participants fell 3 percent. This survey agrees with other information suggesting that despite continued economic recovery, the impact of the recession will be long lasting and may permanently change the way businesses plan and conduct their meetings. The growth in the number of smaller meetings comes from small, medium, and large enterprises and associations and is taking place in destinations across the United States. Originally motivated simply by the downturn in the economy, the trend toward smaller and shorter meetings represents a shift in a number of areas: the continued development in meetings technology, the need for shorter lead times and planning windows, and the wish to avoid appearing lavish and extravagant in a lean business environment. These trends have a far-reaching impact on the meetings industry. There has been a shift away from choosing resorts in favor of downtown hotels. Destinations that offer more direct flights or more travel options are winning out over their competitors. Significantly, venues that are capable of offering smaller meeting spaces are finding themselves on level footing with large convention halls, competing for events that had not traditionally been available to them. The 2014 American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast sees an increase in total meetings and total meetings attendance, yet it reports that total meeting expenditures are expected to hold steady. Companies are still trying to maximize their meetings dollars, and smaller and/or shorter meetings help reduce costs in lodging, meals, transportation, and venue rental. Image courtesy of Mount Pleasant Granary The AmEx survey suggests that stability in meetings growth will continue into 2015, with more organizations committing to future events than in the past several years. However, this long-range increase is incremental, giving small venues that don’t require long lead times or planning windows an advantage. The meeting budgets for many companies are not approved until the latest financial data is available. All of this information taken together means that there is a market for venues that have not traditionally seen themselves as competing for those dollars. Taking advantage of these trends, the “non-traditional” business meeting venue must be able to offer more than simply having small and inexpensive conference rooms. During the lean years from 2008 to 2013, technology and connectivity became crucial components that every facility has to offer. Fast and easily accessible Wi-Fi along with remote conferencing hardware and software went from being a competitive advantage to a baseline requirement. Properly trained support staff and updated equipment are investments that offer a tangible return and will help capture a greater share of the small-meetings market. To fully take advantage of the long-term changes in the meetings industry, venues that can offer small-meetings services need to effectively promote themselves to their potential customers. eVenues offers small and medium-sized facilities the means to quickly and clearly show how they’re geared to provide the perfect meeting space.