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8 ways to save money when organising a conference

Posted on 24 July, 2020

a pink piggy bank

No matter how many conferences you’ve planned, there are always new tricks to learn and better deals to be had. At Congress Centre we’re always ensuring we’re up to date with the latest needs and wants of the event industry to make sure we can host the best events possible. This includes being aware of the ever-changing budgets of planners and organisers.

We’re pleased to be able to offer great value to organisers on the hunt for a central London venue and believe we offer one of the best cost / quality ratios in the WC postcode area. But it’s not always easy to find the right conference venue for your budget, and there are plenty of other factors that can have an impact on your overall cost.  

At Congress Centre, we’ve worked on hundreds of events over the decades, and through past economically difficult situations, we’ve learned a few tips from our most cost-conscious clients on how to get the most bang for your buck.

Reduce ancillary spend

The budget usually starts with the venue but before you commit to a venue you should explore ways it can help you reduce your ancillary spend. A venue like ours with built-in digital screens and signage and colour changing lights will allow you to eliminate spend on printed signage and branding and create an impressive ambience at no extra cost. There are other ways to reduce ancillary spend (and waste in the process) such as online agendas accessible by QR code, online feedback forms and replacing name badges with a speed networking session. We recommend looking at your ancillary spend and asking yourself if there is another way to do it more cost-effectively.

Wide shot of BareMinerals conference at Congress Centre

Go off-peak

Most events are seasonal, and that means demand varies throughout the year too. There are whole periods in the calendar when an event automatically becomes more cost-effective to host. If you can be flexible on when you’re hosting your conference, consider one of the quieter months. After all, a conference is one of the few types of events you can host all year round.

As a rule of thumb, the Christmas period (December – January) and summer months will often be the most economical times to put on a conference. Days of the week can also make a difference, Mondays and Fridays are usually booked less than mid-week and most venue managers are willing to provide better deals on Monday and Friday than they would Tuesday to Thursday.  Bear in mind that this won’t always apply, but more often than not it will!

Look out for deals

Getting an upfront discount on elements of your conference is one of the quickest and easiest ways to save some cash. The catch?  Spotting good deals is hard. There’s no easy way to find them without you manually checking the sites of venues or suppliers regularly (although some large venue directories will show when a venue is offering a discount).

There are scarce websites that do deal round-ups for the events world and those that do mostly cover weddings rather than conferences. Our advice is to choose a dozen or so venues and suppliers you’re interested in using for your conference. Sign up to their newsletters, follow them on social media and check their news and blog section once a month (or more). These are the first places businesses are likely to publish any promotions and you’ll be the first to know about them.

A person using a laptop

One-size should not fit all

If you’re trying to save money planning your next conference, guessing your attendee numbers and picking a larger space ‘just in case’ won’t be doing you any favours. The bigger a space is, the more it tends to cost, so you’ll want to take a different approach. Floor space doesn’t come cheap, after all.

Designate time to chasing up invitees for their RSVPs and keep an updated list of who’s coming. Make it clear when you reach out to guests that if they haven’t responded by a certain date, they won’t be accounted for at the event. That way, you’ve made it clear to guests that they can’t expect entry if they haven’t given a response.

Even with RSVPs, organisers typically find that turnout on the day is about 10% lower than expected so you could even plan for that number if you’re feeling brave! So long as you’re willing, a little time and effort while planning can be turned into direct cost-savings for your event.

Congress Hall and Congress Suite at London conference venue

Skip the gifts

Branded tote bags or mugs don’t garner the same level of excitement or gratitude from delegates as they used to. In-line with our fading love of ‘single-use’ stuff, this is more often than not what event freebies end up as.

We’d recommend focusing the cash you save on freebies into boosting the experience guests have at your conference. ‘Experiential’ is a buzzword in the events world right now and for good reason. You’ll find people are much more grateful for an amazing experience than they are for receiving a free notepad or pack of sticky notes!

Look for sponsorship/mutual benefit agreements

If you’ve never considered sponsorship for events before, it’s not as difficult as you might expect! Think of a few brands and companies who might benefit from getting in front of your event audience or being associated with the conference. Then quantify exactly what you can offer in terms of promotion opportunities and exposure to delegates.

It’s important to know the value of your conference’s assets so you can tell potential sponsors exactly what they’ll get out of their sponsorship of your event. Consider how much sway your average delegate has within their companies; do they influence decisions about where their company spends its money?

More often than not, event sponsorship is a non-monetary exchange, so bear that in mind when you’re deciding where to save costs. Reach out to suppliers and businesses with a pitch that fulfils your needs and benefits them. You could offer them branding opportunities, a complementary exhibition stand, shout outs on social channels, or to include an expert from their company as a speaker for major exposure. At Congress Centre, we offer 103” plasma screens in our entrance foyer, designed to grab the attention of delegates as they enter – they offer an ideal opportunity for sponsorship branding alongside countless other positions at the venue.

Make sure you’re realistic about the size of the companies you approach too. Bigger companies might have more sponsorship budget, but they’ll also likely have a number of established sponsorships already. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not looking for new ones and if you’re confident your event is a good fit – reach out! It’s all about getting the balance right. Be creative about what you can offer, and be honest about what they might get out of it. If it’s a success, you might end up with a regular event sponsor!

Prioritise low-cost forms of promotion

We all know event promotion is important, but it can quickly eat into the budget without much planning. To avoid this, focus on utilising low-cost forms of promotion like social media. Nothing else is as cost effective when it comes to getting your message in front of thousands of potential delegates.

You could even approach other social accounts and talk about hosting a channel ‘takeover’. It’s a great way to generate extra exposure for your event in a mutually-beneficial way. Good accounts to approach will be run by people who attendees already follow like industry experts and influences, as well as speakers that will be at your conference.

Seek fixed pricing and inclusive packages

Watch out for hidden extras and charges and as much as possible look for fixed price and all-inclusive packages. All-inclusive packages usually contain everything you’ll need from the room to the catering to the AV equipment and avoid any nasty surprises.

Take time to go through scenarios with your venue to get a full understanding of what (if any) extra charges you could face. This is even more important if your event requirements are likely to vary depending on the success of your promotional campaign.  

Congress Centre can help save money when planning your next conference

We offer packages on top of our already-great value venue hire rates and consider ourselves a quality venue choice. If you’re looking to save money on your next conference, get in touch with the team at our central London conference venue on 020 7467 1318 or at congress.centre@tuc.org.uk.