As marketing budgets collapse, imagination needs to stretch

Mantelpieces are looking oddly sparse and ball-gowns are perfumed with mothballs as the economic crisis hits the Christmas party season. How do you make the most of your end of year event?

One client, which enjoys a multi-million rand turnover has this year replaced office parties at five-star venues with braais in the gardens of the office park. They see it as bad for their cost-cutting image for the year ahead to splurge on events when everyone has been told to trim expenditure.

Some corporate clients have eliminated end of year events or have severely curtailed budgets - how can you throw a party when staff are being laid off, branches closed and bonuses eliminated or cut?

Ironically it has seen an increase in interest in our course Masterminding the Perfect Business Function or Event - the effective management of a function or event is particularly important in this tight economic environment where events have to give maximum quality at minimum cost.

Companies are also more concerned about reputation and image, so marketing departments need to find ways to present new products, showcase events or organise trade fairs in a manner that slashes costs to the bone, but provides a dignified enjoyable event. They say from adversity new techniques are born and it has never been more true than now.

Too often, however, planning is left to a junior personal assistant who quickly becomes overwhelmed and who may not be aware of some of the essentials necessary for a key event. We suggest that a SWOT analysis is helpful before planning an event and in it organisers should consider SMART which is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound.

In assessing objectives organisers need to understand staff ability, detailed specialist knowledge or lack of, reputation, venue, transport, financial returns, and then aspects such as economic, social, cultural, political or legal, technological, demographic, meteorological and competitive factors. For example, it is disastrous to host a function in a beautiful mountain venue but with lots of steps if some of the delegates have walking disabilities or are in wheelchairs.

Marketing an event is not just about getting people in through the door, it is essential that their expectations are met and they leave feeling satisfied. Marketing views the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse and satisfy consumer needs. The marketing mix is made up of price, product, place and promotion.

Customer satisfaction in terms of pricing includes convenience, security, credit card acceptance, speed, simplicity and effective use of technology. Events require close attention to cash flow, negotiate discounts or trade barters and closely control purchasing.

End of year Christmas parties would be far less lavish this year for most companies. This might not be a bad idea because often end of year parties can be career suicide for those who design them and those who attend them and they can be business-loss accelerators for those who witness them.

Take the top car hire company that hired out a restaurant last year, staff attended in uniform leaving no doubt as to who employed them, but it was when some started vomiting in toilets after over-imbibing and one started stripping atop a liquor strewn table that other guests started complaining. One of our trainers who observed their antics says she will never use that company again.

It is at many Christmas parties that once-promising careers meet a swift end when the management whizz-kid shows he can't retain his liquor or the new head of a division blatantly tries to seduce a younger subordinate.

BizTech's Perfect Business Function or Event over two intense days gives organisers the capacity to effectively develop the event concept, help enhance networking at the event, know the correct business etiquette, arrange catering and cleaning, running the event and closedown as well as other fine tuning techniques. It's essential to ensure neither time, money nor reputation is wasted.

· Liza van Wyk is CEO of BizTech, a management and business support training organisations, which hosts public courses in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town and in-house courses across southern Africa. Call 0861 249 8324 or visit www.biztech.co.za