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What Associations Should Know About Working With Venue Managers in 2023

With issues such as rising costs, sparse staffing, and a loss of institutional knowledge making life more complex for venues in 2023, it’s important to take extra care when planning events.

Maximizing the value of an in-person event requires calibrating plenty of factors, but one of the most important is the venue.

Given that many meeting professionals arrange their venues months or years in advance, ongoing collaboration with a venue manager is key to understanding what, exactly, the venue is offering your event.

Sure, standard tools such as a strong request for proposal (RFP) process will help align your expectations with your venue’s potential. But some dynamics have changed significantly in recent years. As KJZZ reported regarding the International Association of Venue Managers’ 2022 annual meeting, inflation is a big part of the conversation now, as it has caused prices for many items and services fundamental to venue management to stay artificially high even though the event space has mostly recovered from COVID-19-related shutdowns.

“It’s at all levels. It’s at parking, it’s at cleaners, it’s on the food side,” said Greg Fender of the concession company Sodexo Live in comments to the outlet. “Every one of those numbers has gone up, it’s not gone down. And it’s not a 10 percent lift, it’s not a 20 percent lift, it’s 30 and up.”

Inflation concerns are beginning to recede to a degree, but the long tail of the pandemic is still with us—and that, among other things, has created shifts in how event planners should communicate with venue managers in 2023. Here are just a few.

Understand the Loss of Institutional Knowledge

One of the first things you might notice when working with venues is that the people you’re talking with aren’t necessarily the same familiar faces you remember.

According to Lisa Block, executive vice president of conference strategy and design for Velvet Chainsaw, such personnel shifts reflect a mixture of layoffs and transitions, encouraged by the pandemic and the Great Resignation, that have put long-term institutional knowledge in a deficit for venue managers.

“I think planners need to realize that, even if they’ve held a meeting there before, that the institutional memory of their accounts is not necessarily what it once was,” Block said.

She added that these changes also bring an important secondary question—what does the venue’s staffing picture look like right now, and how could that affect the event your association hopes to host?

“You need to ask a lot of questions about staff support and staffing levels and where they are versus where they were pre-COVID, how that’s impacting their service, and where service may have changed,” she said.

Raise Important Questions Thoughtfully

Naturally, associations are going to have questions about how the venue manages and runs events. Block recommended taking a thoughtful approach about raising concerns to the venue manager—as well as when to raise them.

“People who are new in the profession probably overplan a little bit. But you do need to be cognizant that not every question is a good question,” Block said. “And not every question that you ask is going to get you information that’s going to change the outcome of what it is you’re trying to plan.”

That said, there are plenty of legitimate questions to ask. Block recommended setting up a time during which you can go through as many questions as possible all at once, organized in a single document, rather than attempting to get those questions answered on an ad-hoc basis.

“Peppering a venue manager with lots and lots of different innocuous questions is probably not the best use of time,” Block said.

Remember That Everyone Feels the Challenge

Block made clear that it’s important to keep in mind that just as your team might be feeling a little crunched at the moment, so too will the venue.

“A number of companies have small meeting teams that do soup to nuts, so you have one contact, but for the most part, folks in venues these days are really stretched,” Block said, adding that the moment requires a little bit of patience and grace.

“I mean, you don’t have to become this venue manager’s best friend,” she said. “It’s not as much about relationships as it used to be. It’s really more about doing really good business, which means being prepared and being thorough and meeting expectations, deadlines, timelines, and so on.”

(Anut21ng/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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