I just finished reading an excellent business book “Free – The Future of a Radical Price” and the business model of “free” is very often seen in our industry. I got interested in the topic after one of #EventPlannersTalk chats when we discussed event branding. Several participants mentioned TED – in which ticket prices are extremely high but all content is available online for free. I made some research and that is how I stumbled upon this book. Very well written and with extensive research, Chris Anderson talks about the economy of free. It looks at customers’ psychology and when customers are ready to pay and for what.
The book is not talking about free as “buy one get one for free”. It examines a more global practice, one we see in music, gaming, open source platforms, software and online advertising, to mention a few. The book talks about free content and business models around free. You will be questioning how bloggers and free software providers make money when they give out their content and services for free, but sometimes free will get them to another, more lucrative sources of income that only about 5-10% of existent customer base is ready to pay.
I don’t want to tell you more about the book as I highly recommend you reading it. But you get the point, in our society, economy and industry today – free is the new business model and one that is very hard to compete with.
In this post I want to focus on industry events, organised for event planners. Today, 99% of events for event professionals I attend are free. Event planners are invited to attend events at luxurious venues with lavish catering, entertainment and goodie bags, with the hope they will book the supplier in the future. For attending the event for free I am aware that the organiser will use my data, mostly name and email to “sell” to third parties, the suppliers who sponsored the event. In most cases I don’t have a problem with it unless I get bombarded with emails so I will never attend their events again.
But not only event organisers are invited to attend local events, they are also invited as hosted buyers to attend exhibitions in other countries, and such programs offer more perks for planners, hosting them in 4-5 star hotels, including dinners, incentive programmes etc. For that, hosted buyers are obliged to attend a fixed amount of meetings with the suppliers, and if they don’t do it there is a financial penalty.
I think that the major problem free events are facing is the high number of no-shows.
The other day I attended a free event and came late. Coming late I saw all the budges of no-shows and it was half of the registrations! How can you plan catering and other resources and be accountable to deliver “results” to your sponsors? When we organise events we hate people not showing up for our events, but more often than not we do it ourselves. This article from The New York Times perfectly discussed this topic. And I admit I was guilty of it many times, too. I signed up with the best intention in mind to attend, but work and family commitments prevented me from going, last minute. Will I act similarly if I paid? Maybe not – maybe I will sign up for less events, or schedule my time better. But one thing I can tell you for sure – I won’t do it again because, being there myself, it is not nice towards the organiser.
How can we reduce the number of no-shows?
Better venue, catering, content, networking, goodie bags?
What we need to start doing is setting up a price for our events and offering more value over just sponsored events. I would prefer attending less events, but with better content and better networking, less but more relevant sponsors for the event and for me.
Of course I understand it is not easy to set up a price, without being too cheap or outpricing yourself from the market. But I do believe when people need to pay they will value the event more – and the organisers will attract the right target audience.
I also think that the free event market is saturated. There are too many free events, especially in London. We can sign up for two-three events on the same evening!
We need innovation, more creativity, better content and more added value event planners will be ready to pay for.