8 Ways to Use Events to Survive the Recession

This post was from March of 08 when we were all just thinking that the bad economy might be REALLY bad.

This is still one of my favorite posts and as I reread it I decided to not change a thing because I still believe every word of it. I am going to alter the title, it was originally The Myth of Events and a Bad Economy OR How Not to be an Idiot.
There is something that has always bothered me about companies that cut their marketing and event budgets to zero or cut the event department altogether during an economic downturn.

I think that it is the biggest mistake a company can make, in fact I will be bold and say that it is the dumbest, most irrational, downright silly move you can make and amounts to nothing more than cutting budget dollars to cut budget dollars and will end up putting you out of business or crippling you in the long run.

What sucks is that your employees now lose a job and your clients have to find someone else because you are a fool. Strong words I know.

Now, I am not an idiot (usually), your event and marketing departments can be trimmed to save costs and to be more streamlined, but so should all departments, and it probably should have been done before the economy went south anyway. You are already late in the game if you have not done this.

Whether your company is the largest Fortune 500, or a small start-up with 20 people, don’t ditch your event and marketing people because the economy is bad. Use them to get through the bad economic times and maybe even grow in the face of adversity.

Don’t believe me, here is how the scenario works.

The economy goes south as it is headed right at this moment.  All of your competition is running scared like most do, they slash budgets, cut departments, ax people and act like they need to save as much money as possible and “ride out the storm” till the economy looks brighter.

What an excellent time for you Miss Savvy Executive. What everyone at the company has forgotten, from the CEO down to middle management (trust me, the folks below middle management typically have a good handle on things) is that they are in business.

Businesses were created to make money, not save it to “ride out the storm”.  If you are not kicking butt, go home. You should be off the team. In a football game when a team is getting trounced, they don’t cut the waterboy, they cut the QB or the Coach.

Here are some ways to make your competition cry by using “recession” events to your advantage.

TRAINING EVENTS – Make sure you are the best.

Hold corporate trainings and make sure every member of the company is on point and providing the best customer experience possible.

First, Make your training and team-building fun. Your competition just cut staff and hired cheaper bozos to answer the phones which is making their clients unhappy. Unhappy clients go looking, so doesn’t it pay to have the best trained, happy staff in the industry so that when Bob or Sally Crankypants comes a-calling, you can turn them into a not-so-cranky multimillion-dollar client. The flip side is if your clients are getting the best experience possible, they will not go looking for your competition.

INCENTIVES – Bad economies do not mean “no business”, they mean “less business”.

It is a fight to get every client. Make sure you are rewarding your sales staff accordingly and let them know that because of the bad economy, anyone who makes their numbers will not only get a huge RAISE, they will get a trip of a lifetime to  South Africa or Singapore, not down the block to Denny’s because you are saving money.

Make them want to make the numbers and when they do, make them love the company so they make them again and again. Throw in bonus half-year weekend getaways………..why not?


After you have trained your staff to be the best in the industry, have every client to an extravagant (I did not say expensive) appreciation night. Put them all in the same room together and treat them like gold. Why? You already have their business.

There are two reasons:

If you have smart competition, they are calling your clients (my people are calling our competition’s clients), reinforce the relationship as best you can. Think about it, Company A spent one million dollars on your product or service; you can spend a few thousand to “show the love”.

Happy clients in the same room can be happy together, and if they meet, they may do business together. Here is the kick, they will remember where they met and you will be forever linked to the business that they are now doing. All roads lead back to you so why would they want to go with your competition? You already do a great job, and you help them get business or solve problems, they will tell your competition scat like a stray dog the next time they come sniffing around.

I have one company that we do business with that treats us like gold and refers event planning business to us, no strings. I  am not leaving them anytime soon, they more than earn my money. In fact, they are now my friends so I throw business their way.

PRODUCT LAUNCHES – Get in the news and be relevant……now.

People will see you as an expert and a leader. People do business with leaders and experts and if they see you with a product launch in the press or at a tradeshow the subconscious says “Hey, they are great, they have new stuff so they must be the best, I want to call them” How good for you, your competition stopped being in the news or releasing updates last September.

EMPLOYEE APPRECIATION EVENTS – Who sells your company?

If you said your sales team, you are only partly correct. Everyone sells.

From the janitor, mailroom folks, and security guard, to the EVPs and CEO, they sell every time they talk about the company. In fact, the janitor and the mail-room people probably have more daily interactions with actual “real” people than senior management so it pays to make them LOVE the company.

Here is an example:

Steve, the cleaning guy is at a fast food restaurant talking to his friends about how much he loves his company, how you just launched a new line of ball bearings, and how good the company is to him and his family (he may even be talking about last weekend’s employee BBQ). Steve doesn’t know it, but the guy in line behind him getting a  happy meal for his screaming brat kid is the Chief Procurement Officer at a 15 Billion-a-Year Multinational Conglomerate that needs ball bearings tomorrow because his supplier is downsizing because of the economy……The light bulb just went off.

The largest sale in your company’s history was just made by the night janitor. He will never know, see the commission or even care, he is already happy.

Find a way to reward the unsung heroes that are keeping you afloat during the recession.

TRADESHOWS – Usually the first economic victim.

Your competition stopped going because times were tough or they scaled back to a 10×10. Go now and go big, attendees will see them as shrinking and you as growing (even if this is not the case). Perception is 98% of the game at shows.  Enough said about this one.

CONSUMER EVENTS -They are fun and right now people need fun.

If you are at the mall or on the street showing your product, your competition isn’t.

MAKE ALL EVENTS GREEN – This one is simple.

People like to do business with responsible companies and any advantage helps.


As you can see, there is a downside to slashing and burning some of the most important people in your company. Events (and event marketing) are just as important to your company as your sales department, maybe even more so. Think first and make sure that you are making the right decision.

Don’t end up like your competition.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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