Friday Rant: Critical Tips for Keeping Wedding (and General Corporate Event) Costs Down (Part 1)

Last weekend, I attended a family wedding in Seattle. It was a great affair, and I'm happy to report that the happy couple was even able to hold the ceremony outside, as the infamous Pacific Northwest weather cooperated for just enough time. An aside for you foodies in the audience -- Copper River Salmon is in season right now and I highly recommend the splurge if you care for what I think is one of the greatest delicacies to come out of the ocean. It's only available for a few weeks, and it's absolutely worth the price premium (especially if you can get it fresh in the Pacific Northwest). In Seattle, Spend Management types would be warned to avoid the "flying fish" store at Pike Place Market -- the stall where they toss fish all over the place and play fishy games with kids. From a cost standpoint, they were charging $6-8 more per pound for the exact same Cooper River Sockeye and Copper River King Salmon as other purveyors in the market. But I digress (even though I was able to find the time to buy, prepare, cook and eat three pounds of the stuff in an 18 hour window).

In attending the wedding and trading thoughts with others around both personal and professional events recently, I've been assembling a series of helpful hints that I hope will help both amateurs and professionals alike in getting more from every dollar they spend on the event front. Perhaps the most helpful general tip I've heard and learned over the years from everyone regarding event planning is to build complete cost transparency into the fundamental approach you take. Rooms are a great example. No doubt, your conference provider is getting a kick-back from the hotel or conference facility to the even planning organization (and they might even offer to share this with you).

But such models add an unnecessary layer of dust onto the cost equation. And even in the best of circumstances, this haze will likely cloud the ability to know that you or your guests are getting the best possible rate. Better to negotiate directly with the facility -- and even offer to share some of the savings with your event partner if they were factoring these fees into their base level of margins -- than just accept the status quo. Incidentally, the cost haze of mark-ups, margins, and rebates can extend across a wide area of sub-categories for events -- entertainment, transportation, venues, etc. The bottom line is that if there is any type of program where money is exchanging hands outside of the specific buyer (i.e., "you") and your supplier, chances are you're losing out and paying more on a total cost basis than you need to. Negotiate the best deal you can honestly and up front. Ethical suppliers will have no problem playing by the rules you lay out.

The second tip for controlling wedding and related event costs is simple -- bring your own booze (and other items that service providers mark-up at unnecessary levels). Granted, this is not always easy, as many venues will not allow it, at least not in their general rules. But many will allow for "corkage" under certain circumstances (e.g., a rare or sentimental wine/year) and these rates are often negotiable. Knowing they had at least a few big (and high-ticket drinkers) in the audience -- no comment on who -- the organizers of the family wedding I attended explicitly sought out a venue that allowed them to bring their own. The result? Top shelf stuff all around and most important, a drinkable red wine that cost in the neighborhood of ten bucks negotiated in bulk that a typical facility would have to pay $14-$15 for (distribution laws require they buy from higher price wholesalers in many markets) and would have charged the party $45 or more for -- per bottle.

This brings me to my next and final tip for this first installment in this series -- it pays to apply and analyze the 80/20 sourcing rule up front with any sort of event, especially personal versus corporate (since these are precisely the ones in which you're likely, even if you're in procurement in a day job, to spend more than you have to for). Distilled to its core -- more so than the Grappa I enjoyed after the event -- the 80/20 rule simply states that if you dissect what you buy and from whom, chances are that the bulk of the spend (e.g., 80%) will rest with a small minority of vendors (e.g., 20%).

Once you do this analysis, you can quickly see where to focus your overall sourcing, cost management and negotiation efforts. It also allows you to create a portfolio approach of the categories you want to manage yourself and those you want to outsource. For example, for a flower budget, which can quickly climb out of control, the actual costs are relatively low (though they may seem higher) as a percentage of the total spend. Best to delegate this to someone (e.g. event planner, future mother-in-law, etc.) and provide a specific budget rather than obsess over it yourself.

Up next in the analysis of where to save on events: venue selection, travel planning and hidden costs.

Jason Busch

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