This is quite a time for event planners and the event-tech movement. There are so many vendors capitalizing on this new area of the industry, and each provides something different. But which ones really have the knowledge and experience to successfully take on your events portfolio?
Producing virtual meetings is new territory for many, and event planners are wrestling with putting their trust in the right vendor. Here are key steps for sourcing a platform and vendor for your event needs.
Setting the Stage for the Selection Process
Planners know that part of the job is to stay out in front of industry trends, whether that’s the latest thing in F&B, the newest hotel or venue, or who’s hot on the speaker’s circuit. Typically, this involves research, and finding the best event-tech vendor for your needs is no different. Reading up on industry blogs and magazine articles and participating in industry webinars are essential.
Another early step is to network with three key groups:
• Planners in your network. More than likely, they’re in the same situation and will want to talk.
• Your company’s IT department. Does your company already have a platform? Are enhancements needed to make it a robust meeting platform? Talk to your IT pros about the risk and compliance factors when adding new technology.
• Audiovisual or event production partners. They may have a platform that they use, or can make recommendations.
Finally, before you head into the Request for Proposal process, consider whether you are willing to take a risk on a company that has what you are looking for but may be new in this space, or whether you’d be better off with a “tried and true” company that can offer something similar.
Detailing Your RFP
Once you have compiled your initial vendor list, you are ready for the RFP process. But remember to review your event calendar and related needs before jumping in. Do you have annual events? Do you offer continuing education credits to attendees?
Don’t worry about not knowing the “jargon” when speaking with vendors. You’ll pick that up. What’s important at the beginning is to create a comprehensive list of event specifications. Then you’re ready to start talking to your vendors.
Things to remember before submitting an RFP:
- Know your events calendar, so you know your upcoming needs.
- Focus on your vendor’s global reach capabilities, as there may be a time when you need a platform ready to reach a global audience on short notice.
- Capacity shouldn’t be a restriction. Find out how many attendees can be accommodated on the platforms you are researching and know your anticipated participation numbers.
- One platform does not fit the needs for all events. Find a platform that is flexible and continues to grow its technology capabilities along with changing demands. Alternatively, find a few platforms that can successfully manage your upcoming events.
- Learning as you go sometimes means reaching back out to vendors to get more information on a capability that you’ve come to realize is key. That’s okay—most meeting pros are new to navigating the virtual space.
- Hybrid events—where attendees have the choice to participate in-person or virtually—are the industry’s next big trend, and the vendor you choose should be prepared for this.
- Ask for four client references, three current clients, and one former one. You may discover something you didn’t previously consider.
- Request a demo from all vendors so you can experience the product and all of its capabilities firsthand.
- If you like a vendor but still have reservations, use them for a smaller internal event to see how the process works.
Assessing Specific Production Needs
In the same way a destination management company might handle some of the logistics for your live events, a production company can be a great resource for virtual meetings. These companies can take on many organizational tasks, such as managing content and speaker rehearsals as well as all back-end technology. Alternatively, if you have tech-savvy planners on staff, they can work directly with the virtual meeting platform, which will reduce labor costs. Typically, your budget is a key factor in deciding whether to engage a production company. Talk to your vendors about bundling programs to bring down pricing, especially if you know how many events are on the calendar.
Educate Your Stakeholders
Once you have confirmed your vendors, providing a demonstration of the platforms’ capabilities to your stakeholders is crucial. They will be looking to you for guidance, especially when it comes to formulating the agenda and creating a run of show.
Planners know the feeling of diving into uncharted territories to stay current with event trends. The event-tech industry is no different. While capabilities are evolving fast and the task appears daunting, once you get started, you’ll realize you know more about this than you thought. Following a similar process when reviewing each vendor will give you the confidence you need to move forward on your platform selection.
Pam Strug is an associate director, Events & Meetings at KPMG in New York City. Since March 2020, she has been involved in coordinating hundreds of virtual events for the firm. She led the charge on taking one of the firm’s company-approved platforms and digging into its hidden capabilities so that the Events & Meetings team could leverage a robust and evolving platform. As a result, stakeholders across the firm have maintained strong connection points with clients and teams and have met business objectives.