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The Return to Larger Events: What Does This Mean for Your Business?

After 14 months in a standstill, it’s finally happening: Live events are coming back! Although industry professionals are keen to welcome them back, many are recognizing that the transition to the “new normal” will present unique challenges in all aspects of business. The market is eager for in-person gatherings, resulting in soaring demands for event services and an abundance of work for event businesses.

“With the influx of events, business owners and managers need to consider event capacity over the upcoming seasons,” explains Michelle Loretta, owner of Be Sage Consulting. “Chances are that 2020 events have been pushed out through 2021. Adding to this is the eager public wanting to FINALLY celebrate. This is creating a surge in demand with limited supply.”

While the upcoming transition is highly anticipated by all, it’s vital for event professionals to be proactive as they return to the marketplace. Creating a plan to navigate the rest of 2021 will ensure you have the right protocols, resources, and support to meet your clients’ needs and increase revenue without going overcapacity.

Loretta continues: “It's important to ask: What is my cap? Where do I max out for 2021? And, how does that impact the pricing that I quote? Across the US, I'm seeing event companies tell potential clients that there is limited availability of dates,  quoting services at their premium fee, or only offering availability to those clients wanting to do full-scale, or lifting order minimums.”

We spoke with event professionals across the industry for a glimpse at the challenges they’re facing with the return of large events. Good news: There’s a solution for all of them!

Challenge: Staffing capacity

One of the biggest obstacles for event businesses right now is the need to staff an influx of events of all sizes. With 2020 events pushed into this year, the average demand has doubled and the industry talent needs to match. 

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JoAnn Gregoli, owner of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli, shares this sentiment: “The biggest challenge we face is onboarding enough staff to cover the events. Since most events moved to the same dates, we have to now have teams of planners cover the events. I am using many more freelancers and collaborating with other event planners to help each other out. Collaboration is the key to survival.” 

Challenge: Navigating COVID mandates

The industry is still subject to COVID-19 restrictions, so event pros must be mindful of what is and isn’t allowed in their area when working with client requests. “The biggest challenge in returning to larger events is keeping up with the ever-changing COVID mandates and guidelines,” confirms Nora Sheils, founder of Rock Paper Coin and co-founder of Bridal Bliss.

Sheils continues: “They are ever-changing and each type of venue has a different set of specifications. Keeping up to date on the continual changes is exhausting! We have plans A, B, and C, and when all is said and done sometimes a plan D is required to make it all work. Event pros are working around the clock to stay educated, keep our clients happy and calm, and make magic happen in the background.”

Challenge: Overcoming client objections

Even with health and safety measures in place, many people are still wary about live events and are hesitant to move forward in planning. They’ve seen events postponed and canceled for over a year, so the uncertainty is natural. Event pros must step up to assuage their concerns and provide a safe, comfortable planning environment for their clients.

Laura Maddox, owner of Magnolia Celebrates, shares her own experience with COVID-related objections: “The largest challenge has truly been getting the consumer to be comfortable with the larger event size. I've found the best way to encourage people to continue planning is to assure them that they will be able to hold the event at their comfort level. Catering companies and hotels are not holding people to F&B minimums. This helps them feel more confident moving forward. However, what will help more and more is vaccination rates. As more and more people become vaccinated, more and more people are feeling comfortable gathering in larger groups.”

Challenge: Maintaining client experience

With so many concerns and fears, client experience is more important than ever. However, with a larger slate of clients, it will take more time and energy for event pros to meet (and exceed) expectations across the board. “As we return to larger events, we are seeing an influx of inquiries starting to flood in,” says Meredith Ryncarz, owner of Meredith Ryncarz Photography.

Ryncarz elaborates: “People are more willing to book again and that is fantastic but it also means that our client workload has started to increase. With an influx is a need to revisit workflows and ensure that our systems are solid. Now more than ever, our processes may need to be revisited and reworked to continue to provide an excellent experience for each client without something slipping through the cracks.”

Challenge: Losing momentum

Many industry pros used their pandemic downtime to start new projects, invest in their businesses, and make progress on backburner tasks. However, with a full return to events, some worry their time will no longer be spent growing what they’ve been working on for a year plus.

Shannon Tarrant, founder of Wedding Venue Map, reveals her solution for this issue: “As the schedule is filling up with events and tasks associated with them, I'm concerned with losing the growth momentum because there isn't the space to invest the time. We've decided to hire a Virtual Assistant to keep the projects moving forward. Our company didn't have the space for a full-time person but as my focus shifts back to full-time sales and event promotion, we can't lose our focus on the direction of growth. Having a dedicated staff person just working on moving the needle forward will allow us to hit our goals.”

Challenge: Dealing with industry laggers

Of course, not everyone is on the same page in terms of getting back to full-speed. Navigating a market where some are raring to go and others are still piecing together their team can impede the flow of a successful planning experience. “The biggest issue that I am running into with planning future events is getting a timely response from hotels,” explains Keith Willard, wedding planner for Keith Willard Events.

“Many of the hotels that I have been dealing with are behind the eight-ball in bringing their sales team back.  Getting a room block is almost next to impossible.  It’s totally understandable when the salesperson is the only one left in the office and their time is being divided up between front desk duties, cleaning, and sales.  It is time for hotels to ramp back up because the business is coming back hard and fast.”

Challenge: Covering the little things

In addition to these obstacles, there are also a collection of small-but-vital considerations that event pros must remain mindful of when working with clients. Loren Petrowski, owner of Marry You in Hawaii, explains: “There are small things that may go overlooked, for example, pre-COVID, we would think nothing about having the officiant sharing a microphone with the couple as they would only need it at a short time for their vows.”

“Now, a conversation would need to be had and if a microphone is being set, a separate one would now be needed for the officiant,” states Petrowski. “We are also still being cautious about signing and pens used and the like. As long as these things are communicated, there is direct understanding and time for planning.”

As anticipation builds, commit to being proactive and purposeful as we approach the next stage of recovery. Accept that the process will not be perfect, but that you can still take the strides necessary to streamline your business and reach your goals for 2021. 


Lead photo courtesy Alfredo II B. Aguirre

Meghan Ely

President, OFD Consulting, Richmond, VA

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast. 

Photo: Melody Smith Portraits