Author Archives: evadmin

What are SMERF Meetings?


A casual SMERF meeting in the park.

Anyone involved in meeting planning should be very familiar with the needs of Social, Military, Educational, Religious, and Fraternal (SMERF) groups. After all, SMERF meetings are the “old reliable” of the meetings market, continuing even while demand for many other types of conventions and meetings has shrunk. Still, no planner can take SMERFs for granted. Like every other market, the SMERF market has changed and evolved. Successful planners must stay alert.

Social Groups

It is essential to remember that social groups want more opportunities for togetherness. As always, these groups require careful balancing between limited budgets and memorable experiences. But there are new opportunities too. Family reunions and other social events are no longer limited to a mimeographed letter sent out in the mail to announce the event. Now there are e-vites, Facebook messages, emails, Pinterest, and smartphone apps to spread the news about the event.

Unfortunately, this can be both good news and bad news for the social event planner. Cassie Brown, president and CEO of TCG Events, notes that planners for social groups are often overwhelmed by electronic input and burn out.

Military Groups

Military group members often consider the reunion to be a major vacation. They tend to drive to the location and want more time to sightsee. According to Sharon Danitshek, president of Reunion Friendly Network, other factors to consider include:

  • Space for memorabilia
  • A good hospitality room, preferably one that allows participants to bring their own snacks, alcohol, and other beverages
  • A planned banquet for which the group can choose the menu and the portion size
  • An appropriate site for a memorial service

Educational Groups

Joan Eisenstodt, president of Eisenstodt Associates, acknowledges that education groups are a steady business but that they can be somewhat tricky to plan for. One new trend is the desire for first-tier destinations to increase the potential draw of the conference while keeping the budget small. Eisenstodt advises making use of local destination management organizations and convention and visitors bureaus to determine what similar groups have stayed in the area and how the destination has catered to those groups.

She cautions to be very aware of the budgets for these groups. Participants are likely to stretch the occupancy limits of hotel rooms and look for every other budget extender available. The participants need to know about every charge that might come up: costs of getting to the destination from the airport, taxes or fees at the destination, and other extras.

Religious Groups

Don’t think religious means old-fashioned. In fact, one thing Reverend Cricket Park, assistant rector at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, finds very annoying is when a meeting space charges for Wi-Fi. Her diocese is moving toward a paperless system as much as possible, and that means that meeting spaces need sufficient room for each participant to have his or her own electronic devices and access to a large enough bandwidth for all the participants.

Reverend Park also points out another trend she has seen in 30 years of event planning: more persons with disabilities attending meetings and conferences. She urges planners to be sure there is access for wheelchairs, medical equipment, and other adaptive devices.

Fraternal Groups

Big fraternal organizations like Elks and Shriners have continued to meet in almost any economic climate. But other parts of this market, such as college fraternities and sororities, are very budget conscious during more austere times. Kelly Sabol, account executive for Baltimore Area Marriott hotels, reports that many of these groups are booking more locally to save travel expenses. Their planners are cutting back on food and beverage choices and, says Sabol, “They are negotiating more and requesting fewer concessions.”

Fortunately, fraternal groups tend to be more flexible regarding the time of year their meetings can take place. This makes hotel accommodations somewhat easier to negotiate.

More than a Name-tag: Personalizing Your Event

7-13-2015 5-05-24 PM

Personalization is in. In 2014, Coca-Cola took the 250 most popular names in the United States and put one at random on individual cans and bottles of their product. According to The Wall Street Journal, this campaign was responsible for reversing a decade long decline in US Coke consumption.

Put simply, people like to know it’s all about them. But how do you use personalization to your advantage when you’re planning your meeting?

Tagging It

Take a look at the ubiquitous name-tag. Obviously, you want to provide a pre-printed name-tag for all your registered meeting attendees. And surely, we do not need to remind everyone that the name-tag and all other materials should be in a clear font (put away the script and Old English fonts for another time) and in a type size that does not require binoculars to read.

But what name goes on the tag? Take Josiah Pickford Wellington III, who just happens to go by “Trey.” Do you put his legal name on his name-tag? All his friends and business associates knew him as Trey. Regardless of what name he used on his registration paperwork, which name should appear on his pre-printed name-tag? And shouldn’t he, and not the clerical person preparing the name-tags, be the one who chooses what he’s called?

And what else goes on the name-tag? With some planning from the registration materials, you could determine what the attendee would like to publicize. For example, would he like his email address to be visible? His Twitter handle? The name of the product he is promoting? Or, at the cat fanciers’ convention, a picture of his beloved, pure-bred Persian cat? If you can add information that makes the attendee feel more connected at the conference, isn’t it worth it to you to go that extra mile to discover and share these details?

More Sophisticated Identifiers

Don’t forget the other personalization options you might want to make available at the conference itself. At an extended family reunion, perhaps stickers might be available to identify what state the attendee hails from, or a badge might identify what line of the family tree she is descended from. This would create an instant place to start conversations as the participant meets far-flung relatives. At a large company meeting, perhaps a ribbon identifies whether the participant specializes in the manufacturing side or the sales side of the business. This would allow similarly affiliated attendees to easily find people who share their interests.

Strategically Designing Your Event

There are more ways to personalize an event experience beyond customizing identifiers. For instance:

  • - Create custom Twitter or RSS feeds for each person or similar group of attendees
  • - Create a personalized agenda for each attendee that is built on that person’s personal or professional interests
  • - Use apps like Guidebook or Double-dutch that allow attendees to manage their own schedules efficiently and securely

Remember, every attendee experiences an event differently. Take advantage of those differences strategically by personalizing the event for a unique experience that makes you stand apart and sends your attendees home with a “Wow, that was made for me!”

How to Save Money on Events and Meetings

Especially since the economic downturn in 2008, saving money on events and meetings has been one of the most important topics in every industry. One of the first items in any company or organizational budget to receive scrutiny and reduction is, without question, travel and meeting expense. The need to save pennies on the dollar in this area has brought sweeping change to the business of meetings, yet ultimately, even with advances in mobile computing and virtual conferences, there remains a high value on face-to-face encounters.

We’ve identified three areas in which the meetings industry generally agrees you can realize savings when planning your corporate or association event. No matter your location or the size of your meeting, we think you’ll benefit from these ideas.

Image: Wikimedia

1. It all starts with a budget.

Every event starts with a dream in the mind of its planner. Unfortunately, the dry reality is that every event should start with a budget. Frustration often sets in when trying to force an ideal event into the constraints of a budget that has been established at the beginning of the fiscal year. Here are a few tips to help any organization succeed with a budget:

  • Be sure to inflate older expenses to account for higher prices and add in an additional 10 percent for contingencies
  • Request a discount for paying in cash
  • Be flexible on event dates
  • Limit the number of individuals who can authorize purchases and expenses
  • Stress that your organization is a likely repeat customer

2. The right location means more than you think.

Planners will notice obvious and subtle differences between venues when trying to be budget-conscious. One of the emerging trends in the meetings business is the use of non-traditional facilities for corporate, association, or other types of events. Consider the following:

  • Nonprofit organizations or municipal facilities such as museums or medical centers have meeting spaces available at rates that make them highly competitive
  • Other new players in the market are collaborative workspaces and venues that specifically target smaller meetings and offer state-of-the-art technology
  • Find out from the first conversation what is included versus what is considered extra
  • Check out the entrance and parking facilities, hallways, and other exterior features

3. Control catering costs.

Image courtesy of Travelling Toast

Few people planning meetings are experts on the restaurant or catering business. In fact, catering is one of the greatest mysteries that confronts anyone tasked with putting together a successful event and as such, can often end up being very costly.

  • Know what you are allowed to bring in, if anything, versus what you’re required to purchase from the venue
  • Determine if you can supply your own water and coffee
  • Buffets are always cheaper than a sit-down dinner—consider the price of servers, dishes, and clean-up
  • Bar service can be both innovative and cost-conscious with the right choice of vendors and beverages
  • Use fast-casual restaurants or delicatessens rather than fancier, more expensive caterers

eVenues can save you money by helping you to choose the right location. Contact us today to find that perfect venue for your next event.

Five Easy Ways to Maximize Your Event Venue’s Revenue

You want to grow your event space rental revenue, but you’re not sure what you can do to achieve that. We looked at the top performing sites on eVenues and found that they generate up to $15,000 in new revenue per year. What sets them apart? They implement a few simple ideas that help them see their spaces from the eyes of a new customer.

Here are some of those ideas that will help you grow your income and enhance your eVenues experience.

1. The right photos can double or triple your bookings

  • Professional pictures of your venue can dramatically increase your bookings. Industry studies have shown that great photos can lead to two to three times more bookings than the market average. Here are some simple guidelines for choosing photos that will help your venue’s profile stand out:
  • Show guests in your pictures. Photos that include people can help customers visualize their meetings and ultimately book the space while also showing that the venue has been rented before. This is a not-so-subtle way of showing your potential customers that you’ve successfully hosted events and can be relied upon to provide the perfect space for their event.
  • Show the entrance and/or the exterior to the meeting room or site. Renters want to know how the venue looks from the outside so that it creates a good first impression. An exterior shot of the entire building, including parking, is advisable, as are shots of the outside of ballrooms or meeting spaces.
  • Make sure that your image is resized to the correct dimensions and is high resolution. If you’re working with a professional photographer, let him know that you would like the original images as well as pictures that are resized for optimal display on both a computer monitor and a mobile device. We suggest that the images be sized to 600 x 377 pixels, ensuring that they display properly and are not automatically resized when uploaded.
  • Show multiple room configurations. Showcase the versatility of your space by providing pictures of varying room configurations during different events. Banquets, birthday parties, seated dinners, buffets, dances, corporate events—plan for images that highlight configurations that you’re planning to market to your potential customers.
  • Avoid timestamps or dated material on pictures. Customers will be wary of images that are dated—either from a timestamp in the corner of the picture or a banner or sign in the background that indicates a year. Even images that are two years old give the impression that details may not be accurate.

2. Consider a virtual tour of your facilities

From something as simple as a panoramic 360º view of your hall to a short guided video visit, a virtual tour speaks directly to your potential customer in ways that static content does not. Virtual tours are a way to connect with renters who have never visited your venue and help get them in the door or make that first phone call or email inquiry. eVenues has multiple options to highlight the unique qualities of your venue, enabling you to customize the way in which you make a first impression with your customers.

3. Prominently link to your eVenues profile from your website

Take full advantage of the services we provide by linking to your eVenues profile in prominent places throughout your own website. The simplicity and convenience of letting us manage the booking process will save you considerable time, and the “Book it now!” and “Book this space” banners we provide are eye-catching and lend a professional touch.

To link your eVenues profile to your website:

First click the Venue Manager dashboard. Go to the top menu and select “Rooms” in the menu bar. Then click “Link Banner.”

You’ll then see a variety of banners to choose from as well as the HTML code needed to put the banner on your site.

4. Encourage your customers to provide reviews

“Your service is invaluable for a small venue like mine – not only did you drive new business, but you helped me find a long-term renter for my space. I can’t imagine why all venues don’t use eVenues!” – Ed Freeman, Ed Freeman Gallery, Los Angeles

In the age of Yelp and social media, studies indicate that reviews provide significant motivation to customers. We provide a simple means for your satisfied customers to review your venue, but we also encourage you to ask them to submit reports to other online review sites or through any of their social media accounts.

According to a major e-commerce site, 80 percent of their customer reviews are 4 out of 5 stars or more, meaning that most people who take the time to review goods or services offer positive reports. Other data shows that reviews have the potential to double or even triple online purchase rates.

All you have to do is access your Venue Manager dashboard and then click “Manage your space” in the top right corner. Then click “Venues” and select “Reviews” from the drop-down menu.

Once you’re there, click “Get reviews” on the left. You should this dialog box pop up below:

Type in the email address of the customer who rented your venue and add a short note if you like. The customer will receive an email like this:

Once the customer clicks the link, he or she will be directed to a simple review form (below). The great thing about this is that there is no login or signup required!

5. Responsiveness = Results

From choosing the right organizational contact to setting up mobile notifications, eVenues helps you ensure that you’re always in touch with potential customers. A quick response to an inquiry is often the difference between booking your venue or having someone move on to the next available site. We offer you the tools that will bring you in constant contact with renters so you can make a powerful first impression on new clients.

Chances are that renting your facilities is not your main business. However, it’s also a significant portion of your revenue stream, so you want to be prepared to provide excellent customer service no matter the situation. We suggest that you have more than one individual who receives inbound requests about your venue, with a clear plan for response including a minimum time to reply. You can define the protocol for booking as best suits your organization, but please feel free to contact eVenues if you have any questions.

We also offer you the ability to receive SMS messages to your mobile device when someone has a booking request.

Setup for this service is easy. After logging in to eVenues, go to your Venue Manager dashboard. Choose the “Edit” option from the “Venue” menu.

From there, scroll down to the bottom of the Venue profile, enter the cell phone number at which you would like to receive SMS alerts, and check the box below the field:

Is Smaller Better? The Trend toward Smaller and Shorter Meetings

Image courtesy of Omni Hotels

According to a recent survey conducted by meetings software company Active Events, half of all 2012 eRFPs tracked across the study’s five major cities were for meetings of 0 to 50 people, an increase of 5 percent over 2008. In addition, over the same time period, the number of events of 51 to 100 people fell 2 percent, while the number of meetings of 101 to 250 participants fell 3 percent. This survey agrees with other information suggesting that despite continued economic recovery, the impact of the recession will be long lasting and may permanently change the way businesses plan and conduct their meetings.

The growth in the number of smaller meetings comes from small, medium, and large enterprises and associations and is taking place in destinations across the United States. Originally motivated simply by the downturn in the economy, the trend toward smaller and shorter meetings represents a shift in a number of areas: the continued development in meetings technology, the need for shorter lead times and planning windows, and the wish to avoid appearing lavish and extravagant in a lean business environment.

These trends have a far-reaching impact on the meetings industry. There has been a shift away from choosing resorts in favor of downtown hotels. Destinations that offer more direct flights or more travel options are winning out over their competitors. Significantly, venues that are capable of offering smaller meeting spaces are finding themselves on level footing with large convention halls, competing for events that had not traditionally been available to them.

The 2014 American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast sees an increase in total meetings and total meetings attendance, yet it reports that total meeting expenditures are expected to hold steady. Companies are still trying to maximize their meetings dollars, and smaller and/or shorter meetings help reduce costs in lodging, meals, transportation, and venue rental.

Image courtesy of Mount Pleasant Granary

The AmEx survey suggests that stability in meetings growth will continue into 2015, with more organizations committing to future events than in the past several years. However, this long-range increase is incremental, giving small venues that don’t require long lead times or planning windows an advantage. The meeting budgets for many companies are not approved until the latest financial data is available. All of this information taken together means that there is a market for venues that have not traditionally seen themselves as competing for those dollars.

Taking advantage of these trends, the “non-traditional” business meeting venue must be able to offer more than simply having small and inexpensive conference rooms. During the lean years from 2008 to 2013, technology and connectivity became crucial components that every facility has to offer. Fast and easily accessible Wi-Fi along with remote conferencing hardware and software went from being a competitive advantage to a baseline requirement. Properly trained support staff and updated equipment are investments that offer a tangible return and will help capture a greater share of the small-meetings market.

To fully take advantage of the long-term changes in the meetings industry, venues that can offer small-meetings services need to effectively promote themselves to their potential customers. eVenues offers small and medium-sized facilities the means to quickly and clearly show how they’re geared to provide the perfect meeting space.

Pain Points for Event Planners

When event planners talk about their biggest pain points, the issues that come up over and over include shrinking lead times, rapidly changing technology, disappearing budgets, and demonstrable return on investment in the conference itself. Many of these issues are new to the business and have only arisen in the past few years during the sweeping changes to the meetings industry brought on by a lean economy.

Shorter Lead Times

Industry professionals invariably mention shortened lead times as a modern challenge. Given that many organizations don’t know what their meetings or event budgets will be until the most recent fiscal results are available, the planning cycle has shrunk from one or two years down to months or even weeks. Tish Davis, CEO of Elegant Event Sitters, says, “Coming to someone two weeks before and expecting a flawless shindig for 1,000 isn’t impossible, but it is a lot of pressure to put on yourself and on your planner.” However, Davis notes that this is happening with greater frequency.

Keeping Pace with Technology

Image courtesy of

Incorporating technology into meetings has grown from being a novelty to a necessity. The use of mobile devices has conditioned meetings and event attendees to expect information and interactivity to be constantly available. An event website now includes apps, mobile sites, and the use of pre-existing social media channels to enhance meeting attendance and experience. Recording and repurposing data and presentations at conferences and meetings is commonplace.

The term that has come to describe meetings that involve both face-to-face interaction and virtual technology is “hybrid events.” Meetings technology provider INXPO describes the advantages of hybrid meetings, which may include extending the reach of your traditional audience, reaching new groups of customers, cutting costs, and generating additional revenue.

Shrinking Budgets and Controlling Costs

Most planners agree that the “traditional” cost structure for meetings and events has permanently disappeared; in its place is a shift toward smaller meetings of shorter duration, scheduled regionally or locally to reduce travel and expenses. Sponsorships that were traditionally geared toward large signage and big dinners or receptions have moved into the virtual realm, creating new revenue potential at the aforementioned hybrid events.

Meeting and event planners have to prepare for these changes and the client’s expectations that go with them. Industry experts at Plan Your Meetings suggest such several tactics that will help you control costs while still presenting a memorable event. Consider writing everything that needs to be controlled into the contract, sign multi-year agreements, and make sure you receive credit for any unused comps.

Measuring ROI

Image courtesy of Pattaya Exhibition and Convention Hall

As cost-consciousness has driven visible changes within the industry, one of the invisible impacts is the desire to measure the return of the investment (ROI) in the meeting or event. It’s no longer enough to simply put on a great event and walk away.

The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials offers a succinct primer on discovering the return on investment in a conference. First, planners must measure discrete expenses like registration, travel, lodging, local transportation, per diems, and other costs. Beyond that, however, are more intangible benefits: Do meeting sessions have relevance to your company’s work? Does the conference introduce tools and technologies that will benefit your organization? Will you meet new vendors and make important contacts while you’re there? Does the conference highlight industry best practices or offer actual training?

An organization’s ROI will depend on finding out the answers to as many of these questions as possible as early as possible and then applying the benefits of the conference to the real-life work setting after the conference is over. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses suggests creating worksheets to track the value of participation in a conference and then, significantly, communicating that value to management afterwards.

The Unconference: Still a Meeting

Image courtesy of Harless Todd, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The industry has spoken—some permanent changes have come to the meetings business. As the 2014 American Express Meetings and Events Forecast shows, meetings remain under tight budget controls, and the use of technology has forever altered participant involvement. Hybrid events—ones that utilize both “virtual” and “actual” activities—are expected to grow and become more common. Another trend that began as an outlier but has made significant inroads is what is commonly called the “unconference.” Corporate & Incentive Travel Magazine notes that whatever term is used for the unconference, it’s a concept that meeting planners should understand.

Defined by Wikipedia as “a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization,” the term unconference first appeared to describe the 1998 xml developers meeting. The format of an unconference may vary widely, but typically the agenda at an unconference is set by the attendees upon arrival, and discussions are participatory rather than led by a single speaker lecturing at the front of a room or hall.

Trends in Meetings Drive Unconference Growth

The unconference has grown in popularity in part because of the overall trends in the meetings industry described by the AmEx report. Smaller, shorter meetings that are regional in scope, incorporate technology, have a lower cost for attendees and planners, and which are put together with much shorter lead times lend themselves to the unconference model. Another trend mentioned in the report is the desire to find non-traditional properties to host meetings. This too has been a characteristic of the unconference. Venues that have never been in the business meetings market before can now offer themselves as potential hosts for these participant driven events. Restaurants, collaborative workspaces, museums—any facility with open space and free Wi-Fi is a potential unconference site.

Different Expectations

Image courtesy of Pedro Lozano

The unconference is not intended to be a “free for all” but rather a structured way to allow participants to help shape the exchange of ideas. The expectations of conference attendees have changed over the past 10 to 15 years, and interactive technology has made participation and access to information easier. Venues that play into these different expectations have an advantage over traditional conference facilities.

The non-traditional venue is also desirable for unconferences because it sends a message to participants that they’re not attending “the same old meeting.” Planners choose these sites to encourage participation in the dialog and exchange of ideas, recognizing the value of the setting in driving the event.

Every Organization Can Benefit

Some businesses or associations may see the unconference as too unstructured, but even large firms such as Booz Allen Hamilton and major meetings like the Big Data Analytics Unconference have successfully employed the participant-driven model. Far beyond the tech world or nonprofit organizations, the unconference is taking hold and has been called “the future of meetings” by Meetings Magazine. Tapping into the ideas and problem-solving skills of participants while embracing the overall changes in meetings and events, the unconference is an idea that is here to stay.

4 Memorable Catering tips for meetings

Rachel DeMarte Project
by Venue One Event Planner Rachel De Marte

Guests don’t always have time to take a leisurely lunch—or lunch at all—when they are in all-day meetings and breakout sessions. The food and beverage must
come to them. Not to worry—you can still get crafty and fun!

Here are creative ways to make the meal count without distracting from the meeting.

1. Food Carts

Food carts are simple, fast and memorable. You can create multiple carts each with different themes, such as a Chicago-Style Hot Dog and Root Beer Float or
Taco and Agua Fresca with fresh fruit Cart. Spice up your meeting with a Burger and Beer, Shaved Tenderloin Slider and Red Wine, or Bacon and Bourbon Cart.
They can be rolled from table to table with ease.

2. TV Dinner Trays

Play into the diner food trend and serve a hot lunch in an old school TV dinner-like tray. It’s key to feature a wide variety of foods and keep portions
small. After all, you want to avoid food comas!

3. Dim Sum

Dim sum can be translated to office meetings. Think of a lazy susan in the middle of the conference table with steamer baskets filled with shumai, pot
stickers and buns, Chinese noodles in takeout containers, and hot tea. Chinatown comes to you!

4. Boxed Lunch Revamped

Forget the paper sack of the past. Meet the sleek and modern boxed lunch of today. Fill each with gourmet sandwiches, artisanal salads, house made chips
and petite desserts, accompanied with a traditional glass bottle of Coca Cola. It will remind you of the good ol’ days.

These food and beverage ideas will be a welcomed addition to any meeting—big or small.

Rachel De Marte: Culinary Director of Venue One

It’s not often that you meet someone whose personality is as bright as her talent is impressive, but this is certainly the case when it comes to Rachel DeMarte. A go-to event planning, styling and catering expert, Rachel uses her reputation and successful years in the industry at her very own events company and as the Culinary Director of Chicago’s all-inclusive meetings, weddings and special events center Venue One.

Hometown Seattle Named Top Tech City!

I often ponder why I moved back to the great Pacific Northwest after studying (& playing) in the California sun?! It's definately not the weather. It must be the air-waves or caffeine they put in the water…or entrepreneur zing in the gas. Maybe it's the amazing sunsets on a summer evening?

Whatever the case, Scientific American thought Seattle was it, voting it the top city for technology. Now, if we could just get a network of angel investors up here!

Libraries Shifting to Meeting Venues

We hear all the time about city and governments lobbying for improvements in their local resources. Libraries included. You would think it would be all about acquiring new books or computers. Nope. In this day and age of Social Media, corporate downsizing, and working virtual, libraries are fast becoming small meeting havens. Think about it. It's quiet; no loud Starbucks in the background. It's resourceful; plenty of free wi-fi, clean bathrooms, and newspapers and magazines to browse. Finally, it's free.

For the community of Niles, Illinois (just outside Chicago), they seem to be in the heat of battle. Their library is due to be receiving some funds and the town is up in arms on how to spend it. Books v. meeting space.

These are just the types of problems we like to see! :)