Is your event budget setting you up for success? In this guide we’ll look at tips, best practices and examples for creating a reliable event marketing budget in 2020 and beyond.
The many moving parts of a live event strategy are bound together by the event budget. Given that an event’s financial foundation is directly related to the event outcome, creating a thorough and realistic event budget is a key ingredient to the recipe for event success.
In fact data from the 2019 Event Marketing: Benchmarks and Trends report shows that most businesses are spending nearly a quarter of their marketing budgets on live events. Meanwhile, the most successful businesses are spending 1.7x the average marketing budget on events.
However, the data also shows that approval of leadership (and consequently the overall budget for events) is contingent on being able to prove event ROI. With growing budgets comes a growing need to properly allocate and intelligently spend each dollar.
In this guide you’ll learn the steps you need to take an event budget. Along the way, you’ll encounter common pitfalls, best practices, advice from event experts and budgeting templates. To help you keep track of every stage of the event organizing process, we’ve put together this event budgeting guide:
- How to Approach an Event Budgeting Strategy
- Event Budget Expenses
- Event Budgeting Template
- Balancing Event Budget and Event ROI
How to Approach an Event Budgeting Strategy
Before diving into the components of the event budget and getting neck-deep in vendor research, certain best practices should be kept in mind. If you solidify a mindset that is composed of the following tips, your event budgeting process will be much smoother and streamlined.
1. Establish Your Goals
The main purpose of an event budget should not be to solely keep tabs on spending. Rather, the purpose should be helping the organizer properly allocate funds to the most valuable event elements.
By stating how much you will spend on each component, the budget becomes a reflection of what parts of the event are most important to you. For example, the event marketing manager at ZoomInfo makes sure she allocates her budget based on the most important pieces that will lead to event success.
“Your event budget is a direct reflection of your event vision and what it is you want to achieve. Because the Growth Acceleration Summit is a conference focusing on the impact of aligning marketing and sales, we wanted to make sure to secure a venue that would facilitate communication and collaboration. For that reason, finding the perfect venue was a big part of our budget.”
– Morgan Santapaola, ZoomInfo, Event Marketing Manager
2. Use Historical Data
In the case that you’ve executed an event marketing strategy before, make sure to utilize all previous data and templates that either you or a previous team member have used. Doing so will save time and help inform decisions you will have to make during the budget planning process.
Let’s say that you’ve recently joined the events team at a company that’s putting together their 4th annual digital marketing summit. Before diving into your own research, you’ll want to ask other members on the team for resources and research they had used for the previous three events.
Having this information on file will expedite the budgeting process as you will already have a list of the right contacts and partner vendors to build your event. This is especially crucial when when a partnership worked well for previous events.
It may be easy to get caught up in the upcoming event and become obsessed with finding the perfect deal for each event element, but there is a risk of losing time and wasting energy. Rely on previous research and data to make things simpler for everyone involved.
3. Pay Attention to Detail
When it comes to an event budget, there is no such thing as being too detailed. Every piece of information relevant to that particular budget item should be included in a “description” section within the budget plan. This will help you make decisions further down the line and will also be a boon to future event planners who refer to your budget plan.
For example, if you are looking to purchase event swag to hand out to attendees, be detailed with each item. If one of the swag items being ordered are T-shirts, specify how many of each size are being ordered and cost per shirt. Have a description section for any additional notes such as arrival date or design specifications. It would also be helpful to include a screenshot of the T-shirt so you can visualize the end product. The more details, the better.
4. Over-communicate with Stakeholders
When it comes to financial planning, all relevant stakeholders should always be on the same page. Internally, this means communicating key budget information with the team members who are in charge of financial oversight of the event. For example, if there’s been a budget cut on venue expenses and the person in charge of venue sourcing is unaware, you may end up securing a space you can’t afford.
Similarly when dealing with external communication, you’ll want to be overly communicative and crystal clear with all relevant event vendors. Let’s say that during the early stages of the buying process, you and the venue owner discussed a certain price but after a few more discussions, your contract includes a price hike of 15% from your initial quote.
Assuming there were no ill intentions on the vendor’s part, there were definitely details that were overlooked or not properly communicated. To avoid surprises like these, be transparent and upfront every step of the way and strive to over-communicate.
5. Stay Aware of the Latest Event Trends
Effective budgeting doesn’t only consist of finding the best deals. It also means intentionally and strategically spending money. The best way to properly allocate your spending budget is to be aware of event industry trends and understand the best investments for your event overall. Similarly, being versed in top-of-mind event trends will let you know which solutions are no longer as effective and where to decrease your spend.
For example, if you are attending a tradeshow as an exhibitor, you might want to consider hiring an onsite entertainer such as a magician. However, if the tradeshow is heavily focused on technology (which many are), then a magician wouldn’t be the right fit.
A better use of your budget may be to invest in a virtual reality headset that allow people to experience a scenario that relates to your product. By having a good sense of what is gaining traction in the industry and what has become outdated, you’ll end up having a much smarter and effective event budget.
Capturing the proper mindset before diving into the budget planning process is just as important as the budget itself. Clearly state your objectives and be disciplined in how you approach the process. Doing so will save you time, energy, and headache down the line.Event Budget Expenses
There are plenty of ways to disassemble the elements of an event budget. However, your wish to do so depends on your personal preference and the flow of your planning process. For most cases, you’ll find the following breakdown to be similar across budget plans. Here’s a basic breakdown of the most important expenses of an event budget.
The majority of your budget will most likely consist of onsite expenditures. After all, an event is about the live experience so investing in a memorable and rewarding experience is a must. The following items will be the main elements of your onsite spending.
For larger events, the venue will incur the largest cost from the entire budget. Because this will be such a large spend, you will want to carry out all budgeting best practices for this process.
First, make sure that the venue aligns with your overarching event goals. If the objective is to facilitate as much networking and creative collaboration as possible, book a venue that provides ample space and a natural flowing walkway for attendees to easily converse with one another.
When it comes to the venue outreach process, use the information you have on file. If there are venues you’ve worked with or considered working with in the past, use those contacts as a starting point.
Once the negotiations are underway, this is when you will want to gather as many details as much as possible. Make sure to overcommunicate your specific needs, your goals for the event, and the amount of support you’ll want from the venue which may be onsite staff and catering. Because this will be a larger expenditure, be sure to have multiple venues in the running.
Having options to choose from will give you a better idea of what you ultimately want as well as provide leverage when negotiating with each vendor. Choosing a venue is an important decision so make sure to allocate enough time and funds to the process.
The speakers will also be a very important and significant part of the event budget. This is an area that will require a high willingness to spend because a main way to attract attendees is a strong speaking panel. In many ways your speakers will be the “face” of the event as you will use their personal brands to elevate your own event brand.
Choose speakers who align with your event vision and enrich your event content. If your conference focuses on the future of mobile, it would make more sense to book a senior engineer from Apple as opposed to a social media thought leader. Though the latter may have a coveted influencer status and draw attendees, choosing an Apple engineer would align more closely to the event content and offer concrete value to attendees.
Don’t overlook your professional network when brainstorming speaker engagements. Leveraging you and your team’s network for thought leadership candidates can surprisingly generate an impressive roster of event speakers. Tapping into your network has the added benefit of providing a warmer introduction to a potential speaker than cold outreach. It may also help to alleviate higher costs if speakers are willing to join your event for free.
“Usually when high profile professionals travel, they usually have a little more time for meetings than when you reach out to them out of the blue. That’s how I built a lot of relationships and set up meetings. You want to strategically understand and get to know them before proposing to collaborate with them on a project.”
—Vasil Azarov, Growth Marketing Conference
3. Staffing Costs
One expense that can sneak up on you on the day of the event is the cost of onsite event staffing. The team that will help you with registration, directing attendees to their relevant rooms, and greeting them upon arrival will prove to be a vital part of your event experience. Thus, you will want to keep them happy and energized for the duration of the event.
Meal costs, travel plans, and accommodations should be things to consider for your event staff. If it is communicated beforehand that these costs will be covered, you will want to include them on your budget sheet as they can easily add up to a significant sum.
“If you have the right agency, you’ll get a lot more out of seven people within an agency for the same costs than an added one or two additional headcount could end up costing.”
—Janna Erickson, Drift
4. Signage and Event Branding
Creating a memorable event experience requires you to bring your event brand to life. Discuss and strategize what this might look like and make sure to set aside sufficient funds to purchase enough visual elements that will make for an amazing onsite experience.
Below you’ll see how HubSpot uses ample branding all across their annual INBOUND event. From large banners to massive 3D signs, the INBOUND conference becomes its own universe due to the strong event brand throughout. Having a vision like this in mind when planning the event budget will help you better understand what is needed and how much should be dedicated to creating the event brand.
5. Unique Attendee Experiences
With interactive technology becoming more advanced each year, having specific areas dedicated to enhanced attendee experiences will make your event more memorable. The rise of artificial intelligence and virtual/augmented reality makes it easy for attendees to engage in onsite activities that expand their imagination. Look into technologies that align with your event content and add unique experiences for attendees.
For example, the telecom company Sprint articulated the coming launch of a 5G network with a fun ping pong game. In the experiential activation, attendees could choose between a 4G paddle and a 5G paddle. The 5G paddle control offered better accuracy to replicate the low latency of the 5G network, thus making winning with the paddle much easier. This fresh take telecom services helped attendees quickly grasp the benefits of the 5G upgrade without an in-depth conversation about the technology itself.
Technology powered examples like these are what will take the attendee experience to the next level. Research new gadgets and devices that would align with your specific event content and have the potential to be the “wow” factor at the event.
“We come from the telecom world, which is typically pretty buttoned-up, engineer-driven, and we’ve discovered that if we make something playful and make something hands-on, very experiential, then it’s easier to teach a broader array of people with different backgrounds.”
—John Heiman, Sprint
Though this part may not only be relevant to onsite needs, it is definitely a fund you will want to set aside early on in the planning process. Event organizing is an unpredictable journey and there will surely be situations in which you will need to tap into your emergency fund.
Perhaps a keynote speaker cancels a week before the event and you need to find an equally impressive replacement. Chances are the new speaker will cost more than the original speaker because he or she is being asked to present on such short notice. Having an emergency fund for scenarios like these will ease the chaos of the situation and allow you to still have enough focus and energy to execute a successful event.
Curious to learn how other event leaders are bringing their event vision to life? Tune into the IN-PERSON Podcast to learn about the world’s most daring events and the people who make them happen.
Event Technology Expenses
If you plan on investing in events, proving your event ROI is critical. Having a well-integrated event technology stack can make proving ROI simpler and less painful.
Here’s we’ll review several event technology solutions to consider when building out your event stack.
From event registration to contact management, choosing the right event management software will be a foundational piece to your event planning and attendee experience. Be sure to allocate sufficient funds and decision-making time for the particular part of your budget. It could make all the difference.
2. Event App – An equally important aspect of the event planning process and the overall attendee experience will be your event app. Often times your event management software provider will have an event app that they offer as part of the package. You’ll want to allocate sufficient funds for the event app as it will be a great source of data from the backend as well as a pivotal portion of the attendee experience.
Learn more about choosing an event app in the Event App Guide.
3. Integrations – While some software solutions will be able to integrate with others right out of the box, others may require additional integration solutions. These solutions could be something like an open API (where a tech team connects two solutions together), Webhooks (a similar process), or an integration platform as a service (like Zapier or Mulesoft).
Once the event technology has been chosen, another significant chunk of the budget should be dedicated to your overall marketing strategy for the event. Of course there are countless channels and methods that you could put your money towards, but we’ve listed a few popular event promotional strategies that event organizers take below.
1. Paid Search – If you anticipate that many potential attendees will be using online search to find events similar to yours, consider dedicating some of your promotional budget towards SEO and paid search. The most popular platform used for a paid search strategy is Google AdWords.
To give a brief breakdown of its functionality, Google AdWords allows advertisers to bid on certain keywords that they wish to rank for. For example, if you are organizing a low scale startup event in San Francisco, below are a few keywords you may want to bid for.
Based on information such as monthly search volume and overall demand for that keyword, you’ll want to decide on a competitive price in relation to others who are also bidding for that keyword. Also keep in mind that for Google AdWords only charges when someone clicks on your link. Take these factors into consideration as you strategize how much of your budget you should allocate to paid search.
2. Public Relations – Investing in more traditional forms of event promotion could be see valuable returns and additional press pick ups. In today’s digital age, public relations largely consists of having your event information published on relevant outlets. This is where investing in PR can come in handy. A PR team or agency will have both the knowledge and the network to ensure your event information and all articles surrounding your event are placed on the relevant outlets and publications to maximize event exposure.
Instead of using an agency, you can also do the PR yourself by joining a PR network or using specific platform that are designed to support your PR strategy. Below is a list of PR networks you can explore. Note that each comes with different price tiers and analytics functions:
- Business Wire
- PR Web
- PR Newswire
- SB Wire
3. Paid Social Media – Another popular form of digital advertising is putting money behind social media campaigns. Paid social media could prove to be a great use of your event budget. All major social media platforms have an ad offering and thus the main task would be balancing your paid social investments in each platform to ensure a wide yet targeted reach.
As illustrated in the Guide to Facebook Event Promotion, the platform has one of the more robust advertising platforms out there—giving advertisers the ability to achieve massive reach with minimal effort. Ads can be served based on specific demographic information including age and geographical location. They can also be served to those who have visited your event website, which is a form of retargeting.
Ads can also be served on a “connections” basis which means the ads will be seen by those whose friends have already registered for your event. This is just a brief summary of what Facebook ads are capable of. For more tips on this form of event promotion and overall best practices, you can take a look at what the social media experts had to say on the topic.
3. Direct Mail – Another great channel to invest in for your event marketing are direct mail campaigns. Direct mail can enrich your demand generation and event strategy and potentially offer better conversions and responses in comparison to email campaigns. However, depending on the size and complexity of your direct mail campaigns, pricing can be more expensive than your digital channels. A successful direct mail campaign requires alignment between marketing and sales, clear goals, and a clear call to action for your target audience.
When it comes to your promotional strategy, there are certainly other costs around marketing personnel and various event tools. Adding additional allowance to your promotional budget will help you absorb additional costs should they come up during your path to launch an event.
Putting together the key elements of an event budget, below you can find a simple event budgeting template that provides an overview of the main expenses.
|Category||Description||Contact||Estimated Cost||Actual Cost|
|Venue||5 day email@example.com||$50,000||$45,000|
|Event Staffing||12 member team – all expenses firstname.lastname@example.org||$6,000||$5,400|
|Speakers||1 speaking email@example.com||$10,000||$12,000|
|Paid Search||Google AdWordsfirstname.lastname@example.org||$6,000||$5,000|
|PR||3rd Party Agency||agent@PRagency.com||$5,000||$4,000|
Of course you can add more columns as you see fit. The above template can be organized into a spreadsheet either through Google Sheets or Excel. Wherever you choose to store your budget plan, make sure that this data is made available to only those who need this information as you’ll want to keep finances as confidential as possible.
Now that we’ve discussed the basics of event budgeting and the standard costs that go into the budget plan, it’s important to explain the relationship between event budget and event ROI. The main reason for an event budget is not only to keep tabs on your spending but also to understand the bigger picture. Organizing a comprehensive event budget is a crucial step in properly calculating your return on investment.
By definition, everything that is spent within your event budget is an investment. You are hoping that these expenditures will lead to favorable business outcomes such as greater pipeline value, increased sales opportunities, or, more simply, a profit from event ticket sales. Similar to how we discussed the importance of articulating your event goals, establishing event ROI is a related process. Outlining the event ROI is simply the act of making your goals more measurable.
Key Takeaways for Mastering Your Event Budget
A detailed, organized, and comprehensive event budget will help you allocate your funds intelligently as well as provide the necessary data to calculate accurate event ROI.
- Set specific event goals. Your goals will dictate the scope of your event and its budget. Will you be hosting an intimate dinner for VIPs or a large-scale user conference? Each have unique needs.
- Do your research. Look at historical data, consult with your peers and colleagues, speak to different vendors. This will help you accurately gauge your event budget and will make you a more informed buyer.
- Map it all out. Your event budget will need to cover venue procurement, promotional campaigns, food, staff, tables, chairs, event technology, lighting, swag…the list goes on. Make a detailed map of your needs to help you keep it all in check.
- Hedge your bets. Catastrophes will happen. Costs will suddenly appear. Have a back-up plan and a back-up reserve of funds planned for just these situations.
As you put together your own event budget, we hope this guide will help you get a bit closer to your definition of event success in 2020 and beyond.