by Amber Heintz Event Trends, Podcast January 17th, 2023
With the new year just beginning, we discuss what’s to come in 2023 in the meetings and events landscape and what event industry trends to watch for with Amber Heintz, Vice President of Program Operations at Bishop-McCann. Topics include:
- Key lessons learned in 2022
- How economic conditions will affect our industry
- New event trends to watch for in 2023
- Challenges and opportunities for event planners this year
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Hi, and welcome to The Events Experience, where we take a deep dive into everything event planning. I work for Bishop-McCann, an agency devoted to creating JOY through meetings, incentives, and events for big name brands. On this podcast, myself and our company's experts will discuss all things events, so keep listening to hear all about the latest tips and trends for virtual, live, and hybrid events.
Hi, everyone! In this episode of The Events Experience, we will be discussing what's to come in 2023 and what trends to watch for with Amber Heintz, Vice President of Program Operations here at Bishop-McCann. Amber has over 20 years of broad-ranging experience in the events industry and will be able to break down what to expect in this new year. So thank you so much for joining us today, Amber!
Oh, I'm so happy to be here! Thank you for having me.
Yeah, so before we look into what to expect for 2023, what are some lessons that we learned in 2022 as an agency and as planners that we can carry into this year?
Oh, my goodness, we've learned a lot. It was quite a year in 2022 for sure. I would say a few of the things would be to be flexible. Number one, be flexible. You never know what's going to come around the corner. And of course, we've always known that we have to be flexible in the industry we're in. But just in a different way, I think, are some of the things we learned. I would also say that the industry is always changing. We learned this 2023 could be a very different year than 2022 and whatnot. We had nine whole months of live meetings in 2022, so 2023 could look different. We're just kind of keeping our eyes open for that. We're also in the service industry, and I think in the service industry, you really have to have a plan A, B, and C. This isn't a new concept for us, but it was used quite a bit this year. It's just the power of having a backup plan, and that's just the environment we're in particularly. So you can't hope that you won't need to use a backup plan. Chances are you will. So we always plan for that.
I would also say with a lack of resources in this industry in 2022, we needed to be realistic with our clients to ensure that they are aware of the best plan and then the plan that could happen on site, depending on what resources were with our partners and anything of that sort. So we brought them along. I think that was something we needed to learn - bring them along. And let them know what we're up against, so that it doesn't come as a surprise or reflect poorly on anyone (any partners or anything of that sort). Everyone's trying to do their best. That was a big lesson learned for sure. A couple of others, if I think about it, would be make decisions early and quickly. Hotels and partners are not waiting for you to make decisions like they used to. Everyone is fighting for the same space, the same partners, and the same resources. So if you want something done, you better make a decision and move along. I've learned that quite a few times in this environment. Just not resting on things is very helpful.
I would say maybe a couple of others would be we had actually the most RFPs this year we've ever had in one year. But we also found and learned the lesson that it's very important to ensure that you have the right fit for our client's benefit and for our benefit. You know, we work methodically here at Bishop-McCann and strategically to ensure our partnerships are going to be lasting ones, and I think our clients want that, too. I think they aren't looking for the "one program and done" situation. We want to partner with each other. So making sure right off the bat that we're all right fit for each other is super important for sure. And then I would say lastly, always understand the goal of the meeting. Of course, I should probably put that first because that's the most important stake in the ground that we all have when we start a program. But we should always remember the goal of the meeting. The traditional way of doing a meeting can change, whether it be virtual, hybrid, or whatever the case might be. But get the goal of the meeting met at the same time as you're implementing it in the way that you are. Those are just kind of a few things I would say that we learned in 2022 as an agency for sure.
Right. And I think those are all such great lessons to keep in mind as we go into this new year. So diving into the new year, how do you think our current and future economic conditions will affect our industry this year and beyond?
Oh gosh, definitely it will affect it. I believe the economic environment is definitely going to affect our industry. And you mentioned that beyond, I think it's going to be affected for quite a few years for sure. I see the thing, for instance from a COVID standpoint, the pendulum would swing very far to one side, which was no meetings at all. And then this 2022 year swung all the way to the other side, which was just a firehose of meetings. I think it'll keep kind of swinging like that, and the pendulum will become a little bit less and a little bit less. So I think that the next in line is our inflation and our recession. That's going to start making that pendulum swing a little slower and a little less. And I think that's okay. I think that that needs to happen in an environment where the pendulum was so high on either side. We need to kind of get it in control somewhere in the middle ground.
So it definitely will affect us. I think in the ways that it will affect us is inflation, of course, ensures that there's really high goods and services, the cost of those. And so our client budgets won't go as far as people are used to. Therefore, we could have less people at meetings, or we could have just less meetings as an industry or for specific clients. Because they have a certain amount of meeting money, and it's not going to go as far as they're used to it going. That's something we'll keep on our radar for sure. I think clients are going to want to be more efficient, more effective because of all of that. Therefore, they're going to want to make sure their money goes just as far as it possibly can. So therefore, we've got a task to do, and I certainly say that our clients want to make their meetings worth their money. They want to make sure their goals are met, that their investment is good because it is an investment. I think the bar is going to be set high this year to meet those expectations. But of course, we're ready to meet them, so I'm not worried about that one bit.
Right. So I know that you already touched on this a little bit, talking about in-person events and how they came back in a big way last year.
Do you believe this will continue moving into this year? And if so, how do you think that will affect the frequency of virtual and hybrid events?
So, yes, you're absolutely right. I've spoken on this a little bit, but I believe in the power of face-to-face meetings. I just absolutely do. I think there's a place for virtual. I think there's a place for hybrid. So don't get me wrong in any way. However, there is a real desire (especially with our remote workforces these days) to be together, to have that connection point, to have that human connection that you just can't really get virtually. I believe that most meetings will be live and in person this year - possibly a handful, of course, of smaller virtual or hybrid sprinkled within there. But the vast majority are going to be live meetings. I think people are yearning for them. They're having a big desire for them. We also know they work. They're tried and true. We know that that really gets to the soul of people and their connectedness to where it is they work and what it is that they're doing, whatever the industry might be.
I'd like to talk a little bit about, for instance, our virtual and hybrid. I don't think they have yet - I say yet - shown that they can fully take the place of personal, straightforward, in-person meetings. So until that happens, face-to-face meetings will definitely be the majority of our meetings. I don't, however, believe there will be quite the rush that we had in 2022 with as many people booking meetings and going crazy in that way. One, it could be the inflation economic situation, but also many people who knew they were going to have meetings in 2023 have booked them because of the lack of maybe locations and venues - those are all getting scooped up. So I don't see there being this huge rush of a ton of big, new meetings. However, if there are, it's having to be super flexible with limited space that's available that we're seeing in our sourcing teams, for instance.
Right. And one of the other big questions that I know is probably on our audience's mind is trends for this year. So what are some new trends that we should watch for in 2023?
Oh my gosh, I'm sure there's a whole ton of them. A couple that come to mind for me is VR - virtual reality. I think that's going to be a big one. We talk about the metaverse, certainly. I think there's a lot of kind of dabbling in that. I don't know that it's going to be taking over the industry in the short term in 2023, but I think there's a lot of intrigue, interest, and wanting to see what we can do to make that a part of what it is that we do with meetings - virtual, live, all of those things. So that's a trend I see, and I'm excited to see kind of more of where that goes.
I would say we'll see a trend probably of more group activities from last year - team building, for instance. I think people are going to see that as to be a really big piece to things, particularly for having live meetings (I guess you can also say virtual meetings as well). Clients and companies are trying to find ways to ensure their people are connected. So I'd say group activities, team building is going to be a big one.
Then I think in some tactical type ways, I think we're going to be pushing attendees to mobile apps sooner than just being on site. But I think in the past mobile apps were like, "Oh, these are for on site. You download them once you get here, there you go." And you use them that way. I think that there's going to be a push for mobile apps to be used way earlier in the process, start getting people engaged and included. There's going to be a big area of information in there that's going to be used way sooner than it ever was before because we've seen that it works. We see that it works, and it gets people engaged way before the program starts. You've already got them in once they're at home, and it's a very smooth transition once they get on site.
Another one, I would say, learning curves. There are so many new people in our industry, which is exciting. It's so nice to see so many new faces in the industry. I love to see that. But there's a learning curve when it comes to that. So many new people - not only even new people in the industry, but even people who have been here for a while who've moved, transitioned into other roles, and moved companies. So you have a lot of learning curves in a lot of different ways. A lot of the players have changed. Therefore, all of us just need to have a little grace with each other and kind of being on each other's side, realizing this is an industry-wide thing that we all need to work through together. Again, talking a little bit about bringing our clients along for that ride I mentioned earlier, we need to bring our clients along for that. You know, we may not all be working directly with another meeting planner in a corporation. So therefore, we could be working with another professional who needs to know a little bit about our industry in some ways, so there's some educating on that end as well.
I would also say there's not going to be as much flexibility in our hotels with regard to space, food and beverage, guestrooms, any of that. We're so used to hotels accommodating. And of course, they always want to, their desire is to. They're in the hospitality industry. They want to have that flexibility. But their arms are tied in a lot of ways, particularly because there's so many programs happening, and they are just booked solid. And trying to make the best they can with them also experiencing the pressure of the staffing that we've all had and the learning curves that people have. So they want to provide a great service, and therefore, the flexibility of all these last-minute, flip-the-whole-agenda-around situations may or may not work – to not only the hotel's benefit, but it may not work to our client's benefit because the hotel may not be able to do it. (Or the venue - I say hotel, but certainly venues and things of that sort fall into play with regard to that - convention centers as well.).
Then I would say lastly, another trend that I see is (talking a little bit again about budgets) clients are cutting costs whenever they can without sacrificing the integrity of the meeting. They are trying to find ways to do their program with less money or in different ways, whether it be sponsorships or registration pieces and things of that sort. So that would be some of the trends I see.
Yeah, I definitely think we need to keep all of that in mind as we continue into this new year. So are there any new challenges or opportunities that you think planners should be aware of moving into this year?
You know, we already talked a little bit about the challenges of limited hotels, convention, and venue space. So that's definitely going to be a challenge. Inflation - that high costs with high expectations, with the same expectations that we're there. So trying to be creative in how it is that we're able to get there. The challenges are really digging deep with our clients to find out what is the goal here, and then moving backward out of that. As opposed to, sometimes it can come to us as a "we want to do this," and in fact, we actually need to find the goal first to ensure that if we can't do what you're looking for, we can still get to that same goal in a different way. So the challenges of really dialing in well with our clients is definitely on the top of my mind.
But I think we have more opportunities than we do challenges. I think we've all met a lot of challenges in the last few years. So to me, it's just kind of standard challenges with regard to that. But I would say an opportunity I think is having a seat at the table with our clients strategically, managing their programs to meet their meeting goals. Sometimes you have a seat at the table, and sometimes you don't. And I think that if there are any clients sitting on this podcast listening, give your planner a seat at the table. They have a lot of great ideas and a way to get you to places that you don't have to think about. You just need to tell us what the strategy is for your meeting. "What do you ultimately want to do here?" And we can help make that happen with whatever constraints it is that you're looking at. We pride ourselves – I talk a lot about our company being an entire company of problem solvers, and we are. And we love it when there's a problem that we can solve! So bring us, give us a seat at that table. We love that! So that's an opportunity I see both for our clients and an opportunity for our people to get that seat at that table and show them that it's worth having that seat at that table.
I would say I think an opportunity for us is also advising our clients on the industry regularly. Giving them regular updates on what is happening with our industry. You know, many of our clients, this is not their industry. They are all different - pharma, commercial, franchise, and all the different industries that they're a part of. This is not their industry - meeting, events, and incentives is not their industry. So it is our responsibility to include our clients and update them regularly on where things are happening. So that's an opportunity to be an advisor to them.
I would also say showing our clients that we have flexibility. We are flexible. We can absolutely pivot whenever we need to pivot, and that doesn't come very easily in some places. But we have seen enough to be able to know, again, plan A, B, and C. We need to make sure that we have multiple plans. We can pivot when we need to. We understand that from time to time things are going to happen. What are we supposed to do with this meeting? And we can pivot and adjust. So we have that opportunity to show them and to showcase that for them in this year, just in a different way. You know, COVID was the topic before. Inflation, recession now. So we certainly will continue to pivot just as we always have. But showing them that we have that flexibility, I think, is an opportunity for us.
I think another one, too, is (I mean, I'm sure I could rattle off a million of these today, but I think my last one would be) trying new and different locations. So many times we have our standard few that come out and say, "I want to go here." And it's similar. It's those big tier-one cities and things of that sort. But I think there's also opportunities in other tiers (tier-two, tier-three cities) that sometimes get overlooked, and they have really great things to offer. I think that particularly because of the compression in the industry, it's a great opportunity to look at those and to find something new and try something new. I know that can sometimes feel scary to our clients because the tried and true is where it's at, and they know it's successful. And I think that sometimes you'd surprise yourself that some of these other cities really do have some amazing things to offer. So being flexible, particularly because we have compression in our industry, we need to look outside of our regular pieces. Not to say that the regular cities and the tier-one cities are not amazing. They are, and they have plenty to offer, so you can still look there. But I think just kind of opening your eyes to other possibilities sometimes with surprise you what kind of amazing things you can get out of that. And they're excited and hungry. So I would say those are just a few of the many opportunities that I think I would list today.
Right. And I definitely think that flexibility is such an opportunity. Just like you were saying, it's flexibility on our end, but it's also flexibility with clients just because of the current environment that we're in. I think that's a huge opportunity moving forward.
So to finish this off, if you had to give one piece of advice to event planners entering this new year, what would that be?
Oh my goodness. It's kind of exciting. I get so excited when we start a new year because it's just fresh, it's new, and there's just new possibilities. So coming into this new year, I think it's going to be a year of showing our clients what we're made of. You know, budgets are tight and industry resources are limited, but you need to be strategic. You need to be creative, you need to be flexible, and you need to be the partner that they can imagine living without. That is our motto, if you will. We talk about that, and this is showing them what we're made of. There's rebuilding years, and I saw that as 2022. This year we're going to be pushed to be flexible and show them that. So I'm excited, and I know that with flexibility, creativity, strategy, with all of that, you can be that partner that your client can't live without. That is what it's all about really. We want to bring our clients and our attendees JOY, and that's how we do it.
I love that. I think that is the perfect way to end this. So thank you so much, Amber, for being on the podcast and for helping our audience prepare for another year in the events industry!
Oh, I cannot wait! I'm happy for the New Year and looking forward to what it brings us. Thank you for having me today!
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The Events Experience. Don't forget to subscribe to our podcast, and create JOY wherever you go!