How publishers are circumventing the rising cost of in-person events

The lead image shows two women discussing money

With summer in the rearview mirror, in-person events are in full swing this fall. But a number of publishers have found the costs associated with hosting such events have gone up as a result of inflation and the lasting impacts of the pandemic.

To mitigate the increased prices of services like shipping, materials, catering and labor, publishers like Time, Bustle Digital Group and Recurrent Ventures’ Business of Home are taking a variety of approaches — from increasing ticket prices to planning earlier and determining what’s superfluous for each event.

“We’re seeing increases across the board,” said Grant Ogburn, president of Publicis Experiential, Publicis Groupe’s North American experiential agency. The jump in prices is “driven by higher costs of transport, supply chain issues and increased demand for product and resources… We’re on the edge of our seats,” he said.

Where costs are up 

Time’s events team first noticed the rise in costs when the company started putting on in-person live events in the fourth quarter of last year, a spokesperson said. And Ogburn said costs have picked up in the last eight months.

Labor costs in particular have been painful, given the fact that it “affects every single part of the process,” from fabrication (making the physical elements of an event) to staffing, said Lindsay Leaf, BDG’s evp of brand marketing and experiential. Business of Home founder Julia Johnston said the main cost increase she saw when planning the Future of Home event, which was held Sept. 12-13 in New York City for design professionals, was in production staff — from tech, event design production and graphic design. She attributed this to the high demand for event staff this month and independent contractors’ raised rates this year. Leaf and Johnston could not provide figures on how much labor costs had increased.

As a result, some of Makeout NYC’s clients are providing unpaid volunteers to assist with brand ambassador-type responsibilities, such as helping attendees navigate an event and engaging with them to drive brand awareness, said Eric Fleming, co-founder and executive producer of the experiential agency.

Companies that still require COVID-19 testing are also feeling the costs of providing those tests onsite – from the price of the tests themselves to hiring staff to perform those tests. For event staffing, Time now aims to hire at least 10% more staff than usual, the Time spokesperson said, without providing exact figures. PCR testing can cost about $300 per person at an event, they added.

Catering bids coming in for the Future of Home event were about 33% higher compared to previous years, Johnston said.

How publishers are mitigating those costs

To offset the rise in event costs, BDG has to plan ahead.

“The more time you have to plan, the more creative and flexible you can be in order to meet and achieve the same goal. When you have a short turnaround time and you’re under a crunch, you just don’t have as many options available to you… Time [and flexibility] is our friend in this scenario,” Leaf said.

Having ample time for conversations with vendors and sponsors — and for fabrication, shipping and rentals — is more important than ever, Leaf said. BDG’s event team begins talks with sponsors six months before an event and starts planning two to three months in advance. Ideally, the team plans to have at least a month allotted to fabrication, she said.

Makeout also pushes for making event design decisions “as quickly as possible,” Fleming said. This can help avoid “exorbitant rush shipping costs” and “provides a longer runway to explore value engineering options for custom builds,” he said.

Time, which plans to host a total of 10 in-person events this year, has had to get creative with its approach to the look and feel of its events, a Time spokesperson said. The company selects less expensive building materials or simpler set designs to offset costs that can’t be reduced or eliminated elsewhere in the budget.

In conversations with advertisers and event partners, BDG has also had to prioritize “what is going to make the most impact” and cut the rest, Leaf said. “What is a must-have and what is a want-to-have-but-maybe-not-necessary?” she said.

The increase in event costs also means it’s more expensive for advertisers to sponsor a part of some publishers’ events. ”If the way in which we’re activating costs more money to activate, then of course sponsorship fees will also cost more,” Leaf said. She could not share how much these fees have gone up, due to the variety of events BDG hosts, Leaf said. However, BoH and Time did not increase their sponsorship fees as a result of increased event production costs.

To offset the rise in costs associated with live events, Business of Home has raised ticket prices.

In 2019, tickets to the Future of Home in-person event cost $695. In 2021, when the event was held both in-person and virtually, tickets cost the same. This year, ticket prices to the fully in-person event increased by $100-$300, and the company added a higher-tier ticket option. Regular admission tickets cost $795, while VIP tickets cost $995. Ticket sales were on par with previous years, at around 550 tickets sold (the same as 2019, but 100 more than in 2021, when the event was hybrid). All BDG events are free to attend, and Time’s events are also not ticketed.

Johnston said Business of Home did not receive any questions or comments about the price increase, “which makes me [think] people understand inflation is a factor.”

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