September 23, 2002


conference expenses

By Mark W. Kustwan

What is an appropriate budget for conference and event expenses? This is a question many in the finance area have difficulty answering. Once you know your event's goals and needs an appropriate budget can be set. But whatever budgeting is done beforehand is simply a forecast and may be flawed unless your event planner understands the nuances of negotiating and managing the conference process.
    Oftentimes, management delegates the planning of meetings, conferences and incentive programs to administrative personnel who have little or no experience in event organization and negotiation. The manager may feel it is a perk for the employee, but what is it really costing the company? Imagine asking the comptroller to close an important sale or expecting the IT people to manage the company's books. Why give substantial financial responsibility to someone who does not have the understanding of what is negotiable and where savings can be found while maintaining the program's quality? What may be even more fiscally irresponsible is turning an entire event over to an outside planning company without having someone within your organization who understands the conference process.
    Next time you review your firm's event budgets ask who handled the event's negotiations and what his or her experience is within this field. When you review the contracts ask yourself what was the starting point to the negotiations - comparing the final contracts with the originals. That is where you will see the value added that your negotiator brought to the table.
    Many feel that once the contract is signed the savings are locked in. Far from it! This is where the spending begins. Watch vendors carefully throughout the planning and implementation process. Whether dealing directly with the hotel's sales and catering staff, offsite venues, transportation companies, etc. or working through an event planning company, costs will be directly affected by your staff's judgment. Simple decisions, such as whether to pay on a consumption basis or per person, what the guarantees will be, and the accuracy of your rooming list may not necessarily bring you over budget but may reduce any savings you have experienced.
    Many factors can reduce an organization's conference expenses. Remember, a quality event should be cost effective as well.

Mark K. Kustwan is the owner of OnTheMark, a conference consulting and management company located in East Longmeadow, MA. He can be reached at
(413) 526-8900 or at: