Flagging Economy Is Shortening Event Lead Times, Delaying Contracts—But Not for Everyone

By Alesandra Dubin March 9, 2009, 8:30 AM EDT

As the recession continues to cut its swath through the event business, some local planners and vendors are seeing effects on the lead times they're being afforded for projects—but those effects aren't necessarily obvious. As corporations tighten up marketing dollars, lead times are shrinking in some cases. In others, however, planners are offering vendors the same amount of time to prepare—if not more.

“Our lead times are staying the same, and during this [downturn] we put a lot more focus on marketing and events,” said Jennifer Gordon, vice president of special events and PR at Caruso Affiliated, who reported that her event dollars are safe, both because the budgets were approved last year and because of her company's acknowledgment of their importance. ”We usually plan our strategy a year in advance, and [for 2009] all events are on plan and budgeted. I really haven't changed much of what we've been doing in terms of [the time frame for] contract signing.”

Entertainment Tonight and The Insider's communications vice president, Lisa Summers Haas, who plans ET's fall Emmy party, said, “We start preparing plans for that [party] in May, and we're still on schedule. I'm finding a lot of vendors are approaching me sooner to be involved. People are reaching out [now], wanting to be involved.” Indeed, it may be that vendors—anticipating more difficulty securing signed contracts for other projects—are taking more aggressive approaches with planners willing to lock things down early.

Erick Weiss of Honeysweet Productions added, “People seem to be putting events on hold, which means that the actual lead times will shrink if they decide to proceed with them—but my generally steady events are working away ... just as they have in the past with about three months of lead time.”

Chris Benarroch, who owns the Benarroch Productions, said, “I do think the lead times have shrunk, and I think it’s because the economy has created an ever-changing event landscape where many of our productions are continually being modified as we react to new and sudden events that continue to arise. We are being affected by layoffs, sponsors that drop off or suddenly appear, and budgets that are continually reduced.” Cara Kleinhaut of Caravents agreed, “We're seeing a lot less lead time, a lot more uncertainty, and a lot more spinning of wheels.”

But even as the time between a signed contract and event day may be narrowing for some, requests for proposals may be circulating as much in advance as in pre-recession days. “People are waiting for a couple different vendors to [potentially] make a cut [to an initial quote]. People are waiting until the bitter end to say 'You've got it' or 'You don't'—or 'What can you do for me?' Signatures and deposits aren't coming quite as easy,” said Brad Levine of B. Levine Productions.

Other industry folks are reporting that the economic crunch has actually had the reverse effect on lead times—that they're lengthening. “Our lead times for the events we do on an annual basis have actually gotten better, longer,” said Mark Yumkas of Angel City Designs. “My guess is that the clients have fewer events to do, so they have more time to focus earlier on the ones they are doing.”

Larry Abel of Larry Abel/De-Signs added, “We're working on annual events for October. We're busy, which is great.”

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