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Inflation Sweeps the Nation: How 5 Event Pros Are Dealing with Increased Costs

There’s no how-to on ensuring inflation doesn’t affect you or your business, so we asked these industry experts how they’re offsetting the nationwide rise in costs.

What to Do About Inflation in Events
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July 18, 2022, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the highest it’s been in four decades. Over the past 12 months, the CPI has increased 9.1%, meaning the purchasing power of the US dollar is down and therefore food, energy, apparel, household items, and events are more expensive.
Photo: Courtesy of Hargrove

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July 18, 2022, the Consumer Price Index (CPI)—which measures the rate of change in inflation in America—is the highest it’s been in four decades. Over the past 12 months, the CPI has increased 9.1%, meaning the purchasing power of the US dollar is down, and therefore food, energy, apparel, household items, and—you guessed it—events are more expensive.

Keep reading to hear from five event professionals across North America on how inflation has influenced their production process and what they’re doing to stay afloat in the market. 

What to Do About Inflation in EventsAmanda MaPhoto: Courtesy of Amanda MaAmanda Ma is the CEO of Innovate Marketing Group, based in Pasadena, Calif.

When she first saw inflation taking a toll: Ma recalled seeing the effects of inflation upon reviewing a “rental quote for the first in-person event [in a while] that involved a lot of rentals. We noticed the pricing went up tremendously, especially with labor.” She noted that “costs also increased a lot for same-day pickup—three to five times compared to two years ago.”

How she’s adjusting: At Innovative Marketing Group, Ma has had to “adjust our pricing to meet the demands of overall inflation.” She noted that requesting more money is not only about staying competitive in the industry, but also about “retaining our talent” since the industry is already “short staffed” in our new normal.

And to keep clients as well, Ma stresses the importance of “informing clients early in the planning process,” suggesting that “reminders along the way” can also be beneficial. It comes down to “strategic planning,” she says. One tip? “Avoid rush fees on shipping and production,” and give yourself more time to “plan ahead.”

Sarah Porter is the vice president at SWARM, based in Miami. 

How inflation has affected business lately: Porter points out that since the pandemic, there is a slew of “assets no longer accessible,” including “shortages of people” she attributes to shuttered businesses throughout 2022, which forced many professionals to seek work in other industries.

What to Do About Inflation in EventsSarah PorterPhoto: Courtesy of SWARMTherefore, with event and hospitality professionals “anxious to get back to work, they were willing to do whatever it takes—and spend whatever it takes,” she says. “We were willing to pay vendors, employees, and subcontractors whatever it took to re-open,” Porter recalls of early 2022. Then, as she notes, those rates that “we panicked to offer to be first back to the market … became the standard.”

She says that came down to “passion for our craft,” and notes that for “the most tenacious operators, profitability was the last thing on our mind. Getting our organizations back up and running at all costs was the first.”

How she’s adjusting: Porter says she’s using observations of the industry in its current state to help guide her. “We are facing an industry that is suffering across the board because of inflation-related challenges. Industry giants are wavering, and they’re passing on their financial struggles to clients at a tremendous expense.”

“We use this fact to seek out new growth opportunities,” she explains, adding that when SWARM produces an event to draw awareness to a smaller or up-and-coming brand, that’s challenging the post-pandemic monopolization of select industries. With this, “in some small way, we are slowing the balloon of inflation—and in a very big way, we are helping build back our industry.”

Her advice for other event pros: Porter encourages other planners to not see inflation as a challenge, but an opportunity. “Look for problems that you’re facing due to the economic shifts, and use those challenges as an inspiration for a breakthrough.”

Taline Hasholian is the president of ASV Inc., based in Torrance, Calif. 

When she first saw inflation taking a toll: Hasholian recalls producing an activation for Chase at the US Open back in summer of 2021, and noticing that supplies were short. “There was so much demand in even getting the most basic materials [that] we use often, [such as] graphics, wood, and vinyl products.” Not even distributors could help, she adds. “There was just way too much demand in this industry for the supply that was out there.”

On top of it, “New York needed to open up,” she says, thinking back to that sense of urgency to host large-scale, annual events like the US Open again. “Candidly, it made the budget not that much of a concern.” Similar to Porter, Hasholian spent her time after the lockdown working under the philosophy that “whatever it takes, it takes.”

How inflation has affected business lately: Thankfully, Hasholian says that “majority of clients are understanding” because they’re seeing rising costs themselves—”when they fill up their gas tank or go to the general store to buy anything.”

But just because inflation’s occurring nationwide doesn’t mean clients are quick to pay up. “Of course, they’re still comparing [costs],” Hasholian says, but notes that “a little bit of education” goes a long way. For example, she suggests breaking it down and explaining how “it costs me more than that price to do this for you.”What to Do About Inflation in EventsTaline HasholianPhoto: Courtesy of ASV Inc.

Yet business is still booming, and Hasholian attributes her busy schedule to people finally feeling safe enough “to get out and do things.” The result? “Experiential left, right, and center.”  

How she’s adjusting: Hasholian says ASV Inc. has had to increase its prices to keep up with rising costs everywhere else, noting that she has tried to “conservatively increase rates.” 

However, materials have still been marked up about 10%, and project managers’ rates have increased by 20%. Hasholian says this is a result of labor costs rising even further, adding that she’s seen up to 50% markups for freelancers and transportation costs. “I cannot find a person that has any level of experience for less than $30 an hour,” she says. “I was never paying anywhere near that—my high end was $30 pre-pandemic.”

Her advice for other event pros: “It’s a tide—ride the tidal wave.” 

At the end of the day, Hasholian says it's all about “maintaining customer and employee satisfaction,” stressing the importance of employee morale. “It’s amazing how much people will do for a company if they know the company believes in them, appreciates them, and awards them.”

Scott Mirkin is the president and CEO of ESM Productions, based in Philadelphia, Pa.

What to Do About Inflation in EventsScott MirkinPhoto: Courtesy of Scott MirkinHow inflation has affected business lately: Scott notes the increased cost of fuel and trucking, but says he really sees inflation having a significant impact on event budgets and wages. “Many workers left the business [during COVID] and came back at a much higher wage. The wage of the average catering worker is approaching the rate of technical AV staff.”

How he’s adjusting: The CEO has raised the cost of his full-service event production company’s services.

His advice for other event pros: “Be honest and transparent with your clients. Most importantly—be compassionate and human with folks after two years of no work.”

Lisa Miller is the executive director of event production at Hargrove from Encore, based in Lanham, Md.

How inflation has affected business lately: Like Hasholian, Miller hasn’t seen inflation slowing anyone down. “I believe very strongly that it’s because of our innate human desire to connect,” she says. “We’ve continued to work closely with our consumers and to dig deep with our vendor community and supply-chain relationships to get creative in identifying resources and solutions.”What to Do About Inflation in EventsLisa MillerPhoto: Courtesy of Hargrove

She adds: “Transparency, collaboration, and partnerships are key here, and we’re living that in our day-to-day operations.”

Her advice for other event pros: “Look at the big picture. Rather than planning event by event, evaluate your long-term event strategy to identify challenges, define program goals, and develop efficiencies and synergies that ultimately translate to a more effective use of your budget.”

To accomplish this, Miller suggests “seeking out event partners and vendors that are collaborative and invested in your success.” Also be sure to consider time, she says, and “bring [clients] into the planning conversation as early as possible.” She assures this will allow for more effective collaboration should any challenge arise along the way.

Another way to cut costs? “Marry technology with custom fabrication.” Oh, and “leverage modular rental solutions. They allow us to be creative, cost effective, and consider sustainability while reducing transportation requirements. They’re incredibly dynamic.”

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