Event planning trend: Getting back to basics

As an event planner, Karen Spratt is used to change, organizing seminars and meetings around the latest pop culture and economic trends.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, companies craved flashy awards programs, she said. Corporations, particularly subprime mortgage firms, held awards galas where cars were given to top performers. Such events were often held in hotels and featured full bands, sometimes performing artists, such as an aerialist or impersonator.

Now, companies are focusing on the basics, she said.

“The economy drives a lot of this,” said Spratt, owner of Innovative Special Events, based in south Charlotte. More than half her clients are based in other states, including California and Florida, two of the hardest-hit economies.

“When people are making a lot of money, businesses make a lot of money and they spend more,” she said. “When things get tighter, these are the first areas that tend to get cut.”

Companies are still holding training sessions and meetings, she said. But more firms are holding such events on-site or near corporate headquarters instead of a far-off locale. An event that might have lasted three days may be cut back to one.

“Now it's black padded chairs instead of ones with a cover. It's a lesser expensive linen,” she said. “Small lighting versus big lighting … A five- or seven-piece band may be changed to a DJ.”

The economy doesn't drive all change. Demographic shifts also influence what companies want, Spratt said. The awards programs, for example, largely shrank because the newer generation of workers didn't value the big productions.

“The X and Y Generation wasn't interested in that kind of event,” she said. “They don't want to go up and receive an award in front of a crowd.” Kerry Hall