A new industry survey has revealed more than half of event planners ‘don’t understand’ all the requirements of incoming changes to data protection rules.

Research carried out by Eventsforce found that 62% of event planners lack understanding about the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – despite the majority holding responsibility for compliance.

Of the 120 surveyed events planners surveyed, 89% have already taken steps in preparing their events for the new regulation but many are concerned about meeting the May 2018 deadline.

The findings of the survey are based on the views of event professional in the U.S. and the UK and represent corporates, associations, government and educational institutions, PCOs and event management agencies.

“GDPR is one of the most important changes facing our industry today as it will completely change the way events collect, process and protect the personal information of people coming from the EU,” said George Sirius, CEO of Eventsforce.

“It will apply to any event holding data on EU citizens and residents – regardless of their location.  It is a major global issue and one that is vital for organisers to understand and prepare for, as ignoring it could lead to some very serious financial consequences.”

The research study conducted this month found that many event planners were unaware of the consequences of not complying to the new piece of legislation.  Around 46% of those surveyed couldn’t say what the maximum financial penalties were and another 33% were unable to identify what constitutes as ‘personal information’ under the regulation.

Looking at the industry’s current state of readiness for GDPR, the survey found that an overwhelming 90% are already underway with GDPR preparations with the majority taking on the crucial step of creating awareness of the new regulation across their internal teams.  More than 40% of event planners have also done things like running data audits, updating consent boxes on registration forms and websites, as well as creating new processes for storing consent, meetings individual access requests and deleting personal data.

When asked about the challenges they’re currently facing in preparing for the new regulation, meeting the May 25th 2018 deadline was seen as the top concern.

Many were also not sure if the steps they’re taking are sufficient for compliance, while others felt they had limited understanding of what needs to be done.  Other challenges include lack of in-house expertise and limited budget and resources.

The survey also highlighted the growing importance of data security with event planners – given the financial implications of a data breach under GDPR. Despite 81% of respondents saying GDPR will make data security a bigger priority for their events from May 2018, fewer than 30% have taken steps to update their data security practices or prepare for a breach.

Data security is also an important issue when assessing the GDPR readiness of technology providers that process personal data on behalf of events (ex. registration systems, mobile apps, surveys, networking tools). The survey, however, found that only 41% of event planners were confident that their systems met the new requirements.

The impact of GDPR on event marketing was another area that the survey investigated. Losing a large chunk of marketing mailing lists was a top concern for 45% of event planners, while others were worried it would limit their personalisation efforts, slow down processes and make prospecting a lot harder. On the other hand, 30% felt GDPR will make their marketing communications a lot more relevant to attendees, with another 24% claiming it would improve both the quality and creativity of their marketing campaigns.

The survey also asked event planners about the potential opportunities they felt GDPR will bring to the industry. Only 29% felt it was a positive thing for the industry with the majority unsure and others voicing doubt over how effective the authorities will be in implementing the legislation after the deadline.

When asked about what long-term benefits GDPR will bring to their events, data security topped the list at 70%, followed by improvements in their data management processes and the quality of attendee data. Other perceived long-terms benefits include more transparency with suppliers, better reputation and improved satisfaction from both attendees and customers.

“The survey findings show that GDPR clearly presents some challenges for our industry – but there are opportunities too.  Event planners will need to think and act very differently to the way they communicate with people coming to their events – and be a lot more honest in the way they manage their information too,” said Sirius.

“Those that can show they’re dealing with personal data in a transparent and secure way and have respect for the privacy of individuals will succeed in building a new level of trust.  And this will be key in deciding which organisations people choose to deal with in the future.”