Venue contracts: A meeting planners’ call to action

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Venue contracts: A meeting planners’ call to actionI couldn’t believe my eyes! There, in an email, was the statement that put into words a sentiment that I’ve heard over and over again from meeting planners:

“The way I have been brought up in this industry has always been to just reduce the rental and food and beverage minimums, add your concessions, sign and send.”

This quote was written by an experienced meeting planner employed by a reputable Canadian organization – in response to an email dialogue we were having about negotiating a venue contract she was working on.

When I received this email, my first reaction was disbelief, and I instantly had a host of questions. How could these be the only strategies used to negotiate venue contracts? What about all of the other more important clauses? Did they know and understand the inherent risks to their employer? Who was signing these poorly written contracts?

After reflecting on my own experiences, as well as my work with Canadian independent and corporate meeting planners, my response is now quite different. It is, “Why would this planner know to negotiate more when they do not know what they do not understand?”

So, why does this planner not know what they do not understand? To me, there are several reasons:

  • As a professional body, we do not demand that expertise – beyond basic literacy – in venue contract negotiations be a core competency.
  • As a professional body, we fail to articulate the importance of this fundamental and critical responsibility within our roles.
  • There is a dearth of planner-directed and planner-provided education on negotiating venue contracts in Canada – so it mustn’t be a priority, right?
  • There are limited “standards of practice” or “best practice” examples for benchmarking our individual expertise.
  • There is no “fear factor” overshadowing our work. We do not work within a litigious culture here in Canada, although that doesn’t mean the risks aren’t there.
  • There is a perception within planners that we shouldn’t, or we can’t push back on venue contracts.
  • There is a complacency that everything will work out.
  • We have a fear of being told “no”.
  • We fear, and do not want to acknowledge, what we do not know and what we do not understand.
  • We have a fear of being labelled “that red ink planner”.

As an independent meeting planner for over 20 years, I am the first to admit that negotiating venue contracts is a time intensive, challenging and intimidating responsibility. I’ve heard planners express sentiments such as “I’d rather have a root canal than read a contract,” or “I can’t wait to get it off my desk,” or “It’s just too full of jargon.”

Reaching a venue contract that is mutually beneficial to both the venue and the customer involves hours of time and scores of expertise. Venue contracts are formidable in scope and depth, and are rarely consistent from one to the next. In contrast to the frantic pace of a meeting planner’s everyday scope of work, reviewing venue contracts requires one to slow down, read and reread every single word, and intelligently, strategically, and expertly consider what the verbiage means to ourselves, our employer or our client.

If I was to proclaim a call to action for planners – it would be this:

  • We must acknowledge and respect the critical responsibility venue contract negotiations is within our profession.
  • We must recognize and admit what we do not know and understand.
  • We must educate ourselves more thoroughly on venue contracts.
  • We must consistently, constantly – and in the most collegial of ways – negotiate everything in venue contracts

In the not too distant future, it would be great if our colleague was able to confidently write: “The way I have been brought up in this industry is to read, understand and articulately negotiate every clause to produce a venue contract that protects and furthers both parties, and creates mutually beneficial business outcomes.”

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