Catering and convention services managers, AV/production project managers/producers, general service contractors, and housing and registration service providers — these are the professionals who keep events humming. But during the pandemic, many account and project managers were laid off and took their skills to a different industry, changed careers, or retired, resulting in a significant talent gap.
At the same time, event planners have never had more organizational pressure to deliver meetings with increased attendance, revenue, and resulting net income. At times, these priorities compete against training inexperienced — or fixing issues with — vendors. Planner frustrations include:
- Late assignment — or recurring turnover — of key project managers
- Unexpected increases in expenses
- Lack of empowerment to negotiate or problem-solve
- Unacceptable response times
- No clear escalation path for service recovery
As for vendors, many face headwinds as they work to rebuild their service delivery teams. Today, more than ever, these vendors are competing for talent from other industries offering more competitive salaries and work flexibility. Experienced staff are stressed and are juggling more clients than ever before. Training and onboarding of new team members often takes months.
Strategies for Closing the Gap
Last month, a group of experienced meeting professionals brainstormed solutions. Here are some of their recommendations:
- Main contact — Try to schedule an in-person site visit nine or more months prior to your event. Ask to have a project manager assigned to your event who participates in this planning meeting. If you have a multi-year relationship with a trusted main point of contact, take any necessary steps to ensure they remain on your account. If it’s a new vendor, ask that your main point of contact have at least two years of experience. For critical on-site roles like a producer, ask that they be assigned and available for advance planning calls at least 30 days prior to your event.
- Financial considerations — In your agreements, negotiate a timeframe for locking in pricing and a maximum annual increase. Set the expectation that your budget will be established 12 months in advance and updated two weeks after the site visit.
- Service-level expectations — Establish and communicate your expectations for acknowledging a request (within 24 hours) and for receiving answers (within one to two weeks). Ask each vendor to provide an escalation path for resolving major issues.
Take a Proactive Role in Vendor Kick-off Calls
One of the most important tactics a meeting professional can use to proactively manage key vendors is to set expectations during the planning kick-off call.
- Request that your account manager and at least one empowered leader be present on the call.
- Communicate your account value and service-level expectations (e.g., no surprises and regular updates on project milestones).
- Ask them to outline the escalation path should there be a challenge.
- Come to the meeting with several questions or requests. Test their response time to these requests early on.
- Create an environment where the vendor feels like an extension of your team. Better yet, become their favorite client.
Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.