The Art of the Deal


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These negotiating tips can help event planners ensure a win-win situation.

By Sanjay Surana, Untangled

Event planners, like professionals in other sectors across the globe, are required to do more with less. In this new normal, negotiating a good deal at every juncture is seen as a key part of the job — requiring skill, persistence, social manoeuvring, and an unflagging spirit. But how can planners best negotiate with venues and suppliers to get more bang for their buck? How do they snag value-added services? And what can they do to ensure that a deal is a win-win situation for all involved?

“Negotiating a good deal goes beyond monetary value,” said Linda Low, CMP, strategic partnership and product marketing manager at Pacific World. “It should encompass the event planner’s ability to personalise service to the client, create out-of-the-ordinary formats and experiences for delegates, and ensure seamless execution throughout the planning and event period.”

Low said she also believes that a planner’s reputation from past events plays a crucial role in the success or failure of any negotiation.

Linda Low

Marcel Ewals

Marcel Ewals, director of association development and marketing (APAC) at MCI, shared a similar viewpoint. “Experience will make all the difference. More experienced managers can anticipate the issues and know where to compensate the agreements. Both parties need to feel good with the agreement and have confidence that it will deliver. If it’s an unhappy relationship, divorce is imminent.”

“I operate by a few rules that I have learned and believe in,” Ewals added. “One of them is to ask for the impossible and work your way down. But present it without [outpricing] yourself. The ‘tit-for-tat’ rule is important in second-round negotiations. It is okay to ask for something else in order to compromise on a reduction on your side.”

That said, it is important not to push too far. “Looking for the right balance is the art of negotiation. A good negotiator should avoid killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” said Benson Tang, regional director, Asia, for the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

He noted that “negotiation has always been an important element of KPI, but successful negotiation needs a high level of influential and diplomatic skills.”

In addition to the standard venue booking, catering, and technical assistance, extra perks are as important to the equation as bottom-line cost. “Never be afraid to ask for a performance bonus, even if the ceiling is high,” Ewals said.

Benson Tang

Tang added: “Sometimes a negotiator will focus on the dollar value and not pay enough attention to stuff which could bring extra value.

“In airlines’ negotiations for deals, the cost of the air ticket is important, but if the airlines can also provide non-dollar value benefits such as guaranteed seats, use of airport lounges, fast-pass for immigration in some airports, earlier boarding, and so on, these all add great value.”

Beverley Parker

For Beverley Parker, director of business development at ICC Sydney, intangibles can make all the difference. “It is our venue, services, and people that are the greatest value-add to any event,” she said. “A good deal means all parties involved have a clear understanding of the event requirements and event delivery. Our success is our client’s success and delivering a successful event is the ultimate ‘good deal.’”

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