The most important question to ask any event planner. Ever.

By Jeff Lowy, President

I recently read an articleCenterpiece2 in BizBash about the 16 things to ask your event designer, and in typical BizBash fashion, their suggestions were spot-on and possibly a more intense than things I might think to ask an event design team.

There are two major “types” of clients: social and corporate. Surprisingly, many of them have the same needs and would likely need to ask the same types of questions: budget questions, service questions, and an array of questions to determine what each party should expect of the other. This list has continued to grow over the years as technology and priorities (being green for example) have changed.

There are subsets of both of these major categories of course, and that’s because anyone planning any type event has different priorities or hot buttons.  The categories also have to jive with the event/production company’s priorities and business methodologies for the relationship to work.

For example, there are “celebrity” or  “wannabe” celebrity planners of all stripes.  How many wedding/Bar and Bat Mitzvah planners have huge “minimums” these days?   There are hundreds of event planners who won’t even consider dealing with the riff-raff with less than a $250,000.00 budget.  Is it worth it??  Sometimes.  Sometimes, you’re really just paying for the right to say that “so and so” planned my daughter’s wedding and I had to spend over $500K just for them to show up!  And, then, most of them have their “minions” and sub-contractors do much of the work. But, hey, a celebrity affair is a celebrity affair, and bragging rights are occasionally worth a half million bucks.

There are probably a lot more than 16 things to ask your event designer. Our contract, for example went from a one-page form 20 years ago to a 20 page agreement these days. Naturally, we live in an ever more litigious society, but there are so many nebulous and non-quantifiable things that happen at events that its best to outline and put in writing as much as possible.

About a million years ago I read an article by a huge association’s meeting planner who literally had a group of thousands of people going to San Diego and was shopping for a DMC and an event company for a “Beach Party” for his 5000 people.  Obviously, a very busy and important person, this gentleman boiled his RFP down to ONE QUESTION. Not sixteen. ONE.  I am willing to bet that in interviewing companies, putting out RFPs and the like, it saves an inordinate amount of time and helps narrow down your choices really quickly.

He put out an RFP to three companies and got three extremely detailed responses.  They all dealt with service delivery, service quality, inclusions, concepts, budgets, and the usual things that we were all concerned with back in the day and it was before we thought about social media, “green” elements and ROI.  Even associations had money for events and pretty nice ones overall.

To make a long story a LITTLE shorter, these companies were all very creative (or had creative sub-contractors) and included everything you could think of for a beach party from national acts to full sized Ferris wheels, tons of staff, and an assurance and description of the excellent service delivery that this buyer could expect.  He dutifully read all of the information in the RFP answers, examined them to ensure that they were all in his budget and then interviewed each of the companies in person.

In person, being the busy, but polite and get to the point kind of person he was, he complimented them all on their creativity and hard work and asked ONE question.  NOT SIXTEEN.  ONE.  And, depending on the type of company you have or the type of planner you are, some variation of the question would get right to the heart of the matter, and make selection by planners much easier.

THE QUESTION:

WHAT WILL YOU DO IF THE BUSES BREAK DOWN?

As planners, producers, whatever, we all want to showcase our brilliance, creativity and knowledge and dazzle and amaze our prospective customer, and while many of the 16 questions in the BizBash article are extremely important: “Can you work with this budget,”  “What is your style of communication,” “What elements will I own after the event,” and “Does your crew need to be fed” are all valid, there are potential heartache and unaccounted for dollars at risk.  However, I don’t think very many people writing RFPs really ask we’re going to do when the plan starts to unravel.

Anyone in the event business for as long as its taken you to read this knows, just like every military commander knows that the plan lasts only until the first shot is fired (or doors open).  That being a given, the most important question for anyone you’re considering doing business is all about Plan B and how they’re going to implement Plan B without guests noticing.  (Meeting planners note:  We all, as an industry, should make all of our judgments regarding whether or not there is an impact on our guests—and deal with the details of what might have blown up behind the scenes at a later date.)

Every planner can tell you in the proposal phase what will go right and how great it will be when it does.  What’s more important is what the planner tells you they will do when things go wrong.

 

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On March 13, 2014

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