Top four tips for negotiating your event venue contracts

Venue contracts: Love, lust or run?

TLC’s popular show Love, Lust or Run? is based on the premise of everyday people reacting to the featured guest in their preferred (albeit most often quite strange) outfit. People are asked to indicate if they would “love, lust or run” on the guest based on their appearance.

I propose that if meeting planners’ reactions to reviewing venue contracts were to be gauged in the same “love, lust or run” approach, most planners’ first reaction would be to “run”! In my over 20 years as an independent meeting planner, I have met very few planners that enjoyed (never mind “loved”) the task of reading pages of fine print.
tips for negotiating your event venue contractsBeing able to negotiate venue contracts that are savvy to the interests and protection of our client is an integral component of a meeting planner’s role. However, it is my view that our attention to growing one’s expertise in this area often dims in comparison to growing in more engaging responsibilities, such as trying new meeting designs, featuring technological advances and incorporating the latest in learning styles.

Venue contracts are riddled with legalese that has been specifically designed to protect the venue, and it is our responsibility to know how to negotiate clauses far beyond those dealing with “rates, dates and space”, and of course the concessions.

It is my operating premise that venues offer a proposed contract, meaning every aspect of content should be reviewed, discussed and negotiated from both the venue and the client’s perspective. At the end of the process of contracting with a venue, the most appealing position would be that the contract is fair and reasonable to both parties.

Here are four of my top tips when contracting with venues:

1. Contract clauses – can you explain them in plain English?

The most complicated clauses in contracts are often those with the most opportunity for risk and liability: force majeure, indemnification, attrition. You need to be able to explain every term and every clause in plain English for yourself in order to have an open discussion with your sales contact and especially for your client who signs the contracts.

2. Know your event numbers – This is about business!

Know your event numbers and know the venue’s event numbers. For example, do you know the food and beverage per occupied group room value for your event? Do you know the hotel’s traditional occupancy rate? Conveying the fiscal value and the accurate realities of your event, in ways meaningful to the venue, are key to negotiating the very best contract.

3. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!

Before you even enter into contract, meeting planners need to know what the client’s “must haves” or “needs” are, and what the client’s “wants” or “would be nice to haves” are. Having the lists of needs and wants allows the meeting planner to effectively negotiate. And because negotiations often involve compromise, knowing your client’s priorities of needs and wants means you are not unknowingly compromising your client’s must haves.

4. Negotiations work in both directions – It is about give and take!

Whenever you give something away – preferably from the client’s “wants” list be prepared to request something equitable. Contract negotiations should leave both parties fully satisfied with the outcome – feeling cheated, on either side, will play out down the line.

In future posts, I look forward to exploring contract issues in more depth and offering additional tips.

In closing, if questioned on the spot as to how I feel about reviewing venue contracts, I would grin and answer “love… absolutely love!”

What about you: would it be “love, lust or run”? Comment below and let us know!

About the author:

Heather Reid ARCT MSc, the Founder and CEO of PLANNER PROTECT, has been engaged in the meetings industry since 1994. Beginning in the industry through her work with a national association, to founding her own independent full service event management company in 2000 (Innovative Conferences & Communications), Heather launched Planner Protect in 2014 to focus on serving the meetings industry through her passion for "everything contracts!" Planner Protect provide contract negotiations consulting services, workshops and webinars for meeting planners across Canada, as well as providing education opportunities for entrepreneurs and organizations on hosting and contracting for live events. She is passionate about helping others read between the lines! It is Heather’s desire to continue to grow in this exciting and ever-changing industry, as she is constantly challenged to learn and is inspired by those around her.

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