Unconventional venue contracts still require conventional contract wisdom

Unconventional venue contracts still require conventional contract wisdom

As revealed in my last article, there are a multitude of items that one must consider when “finding the perfect fit” between an event and an unconventional venue. The wide range of factors to be considered (which even at 30-plus items was not exhaustive!) gives credence to the importance of fully understanding the wants and needs of the event, and the capabilities and limitations of the venue, and when compared side by side – being able to discern the best fit.

In addition to these considerations – and what I did not include in that post but am expanding upon here today – is the importance of the “venue contract” and its content. The integrity and scope of the venue contract template is of equal importance as a pre-placement consideration.

Recently I gave a presentation on unconventional venue contracts and in preparation for that workshop I carefully reviewed 12 unconventional venue contracts that colleagues had generously shared with me. I reviewed contracts that ranged from an aquarium, a heritage museum, ski resort, entertainment complex, amusement park facility, and an art gallery. Each of these venues definitely offer those “one-of-a-kind” spaces that provide event hosts with unique possibilities!

Upon studying the contracts, I was surprised, then dismayed – and then, angered – that most of the contracts were lacking key components of a balanced venue contract that protected both parties in ways and means that are important to their own interests. In fact, 11 of the 12 contracts I reviewed were one-sided – and definitely not protective of the interests of the event host.

Most of the contracts did not have:

  • indemnification clauses – that protected both parties
  • cancellation clauses – that protected both parties
  • force majeure clauses – that protected both parties

In fact – some of the contracts were missing these key clauses entirely – ie., the venue was not even protecting themselves!

And not only were the “heavy-hitters” missing – the contracts in some cases were:

  • poorly crafted (ie., sloppy cutting and pasting)
  • overbearing with legalese
  • containing contradictory content
  • unnecessarily vague in key areas
  • incomplete

As professional event planners – regardless of whether we are placing our events in conventional or unconventional venues – we must negotiate balanced venue contracts. What do I mean by this? A contract between two business entities – the venue and the event host – must be crafted to include language and clauses that protect, and minimize financial and logistical risks, for both parties. Be assured that a contract, as originally presented by a venue, has been carefully crafted to protect the venue, not the event host.

One of our core responsibilities as professional event planners – and in my opinion our foremost responsibility – is to be articulate about, knowledgeable in, and capable of achieving a balanced contract. If a venue contract is not up to grade, then it is upon us to take the time and exercise the expertise to create one. And if a venue is not willing to negotiate their contract to make it balanced, then that too is of concern.

So – what is the key take away here as it relates to unconventional venues? When considering placing your event in an unconventional venue, it is my recommendation that you request a generic contract template and have the critical discussion about flexibility in negotiating clauses, well in advance of making your final venue decision. Having a generic contract to review and determine the venue’s willingness to negotiate business to business will give you valuable information in your decision making process. And perhaps, based on these findings and before investing too much of your efforts and expectations, you can rule out an unsuitable unconventional venue.

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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