by Heather Reid
I once conducted a side-by-side examination of 12 signed and negotiated contracts for booking events into unconventional venues. The “unconventional venue” contracts included the following Canadian locations: cultural centre, city-owned sports facility, entertainment complex, music hall, high-risk recreational facility, heritage facility, aquarium, brewery, two recreational/amusement facilities and museums in two different cities.
Here are a few of the findings of my side-by-side review:
- 6 contracts – did not have one and therefore, neither side was protected.
- 5 contracts – one-sided indemnification protecting the venue only.
- 1 contract – two-sided indemnification protecting both parties.
DISTURBING FACT: 11 of 12 clients found it acceptable to sign venue contracts that did not protect themselves with an indemnification clause.
Force Majeure Clause
- 3 contracts – did not have one and therefore, neither side was protected.
- 6 contracts – one-sided Force Majeure clause protecting the venue only.
- 3 contracts – two-sided Force Majeure clause protecting both parties.
DISTURBING FACT: 9 of 12 clients found it acceptable to sign venue contracts that did not protect themselves with a Force Majeure clause
- 12 contracts – had a cancellation by CLIENT clause with assigned fees to compensate the venue.
- Zero contracts – had a cancellation by VENUE clause with assigned fees to compensate the client.
DISTURBING FACT: None of 12 clients found it acceptable that, at minimum, the venues didn’t even return their deposits should the venue “want” to cancel.
I believe the real-world test of our professional body of event contract knowledge is most accurately measured when we are working with contracts that are “less than ideal”.
As professional event planners – regardless of whether we are placing our events in unconventional or conventional venues – we must expect balanced venue contracts. And if a balanced and/or complete contract is not forthcoming from the venue – we MUST be capable of negotiating one! Why? Because it is our responsibility as event professionals – our foremost responsibility – to protect our clients and/or employers both from financial risks and logistical situations. And to do this, we must be articulate about, knowledgeable in, and capable of achieving a balanced contract.
Here’s an example of an email I received from an experienced meeting planner employed by a reputable Canadian organization: “The way I have been brought up in this industry has always been to reduce the rental and food and beverage minimums, add your concessions, sign and send.”
This statement still confounds me, but upon reflecting on it – I realized that this planner operates within the following Canadian context:
- As an industry, we do not demand that contract negotiations expertise – beyond basic literacy – is a demonstrable core competency.
- There is a dearth of planner-directed and planner-provided education on negotiating venue contracts in Canada – so it must not be a priority, right?
- There are limited “standards of practice” or “best practice” examples for benchmarking our individual expertise.
- There is no “fear factor” overshadowing our work. We do not work within a litigious culture here in Canada, although that doesn’t mean the risks aren’t there.
- There is a perception that we shouldn’t, or we can’t push back on venue contracts.
- We fear, and do not want to acknowledge, what we do not know and what we do not understand.
So, here is my call to action for planners:
- Acknowledge and respect the critical responsibility that venue contract negotiations are within our professional practice.
- Recognize and admit what we do not know and understand.
- Educate ourselves more thoroughly on venue contracts.
- Consistently and constantly – and in the most collegial of ways – negotiate everything in venue contracts.
In the not too distant future – it would be great if our colleague was able to confidently write: “The way I have been brought up in this industry is to read, understand and articulately negotiate every clause to produce a venue contract that protects and furthers both parties, and creates mutually beneficial business outcomes.”
Heather Reid, ARCT MSc DES, is founder and CEO of Planner Protect Inc. She consults with event hosts and industry professionals to negotiate balanced event contracts. CEOs, professional planners, and venue representatives alike, all recognize Heather as a trusted and knowledgeable expert in her field.