Negotiating contracts is never easy, but it's a critical part of a meeting planner's job. Every event venue and hotel requires its own contract, but not all contracts are created equal. To ensure everything runs smoothly on the day of, event coordinators must pay careful attention during contract negotiations.
In a recent Northstar Meetings Group webcast, "Legal Mistakes Planners Make and How to Avoid Them," Jonathan T. Howe, president and senior founding partner of Howe and Hutton, Ltd., shared these five ways meeting professionals can get their contracts into shape.
1. Be Prepared
Before setting up an initial meeting with a hotel or venue, event coordinators should take the time to prepare and assess the who, what, why, when, where and how of all the requirements. Doing so will save you work down the road and help minimize any potential problems.
"Too many times we go into negotiations without being prepared. We really don't know what it is that we need," said Howe. "Before you sit down to have a conversation leading up to a negotiation, have a well-defined plan ready of what it is you're looking for and what it is you need for your event. Being prepared is 99.9 percent of the way that you are going to be successful."
2. Make Sure You've Thoroughly Read and Understood the Contract
While the contract might be long, Howe stressed that it's important to read it over in full with a careful eye.
"We too often in the business are quick to make a judgement by looking at what the heading might say," said Howe. "Remember that this business today is anything but static. Contracts go through changes almost daily, depending on what the circumstances are and what's happening."
Each new version of the contract will require a look. Take your time reading through it and make sure the contract terms are clear, accurate and agreed upon.
3. Don't Make Assumptions
If anything is unclear, it's imperative to speak up and ask questions. Planners and suppliers might have different understandings of industry buzzwords such as "rack rate," and any requirements that aren't explicitly stated in the contract might not be met. Making assumptions about the contract could be dangerous, according to Howe.
"The only assumption to make is that assumptions are generally going to be a problem," said Howe. "Some words can have multiple meanings. And don't assume that everything that has been said in a meeting is necessarily going to be delivered when the time comes. That's why we have contracts."
4. Seek Professional Help
Complex contracts might require outside help, whether it be from a lawyer or the local convention and visitors bureau, which can advise event coordinators on what is and isn't available.
"Don't overlook the services that [CVBs] provide," said Howe. "People don't necessarily like to go to lawyers, but once in a while that might be the thing that you need to do. It's important to have a lawyer go through the contact to make sure that it will meet your needs, has the proper legal terminology in it and protects you and your organization."
5. Stay in Touch
The process is not over when the final contract has been approved and signed. Meeting planners should continue to keep in contact with the venue or hotel, so they are up to date on any news or changes that might impact the event. This is especially important for meetings that are planned many months in advance.
Set aside time on your schedule to prepare before negotiations begin, and thoroughly read through the contract once it's established. You'll thank yourself later.
To listen to the entire webcast and get more contract negotiation tips, click here.