10 Things They Hate About You

Psst . . . Heard the latest, planners? It's about you. And it's hardly flattering. We've been getting an earful from your suppliers, who are hopping mad about some of your work habits. In the interest of planning your meetings better, you need to hear them out.

Successful Meetings spoke to staffers at hotels, convention centers, catering companies—you name it—to find out their pet peeves about planners. The vast majority of you, they assured us, are intelligent, conscientious souls who are a joy to work with. But a few bad apples do things that make it nearly impossible to pull off a successful program. Your ears may burn as you read this list, but remember: It's for your own good . . .

1.Last-minute switcheroos.

Bringing a big meeting to town? Please, give your suppliers more than 48 hours to accommodate program changes. "More than once, planners have sent us all their details two months out, then—after we've spent days following them to the letter—breezed in two days beforehand and proceeded to change nearly everything," says James Amerson, catering and convention service sales manager for Joel's Grand Cuisine at the Hampton Inn & Suites in New Orleans. Such behavior only hurts planners in the long run, he points out, by forcing suppliers to establish fees for program adjustments.

If that weren't bad enough, some planners provide hardly any details, let alone modifications, until two days out. "I understand planners are busy, but if they're doing a five-day meeting for eight hundred people, we need to get their specs at least a week before," says Kelly Scanlon, senior catering and convention services manager at Disney's Yacht & Beach Club Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL. "What if their boss wants lobster dinners and we can't do it? They're hurting themselves by letting us know so late."

2. Skimpy RFPs.

Make sure your requests for proposal include as much detail as possible—everything from the meeting's goals to the group's demographics. "Just saying, 'I want a theme party for three hundred people' is useless," says Claudia Wehrman, CMP, regional director of sales and marketing for PRA Destination Management in San Diego. "And we get that from veteran planners!" Putting together a comprehensive RFP is in your own best interest, she adds, because it can be reused with only minor revisions. Sound like common sense? "In more than twenty-five years in this industry," sighs Wehrman, "I've never gotten a planner's RFP that I didn't have to follow up on."

In a similar vein, planners often fail to include demographic information on their banquet event orders. "We work very hard to customize menus," says Gregg Greca, director of convention services for the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, FL. "A Midwest-based group, say, will tend to be meat-and-potatoes types, whereas pharmaceutical salespeople are usually health conscious and want high-energy snacks like smoothies. The planner needs to provide that information—not assume that a menu that worked for one group will work for another."

3. Balking on budgets.

Maybe you can't, or don't want to, say exactly how much money you've got, but if you don't at least give suppliers a range, how can they come up with a feasible program? "I hear that complaint on the supplier side all the time—and I've worked on both the planner and supplier ends," notes Madelyn Marusa, vice president of industry relations for PRA Destination Management in Carlsbad, CA. "Without a budget, we're shooting in the dark with our proposals." Not having financial information upfront often means having to redo proposals, she notes, which wastes time and adds significantly to suppliers' costs.

4. Going incommunicado.

So you haven't been returning suppliers' phone calls and e-mails? Don't try to deny it—this was the number-one complaint we heard. "Even if you haven't made a decision, just touching base to let us know that is very important," urges Norma Cordes, president and owner of Blue Ribbon Arrangement and Tours in Prairie Village, KS. Keep suppliers updated on the status of your event—especially if you've chosen someone else—and they'll be less likely to bother you with calls and e-mails you don't have time to return.

5. Avoiding AV.

Think ahead of time about the technical requirements of your meeting, urges Craig Muir, account executive at LMG Inc., an audiovisual company in Orlando, FL. "If you're planning a product launch, say, and you want pyrotechnics or other high-tech stuff, the last thing you want to find out is that the hotel prohibits it or the meeting room you've booked is too small for your large screen." For similar reasons, Muir is peeved by planners who don't put a 24-hour hold on their rooms—or who fail to ask who'll be using the space next. "I once did a sales meeting that started at three p.m., and because the planner didn't hold the room there was another group booked at six, which no one knew about," he grouses. "We spent two hours rushing around taking down a full lighting truss, audio equipment, large projection screens—all via one elevator, which wasn't even a freight elevator!"

6. Treating suppliers like underlings.

The more you can regard your suppliers as equals, the better. "My biggest goal with any client is to build a partnership," says Lee Linderman, director of off-premises sales and marketing for Wolfgang Puck Catering & Events in Hollywood, CA. "Suppliers aren't just looking to make a buck; business is too tight for any vendor to see a planner as a one-time sale. So be upfront about your needs and expectations."

And remember that suppliers—including speakers—are people, too. "I've had planners fly me across the country to give a breakfast keynote without letting me arrive a day or two early to recover," complains a California-based speaker who did not want her name used. "Or they put me in a hotel far away from the convention center and then expect me to spend an hour in traffic before I arrive for my presentation." If planners don't let suppliers be at their best, she asks, how can they expect their meetings to go smoothly?

7. Shortchanging security.

You'd think controlling access to your meeting would be top of mind in a post-9/11 world. Not according to Anthony Poveromo, president and founder of 21st Century Security in New York City. "I'm doing an event next week honoring a major sports hero and the planner wants only one security person," he groans. "How can one person watch all the doors, check guests' badges, and keep people with cameras and bags out?"

Planners trying to save pennies typically skimp on security, says Poveromo, who in his 30 years in the business has seen many an event go awry for this reason. Another cost-saving mistake is to rely on a nonprofessional—"their friend or relative who's a cop. That's an unlicensed individual working their event, and if that person roughs someone up, the planner could have a lawsuit on their hands." Professional security, he insists, should be a planner's third priority, right after choosing the venue and lining up the speakers and entertainment. "Without those three key elements, no meeting can take place successfully."

8. Whining, "But other venues do/don't do that . . . "

In 11 years at the Dallas Convention Center, senior event coordinator Erika Bondy has had more than a few odd requests. Like the time a client wanted to drill holes in the center floor to put up a tent—then was annoyed when Bondy told him that wasn't allowed. "He acted as if we were being unreasonable, but when we design our policies and procedures, we research what centers in other cities do, and they're all pretty similar," explains Bondy. "It's very disconcerting when planners claim, 'Center X doesn't charge extra for that,' or 'Other centers have always let me do this.' We know it's not true, but you can't tell the customer that."

9. Double standards.

Remember the Golden Rule from grade school? Think about it the next time you give a DMC two days to respond to your RFP. . . and then sit on the reply for two months. Or ask a hotel to reserve space tentatively and don't tell the salesperson—or respond to her follow-up calls—if you've decided to hold the meeting or not. Bottom line: Treat others as you would like to be treated, and they'll be more likely to go out of their way for your meeting.

10. Not saying "thank you."

As you well know, nothing is more discouraging than going out of your way for a client and getting no acknowledgement. So if you liked a supplier's services, write her a thank-you note or a letter of commendation. Says PRA Destination Management's Marusa, "It's what classy planners do."





THE FLIP SIDE

Sure, suppliers can dish it out, but can they take it?

After letting suppliers sound off about planners' most annoying traits, we thought it only fair to give equal time to the other party. So we asked planners: What do suppliers do that bugs you the most? Here's what they told us.

Cold, Cold, Calls

Receiving unsolicited sales calls is the most frustrating aspect of dealing with suppliers, according to the planners we contacted for this article as well as a recent survey by our sister publication Meeting News, in which 51 percent of the 235 planners polled listed it as their greatest annoyance. "At least once a day, I get a call from a salesperson asking me basic questions like, 'Do you plan meetings?' " complains Suzette Eaddy, director of conferences for the National Minority Supplier Development Council in New York City, who oversees a $4.2 million department. "Yet there's plenty of data available that would let them qualify their sales calls. If someone's calling me, they should have some history on my meetings."

To avoid cold calls, David Kliman, president of The Kliman Group, a hospitality consultancy in Sausalito, CA, recommends that planners attending trade shows pass out an information sheet that includes their programs' needs as well as names and contact information for any team members involved. And at least one supplier has taken steps to minimize the cold-calling problem. This month, the San Diego CVB launches a customized, electronic information tool called "iService," whereby planners can fill out not only what kind of data they'd like from the destination, but who on their team should receive the information, and on what date.

"Spare Me the Details."

The second biggest pet peeve for the planners we interviewed was having their meetings specifications ignored. "I've been doing an event with a particular property for five years, and my written specs for the program are anywhere from twenty-five to sixty pages long," says Lillian O'Connor, president of Custom Meetings International in Staten Island, NY. "Yet when I get back the hotel's BEOs [banquet event orders], they look like they're for a different conference. It drives me crazy!"

Why would suppliers do this, especially when so many complain about getting scant information from planners? Could there be such a thing as too much information? Not according to the suppliers we spoke to. "The more detail planners can send us, the better," declares Rob Scypinski, director of sales and marketing for the San Francisco Hilton. "I've never heard anyone on our team complain of getting too much information."

O'Connor herself believes complacency is to blame. "The hotel people think they know the program already, but I tweak it every time," she notes. "They send over the specs from last month's event without bothering to read my version." Although O'Connor is actively soliciting other venues, and has insisted on a "heart-to-heart" with every hotel staffer involved with her program, for now "this is the only place I can hold this meeting. Hoteliers are taking planners for granted because there's such a demand for space."

While she waits for satisfaction, O'Connor suggests that planners avoid wasting their time, as she did in her less experienced days, redoing faulty specs: "I used to spend hours going over them. Now, if they're not right after the first few pages, I send them back and tell the hotel to review the specs I sent."

Commitment-phobes

Bye-bye, buyer's market. That's the consensus of several planners we spoke to, who told us hair-raising tales of properties with fear of commitment to rival Jack Nicholson's. A case in point is Harith Wickrema of Harith Productions in Philadelphia, PA. Despite a first-option agreement with the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, AZ, Wickrema had his space given to another group just days before he and his client were scheduled to fly down for the site inspection in order to sign the contract.

"The hotel didn't let us exercise our right of first refusal," notes Wickrema, adding that he didn't pursue the matter legally (though he was confident of winning) because of his longstanding relationship with Marriott Senior VP Roger Dow. "And it's not just Marriott; other hotels are doing the same thing." Indeed, O'Connor says that at her latest conference, she arrived on site to find that the hotel had given away two of her meeting rooms. "We made do by putting seats in the hallways, but it was terrible," she sighs.

P is For . . .

A clue to forming better relationships with suppliers can be found in the comments of David Adler, CEO and founder of New York City-based events resource BiZBash. "My biggest pet peeve with suppliers," he says, "is when they see themselves as suppliers, not partners." Producing events nowadays, he explains, is "all about teams—shared success. Vendors should become consultants that you want to pay for because they add so much value."

Susan Sarfati, president and CEO of the Center for Association Leadership in Washington D.C., agrees. "I prefer to refer to suppliers as business partners, because it's a mutual relationship. We need each other to succeed. And the more we see the value that each group brings to the table, the more successful we'll be."