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Event Planning

Navigating Event Contract Negotiation with Finesse

Daria Knupp Avatar Daria Knupp January 3, 2024
Table of Contents
7 min read

A Guide for Event Profs in the Age of Rising Costs

Welcome to 2024, where contract negotiations continue to be a critical but dreaded aspect of event planning. In this day and age, negotiation skills are even more essential as event professionals strive to deliver memorable experiences while staying on budget. Collaborating with partners has become a crucial strategy to achieve these goals, as it enables organizers to leverage resources and get more value for their money.  

As always, negotiating contracts remains a crucial component of success, allowing organizers to maximize their return on investment and deliver exceptional events. However, it’s not always smooth sailing, as negotiating contracts can impact partners’ relationships, particularly during the early stages of the planning process. With the added complexity of the pandemic, legal issues and requirements have further complicated negotiations.  

Contract negotiations remain a tricky business, but there are ways to navigate it like a pro. With the increasing importance of delivering unforgettable experiences, organizers will benefit from sharpening their negotiation skills. So, buckle up and get ready for some top tips and tricks to help you negotiate contracts hassle-free in 2024 and beyond. 

Start with a Smart RFP Strategy for An Event Contract

When planning an event, budgeting is the foundation that dictates everything else. That’s why it’s crucial to have a smart RFP (Request for Proposal) strategy in place that includes a comprehensive breakdown of all the necessary expenses, from catering and AV to vendor and production standards.  

To create a winning RFP in 2024, start by taking a deep dive into the venue’s menus, AV pricing, and outside vendor guidelines. As you gather this information, make a detailed event budget document that outlines every single item on your list. By doing so, you’ll have a clear view of the big picture of your event and can begin discussions with your event partners.  

Here’s where it gets interesting: while some might hesitate to share their budget with vendors, doing so can have significant advantages. Not only does it help vendors understand exactly what’s expected of them, but it can foster stronger business relationships based on transparency and trust. Plus, when everyone is on the same page financially, it’s easier to avoid unpleasant surprises down the line.  

As Tanna Pearman, Meeting Broker from Meetings Made Easy, puts it, “Honesty is the best policy when it comes to creating an RFP. Be clear and concise with your needs, expectations, must-haves, and wants. Your vendors will appreciate it and will be able to provide you with their best offer.” With a solid RFP in hand, the contracting process will be much smoother, and everyone involved will be on the same page from start to finish.   

By mastering your RFP strategy and budgeting needs in 2024, you’ll be well on your way to planning a successful and unforgettable event. 

Encourage Multiple Quotes and Leverage Competitive Pricing 

In 2024, it’s essential to obtain quotes from various suppliers and vendors, even if you have a top-rated supplier or venue in mind. Having multiple options on the table will give you more leverage when negotiating prices and proposals, allowing you to choose the supplier or venue that best meets your needs.   

Michael Guillory, VP of Marketing and Communications from The Expo Group added some thoughts on this topic.  “You should always include comparative pricing when searching for venues and suppliers”, Guillory said. “However, make sure you are comparing apples to apples.  For example, you would never compare the price of a Honda Civic to a Mercedes S Class, but both vehicles can get you to your destination.  You just have to weigh the importance of the differences to make a smart decision on whether or not the added cost is worth it.” 

You may receive bids from three comparable locations or suppliers, each with a different price and level of service. In that scenario, your “preferred” partner may be able to match pricing or provide a benefit they wouldn’t have if you went with them first. 

Flexibility is Your Friend 

Negotiating with non-negotiable terms can be challenging, but flexibility has its benefits. Demonstrating some flexibility can help you get better terms in exchange for something the vendor wants.   

Consider event elements that you could change without compromising the value of the event, such as changing the event date to non-peak times when the vendor or location is less busy. By having what the venue or vendor wants, such as filling dates during their slow season, can increase your bargaining power and result in better terms. 

Think Long-Term Strategy 

In 2024, savvy event profs will do well to consider the benefits of negotiating multi-event agreements to streamline their contracting process and secure better rates for their events.   

In this turbulent economy, building long-term partnerships with suppliers is more important than ever. Multi-event contracts offer a win-win situation for both parties, ensuring repeat business for suppliers and cost savings for planners.   

Whether you’re negotiating with an audio-visual production partner or an event venue, a multi-event contract can save you time and effort over the long haul. However, it’s crucial to understand the true value of your event so that you can negotiate from a position of strength.   

To get the most out of your multi-event contract, be sure to include protection provisions that will safeguard your interests in case you’re not satisfied with the service over the first years of the contract. With careful planning and negotiation, a multi-event agreement could be just the ticket to boost your bottom line and streamline your event planning process for years to come. 

Negotiating Never Goes Out of Style 

The adage is still valid…you don’t ask; you don’t get. Know your program and what you need before approaching a venue, caterer, rental firm, or any other vendor. Just make your case and work with the provider to make it happen in the best way possible. 

Don’t assume that anything in the contract is off-limits because it is there. It’s up to you whether you want to make a change, but if something in there bothers you, put it in your own words.  

It’s a negotiation, so make your case. However, no matter how hard you try, it might just not be a good fit – and that’s OK. Know when it’s appropriate to walk away from a location or vendor to find something more suitable for you. 

“Negotiating is just that, an opportunity for both parties to discuss needs or expectations,” says Pearman.  “Realize you are not at odds in this process, just making things work for your individual companies.  In doing this, sometimes the negotiations are not optimal and either party may choose to walk away from the deal.  Ending a negotiation does not need to be sticky, be clear about why and respect the individual you are working with.  On the flip side, understand their limitations if an agreement cannot be reached and end with an “agree to disagree” nature.”   

AI in Event Contracting 

AI is no replacement for attorneys and inside counsel; however, using AI can save time and, more importantly, money. Before having a review by your attorney, tools such as Spark AI can review, revise, and make suggestions or generate new contract clauses. It can also compare contracts with event industry standards, comply with legal requirements, and even do a risk assessment. Since tools such as Spark are specifically designed around event contracting, the insights are often far more targeted than those of a typical attorney with a potentially limited understanding of the complexities and nuances of the needs of event contracts.  

As a friendly reminder, carefully review all AI-generated results, and in contract review, always consult a lawyer. 

In Conclusion 

Event Professionals in 2024 face a complex landscape where negotiating contracts requires careful planning and execution. To achieve memorable experiences while staying on budget, collaborating with partners has become a crucial strategy to leverage resources and get more value for money.  

 To navigate the murky waters of contract negotiations, it’s essential to start with a smart RFP strategy that outlines all necessary expenses and engages vendors. Sharing your budget with vendors can foster stronger relationships based on transparency and trust. Getting multiple quotes for suppliers and vendors allows you to leverage competitive pricing and negotiate deals that best meet your needs. Demonstrating flexibility can also be an effective strategy to get better terms in exchange for something the vendor wants.  

Finally, 2024 will be the year of the long-term strategy, where planners and suppliers will build partnerships that offer repeat business for suppliers and cost savings for planners. In this new reality, event professionals will need to stay on top of their negotiation skills, potentially leveraging AI to achieve their goals efficiently, providing unforgettable experiences that are both memorable and profitable. By following these tips and tricks, you’ll be well on your way to negotiating contracts hassle-free and delivering successful events that wow your attendees every time.