This issue marks the debut of a new column in Special Events Magazine-Guest Room. Here, we invite prominent members of the special event profession to share their thoughts on issues that affect everyone. What better way to start off a new year and a new century than by tackling one of the oldest questions facing the industry: ethics.
Special Events Magazine: Do you see ethics-or the lack of them-as a serious concern right now?
Robert Sivek: A recent study in Successful Meetings magazine says that 50 percent of independent meeting planners admit they have "borrowed" the creative ideas of another com-pany and then passed them off as their own. I believe that this is ethically wrong. The article also set up an "ethics gauge," and the only thing rated as less important than stealing ideas was borrowing office supplies for home use. Every other violation was considered more serious! So even the 50 percent who admit they steal ideas don't believe that doing so is wrong.
Also, I often see vendors claiming the client hired them when, in truth, the vendor was a subcontractor. If The Meetinghouse Companies hires an entertainer for a corporate event, can the entertainer put on his resume that he worked for the corporation, when in fact it was my company that actually hired him?
Knowing whom you work for is important because it involves other aspects of events. If the subcontractors are not clear whom they work for, they may be taking direction from the wrong people on the job.
Q: Where do we draw the line between stealing someone's work and being inspired by it?
A: To some extent, we do borrow ideas. I may go to The Special Event and see wonderful ideas. But I will implement them in my own way, with my modifications and with our props to make them work. I would not cut a picture out of Special Events Magazine and say, "I can do this," and I would not take a proposal written by someone else and produce those ideas.
Q: How can a company start making ethics a part of daily business?
A: The employee handbook at The Meetinghouse Companies includes a policy covering fair dealing and ethical conduct. Employees will look to company management and its policies to set an example.
Also, our proposals contain a statement explaining that the concepts are proprietary information. If clients use the concepts without retaining our services, then they owe us a creative fee. The problem, of course, is that it's expensive to enforce in court, and it won't stop someone who has no conscience whatsoever.
As the industry matures and we begin to play for bigger dollars, some lawsuits will probably set precedents. It would be nice if our industry set its own standards, before the government does it for us.
Q: If "everybody" cuts corners, why should we care about ethics?
A: First and most important, it's truly the right thing to do. You can sleep at night knowing you've done your best to treat people honestlyand fairly.
Second, it's good business. We've all got to make money. But if you're good at what you do, you don't need to steal someone else's ideas.
Finally, if we all do a good job, the whole market grows. We see more events daily. Clients will use event professionals for many of them, but if clients use event professionals who leave a sour taste in their mouth, they won't hire us again and the industry contracts a little bit. That's why I support groups like the International Special Events Society that promote professionalism in our industry.
I've seen a lot of shooting stars in this business-individuals who are brilliant for a couple of years and then gone. No one will work with them and clients won't hire them because they've burned everything and everyone in their path. If you are in it for the long run, people will recognize your good business standards and will trust you.
Q: What is an ethical guidepost for everyone in special events?
A: In the ethics class I teach, I ask the question, "If your actions were on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, would you be comfortable and would your mother be proud?" Take credit for only what you do, and give credit to those who helped you.
Robert Sivek, CSEP, is president-elect of the International Special Events Society and executive producer with The Meetinghouse Companies, Elmhurst, Ill. He can be reached at 630/941-0600 or via e-mail ([email protected]).