What relationship demands the patience of a good spouse, the creativity of an artist, the financial savvy of a CFO and, sometimes, the insight of a mind-reader? It's the partnership between corporate event professionals and the independents they hire.
To help our readers strengthen this important bond, Special Events Magazine interviewed three top corporate special event professionals to learn what they want when they hire independents. They are:
Tina A. Hamlin, vice president of meetings for the Washington-based Independent Petroleum Association of America. In the business for 10 years, she produces from six to 10 special events a year with budgets ranging from $30,000 to $200,000 per event.
Lisa Hutchison, supervisor of the user conference for BMC Software in Houston. In the industry for 15 years, she is in charge of three events per year, the largest of which demands a budget of $4 million.
Kathleen Moore, vice president/global event manager for JPMorgan Treasury Services in New York. Relying on her 11 years in the business, she oversees 30 to 40 events a year with an annual budget of $2 million.
Special Events Magazine: How do you view your relationship with the independent planner?
Kathleen Moore: I regard it as a partnership. I want to work with someone who is an extension of my brain — but with more resources and creativity!
SEM: What skills do you want from independents — support, creativity, technical expertise, execution, access to resources, money- or time-savings, something else?
Tina A. Hamlin: All [these] skills are important when considering an independent.
Lisa Hutchison: We are usually looking for a one-stop shopping module; someone we can pass the whole event off to and then, sometimes, just pieces of it.
SEM: How has your opinion on this topic changed over the course of your career?
Hutchison: I started as a hotel sales person, then became an event planner for an incentive company, and now I'm a corporate planner, so I have seen the circle.
Moore: Since I began my life as an event planner knowing absolutely nothing, and every year realize I know less, I have come to value my relationships with trusted partners more all the time. They are worth every penny I spend on them. The difference is that now I am more knowledgeable about the basics, and understand what can and cannot be done with whatever budget I am working on, so I can make more efficient use of outside experts.
Hamlin: My opinion hasn't changed on the value they provide, but possibly on individuals who have let me down in some way.
SEM: What characteristics or skills make you hire the same independent repeatedly?
Hamlin: Professional attitudes, flexibility and creative ideas.
Hutchison: Knowing the customer.
Moore: Trust, chemistry, consistent delivery, creativity, resources — and willingness to give my crazy ideas a shot!
SEM: What characteristics of independents drive you up the wall?
Hamlin: Pestering phone calls.
Hutchison: Shoving suggestions down your throat.
Moore: Unwillingness or inability to charge a flat fee instead of cost-plus — my biggest peeve! Also, not calling me back within seconds — just kidding!
SEM: Do you take cold calls or unsolicited proposals?
Hamlin: It depends on my workload at the time of the call. I prefer to get recommendations from colleagues or convention services contacts.
Moore: Sometimes if the timing is right, it works out.
SEM: What are your criteria for contracting with an independent — what must you see first?
Hutchison: Deliverables and references.
Moore: Creativity and flexibility. Chemistry. Then pictures and descriptions of previous work, and references from other planners that I trust.
Hamlin: Fresh, new ideas, samples, references and suggested pricing.
SEM: How do you keep events on budget?
Hutchison: I give the company the money and they manage it.
Moore: I try to get the right amount of money budgeted from the beginning — including a nice juicy “contingency” plug. I also tell my own management what my assumptions are for the budget: number of attendees; given exchange rate (for non-U.S. functions), etc. What the planner must do is be honest and work with me to get the greatest value for the money. Ultimately, it's my budget, and I must be responsible for it.
Hamlin: Budgets are never a problem for me, as I am used to working within them. It is most important to have a flexible independent who will work within my ever-changing budget guidelines. We depend on sponsor revenue to support most of our special events and if the sponsors don't rise to the occasion, the proposal must fluctuate according to the cash flow.
SEM: What do independent event professionals need to learn about working in your world?
Moore: Large, risk-averse corporations are slow to change or to do new things — and we're slow payers, as well. An independent should work first with a letter of agreement, then a contract, and get paid up front for any money they must lay out to their own vendors. Size up your client — if you think you're going to get squeezed or badly used, don't take the business. And don't low-ball to get the bid; you'll be sorry.
Hamlin: Event guidelines can change up to the very last minute and there typically is nothing that we can do about it.
Hutchison: Decisions change daily.
SEM: Any closing thoughts?
Hamlin: Independent designers/producers definitely offer a tremendous service that only enhances my work product and eases my work load. I couldn't do my job without them.
RESOURCES: BMC Software, 713/918-1929; Independent Petroleum Association, 202/857-4722; JPMorgan Treasury Services, 212/552-2348