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Tough Times Bring Tighter Scrutiny for RFPs

Tough Times Bring Tighter Scrutiny for RFPs

In-house and independent event professionals share both sides of the tough new rules for Requests for Proposals

The work required to create and to respond to Requests for Proposals for special events is always demanding. And not surprisingly, today's lousy economy is making the process tougher still.

With budgets tight, “Contractors unwilling to discuss fees and overhead — especially when they are unchanged compared to better days — or those who do not commit to negotiating the best deals with subcontractors make steam come out of my ears,” says Frank Supovitz, senior vice president of special events for the New York-based National Football League. On the other hand, “Partners that demonstrate that they understand the downward turn that event budgets have taken and are committed to providing value and prudent cost controls will have a greater value to in-house planners than ever,” he notes.

His advice to those vying for his business: Keep an eye on what he calls the “quality for price” equation. “We all need to do more with less,” he says, praising “companies that understand that the portion of the budget allocated to fees, overhead and ‘back of house’ is more negotiable in the eyes of an in-house planner than are line items that affect presentation quality.”

To respond to today's competitive environment, independent event planner Rachel Hollis, founder of Los Angeles-based Chic Events, has one watchword: more.

“[Clients] need to feel like they're getting the most bang for their buck,” Hollis explains. “And while I think the amount of work hasn't changed — we always took care of all the extras — now we have to make sure they're aware we're taking care of the extras.”

Mark Baltazar, CEO and managing partner of New York-based Broadstreet, puts “more” into his proposals by creating event elements that do double duty. These are program elements “that have life beyond programs,” he says, “such as videos and Web sites with information contributed by participants.”

The growing demand by of clients for transparency in pricing — particularly when it comes to subcontractors — is changing the way he bids business, says Howard Givner, CEO of North America for Global Events Group. The shift “has partly influenced our decision to bring certain capabilities in-house,” such as graphics and video, he explains. “It has also influenced our pricing model to focus on a management fee as opposed to a markup.” He adds, “Many now are asking to include cancellation provisions, for obvious reasons.”

Jason Wanderer, head of Precision Event Group in Beverly Hills, Calif., notes a shift in goals for RFPs. Rather than asking potential vendors to explain how they would produce the event, “We have seen RFPs requesting concepts that enhance, reshape and reposition events, making them more attractive,” he says. “It's more focused on ‘how can you improve or change our event without spending additional funds?’”


Adhering to the RFP — giving clients just what they ask for — is crucial, says Claudette Bouton, manager of integrated marketing for Atlanta-based AGL Resources. “The best proposal I ever got was from a facility that literally took my RFP — which was a Word document — and inserted all of her information right into my text — brilliant!” she says.

Where do would-be partners go wrong? Not surprisingly, by failing to follow Bouton's instructions. “Typically my proposals specifically say, ‘Do not send me menu or AV information’ if all I need at the moment is dates, space and rates,” she explains. “I also ask for an e-mail response, as I may be sending the RFP to several vendors at a time.” Yet all too often, she says, she receives 50-page menus and phone calls asking for information she already provided in the RFP.

Independents have their own pet peeves. For Baltazar, it's having to play “guess the budget.” “When they don't give us a budget parameter, we can design a $10,000 or a $10 million event,” he explains. “We have to guess what the budget is and design around that; at the same time, every other company is doing the same thing. How clients can make a decision under these conditions and make an apples-to-apples comparison seems impossible.”

Givner's gripe: Clients who push out RFPs indiscriminately. “Anything over four is inappropriate in my opinion,” he says. ‘That's a sign that the client is too busy or too lazy to do their research and find three or four qualified companies.’

Although neither the client nor vendor side sees a return to boom days in events for some time — if ever — most see a quickening pace of RFPs.

“There are now RFPs from companies that previously just went back to their preferred vendors year after year,” Givner says. “They're opening the jobs up to bid now in an effort to reduce costs.”

“We are still producing events,” Supovitz says, “and it is more important than ever to make sure we are getting the highest quality and best value for the dollar for our employers. The best way to do that is by issuing RFPs.”


AGL Resources


Chic Events

Global Events

National Football League

Precision Event Group


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