Client expectation Part 2 – Pre and Post Contract

So last week I had a bit of a rant, and found myself coming up with a part one of three series, this being the second, that explores the client expectation and the burden it provides to us as Event Managers. Last week I touched on the overall idea of time, and how there never seems to be enough available to give to certain clients – some very special cases of those people for whom any amount of time you have shared with them (and it tends to be the largest part of any day) still ¬†reason to threaten a complaint letter as they feel it simply isn’t good enough.

Two things really urke me as an Event Manager, and this is one of them.

Rudeness is the other.

Anyway, for this weeks post, I would like to briefly look at a second aspect of expectation – the pre and post contract work ethic.

Effort is always made to make a client feel special, and have them know that their event is important to us (which it is). There is always a large amount of work that needs to take place in the lead up to a contract being completed, as this is usually where most of the negotiation happens, and this can take a lot of time. On occasion you turn around having lost the booking and ask yourself “how?” There are specific occasions though, when the leg work you are asked to put in before a contract is signed, calls in to question the value of the booking itself, or requires a serious overview of time management, as it becomes clear that the expectation of the client exceeds your ability to manage multiple events – and within a timeframe that gives priority to what has to happen now, V what would be nice, if I had the time, and pigs could fly – could happen now.

Price negotiation
Set ups
Audio Visual and Lighting

The list is endless – and not always an easy one to cherry pick what you will cover and won’t cover before the paper work has been signed.

I took the decision recently, to put the onus back on to the client – someone who had suggested that I had not given enough of my time to dealing with their event (pre contract). I was open and honest with the client, and said that I felt that their expectation exceeded my ability at this time given other responsibilities that I have. As such, and whilst committing to both be a part of the process moving forward, and committing to be there on the night – I felt it fair to pull back at this stage and involve another member of my team.

In part I was surprised about the response I received, and in part not. After a certain amount of time, the client will realise that the grass isn’t always greener, and having received 95% of the time “they” feel they needed, they would rather stick with this than take a chance of having to start from scratch with someone else – with no guarantee that the same thing doesn’t happen again. You as the Event Manager have made your point, and moving forward thereafter, you can always show that you had offered to step back if the same comments surface again.

I am of course not suggesting that you should look for an out if you feel the client is taking up your time – after all we are Event Managers. However, not all clients understand what else it is you may be doing when not working on their behalf, and it can be a tricky conversation to have when those lines need to be drawn. In addition,

Best advice I can offer? Event Managers are smart people. Through the initial enquiry process, ask the right questions and by doing so you will get a pretty good idea of what kind of client you are dealing with. There is a difference between first time mothers of the bride, and those who are on wedding number two or three. A difference again, those who were hosted and who are now hosting. Are you dealing with an Events Company or the client – a PA to the CEO or someone who is part of a wider events team?

Set clear time frames and manage expectation.

The event is in a years time?, lets cover A, B and C but D, E and F really can wait for now.
“No problem for me to provide that for you, but if it is ok with you, I will have it to you for next Wednesday”
Or “when do you really need this information by?
“When are you hoping to make a decision?”.

Be clear on what you can and can not do, and the time frames you feel allow for the job to be done right.

There will – there are – always exceptions, and once the contract is signed there are an equal number of areas that need to be looked after. Working with traces is a great way to manage the lead up to an event and what should happen when. You are then able to give that heads up to the client, as you find yourselves then working to the same manageable timeline.

I would love to hear how you handle the working week and those clients that are that bit more special – and next week, estimates and the dreaded asking for money…..


Drawing a line – Clients expecting the world

So, how do you manage the expectation on your time, as one client and event, to which you have dedicated countless hours – suddenly turns around and accuses you of “not caring”?!

The facts are simple. In the events world we work with a lot of people, all of whom at one time or another will need their ego’s massaged. It doesn’t matter who they are, and certainly not who they work for, at one point in the lead up to, or on the night of, their event – you are going to need to pull back in some way, as you come up against their altar “Dr Hyde” ego – and you find yourself wanting to punch a hole in the wall where you imagine their face to be.

Sometimes I think that people I represent, do not understand that their event is not the only thing I have to work on within any given day, week, month or year.

In some obvious ways I see things from the client point of view. The best example of course is a wedding. In everyone’s ideal world, these things only come round once. They are thought of by the bride as her “Fairy Princess” moment, and by mother of the bride as their “surpassing the Jones” moment – and of course, both of these take a large amount of time to orchestrate. What has to be managed however, and this would not change if you are a stand alone event organiser or an event manager within a venue – is client expectation when it comes to how much time you dedicate to them and them alone.

As an event manager, you know that everything takes more time than you initially thought it might. Quotes take time, sourcing creative solutions takes time, meetings and tastings take time, countless site visits take time – and those are only a couple of the obvious ones. Most event manager would not get away with charging a per hour rate, because most clients could not afford it. A crazy skewed sense of time – as, having worked countless hours on something (and don’t even get me started on pre or post contract) you then get told that you are not doing enough.

How then can you manage, as I have had to recently, clients who want continued hours of your time, to go over the same details, prior to even having signed a contract – as they call your dedication and that of the venue you represent in to question because you are unable to dedicate yet another afternoon to them?

How often in my posts do I speak of balance. Most recently, I pushed back. I know that I have given a large amount of my time to this event, and to be fair, I have little to show for it. I don’t believe that in doing so I call my dedication in to question, and if anything, I am saying that in order to give you the time you need as a client, I have to manage my time as an event manager, and break things down in such a way that allows both you, and my other clients to benefit from the hours I can give.

You know as well as I do though, that more often than not, things are rosy only when someone needs something from you – and in the event that you are suddenly needing to chase for something you need, people tend to hold off returning a call or paying a deposit. The world of events is sometimes a little one sided, and it is part and parcel of the responsibility we face. I guess I am just saying that managed correctly, it is ok to stand your ground – just don’t expect to side step an angry email or two from Dr Hyde, or the need on occasion to move some things around in order to spend more time than you first thought you would have to revisiting the same timetable and seating plan over and over.

Next week I am going to write about a couple of additional points;

The balance of pre and post contract work, and how best to put that initial and final estimate of charges together. In the meantime, I would love to hear from, you and how you split your valuable time when the demands are so high

Wearing to many hats, loss of quality?

As the markets change, it becomes more evident that clients are looking for a one stop shop. It is no longer good enough to offer one or two elements as needed for a successful event, there needs to be the synergy between the food, beverage, venue, decor and music – audio visual, bedrooms, flowers, stationary and lighting. Someone to manage the event, and someone to call on day after day to answer all questions, instantaneously.

Double, triple and quadruple this, as you deal with multiple events at one time, and I wonder, does the jack of all trades then become the master of none?

Whilst there may be logic in the thought that it would make sense for a florist to also be a linen supplier, for a venue to also offer catering, there has to be something to be said for knowing when to call in the experts. There is a tendency to over stretch oneself, we can promise our clients the world, and yet when it comes to it, are we short-changing us and them by   speaking out of turn on subjects we are not fully versed on?

My thought is that it is better to surround ourselves with the right people, rather than try to be those people ourselves. I feel confident in the suppliers I trust, those I have worked with time and time again and who have come through for me on countless occasions – to whom I can say with certainty to a client, will not let you down. At that point, I have put the two people in contact with each other, who will best work together on that specific aspect of the event, rather than trying to act as no more than a glorified middle man, becoming overwhelmed at the time it takes to decide on what matches what, and how best to choose one damask cloth over another.

This is not to say that the client is less demanding, and especially in a hotel environment where the expectation is different. Part of the 5* service that is expected when paying 5* prices, extends to the time dedicated to the event, the ability to arrange everything through one central hub, and have someone at the end of the phone 24 hours a day to answer the same questions over and over. How do we best manage this? To be fair it is a combination of people management – knowing when to push back, but equally how to push – and honesty. I have found it imperative on occasions, and especially for weddings, to hold my hands up to a client and say that I would feel more confident in putting them in touch with X and Y, than taking on one specific element of the event I don’t think I am an expert in. The client appreciates the honesty, but it adjusts too the dynamic with the client, as you suddenly find your opinion valued and the client wanting to hear what you have to say. At that point, you are able to guide and direct, whilst still keeping your breathing space.

At the end of the day, an event can be as successful, if not more successful, when directed by you, but utilising the skill set of the wider cast and crew – over the one man stand up show that sometimes just isn’t that great and falls flat because not enough time could be dedicated to each and every corner, some of which are then sometimes cut.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts – do you prefer to go it alone, or are you perfectly happy to work as part of a wider team of experts who can then all share the glory?