Myth Busted… We “Can” Negotiate!

Heather Reid


Back in 2013 - attending an events industry conference - I overheard an esteemed colleague of mine say "I didn't know you could negotiate Force Majeure."  What did I just hear?

There seems to be a myth in our industry
that planners/event hosts shouldn't....
or even worse....can't push back
on event contracts. 

Contracts, in the meetings & events industry, touch EVERY facet of what we do!

By their very definition, contracts are legally binding documents that identify and govern the rights and duties of ALL of the entities involved.  Not just one entity - but ALL!

So why do many planners/event hosts not negotiate - let alone, fully negotiate - their event contracts?

Here are my top 5 thoughts:

  • "we" don't know how
  • "we" don't feel empowered
  • "we" don't have the resources
  • "they" won't negotiate
  • "they" control the process

Let's unpack each of these.  But before we do - let me remind everyone that when I use the words "we/us" and "they/them", I'm not looking to be divisive at all - it is how I can separate the two entities.  "We" are event hosts, "they" are supplier partners (ie., venues, caterers, speakers, audiovisual).  At the end of the day - "we need them" and "they need us"!  Simply, events don't happen without both entities involved!  #bettertogether

"We" don't know how.
Many event planners/event hosts simply do not know how...or what...or negotiate!

We don't have a compelling enough reason to "need" to fully understand contract negotiations or appreciate the severity of risks involved.

  • We don't have a required "minimum" level of comprehension of contract terminology or understanding of risks to be able to practice in our industry.
  • We have a code of silence around mistakes made - and therefore, a limited opportunity to learn from others
  • Our Canadian culture is not lawsuits aren't an ominous threat!

Thus, many are able to take a "cross my fingers and hold my breath" approach.

"We" don't feel empowered.
Knowledge is the key to empowerment.  Quite simply, when we don't fully understand the how...or the what...or the when...or the why of negotiating contracts, we won't!

"We" don't have the resources.
Negotiating contracts - whether for venues or services - requires laser focus and an investment of considerable time to review and rework thoroughly.  Our days are frantic and our stressors are complex!

Digging deep into the weeds of "legalese" after page after page..can be daunting and leave us glossy-eyed.   Not having legal counsel at our fingertips or factored into our event budgets also adds to the strain.

"They" won't negotiate.
It has been my experience over 25 years that the perception "but XYZ won't negotiate" is simply not true!

A supplier partner's response to our request to negotiate can be influenced by a variety of factors: the timing of our request; the lack of clarity around our request; our ability to give-and-take; the perceived need for our request; the lack of alternatives on our behalf; and on and on.

Being savvy...and strategic...and seasoned as negotiators is paramount to cutting through!

"They" control the process.
Just because tight signing deadlines and disappearing concessions are presented to us, we should not abdicate our ability to exercise some control over the pace of the contract negotiations. Slowing down...and engaging in back and forth discussions...and allowing for time to negotiate...are keys to creating balanced event contracts.

Bottom Line:
Successful contract negotiations require willingness, ability and rapport.  Let's bust up the thinking that we shouldn't or can't - and simply expect to!