5 Wrong Moves that Could Derail Your Corporate Event

Many corporate events are derailed when committees or representatives from the client organization refuse to heed common sense advice from event planners.

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Photo by badjonni via Flickr

Some of the requests that corporate event planners receive can make us feel as if we’re entering The Twilight Zone. What is disturbing is the lack of a practical focus. Some client organizations appear to be particularly resistant to following the advice of professional event planners who are familiar with specific destinations. Instead, they seem to be interested in engaging firms that will work as order takers to implement their plans no matter how flawed. Even if they are considering an event in the wrong location, during the wrong season, with the wrong geography, and the wrong timeframe, some client organizations are not open to modifying their plans.

As the recession deepens, this seems to be increasing. It will become easier for prospective clients to find your competitors that are hungry enough for business to deliver exactly what they request. As an event planner who is interested in growing their business, it can be a challenge to walk that fine line between pleasing your client and giving them your best professional advice.

Here are 5 wrong moves to avoid no matter how much pressure you are facing from clients or prospective clients.

1. Wrong Location

A prospective client from the USA insisted on staying at an airport hotel. They then proceeded to request an activity that would take place in downtown Toronto. They simply would not listen to advice that, given traffic patterns, it would have been more prudent to stay downtown, even if it were just for the night before their planned activity.

Despite the fact that they wanted to explore the heritage areas, a prospective client from the USA insisted on staying at a beach resort for the duration of their time in Dubai. They would not listen to advice about where to stay for that part of their itinerary to avoid traffic gridlock. The company booked an event planning firm with no experience in Dubai. They had a terrible time and received numerous complaints from employees who were stuck in traffic for hours at a time.

A company from Quebec was interested in dog sledding during their January sales meeting. Although they were advised that it would take 2 hours to travel to an area with enough snow for dog sledding, they insisted on staying at a downtown Toronto hotel instead of at a resort in the Muskokas.

When planning an event, transition times and traffic patterns have to be taken into account. No group will thank you if they end up stuck in gridlock or stuck on a highway because predictable inclement weather has caused a 30 or, heaven forbid, 200 car pile up. It’s much better to encourage clients to plan their arrival and movements for low traffic periods. It’s also a good idea, to split the itinerary between hotels in different areas to give the group more comfortable access to certain attractions and activities.

2. Wrong Season

A prospective client from Asia insisted on an itinerary consisting of beach activities in Oman in July. Firms did not make the shortlist if they advised the company’s representatives that, with temperatures soaring past 40C, the group would be very uncomfortable and there could be significant hot weather health risks for some members of their team.

Two Canadian firms requested a polo clinic for January retreats near Toronto even though local polo clubs had suspended their activities due to the cold.

Another Canadian firm requested an outdoor event with an arctic survival theme in October. They would not consider a wilderness theme that was doable at that time of year.

Do some initial checking to determine if the requested activities are appropriate for the season in which your client will be having their event. Make sure that you give them a realistic picture of what is and isn’t doable in certain locations at specific times of the year. Never compromise group safety just to please a client. You could be held liable if someone suffers illness or injury.

3. Wrong Geography

A firm from the USA would consider no option for dinner other than a beach BBQ in downtown Toronto. They refused to stay at a lakeside resort in the Muskokas for a few days where an outdoor BBQ would have been more practical and enjoyable. They also rejected the Toronto Island location that was recommended. They seemed determined to have their dinner near the beach downtown, despite the pollution, smell, and risk that the garbage strike would not be over by the time they arrived in Toronto.

A European firm insisted on travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto by helicopter, even though they were advised by a number of firms that this would be very expensive and not as practical as taking the Shinkansen.

Make sure that you give your clients solid advice and point out things they may have missed. It is important for you to have the integrity to advise clients that their preferred activity is a poor fit for the season or location and encourage them to either change the activity or change the date of their event.

4. Wrong Timeframe

This is such a regular occurrence that examples are probably not needed. Suffice it to say that many organizations insist on subjecting employees to wall-to-wall speakers well into the afternoon. Then, they try to cram team activities into a short timeframe when everyone is exhausted. No amount of input from the event planner or facilitator will get them to modify their plans.

When groups feel rushed and pressured and they are too tired to enjoy the event, this will reflect poorly on you as the event planner. To avoid making a wrong move, encourage your clients to either cut content or increase the length of their conference or programme to realistically incorporate all desired activities. They may end up spending a little bit more money but you’ll end up with attendees who are pleased instead of frustrated and resentful.

5. Wrong Budget

A regular occurrence in the event planning industry is awarding business to firms that low ball their quotes. This usually happens because their budget is just too low.

Just this week, a Toronto firm called and requested a recreational event for a team of 14. They expected to pay less than $1000.

A couple of days later, another Toronto firm requested a recreational event for a team of 18. All that they had budgeted was $75 per person INCLUDING taxes.

It’s time for a reality check. As a general rule of thumb to give your clients, let them know that the smaller their group, the higher the price per person they should expect to pay. If a group is small, they should not be expecting to pay any where near under $100 per person.
Let your prospective clients know that, when their budget is unrealistic, they are setting themselves up for something similar to the bait and switch technique used in retail. It gets played out in 1 of 2 ways:

– corners are cut and the event is watered down significantly (e.g. a scavenger hunt is provided when an Amazing Race was booked).

– once planning is well underway “unforeseen items” that jack up the budget are identified and its too late to switch event planners.

At the end of the day, when the event doesn’t work well and they’ll be the ones who will be embarrassed every time they have to face their co-workers.

Event Planning: Let’s Get Real

Especially in this economy, there will always be competitors that will take a company’s money and give them exactly what they ask for…. even if it isn’t realistic or practical. It’s great for a client to have ideas and a vision for their event but a reality check from you, an event planning professional that knows your destination, is vital. br>

How can you avoid the embarrassment of a poorly executed event?

How can you greatly reduce the likelihood that you will be “ripped off”?

You’ll greatly increase the likelihood of planning a successful event if you don’t automatically cave into pressure and tell clients and prospects exactly you want they want to hear. With your next event, keep these 5 wrong moves in mind. Take the time to identify pitfalls and raise a flag of caution when they are considering options that are not advisable. Then, really encourage them to consider taking the advice for which they are paying you. This may cost you some business but the events you organize will be executed much more smoothly.

Social Media Connections

On Twitter, a hashtag group #eventprofs meets two times a week for an hour to explore issues of relevance to the event planning industry.
Schedule: (Tuesdays 2100 – 2200 EST & Thursdays 1200 -1300 EST)

You’ll pick up lots of tips that will help you avoid wrong moves when planning events. Log into Twitter and go to #eventprofs or do a search on Twitter for #eventprofs. Here is where you will find Instructions on how to participate in #eventprofs

About The Author
Anne Thornley-Brown

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based management consulting firm specializing in team building and executive retreats.

Comment Policy Comments
  • I'm glad you find this to be of value. I do try to keep it real. 🙂 I really appreciate all of the tweets and re-tweets. Thank you.

    Anne Thornley-Brown

  • Your excellent post Ann reminds me that some people in our community might not know of two other well-moderated online communities of meeting planners: MeCo and MiForum. As a speaker I've learned alot from the members. They are also on Twitter

  • funfilms

    Event Planning is combination of both planning and management to reach to a particular kind of audience. An event can be of any type like cultural events, personal events, leisure events and organizational events.

  • lasvegasforeclosures

    I completely agree with the 2. Wrong Season point. I personally had a horrible experience. Took couple of my clients to a hill station for visiting a tea plantation estate auction. Without knowing the proper seasons and climate of the area, we were really struck inside the hotel room for two days because of heavy rains and thereby landslides caused by them. 48 hrs of our schedule was spoiled just because ignoring the climatic issues.

  • Franklin, each entry is like a bite sized portion with a very specific focus. Definitely, there wil be more exploration of use of social media in future entries.

  • Lsvegasforeclosures,

    That is the reason why it is so important to work with a firm that knows the destination. There is no way any organization could be expected to know every destination inside out. I think a companies make a mistake when they pick one organization to handle their events and incentives year after year.

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