Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SO YOU'VE ASKED ME TO EXPOSE MYSELF?

Taking a break from RFPs... sort of. At least the written ones. There is another kind of RFP, and it is the verbal "ask", often very one-sided, and thus, this discussion.

Let's profile an ideal client (or so we think). Theirs is a profitable, notable, Fortune 1000 company. They have CSR initiatives, are listed on the "Best Places to Work" lists, give to charity, and sponsor valuable activities.

And then they call you, little old you, with your team of 10 (or less), working every week to make Godzilla the Payroll (as my dear friend calls it). They say, "We'd like some top tier entertainment for a major event this weekend, and we want to spend $400. You'll be getting a lot of exposure." Now they might ask for decor or furniture or catering, so don't look at the dollar figures; look at the principle.

Re-reading the previous paragraph, I remember that I once heard someone say, "If I wanted exposure, I'd stand on my lawn naked." Or, "One could die from over-exposure."

Another way the client might ask could be, "I know a lot of people." Or "Don't you know where this could lead?" Well, usually it leads to more of those "a lot of people" asking for the same thing for the same money.

I can think of numerous whippy tongue-in-cheek responses for these unreasonable requests. However, just as we don't consider the request respectful, we shouldn't make our responses just as disrespectful. That's the real subject of this blog this week.

May I suggest that we put our professionalism to work here and respond with, "I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your call to ask me to participate in your event. I do wish I could provide you with top tier entertainment (or whatever is asked for) for the price you stated. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who fits the bill. I respect your needs and know that you expect only the best. Your company prides itself on providing an outstanding product for a fair price. (Now let's pretend it's an automotive client just as an example.) Would you expect me to ask you to give me a car for a fraction of its cost so the world could see me driving it down the highway?"

Continuing... "Let me offer you some solutions for what I can do and what it would really cost. If that doesn't work for you, let me just say that I would love to work with you in the future and give you the right entertainment (or whatever) for a fair price. Please do call me again.

The point? I don't like closed doors, and if they are closed I don't want to be the person closing them.

Thoughts?

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

CANNIBALS? THIEVES? WHO OWNS AN IDEA? JOIN THE DISCUSSION

So who is stealing from whom? We fret over competitors stealing our ideas or snatching vendors. But that's a distraction. Here is the real problem, and I will quote directly from an RFP so you'll know the villain. Let me set the stage.

XYZ Corporation sent us an RFP that involved the following:

-General Sessions
-Welcome Reception
-Team Building
-Break-Out Rooms
-Tours and Transportation
-Off-Site Dinner
-Gala Awards and Ceremony
-Dance Party with Interactive Experiences
-And more

The project would be awarded based on creativity and costs. All subcontractors were to be named, their roles defined, and contacts submitted. The program was to be designed in three different locations (two of them international) with renderings, photographs, videos, floor plans, and fully detailed budgets. With all costs transparent.

The RFP required that we agree to the following:

"Ownership of Proposal Documentation: All proposals (and related materials), once submitted, become the property of XYZ Corporation. By submitting a proposal, The Provider licenses Corporation to reproduce the whole or any portion of this Provider's proposal."

In effect, to do this correctly could easily have cost us $20,000 or more in time and work product. Now get this. All the work we did and all the vendors we secured would be owned by XYZ Corporation and either shared with the winning bidder or are executed by XYZ themselves.

So, in my opinion the only reason I would ever worry about a competitors would be if XYZ shared my proposal and all of its inclusions with that competitor and asked them to reproduce it. I know that if I were asked to do this I would run like the wind to get away from that client. But a lot of companies don't. They are so dazzled by the big bucks (yes, this program for 900 people for five days and four nights ran into the millions) that they forget that they are agreeing to theft. Yes, THEFT, THIEVERY. Who has the right to own our ideas, our drawings, our list of vendors?

We spend countless hours securing relationships with partners who trust us. Our Rolodex has taken years to develop. Do we want to give all of this away?

The best news is that XYZ Corporation has been honest. They have told us (and this is the part that could be considered "ethical") that they are going to do this and if we respond to the RFP we are agreeing to it. Not all companies are so forthcoming.

It's a good reminder to always read the small print and understand what you are signing off.

With all this in mind, I need your help. What do you do to prevent this from happening? I would never agree to it. How about you?

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lesson in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Cannibalization of the Industry

Kate Patay, CPCE
This week, I'm turning over the conversation to Kate Patay, who provides valuable insight. -Andrea Michaels

After many lengthy discussions with various prominent figures in the events industry, the conversation that began with RFP's and how they've morphed into something entirely different than the original intent, the dialogue went deeper. 

We started discussing the result of this change in the process... the one stop shop that does a little bit of everything, but at what cost?

Yes, there are one stop shops that are successful and have identified and defined each area of expertise well, so if that's you there is no need to take offense. If you DO take offense to this post below from a recent NACE blog, then maybe your business model or practices should be re-examined....

Let's continue the conversation, shall we? Click below to continue reading.


Kate Patay, CPCE, is an international speaker and consultant and the Vice President of the National Association for Catering & Events. She is a faculty lecturer for The International School of Hospitality and an advisor to the Student Event Planners Association. She may be reached via kate@katepatay.com. 

Andrea Michaels is Founder and President of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning, international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life.  She may be reached at amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP PART III Or REDUNDANT, FORMIDABLE, PLODDING

The catch phrase of the year is “disruptive,” and so we have been and will continue to be as we attack this subject. I thank so many of you for your input. I’m going to use it all for this Part Three. All of you have fantastic input, definitive opinions, and great interest in making some changes. And all of you are asking “how do we do that?” By standing together and effecting change… haven’t got it all figured out yet, but with all of you continuing to weigh in, maybe we’ll get there.

I’m going to add to this some comments by Bob Abbott, a former client (now retired) and meeting planner. Here’s what Bob had to say: “Typically I did a lot of homework leading up to selecting a supplier; therefore, I knew going in which potential suppliers were likely to deliver what I needed. Enter the Finance VP or Purchasing Manager: policy demands three bids. Did I need them? No. Did they? Not really. But they didn’t understand the process because they were in the mode of purchasing manufacturing process, commodities, and services. They also tended to buy the least costly whatever. To them, relationships and results didn’t matter as much as bottom line costs.”

Bob also adds that time is at a premium so often that some “cut and paste” is faster and sometimes appropriate if the event repeats year after year. “I” (Bob) “thought of the RFP as a door opener, inviting my selected potential suppliers to the table for interaction and dialogue. If I were one of those suppliers, my first action would be an exploratory phone call to address questions.”

So, believe it or not, we are on the same page with this savvy planner.

Hopefully Bob will read this and help us out with some common concerns:

1. Many RFPs state that the client will own all ideas. This means they are receiving a ton of creativity that they can unfairly give to their chosen vendor.

I say "never"!!!! I won't bid on a job which has this clause. What about you?

2. We find that no matter how many questions we ask to make sure that the project is for real and qualified we are dependent on the prospective client to tell the truth. They ask for bids without even knowing if they have the permission to carry out their plan, have the funds, have the time, or have the decision-making power.

We always need to ask "who is the decision maker?" And "is this a definite project?" Perhaps we should consider saying that we will respond to the RFP for no charge if it is a for-sure project (check with the venue; check with the city). However, if it is a proposed project that has not been approved, then we'll need to charge for the response. Thoughts, everyone?

3. You receive an RFP on a Friday before a holiday weekend. You send questions that need to be asked in order to respond. A kick-back email message advises that the sender is out for a week, and, of course, the RFP is due upon sender's return.

I would respond that "RFP was received at... questions submitted at... as soon as answers are received we will have our response to you within 48 hours (or your time frame) of receipt. And one of the questions should be "when will the responses be reviewed and read?"

4. One reader suggests that we interview people who have worked for these companies before.

I say "amen" to this suggestion.

5. Another reader suggests that "It's sad that most procurement specialists feel that the process is their attempt to do what is best for the company. However, anyone who is good at responding to RFPs knows that you bid low, be very specific, and make your money on the add ons.

How do you all feel about this? We base our business on the fact that we don't do this; we bid fairly and rarely have add ons to the RFP requirements, only to things that were not originally included.

6. Here's a new piece of information, and I hope that hoteliers will respond to this and let us know if it is true. And if so, could it work elsewhere in our industry? So here's the claim: Most hotels have an automatic RFP response system. They are too busy to respond to the RFP by reading the requirements in it. The system reads the event dates and automatically populates a response/proposal to be accordingly emailed back to the RFP sender (event company). If the RFP sender is really serious, he/she will contact the hotel to follow up. So the hotel doesn't work on it when they receive the RFP, only if the sender follows up.

The sender (event company) had sent an RFP that was clearly written as six (6) bullet point items which were main decision points for their client's event project. Not one hotel gave a complete response to those six points in their proposals. In order to collect relevant data, back and forth email traffic took place to ascertain all the needed information.

Hmmmm... when am I "too busy" to read an RFP?

The consensus is obvious: Everyone, planner, supplier, hotelier... everyone wants the process to change. And it seems to all boil down to qualifying the business from both points of view. Let's keep on working on this together, okay? Let's share our thoughts on solutions. I think we have a good handle on the challenges. As all of us would tell our employees: Don't come to me with the problem. Come to me with the problem and your proposed solution.

Let's open up a discussion of this additional dilemma. Many of you had one major issue: clients "stealing" our ideas. If the RFP calls for creative ideas, what can we put in place to protect ourselves from this unethical behavior? Any opinions out there on this topic? If so, I'll use them to further our discussion.

Let's all work together to disrupt things and change them up so everyone benefits. Okay?


Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP, PART TWO: Revolting, Frivolous, Preposterous?

Admittedly revolting, frivolous, and preposterous were not the words I received in response to the existing RFP process in Part One, but similes. Universally (and I received a lot of input) no one defended the process as we know it to be now.

I am going to refer to a very thoughtful correspondence I received from Kate Patay, an event industry consultant, as she summarized what so many of you readers have shared... the process has to change.

1.We are in a fully transparent world. No one can hide anymore. Nothing can be hidden anymore.

2. Time is money. And we are being wasteful of both.

3. Kate closed with an Oprah quote that resonated: "Let excellence be your brand... when you are excellent you become unforgettable. Doing the right thing, even when nobody knows you are doing the right thing, will always bring the right thing to you."
     
      Should we assume that the purpose of an RFP should be to discover excellence? As written, they are now designed to discover mediocrity or lack of relevance. Am I wrong?

So why is this happening? Companies are sending out blanket RFPs. They lack real information. They lack an achievable goal. And they are not designed to discover the core competency of the responder. In many cases, they are designed to give a budget number that can be compared to other responders' budget numbers.

Let me tell you a story... a true one... I was asked to present my response to an RFP to a committee. I walked into a conference room and handed out my proposal and immediately saw that almost all of the committee had turned to the budget tab in this beautifully constructed document filled with photos and renderings. So, I sat down. Obviously puzzled, my contact said, "Aren't you going to present your proposal to us?" My response was, "No, I'm not." And then I shut up. Everyone got very uncomfortable until my contact said, "But you're here to give us your proposal for this event, aren't you?"

I politely responded with, "That's what I thought I was going to do. But it is obvious to me that all you care about is where the dollar sign and decimal point fall and how much it will all cost, but so far I haven't seen that you're interested in what design ideas, concepts, or value you are getting for those dollars. So if you have no idea what you're buying for the money I've quoted, then there's no point in my presenting anything to you. If you'd like to close the budget page and hear what I'd like to do and why, and why every cost brings value to your project, then I'm happy to present to you." Note: they closed their books and listened. I won the business. At least that time. 

So the question remains: is an RFP a demand for the best creative idea (and this brings on an entirely different discussion) or is it designed to filter through prospective companies and find the one best suited for collaboration? And how do we do this if we do not have enough information about the project to appropriately answer the RFP and be relevant?

Shouldn't clients return to the information pipeline and understand how crucial it is to give out concrete information? Why? So that when those of us choose to respond (and yes I believe we should choose based upon the quality of the RFP) we can showcase our strengths and what we bring to the table when we make that choice. We can only do that if we know what we are being asked to do in specific detail. 

All of that is very general, isn't it? Read Part One and some of those questions will be addressed. 

Moving forward and continuing this discussion, I would love to get the input of some of the corporate planners who issue RFPs to find out the following:

  1. When you are asked to bid out a project, are you being challenged by time? (This is an assumption, of course, that a planner or procurement department has some other department or person with a need, and you are responding to that need on their behalf.)
  2. How often do you cut and paste your inclusions versus creating an original document?
  3. How much of what you ask for are you actually reading?
  4. If you send out an RFP to 10 companies (or more), are you reading all of them page for page, line by line in consideration of the great amount of time and money it took to respond?
  5. Do you send out RFPs even when you know who you are giving the business to in advance?
  6. Do you ever pay for companies to respond to an RFP and send you a creative proposal?
  7. What would you like companies that receive your RFPs to know about the process you go through to qualify them?
       Join in here folks... it's the topic of the day, and it's up to us to find a way to solve the problem we've all helped to create. Let's not complain. Let's find ways to fix this. Thoughts anyone?     

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP: IS IT "REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL" OR "RECIPE FOR DISASTER"?

RFPs have lately brought about a lot of discussion, mostly criticism actually. Do we want to respond to them? Do we not want to respond to them? What if we respond to them, and they do nothing more than cost us a lot of money with no positive results?

Proposals are getting way more expensive to produce for those of us who want to stay in the game. No longer a wordy “paint me a picture” descriptive, but rather detailed information and financial statements, pages and pages of qualifications, and more.

Never being lost for an opinion, here’s mine, and I welcome yours.

Let’s teach our clients how to design an RFP, because they are pretty “iffy” right now. Here’s what I think we should require:



1. Name the client (specifically)... not only the company name but the specific division (or product).

2. Don't give me pages of information about the product. I have to assume that if I'm qualified to respond to an RFP I am intelligent enought to do homework on the company, the brand, and the product that has been revealed.

3.Do give me your objective for the activity.

4. Let me know how many companies will be receiving the RFP (if more than three, I'll probably decline) and let me know why you contacted me (the source of referral).

5. If there are any reasons, geographic or otherwise, that can be defined that would eliminate me from consideration (the prospect client only hires local companies), I want to know.

6. Define payment terms clearly... I won't bid on a job of a million dollars if you pay 120 days net.

7. Let me know any other financial information before I decide to accept the RFP... i.e. "We only pay $15 per diem in Napa."

8. Give me some history if this is a legacy event, provide photos, film, anything that is helpful. If you want examples of similar events, then be specific about your event so I can be "similar".

9. Tell me who the decision makers(s) is/are.

10. Tell me the specifics of how you'll base your decision; qualifications? Budget? Creativity?

11. Give me a budget, a true budget, not a "don't want to stifle your creativity" budget.

12. Give me the name of a real person with whom I can talk. I do not want to respond to an RFP and never be able to visit in person (or minimally reach on the phone).

13. If you give me an opportunity to ask questions, then answer them privately and not in a group email. Maybe I've asked some that a competitor would not have thought of.

14. Make the RFP short and to the point. Send it only to companies that you have pre-qualified.

I’m quite sure that you, readers, can add substantially to this list, and I invite you to do so. If we are unhappy with the RFP process, and we all seem to be, then let’s educate our clients on how to make them more productive. And clients, if you are reading, then don’t send out a blanket RFP that has been used for another event, asking for information that you don’t need or won’t read. Our time is just as valuable as yours; our money is probably more valuable as you are not spending it putting together an RFP response, and we are. So look at it this way, client, if you ask 20 companies to prepare a bid that requires them to spend $10,000 in time and expenses, and you are only considering three as viable options, then you have wasted $10,000 each for 17 companies who can ill afford it.

We are no longer in a day and age where we can spend either time or money needlessly, so let’s join together (client and supplier) and come up with a way to streamline this process. Let’s stop complaining and let’s start changing.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a Los Angeles-based, international event agency, and the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life.  Andrea may be contacted via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

8 Tips to Get More Referrals for Your Event Business


If your event business is new or struggling, or you just want to expand your reach, the easiest and least expensive way to grow it is through referral marketing, but how do  you get happy clients and attendees to talk about you? Try these tips. Read more at:

This article has been reprinted with permission of its author, Christine R. Green, and EventMB. You may reach Christine R. Green via christine@christinergreen.com.

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Andrea Michaels is the founder/president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower – Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. You may reach Andrea via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.