Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Partnering with Vendors - A Novel Idea?

By Evan Grey
After almost a quarter of a century working as an event producer, I'd say partnering with vendors is just professional common sense. Those who know me and are reading this understand that I am an animated, reactive person. I've made my share of mistakes over the years, like asking for too much and not looking at my vendors as my partners. But, I've learned the hard way that not doing so definitely affects how they deliver their services to me!

Coming off a huge recession tilted the event world. Everyone began grabbing at everything, and during that time, vendors were beaten up. In that fray, many of us, myself included, made the mistake of assuming that our vendors were here to serve us. We were all about. . .  "I need this now. . . you owe me. . ." But I quickly realized that was a mistake and shifted. After the apologies, I approached my providers/vendors as partners. I asked for their ideas. I stopped and listened. I asked, "What ideas do you have creatively?" or "How can we save money on this?" Not, "Do this for X or else." When I looked at vendors as professionals with lives and knowledge and creativity, I soon had an outpouring of phenomenal creativity and money-saving ideas. Things that I would not have thought of otherwise!

How Did This Translate to Client Satisfaction?

One of the biggest assets with this approach ha been the wealth of ideas for my clients. For example, at Go Daddy's Holiday Celebration (for which EE won a Gala award by the way), we had 100-feet-by-60-feet backdrops. I curbed back my aggressive, Type-A personality and went to one of my vendor partners to discuss the backdrops. I didn't say, "I want lighted banners." Instead, I asked for his ideas. His suggestion was to try a new type of fabric and use LEDs instead of heavy, more expensive gear and do it a month out so we could save a ton of money. In that extra 10 minutes to get more ideas, options and solutions, he was so eager to share his thoughts. This opened up a dialogue with the client and other team members, and everyone loved it! We saved money on the materials and the shipping since we did it over a month out!

How Can Great Vendor-Partner Relationships Save your Bacon?

My bacon! Just so you know, I'm a vegetarian! Having great partnerships with vendors is key. I was doing an event at the Shrine Auditorium Expo site. I needed to close down one of the streets for redundancy for two generators, a kitchen, clean-up and crew breaks. I knew I needed permits for everything and was going about it. One of my rental partners had worked this site numerous times and knew I would need special sound permits, as well as another for how the tents had to be set up in position to the actual venue (due to special fire regulations for this building. Who knew???) Because of our great relationship and to prevent problems with the event, my vendor partner checked with me and outlined everything. Otherwise, this event could have been shut down!

Three Vendor Pet Peeves with Planners

What do vendors hate, hate, hate?

#1: Not being clear and concise about what you want from the beginning. There is nothing worse than finishing a large proposal only to discover not all the details were provided. Be very clear. Make a special phone call to go over everything with your client, or send an email breaking down and bullet pointing every element before requesting vendor proposals. It is worth it, so take the time! It will definitely save you in the long run. Mandy Bianchi in our office has even developed a special detail-format that I use!

#2: Calling a vendor at 4p in the afternoon and crying wolf. Boy, have I been guilty of this in the past. What do I mean by this? It is 2p on a Wednesday. I call my vendor and demand: "I need a full proposal, CAD drawing, and quote by 10a tomorrow. I have to turn it around by noon on Thursday.! If we do this too much, they won't take us seriously. So, when clients demand these types of deadlines that aren't feasible, I say, "I will give you an estimate based on the time constraints. If you like these ideas, we will revise them." To my vendor, I suggest going off an old event. I suggest being very clear about putting disclaimers in budgets and proposals. And I do written disclaimers for vendors. So, instead of saying, "I need this and that, and I need it now," be a partner, a collaborator with them. If they feel they are heard, then they will work with you and not resent you.

#3: Being asked to do things in which they aren't proficient. Some of us have a tendency to assume that just because a vendor can do one thing very well that he or she can do other related things well. And, ultimately vendors will try because they want to make us happy. So don't be comfortable only making one phone call or email instead of the three that you actually need.

Positive Steps Planners Can Take to Create First-Rate Relationships with Vendor

#1: Ask them what works best for them! Get an understanding of their process. Share  your process with them. You may not always be able to align with them, but by sharing processes you may be able to meet in the middle with mutual understanding. Be clear about what would be helpful to you. For instance, if they need you to cut and paste the creative from an RFP or break down what you need in a specific order, do so.Then, let them know that if they send information to you in that order it will save you much time. Make it a positive, collaborative process.

#2: Clients sometimes will not share their budgets with us. This is difficult because it takes the power out of what we can do for them. If is is possible to talk to the client, ask for some type of a parameter. We do budget ranges when we don't know parameters. We do three different ideas (conversation starters) without specific budgets (i.e. $100,000-$200,000; $201,000-$300,000; up to $500,000.) These are much like a menu that we share with vendors. Then, we can at least wedge the client into a range. We always approach our vendors asking if they are comfortable with this.

#3: Often times, clients ask us not to share their identity with others. In that case, get the demographics of the guests to share with vendors. This will often give you the information that you need.

#4: Remember that vendors are human beings. I send cards, thank-you notes, and even jokes after an event. (I once sent a doorstop because nothing in the venue had doorstops, and it was a problem. It gave them a laugh.) Many are friends. And I treat them as friends. But that has to be balanced when I need to be the boss. I wouldn't suggest this for a new producer. They won't want to manipulate you but they will because you aren't strong enough yet!

Tips for Repairing a Damaged Vendor Relationship

#1: Admit when you are wrong. You are the solution person. Don't blame anyone else (even if it is someone else's mistake.) If you are the producer, own it. Make the apology. Ask what you can do to make it better. Ask what you can do to prevent it from happening again. Sometimes a nice bottle of wine helps. Remember: Own it; repair it; prevent it from happening again.

#2: When you lose faith in someone, call them up and go out to lunch. No email. I have found that a "tone" of an email can be misunderstood, and then you have offended or alienated them! Outline your concerns. I am not old school, but with problems like these, you need to look that person in the eye and say, "Until we resolve this, I can't work with you." Remember they are partners and most of all human beings! We all make mistakes and deserve the opportunity to correct or make good on them. I rarely ask for money back. I know, sounds funny, but I promise it is a great thing when on the next event you will probably get double your money back. Be smart, not cheap. I've done this a number of times, and the other person always shakes my hand, vows to fix it, and we have another lunch to come up with solutions. This works no matter who is at fault.

#3: Remember that the vendor you hire today could be the person who hires you next. Respect and clear, concise communication are the keys.

Final Words of Advice

Create your own wheel (or your own little business for an event). You are the center of the wheel surrounded by spokes. Surround yourself with people (spokes), usually five vendors. Create a wheel of people who are better than you in what they do. Don't be threatened by this. It empowers you and them! When you make mistakes, and you will, you want to surround yourself with people you can trust and who will protect you and only have your best interests at heart. Trust me, this is everything!

Evan Grey is the Director of Production Services for Extraordinary Events. She has worked as a producer for the 1996 Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Atlanta Olympics and such clients as Nissan, Lexus, GM, Ford, Infiniti, George P. Johnson/Cisco, Washington Mutual, and Blue Cross/Well Point, to name a few. She may be reached via

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