At the ICPA Annual Meeting in November, during a series of tabletop discussions, participants split up into groups of 10 to 15 people. Each talked among themselves about a series of topics, and the group leader made a written list of their conclusions.

My group of six planners and six suppliers was on a roll. We had lots of good ideas about how to handle safety and security during an emergency. When we moved on to the question of how the events of 9/11 were going to affect supplier contracts, I thought for sure that equally passionate discussions would ensue. After all, planners have to become proactive about protecting their meeting investments in case the unthinkable happens again.

Much to my surprise, the conversation went elsewhere. Everyone at the table started talking about relationships. One planner said that after a speaker wouldn't cancel his engagement for a September 12 meeting, she will never again work with speakers bureaus she doesn't know personally. “But wouldn't the correct contractual clauses take care of the problem?” I asked. “Maybe,” she said. “But it doesn't really come down to the contract as much as it does to ethics.”

Later, chatting with attendees at ICPA's tabletop tradeshow, I learned we weren't the only discussion group to come up empty with ideas on contracts. It seems that when push comes to shove, what counts most isn't legal language but a cooperative partnership.

This isn't a new thought, but it's truer than ever as we ring in 2002 with tough economic times. It's a message I heard over and over at ICPA and continue to hear when I talk to you. When problems need to be solved, it's the relationship that counts. For an example, turn to page 56, where we tackle the controversial topic of outsourcing. We found that when outsourcing works — as it has for Mauna Hatchett of Indianapolis Life and incentive firm Maritz Travel for the past 15 years — it's because of trust between the planner and the third-party representative. And no contract can mandate that relationship.