Whether you are new to the meeting planning profession or you have worked in this dynamic industry for many years, it is important to know that mistakes can and will happen. Some mistakes have little to no impact on the organization or event, while other mistakes can have a long-lasting impact on the organization from both a legal and a financial standpoint. Following are three of the most common mistakes I see in our law practice, and how planners can avoid making these same mistakes themselves. Part 2 of this article will feature more common mistakes and will appear in the August issue of this magazine.
- Not getting commitments in writing.
During theprocess, promises are made quite frequently. Perhaps it's a promise of a complimentary welcome reception made in an e-mail during the request-for-proposal stage. Or perhaps it's a commitment for complimentary suites during a site visit. No matter the case, unless those commitments — made both orally and in writing — are set forth in the contract, they are not binding from a legal standpoint. It is therefore critical that as the negotiation process builds from the proposal stage to the finalization stage, the contract summarizes all commitments made to the planner. If further commitments are made to the group after the contract is signed, such as an increase or a decrease in the room block, those subsequent commitments must be made in writing and signed by the parties in an addendum to the contract.
- Not including indemnification.
Managing risk and liability is one of the meeting professional's most important tasks. Yet frequently, one of the most important risk-management tools — namely, indemnification — is not part of every contract for the meeting. Indemnification is a method of shifting risk from one party to another. Essentially, the provider of goods or services in connection with the meeting, such as an audiovisual company, agrees to be responsible for its actions. If it fails to perform properly and the group gets sued for a resulting injury, the provider will be responsible for paying the cost to defend the lawsuit on the group's behalf and to pay damages that may be awarded against the group. So, for example, if the audiovisual company forgets to tape down an electrical cord in one of the session breakout rooms and an attendee trips on the cord and injures her knee, the indemnification provision would require the audiovisual company to defend any claim or lawsuit brought against the group by the injured person.
Indemnification clauses, therefore, should be part of every contract for a meeting, since there is always a risk that goods and services will not be provided properly and the group could be sued as a result.
- Failing to plan for contingencies.
As the saying goes, “Hope for the best but plan for the worst.” Yet many new planners often do not consider the contingencies that could arise in connection with their meeting and event. Some contingencies, such as aevent (see Part 2 in the August issue) or construction or renovation at the hotel can be addressed in the contract in a manner that will protect the group. Other contingencies, such as an outbreak of food poisoning, a medical emergency, or picketing against the group, cannot necessarily be addressed in the contract. What plan is in place if these problems erupt? Having a crisis management plan that addresses all contingencies is a critical element in meeting planning. In developing such a plan, it is important that meeting professionals include all service providers in the discussion, so that they can provide expertise in support of the plan.
Barbara Dunn is an attorney and partner with the law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and by telephone at (636) 256-3351.