One way to take the time and hassle out of sending contracts back and forth between your legal department and all the vendors you use for every program is to create master services agreements. An MSA irons out all the sticky clauses of a contract—deposit requirements and other payment details, liability, force majeure, attrition, confidentiality, and others—once, for a term of three years or so. Then when you work with the vendor (a hotel, a destination management company, a speakers bureau) any time during those three years, you simply draw up a statement of work that includes specifics such as rates and dates.

Tim McKenna, sourcing specialist at ING U.S., has created lots of MSAs for his company, and has the following advice for making the process go smoothly.

1. Work with the right counterpart.
“It’s critical to work with a person who can make decisions. This is usually a national sales office for hotels, a vice president of sales for a DMC network, or the owner of a speakers bureau. You need to work with a person who is empowered both to make decisions and to filter the MSA through the organization.”

2. Don’t rush it.
“It can take several months, so it is best not to try to get an MSA in place when a live event is imminent. This way, suppliers and [the buyer] can truly flesh out terms and conditions, and come to final language.”

3. Be proactive in creating MSAs.
“Short lead times are a fact of life in the meetings industry. There is always some reason for holding pop-up meetings: Maybe there’s a strategy meeting, or companies have been holding back on meeting because they don’t have a budget but then all of a sudden the budget is there and they want to do it right away.” Get as many MSAs in place as you can, then when a meeting owner wants to hold an event in five days, you’ll have workable options and be able to get that contract signed.

4. Make things easier.
“ING’s brand promise is all about making it easier for our customers, so I am always thinking, ‘How can I make it easier?’” says McKenna. Recently, he did just that by further streamlining the way he works with hotels. It used to be that hotels would send information to him, and he would manually enter it into the statement of work. Now he sends an electronic document he created that permits the hotel to fill in only certain fields of the SOW. “Now when we work with a hotel’s national sales office, they send the SOW shell to the property. It benefits the NSO because they know all ING events being booked. And it benefits the hotel because they have a shorter form to fill out.” McKenna saves time, too, allowing him “to be more strategic and less transactional.”