The work required to complete requests for proposal for special events has always been demanding. And not surprisingly, today's tough economy is making the process tougher still.

To respond to today's competitive environment, independent event planner Rachel Hollis, founder of Los Angeles–based Chic Events, has one watchword: more.

"[Clients] need to feel like they're getting the most bang for their buck," Hollis explains. "And while I think the amount of work hasn't changed—we always took care of all the extras—now we have to make sure they're aware we're taking care of the extras."

Mark Baltazar, CEO and managing partner of New York–based Broadstreet, puts "more" into his proposals by creating event elements that do double duty. These are program elements "that have life beyond the event," he says, "such as videos and Web sites with information contributed by participants."

If budgets are down 20 percent and the same event has to be produced, "that means to me that the same message has to be delivered but not necessarily in the exact same way," says Dianne Devitt, CMP, president, The DND Group, also in New York. "This is where tools like technology and the latest design trends come in—things like portable, multiuse walls that provide both form and function."

In addition to finding techniques or products that help her do more with less, Devitt and others are changing the way they charge corporate clients. "Just as advertising and public relations professionals are paid for ‘creative,' event production and communications companies should be as well," Devitt says. "When I send out a proposal, I categorize it as ‘consulting' in the pre-event development stage, based on time; ‘creative direction,' based on components; ‘production'; and ‘logistics.'

"The key is to determine the value to the client of this creative development stage. Event consultants should be paid for their strategic advice [event design] just like a lawyer is paid for his services. Then, when the client decides which components he likes, those charges [for event logistics] can be amortized, more like a general contractor does with a renovation, for example."

Jason Wanderer, head of Precision Event Group in Beverly Hills, Calif., has seen a shift in the goals of some RFPs. Rather than asking potential vendors to explain how they would produce the event, "we have seen RFPs requesting concepts that enhance, reshape, and reposition events to make them more attractive. It's now focused on ‘How can you improve or change our event without spending additional funds?'"

The growing demand by clients for transparency in pricing has also influenced Howard Givner, CEO for North America at Global Events Group, Portland, Ore., "to shift our pricing model to focus on a management fee as opposed to a markup." The shift "has also partly influenced our decision to bring certain capabilities in-house," such as graphics and video, he adds.

Pet Peeves
The down economy has resulted in a surge in the number of RFPs companies are sending, as they expand their searches for vendors with the lowest fees—the result of procurement being more involved in meeting purchasing. "There are now RFPs from companies that previously just went back to their preferred vendors year after year," says Givner. "They're opening the jobs up to bid now in an effort to reduce costs."

He has trouble with companies who push out RFPs indiscriminately. "Anything over four is inappropriate in my opinion. That's a sign that the client is too busy or too lazy to do their research and find three or four qualified companies."

This quick rush also means that the kinds of RFPs crossing event planners' desks are not as complete or professional as they should be. "One of my favorites is ‘guess the budget,"' says Broadstreet's Baltazar. "When potential clients don't give us a budget parameter, we can design a $10,000 or a $10 million event. We have to guess what the budget is and design around that. At the same time, every other company is doing the same thing. For clients to make a decision under these conditions and make an apples-to-apples comparison seems impossible."