If there was one theme that pervaded this year's Special Events show, held January 5 to 8 in Miami Beach, it was that event planners are demanding to be treated as professionals—and holding the line when it comes to pricing their services.

In a session on "Scope Creep"—industry lingo for client demands that go beyond the scope of a contract—75 event planners shared strategies for saying no when asked to manage more than they bargained for. For example: What happens when a client says they'll take care of a portion of the event—like the F&B—then backs down at the last minute?

"When it gets closer to the date of the event and the volunteers start dropping off, that's when I hit them with this," said panelist Cher Prezlomski, CSEP, president of the Planning Factory, Wilmington, Del., who shared with the audience a change form she designed herself. She refuses to make changes to what has been contracted without her clients signing these forms, and she attaches copies of them to the final invoice.

What this means for in-house corporate planners is more accountability for changes they make, especially at the last minute—which incur additional charges. As Prezlomski put it: "People within companies are used to an unlimited supply of free labor—clerical help, the people in their mailrooms—and they don't realize that everything we do has a cost attached to it."

In a separate panel on "Tips for Working with Procurement," planners gave examples of ways they can share in the savings they provide to their corporate customers. For an agreed-upon percentage of costs saved, many said they would be willing take on extra responsibilities.

Like these seminars, the trade show itself was a reflection of an industry that grows more sophisticated with each passing year. The popular tabletop exhibit contest featured numerous slick and innovative designs, and live entertainers belted out their best (many of them excellent!). In the evenings, party-goers sampled the latest in event pizzazz.

On the final night, the most important evening of the show, the Gala Awards celebrated leaders in the special events industry. Among this year's winners:
-- Best Multiple-Day Event Program for a Corporation or Association—EventWorks, Los Angeles
--Best Event Marketing Campaign—Index Event Agency, Bangkok, Thailand
--Best Event Produced for a Corporation or Association (Budget Under $100,000)—Festivex Special Events, Gatineau, Quebec
--Best Event Produced for a Corporation or Association (Budget $100,000-$249,000)—Vok Dams Gruppe, Wuppertal, Germany
--Best Event Produced for a Corporation or Association (Budget $250,000-$500,000)—USA Hosts New Orleans
--Best Event Produced for a Corporation or Association (Budget Over $500,000)—The Event Co., Munich, Germany