Planners of social, military, education, religious, and fraternal meetings all invariably have one thing in common: They need to get a lot of bang for the buck when it comes to meeting expenditures. That's why developing a good request for proposal is critical for planners in this market.

Moreover, unlike for deep-pocket corporate or association meetings, RFPs for SMERF meetings need to include a lot of penny-pinching details so you end up with a meeting that your attendees can afford.

A good way to get the RFP process started is to go through your meeting sequentially and account for everything you'll need each day. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it if you want more competitive and complete bids, less telephone tag, smoother negotiations, and no big surprises.

Here are some other general tips from planners in the SMERF field:

  • If you are new at developing an RFP, you might want to send your draft out to a few suppliers and have them critique it for you. You could also get RFP samples from planners and take what works best for you from each.

  • If you don't have specific dates, include the month or season you're considering. The geographical location is another must. Again, if you don't have a specific state in mind, don't just say “Midwest.” There's no clear consensus on what states that region includes.

  • Provide a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for each supplier to complete. Then, when the RFP is returned, you can easily compare costs from one RFP to another.

  • Expected attendance (including a daily breakdown of sleeping rooms and meeting space required) and as detailed a history of your past meetings as possible are essential, but don't inflate your group's numbers to make your meeting look more enticing.

  • List other considerations that influence the organization's site selection decisions, such as complimentary parking, airport proximity and complimentary shuttle service, removal of sexually explicit magazines from the gift shop, guaranteed shoulder-season sleeping-room rates, a cumulative comp policy on sleeping rooms and suites, and complimentary shuttle to the host property if overflow sleeping rooms are needed. Other factors being equal, these types of issues can be used as tie-breakers.

  • This is a lot of information to squeeze into a document, and it could take on a life of its own if you let it. Aim to limit it to one page, while still keeping it complete and understandable.

Casting the Net

Once you have developed your RFP, how do you decide where to send it? Many SMERF planners lean on the local CVB. The CVB also can help a SMERF meeting planner record information on the number of rooms used on peak nights, total rooms used, and the largest attendance for a meal or a general session. Planners then can use this data to adjust their RFP to give a more accurate representation of the meeting, which in turn helps the bureau recommend future venues.

For smaller events, you may want to send the RFP to a specific group of hotels in a city, and to the sales managers of the national hotel chains. Many SMERF planners develop their own customized database of hotels.

An RFP can come in handy if there is a dispute down the line. You also can use the proposal as a checklist when the contract arrives. Go through the RFP line by line to make sure that everything's in the contract. If it isn't, you can send it back unsigned with a note to make the changes to match the RFP.

What Every Good RFP Should Include

  • Title of meeting
  • Name and address of organization sponsoring the meeting or event
  • Preferred city, area, or region
  • Meeting goals and objectives (briefly)
  • Possible meeting dates by month or season, plus days of the week meeting is held
  • Types of properties preferred — for example, airport or downtown hotel
  • Projected sleeping-room block (include any special suites; staff discounts; single, double, triple, or quad occupancies anticipated)
  • Desired rate range/quotation from hotel
  • Daily review of meeting space requirements and usage. Include any specific ceiling height or room dimension requirements, plus staff room, business center, registration area needs, and any 24-hour holds needed.
  • Day-by-day meeting schedule
  • Need for reduced or waived meeting room rentals
  • Exhibit information (number of exhibits, booth or tabletop, setup and tear-down times)
  • Food-and-beverage functions, including type of function, number of expected attendees, any special dietary requirements, and day of each function. Also, include food and beverage history, if possible.
  • Your meeting's history, preferably going back three years
  • Preferred mode of response (phone, mail, fax, e-mail)
  • Name and contact information of person in charge
  • Schedule and procedure of site inspections, final decision-making, and contracting
  • Deadline for submission
  • Overview of attendee demographics
  • Attrition clause issues
  • Organization's willingness to explore alternative dates
  • Additional information necessary to meet your group's goals, such as ADA compliance, emergency services, satellite hookups, complimentary shuttle service, and on-site AV services. Also any special concessions needed
  • Additional information to enhance your meeting's attractiveness to the venue (e.g., affiliate groups that will be holding meetings in conjunction with your meeting; or the likelihood of your organization providing repeat business)

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