September 11, a recession, and the continuing threat of terrorism: The world may never be like it was before, but it will get better. One way to cope in troubled times is to focus on improving contract provisions.

I have written before about contract issues such as cancellation, attrition, and termination (acts of God) clauses. These clauses should be negotiated, drafted, and implemented in a manner that reflects the new reality: Meeting planners do have more clout.

Contract Review

But it isn't enough to focus on future meetings. Religious meeting planners should do a complete inventory and assessment of contractual obligations. Contracts with hotels, convention centers, bus lines, tour operators, decorators, general contractors, event promotion firms, independent planners, exhibitors, drayage firms, and any other meeting vendors should all be closely examined.

For each contract, review both parties' obligations and whether their respective situations have changed since the contract was signed.

Determine if the contract can be amended, canceled, or terminated. If the authority to decide does not lie with you, report the findings to the people with decision-making authority. Where possible, provide an assessment of your organization's possible exposure, depending on whether the group proceeds with or cancels a contract.

For every contract, assess whether potential problems need to be eliminated or reduced and, if it is not possible to unilaterally do so, consider how to work with the other party to make the contract successful or, when necessary, to renegotiate it. It is often in both parties' best interests to renegotiate.

Identifying potential issues up front and working together to minimize or avoid those problems is a positive step. It's clearly better and less time-consuming than finding out later that a group has to breach its contract.

Watch Expenses

Another strategy is to examine contracts and meetings to find ways to reduce expenses. Is it possible to change a full breakfast to a continental, or eliminate it? Can a mailing be eliminated or created online to save printing and postage costs?

Learning to cope also means being prepared for previously unthinkable calamities. Review your insurance needs. More than ever, cancellation coverage may be a prudent investment.

Finally, plan for worst-case scenarios. That means creating security and loss-protection programs. Most likely those plans need to be much more sophisticated than they have been. For example, it may not be enough to have the name of a local doctor if someone gets sick.

If you have developed good contracts, reviewed obligations, minimized exposure, insured against risk, and planned for contingencies, you've done the best you can.

Jed R. Mandel is a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, where he heads the trade and professional association practice.

Coping Strategies

Strategies for coping in challenging economic times:

  • Review and revise all your contract obligations.

  • Revise planned activities to minimize risk to your organization.

  • Insure against risk. Consider buying cancellation insurance.

  • Make contingency plans. Emergency measures may need to be more comprehensive than they have been previously.