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6 strategies for navigating event contracts: A guide for clients and partners

In putting together and executing an event, the event contract is an essential safeguard for the event management company, their client(s) and their partners.

The specifics of each contract will vary from one event to the next, and their stipulations will also look different depending on the type of gathering: virtual, hybrid or in-person.

Still, there are a few common strategies to keep in mind.

Strategy 1: Focus on specific terms and conditions.

Like any other legal agreement, event contracts should cover as much ground as possible in defining the parameters.

At minimum:

  • The contract should identify the parties involved.

  • Outline intellectual property rules and guidelines.

  • Include digital privacy provisions, especially if there is a large technological element to the event.

  • Specify rights to make changes to the contract. Any special or unusual situations involved should also be spelled out in this section.

You should also understand whether or not the venue you’re using for an in-person event has a preexisting agreement with a preferred provider that could make you go over budget. One example of this is a venue fee for caterers, which might be assessed as a per-head cost.

Note, as well, that the terms and conditions of an event will need to apply not only to those on the planning team, but also to attendees.

Strategy 2: Know what will happen if someone cancels.

Contract language needs to be explicitly clear about alternatives and obligations if a client or one of your strategic partners pulls out at any point. This includes any fees owed, or who will step in to cover for a missing participant.

The cancellation clause also needs to specify whether any fees or deposits will be refunded if someone pulls out, and if so, up to what point. It may also identify acceptable reasons for canceling, like environmental disasters or declaring force majeure.

Strategy 3: Budget (literally) for product and service delays.

Unfortunately, supply chain disruptions will be the reality for the foreseeable future, making this point especially important. Event planners and their partners need to be clear about several things:

  • What other suppliers can furnish either the same product or an acceptable alternative.

  • Whether the planner or their partners have any of the necessary materials on reserve or in stock, and if so, how much.

  • If the cost of procuring a product or service rises because of inflation, whether or not this is built into the event budget.

Of course, suppliers will likely adjust over time, making these situations more predictable and preventable. And with proper planning, there should not be a situation where an event management company or one of their suppliers cannot provide an original or a suitable replacement for a product or service in a way that it seriously disrupts the event.

Strategy 4: Know if you can source your own vendors.

Both in budgeting for service delays and in general, it is essential to understand your flexibility to source your own vendors. For example, can you bring in the vendors you contact and source in the space, or does the venue own exclusive rights to contracting vendors for you? This is sometimes buried in small, abstract language in the contract.

Strategy 5: Set out expectations for payment.

Necessary payment provisions include an installment schedule, the estimated budget for the event – and what happens if, for any reason, that budget runs over – and indications of when initial deposits and the final payment will be due.

Strategy 6: Know for sure who is liable.

Contract liability clauses are all about being “better safe than sorry.” At their heart is the indemnification clause, which covers injuries at the event by attendees, issues with the venue, technology problems or any other matters that are outside the event manager’s control.

Liability provisions should also include natural disasters, such as major storm warnings for an area, or health department changes, such as when COVID-19 significantly spikes and makes an in-person event unsafe. It should be clear whether there are opportunities to reschedule without penalties.

While event management professionals are highly skilled, it’s still a good idea to bring an attorney to the table to ensure that the contract’s liability provisions are sound, and do not have any loopholes that could harm anyone down the road.

The role of an event contract

Any party with a seat at the table should also have a stake in the contract. Their roles, as well as procedures covering as many risks as practicably possible, should be included within it.

For a gathering to be a success, it is essential that all its provisions and expectations are set out in writing, which goes a long way in avoiding any confusion on the part of any of the parties. It also gives the event planner the opportunity to share specific steps for contingency planning with the client in case anything originally agreed upon can’t go to plan because of an external disruption.

For personalized help putting these tips and more into action, tap into the creative team at Behind the Scenes. We are just a phone call or email away.


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