Event Planning Ethics: Do We Have a Problem Here?

For any of you that have been in the event planning business for some time, what I’m about to write here will come as no surprise to you. I cannot tell you the amount of networking events, that I have attended, where the conversation turns towards ethics in the industry. Generally speaking, the comments come from the supplier side of the industry.

Destination Management Company (DMC’s) Are Considered the Local Event Planning Experts

I want to give you a brief rundown of the most common complaint that I hear. First a disclaimer. In my past life I was on the supplier side of the event planning business. I was a co-owner of a Destination Management Company. For any of you that aren’t familiar with this type of company, a destination management company, or DMC as they are referred to in the industry, acts as a broker for a meeting and event planner. In other words, it’s the DMC’s job to find out what their potential clients wants for their program and then propose venues and suppliers that fit that bill. Ultimately, it’s the decision of the meeting planner as to which suppliers they will work with.

An Event Planner Needs to Establish Trust amongst Its Suppliers

Now back to the most common complaint.

Basically it goes like this. A meeting or event planner will put together an RFP (request for proposal) which gets sent to many suppliers to bid on. Then these supplier companies will put together a proposal based on the RFP’s outline and then present their options, along with pricing, to the potential client, the meeting and event planner. Then, what normally happens, the planner will decide which of the companies that they want to work with based on the proposals that he or she received.

Sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it?

Well, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that there are some meeting and event planners out there that will take ideas that were presented to them at the proposal stage and then proceed to contact the suppliers directly.

You’re starting to see the problem here, correct?

Basically what had happened was that the DMC went to all of the trouble to source, price and then present a number of options for the planner. The planner, rather than deciding which DMC to work with, based on the proposals, decides to circumvent the middleman, so to speak, and deal directly with those suppliers that were presented in the various proposals.

Now a planner has every right to work directly with suppliers. The problem with the above scenario is that the planner misled the DMCs into thinking that there was potential for them to be rewarded with business. To be honest, I have found that this situation occurs more often with meeting and event planners that are new to the industry. Planners that have been around the industry for a while seem to understand that this type of practice is considered unethical.

Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME); Membership Has Its Rewards

So what can be done?

Well, while the meetings and events industry has taken steps to address this, the fact of the matter is that there will always be those planners out there who are looking to take a shortcut and obtain ideas without giving proper credit.

For its part the industry has addressed ethics on the supplier side and has created an association for DMCs. The Association of Destination Management Executives, ADME, was created several years ago with the intent to establish standards that would be adhered to by its members. Through this association the suppliers, DMCs, are basically stating that they promise to play by the rules. Those same DMCs only hope that any potential meeting and event planners will also abide by those same rules. But by being a member of this association the hopes are that planners will understand that any of their potential DMCs are adhering to a strict code of ethics. Click here for more details regarding ADME’s code of ethical conduct.

Final Thoughts

Like any industry, the meetings and events industry will always have planners and suppliers that will try to circumvent the correct way of doing business. What I’ve learned from being on the supplier side is that you continue to provide proposals to potential clients based on the fact that the majority of planners are ethical and will not be stealing your ideas. My experience has taught me that eventually those planners that like to steal ideas get exposed (the industry can be a small world at times) and will find that their job will become harder and harder to do for their clients. For any planners that are considering working with a DMC, my advice would be to ask them if they are a member of ADME. After all, membership does have its privileges.

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