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A Party By Any Other Name

Posted on May 30, 2006

By Elizabeth Zielinski

No discussion of third-party planners can begin effectively without talking about the big pink elephant in the room – what exactly IS a third party? Most of you probably think you know, and yet if I asked 10 of you, I’d probably get 25 different answers.

Sure, it’s clear enough to answer in some ways.  The APEX glossary defines a third party as someone other than the principals.  So it’s not the meeting sponsor and not the host facility, rather, a “third party” brought into the business relationship.  And that’s where it gets murky in the meetings industry.

In this industry, a third party might be a commissionable site selection agent, an independent meeting planner, a consultant, a travel director, or a freelancer (that’s off the top of my head and not a comprehensive list). Many of these terms have some overlap in exactly what they mean.  For example, I consider myself a consultant.  And I may plan meetings for hire, so that makes me an independent meeting planner.  I might do site selection as part of my services, but not for commission.  I don’t do travel per se, but I guess you could call my work freelancing sometimes.  So which one of those labels is mine?  Heck if I know.  I know what I’d choose if it were up to me, but unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into a common industry language.

So, my first piece of advice when working with third parties is to understand exactly how the third party in question works.  Don’t assume independents are commissionable (or that they aren’t),  don’t assume their company is small (or that it isn’t), and don’t classify one based on what you know to be true about “third parties”, because there’s simply too much wiggle room within the term.


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