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Who – and When -- Do You Tip?

September 28, 2007

by Rob Schron

There has never been a question in my mind that a venue’s conference services manager is the key to a successful event, particularly when the logistics involved require a better than average attention to detail.  And while I can honestly say I never met a CSM I didn’t like, I can also state quite honestly that on a number of occasions I found their being amiable didn’t always translate into their being capable.

There is no question that all CSMs are not created equal and, as a result, shouldn’t be treated the same when it comes to evaluating their services. Hence, to reward them with a gratuity at conference’s end just because “they’re there” doesn’t make sense to me. In my view, each situation should be judged on its own merits and the amount you decide on to recognize effort should be based on your evaluation of what was done to make your program a success -- nothing more, nothing less. As for the actual amount to be dispensed, that’s a call only you can make, although if you’re an independent planner it’s always a good idea to get the client’s input.

As for others involved with your program – management people, maitre d’s, house-keepers, bell captains, etc. – tipping isn’t always necessary or in some cases (in Europe and Asia, for example) even expected.  And in certain situations, gratuities (a/k/a “tips”) are already built into the prices you’re paying, although you need to read your contract to make sure. Recently, a gala dinner we arranged for a client – a “tasting menu” at a little over $160.00 a pop, including wine – had a 26% service charge added to it: 21% of which was to go the maitre d’ and wait staff and 5% to the venue’s administrative people. 
The client and I agreed an additional gratuity here wasn’t necessary, by the way.

More often than not, most planners I know include tips in formulating their meeting budgets despite the fact that there are no guidelines or formulas for doing so. We have most often advised clients to use a flat amount, ranging from $3.00 to $10.00 per attendee, based on the number of people participating in the event and the length and number of days the program is running. When outside “forces” such as tour guides or DMC staff is involved, however, we recommend the client disperse tips based on a percentage of the total cost of each offsite event.

word “tip” is usually interpreted to mean “to insure promptness” but meeting planners might want to consider a different take on it: in this case, “to indicate professionalism” –which, as we all know, is what it takes to make a meeting successful and something no one in our business – planner or supplier -- should take for granted, tip or no tip.

Pick and Pay (For My Brains and Expertise, Please)….

September 26, 2007

by Rob Schron

Independent meeting planners need to give serious thought to charging prospective clients a fee for their services – especially those who seek their advice and counsel and, at the same time, “must” have a proposal from you on short notice, even when the event being planned may often be many months away.  After all, it takes time – your time -- to research and develop such requests and, among other things, determine hotel rates and availability, the air lift to a particular destination and the frequency of flights from various gateways, transfer possibilities, food and beverage options, DMC options and the cost of renting AV materials, etc., etc., etc.

So the question isn’t so much whether or not you should charge such a fee but how much your fee should be.  People in the “advice” business generally charge by the hour and while you may not be able to quantify the time you’ll need to spend on developing a particular proposal, you do have some idea, based on past experience, as to how long it will take you to draw one up. Hence, a flat fee in such cases might be the way to go.

There is a risk and a reward to this idea and, in my view, a positive way to present it. 
Here’s the deal:

Explain to your prospective client (I wouldn’t charge repeat clients as they have already shown their good faith by doing business with you) that in order to work up a detailed proposal you need to allot significant time for it and since, as the saying goes, “time is money,” you need to be compensated for it.  And before the prospective client abruptly declines your offer, explain what you’re prepared to do, to wit, apply 100% of your fee toward the actual cost of the program should your proposal be accepted and the program moves forward.  This way, you’ve put a value on your expertise by having the client pay for the time you’ve spent developing the program (as a retainer, so to speak) and paying for your services when, and if, the program -- and your management and supervision of it – materializes.

Bottom line here is that people seeking the help of a professional meeting planner shouldn’t expect to get it for nothing.  Remember, most people think free advice is worthless. And while charging a fee for your services may not be the proverbial “offer your client can’t refuse,” it does attest to the adage that “there’s no free lunch” – unless of course you decide to take the client out for one when he’s ready to sign a contract.

What “Good Old Days?”

September 24, 2007

by Rob Schron

For those of us who have been around the meeting planning and incentive travel business awhile, it’s almost become a rite of passage that, from time-to-time, we recall the so-called “good old days.”  The fact is, however, that very often “the good old days” weren’t always that good. On the other hand, they weren’t that bad either.

Among other things, when there were no computers and you had to operate with telephones that weren’t attached to you as they appear to be today and fax machines that always seemed to run out of toner or paper just when you needed them, reaching clients and suppliers was far more difficult, although, on the plus side, there was at that time far more personal interaction between buyers and sellers. (I can actually remember when I had several airline reps calling on me in search of group business!) Anyway, while the trade-off is debatable, I’ve always preferred talking and meeting with clients and suppliers, many of whom over the years became life-long friends as a result of our having to work more closely together.

Nowadays, however, when you try to reach the people you need to work with by telephone, you invariably seem to get their “voice mail” and in many cases need to resort to email to get their attention. And quite often, and strange as it may seem, because of email, you can put together an entire program without ever having met the people who were an integral part of planning it with you. In short, it seems the business of planning meetings has almost become “faceless!”

Problem as I see it is everybody is looking for instance gratification, probably due to the fact that virtually everything you always wanted to know but didn’t know who to ask has been solved by the people who gave us “Google” and other search engines.  And if you can’t find it via these sources, there are always the web sites of the airlines, hotels, DMCs, motor coach companies, etc., to fill in the blanks. 

So, one might ask, who needs people? The answer is, of course, we do.

As “faceless” as the process has become, it does allow for planners and suppliers to provide for quicker responses to RFPs – and in today’s fast-paced environment that  increases the opportunities to do business which, as Martha Stewart might say, “is a good thing.”  Nevertheless, despite all the advances in technology that, without question, have helped grow our businesses, the “good old days” were “a good thing” too.   

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