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Event planner vs supplier. Tips to turn things around when relationships go wrong

As an event planner, you have double checked all the details with each of your suppliers, you have ticked everything off your packing list and you feel confident that everything is on schedule for a smooth event. However, no matter how prepared you are, not everything always goes to plan and even the smallest thing going wrong during a live event can spell disaster. Here's my top tips for rescuing a situation when there is a break down in the planner/supplier relationship.

Keep Calm

OK this is easier said than done when you have a planned schedule to stick to and are surrounded by attendees, all who have high expectations of your event but keeping calm is essential. There are plenty of tips out there for staying calm under pressure and each individual has techniques that work for them. Panic and that is when things begin to spiral. You are an event planner. By nature you are quick thinking, resourceful and good at problem solving. Ultimately you will thrive at finding a solution (there will be one). Keep your cool. As frustrated as you might be, loosing your temper will get other people off side and you are unlikely to get the best response from them.

Take notes

When onsite at an event always have something handy to take notes with. Notebook, phone, dictaphone, whatever works for you is fine. Jot down when things go wrong and try to include any useful details, such how late a delivery was or how few staff were serving a on a conference dinner. This is a good way to get the information out of your head, so you don't have to remember it and you can concentrate on other things. It is also useful to refer back to later on.

Give constructive feedback

Arrange a debrief meeting with the supplier after the event, either face to face or over the phone. Decide when is best for you, either straight after the event when things are fresh in your mind or soon after when you are less tired and have had chance to reflect.

Have the notes you have taken with you to refer to. Referring to your notes helps you remember everything but also demonstrates a rational approach, not exaggerating things during the conversation for example. However frustrated you are, remain calm and explain what went wrong and more importantly what the impact was on your event. Remember the person you meet with may be hearing this for the first time, if they were not directly involved with any incidents at the time. Paint a picture for them. Explain how or why you think the situation could have been avoided, referring to any discussions or specific instructions that were given ahead of the event.

Include positive feedback as well as negative feedback. You are likely to get a better response if you give a fair and balanced view, appreciating any efforts that were made. Listen to the suppliers responses and take on board any genuine reasoning or apologies.

After the meeting send a follow up email consolidating the points that you made and the issues that were caused. Copy in any third parties who have been involved in the relationship e.g a venue finder, so they are aware and may be able to assist in any negotiations. Any supplier who values their customers will be keen to work with you and secure your future business.

Find a solution

The event industry is so huge that it is often easy enough to find a new supplier when things have gone wrong. Sometimes however, this is not the best option. If the supplier is the only person that offers that service or if the supplier would have been perfect if it wasn't for the mishaps then it is possible to work together to build a future relationship. This can also help save time researching and building a relationship with new suppliers. At least the current supplier has worked with you, is familiar with your event and hopefully now understands your pain points.

Discuss if a resolution is achievable. The supplier knows their business and will know what reassurances are achievable. Can they put on more staff? Can they work with a different delivery company? Can they improve their internal communications to guarantee that requirements are met? Once agreed what can be improved upon and depending on the size of the contract, consider putting a service level agreement in place. List the things that went wrong before and link them to payment percentages for the final invoice. If the supplier fails to deliver on the agreed improvement then the percentage will be deducted from final payment. This acts as a security for event planners and a motivation for suppliers.

Even when things go wrong the key to success is working together. Have you ever been in a situation where things have gone wrong with a supplier (or client?) How did you resolve the situation? Share your own tips and experiences.

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