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Tendering for events – business opportunity or nightmare?


imagesLast week there was a post on a Facebook group from a bride who had just received a quote from a hairdresser and make-up artist and realised that their prices bore little resemblance to the figures she had in her budget.  She checked elsewhere and discovered that these were fairly typical and consequently was on the hunt for someone to do it for free…

For anyone who has ever gone through an event tendering process, this scenario will seem frighteningly familiar. All too often the the invitation to tender document seems to have been written with little or no knowledge of event planning and the budget bears no resemblance to the expectations of delivery.

Similarly, if you are completing a PQQ for a local authority or government body, there can be completely redundant sections only applicable to building sites.  I have been asked to provide my working at height policies for a webinar programme and details of my traffic management plan for a meeting with four attendees in a local hotel. You can’t avoid these questions by inserting ‘not applicable’ because it would make the application nul and void so you must plough on creating policies which you will never need or use.

Early this year I was asked to help prepare a tender response for an event which a local authority had bid for and won from an international body.  How they had managed to do this with little expertise in organising events of this size was anyone’s guess, but it was patently obvious from the specification document and the huge information gaps that this was what had happened.  The brief was badly framed, there was no indication of the number of attendees, the programme of events or the available resources.  Most importantly there was no clear definition of who was expected to take on the financial risk for the project or details of the original scoping exercise which had been undertaken in order to make the successful bid.

More recently I have seen a tender proposal for an local government body that was looking for an events organiser who would run a total of nine events with at least five specialist staff at each of them and a defined number of attractions. Added to this were a number of other complex requirements, including applications for event licences, provision of site security measures and hire of specific goods and services.  By the time the costings for all of these required elements was complete there would be very little margin in it or indeed any management fee for a professional event organiser.

Larger commercial organisers can be almost as bad with their complex procurement processes.  Events are very different to the purchase of specified items, often needing to change at a moment’s notice.  Structures can become strictures, with event management companies reluctant to take on board extra costs knowing that they will not be able to recoup them at a point in the future on another project.  Small events become prohibitively expensive when isolated from the purchasing power that can be delivered by a group approach.

There is very little an individual event producer can do to alter this process on their own. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and complete the tender document to the best of your ability and hope for the best.  But maybe it is time for the many and varied bodies representing the events industry to start educating purchasers on the need to employ some real expertise at the beginning of their event procurement process in order to create meaningful and carefully created tender documentation and consequently ensure that they get the right results at the end.

Hellen @missioncontrol

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