ILEA Quick Tips for Event Planners: June 2018

How to find and work with the venue hosting your event.

Unless you’re holding an online presentation, every event has a home base. The venue can often be a large portion of your budget, and many are quite different in regards to what is handled in house, how they operate, and how they communicate.
Here are some general tips to help you make the most of this important asset:
Be a big fish in a small pond. When it comes to planning your event, everyone wants to be a VIP and, in a perfect world, every event is the most important thing happening. But if you’re the only event happening at your venue on that day, versus the smallest conference room in a large facility, the level of attention may vary. Try to find a space of a complimentary size so that you actually are one of the most important things on their plate. Take this into consideration with your budget as well. You don’t want to spend too much on your venue and end up having to short change other things you need. If you have a dream venue, establish what you like best about it. You might be able to find an alternate and recreate those elements in creative ways, getting more bang for your buck and stretching your creative muscles. 
Have a thorough understanding of your needs and be up front about it. Keeping important elements a secret in pursuit of a better deal is going to create disappointment and frustration for both you and the vendors. There are some things that just physically cannot be done, or that the venue might not have the staff to handle. If there are surprises after contracts are signed, you might be looking at additional fees or uncooperative vendors. If you need three breakout rooms, a dressing room for speakers, and a green room for the band, make sure all of that is spelled out and addressed before contracts are signed. 
Have a thorough understanding of what they offer, and be aware of it. If you aren’t offered a full inventory list and floor plan right off the bat, ask for one. If they can’t provide one, that might be a red flag that they don’t have their ducks in a row. A venue should be able to give you a comprehensive list of everything that is offered in their space, including the staff that will be managing and working at it. Keep all of this in mind as you plan the details. If they don’t have 25 conference tables on the inventory list, you’re going to need to rent them from an outside vendor. If the contract stipulates three bars but you have 800 guests, find out if they can accommodate more and get a number of bars/bartenders in writing on the contract. 
Don’t be afraid to ask, but don’t be offended by the answer. Every event is different, but also exactly the same. Most venues have standard operating procedures for their events and deviating from that has trickle down effects on many facets of the organization. Don’t be afraid to ask if they can deviate from those SOPs, but don’t be offended if the answer is no. We are an industry built on helping making clients dreams come true, so rarely is anyone saying no just for the sake of saying no. There may be ways to make it happen, such as adding more staff for the event for an additional cost, but there may also be legal issues with doing so. This is especially true when you get into alcohol service or union services. If your client has a liquor sponsor that has to be at the bars, but the venue doesn’t work with that distributor, you may be in for a headache. All of this goes back to having a thorough understanding of your needs and their services before the contract is signed, so you aren’t caught off guard by something
Work as a team on the day of your event. During the event, the venue team is an extension of your team. Everyone works better under an umbrella of mutual respect and appreciation. Remember the old adage: “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”  Everyone is more motivated by a smile and please or thank you. It’s a stressful day for everyone involved but the more you model a calm and happy demeanor, the more it will trickle down. And if your staff is happy, they will work harder to ensure that every vendor and guest in the space has a good experience. At the end of the day we can’t control everything being perfect, but we can do our best to make sure that the guests and clients leave with a positive experience. 
Jessica Barrett is the executive director of the Machine Shop, an industrial luxe event venue in Minneapolis. She has been working in venues for 14 years, long past the time of logic and reason. Jessica is also the Director of Strategic Sponsorship for the MSP International Live Events Association, which was just awarded their record breaking fourth Chapter of the Year from ILEA Global. In her free time, Jessica enjoys traveling and is currently planning a trip to Antarctica to cross all seven continents off her extensive to-do list. 
International Live Events Association (ILEA) represents and supports more than 5,000 members globally – event professionals who do business together, share knowledge, nurture talent and progress the live events industry. For more information on how an ILEA professional can help you with your event, please contact