We have been fortunate to have worked with clients that have brought us to different cities to plan their events, as well as been hired by clients coming to Montreal to plan events here. Working with clients out of town brings a host of issues and concerns that you wouldn’t be faced with at home, and working with clients that are coming into town creates challenges too.
OUT OF TOWN:
In my career I have been fortunate to have gone all across North America to plan events. When travelling to other cities, it’s primarily for larger scale events, where the budget could justify the travel costs to bring myself and the team out of town.
The first question everyone asks is why would the client bring you to another city, doesn’t that city have event planners? I love that question, and a lot of people have said it to me quite often over the years. When I hear it, what I actually hear is “Why would they pay you to go out of town, there for sure is better planners there, you’re not that good” Well guess what? We are that good. Period. We are creative, attentive, passionate, one of our core principles is to try and stick to the agreed budget as best as we can. Our events are superior. Period. You may think I am arrogant, and I am when it comes to our abilities. We are good at what we do, and I am willing to compete with anyone to prove it. So yes, it is worth having us go out of town, and yes, we are better than the local planners.
Getting that out of the way, when we do travel to
cities, especially new cities, the first issue is working with local vendors. I have spent countless hours researching cities and event industry vendors over the years. I always go to the city well in advance of the event to meet the potential vendors at their offices or warehouses, to see the true size, scope and abilities of the vendors. This takes many many hours of research, setting up meetings in a logical way that I can get to as many meetings in the shortest time possible, and then of course, know what I am looking for in a vendor. This is a major reason why I am hired to go out of town. I know how to pick the right vendor for the job, and price is never the only qualifier.
I look for creativity, passion, innovation, experience, and truth.
Creativity & Passion is immeasurable, but we are in a creative business. Most of our events have some thematic elements to them, so when meeting all the vendors, I start off with the vision and nature of the event in question. I love hearing their ideas for the theme, the really good vendors always impress me with their grasp of the thematic and how to make it happen.
** Story ** I was in Nashville for All-Star, and it was my last visit to the last vendor I had scheduled for my 3 day vendor visit trip. The owner was out of town on an event (a good sign) and could only meet me after 5 p.m. at his warehouse. I drove to a very distant, weird part of Nashville, and walked into a very sketchy warehouse in a very weird industrial complex. It was raining (it was, but it makes the story seem more poetic). I walk in and there is no one there in the reception area, I wait and start walking around looking for the owner. I stumble into his office and he is there staring at his computer. I say hello, and he raises a finger telling me to wait a minute. Long story short, he was the weirdest, most creative, aloof and non-committed business owner I have ever met. I started telling him that the theme of this major event is Nashville, and he told me, no thanks, don’t like the theme, we can’t work with you. So I said, ok, thanks for meeting me, bye.
As I was leaving, he says, well I do have this giant Nashville sign that maybe you can use at the event. (He designed a 50′ Nashville sign for the city’s New Years Party). I was like, ok, that sounds cool. So he shows me the pictures on his computer. Then he tells me, well if you are going to use the sign, I have another 20′ sign that might be cool, and then I do have this wood bar that would fit the theme, and a giant record, and a huge guitar shaped bar with guitar stools, etc. etc. etc. The guy starts showing me the coolest ideas and constructed props and decor I have ever seen. And I was 3/4 of the way out of his office.
From refusing the event, it turned into one of the best vendors I have ever worked with. Their stuff was so creative, well built, their team was so committed and professional, and their pricing was unbeatable and on budget. He is one of the most creative & passionate event decorators I have ever met, and his success is a testament to his creativity and abilities. (If you are ever in the south, and need the best decor, call MadeFirst, tell them Dan sent you)
When you do find a good supplier out of town, ask them for referrals for other vendors that they work with. Good suppliers tend to align themselves with good suppliers. But that doesn’t mean your job is done. A lot of time there is history between suppliers, and the someone may not refer you to that supplier, even though they may be the right one for you, because they have history with them.
I try and find 3 suppliers in every field that are applicable to visit before I make a decision. They tend to be Sound & Lighting companies, A/V Companies (yes there is a big difference), decor and prop companies, rental companies, floral, entertainment companies, game companies, F&B if needed, etc. I try and squeeze 8 meetings per day when I go out of town (45 minutes each with 15 minutes of travel between), and I try and schedule them so that I minimize the travel time between them. Once initially meeting them, I’ll send them an email if I am considering them for a quote for the event. From there, I will go back and meet the prospective vendors on site for a final meeting before awarding the contract.
When it comes to event times, I always travel a few days before the event to make sure everything is in line. I will visit vendors who are custom building stuff to make sure it looks good and will be ready in time, I will go to the venue to make sure that everything is the same and there is no potential problems waiting for us on load-in day, I will take care of travel and accommodations for the team, and I will take a day to finalize final touches and get small things that we may need (props, tools, drinks, etc.) I will always prepare a map with the closest Home Depot, Staples, Michael’s, Dollar Store, Pharmacy, etc. to the venue. I also try and stay as close to the venue as possible, for obvious reasons.
All said and done, I will spend a full 10 x 12-18 hour days on a single event out of town, and that’s just me. My team and co-workers spend equal if not greater amount of time preparing and executing the event. My team, depending on the size of the event, will include a main coordinator, other coordinators that will help the main coordinator, a technical director, a lighting designer, audio tech, stage hands (good schleps are the backbone to any successful event), video/photo, F&B manager, creative/decor manager. This is from us, and then there is all of the local labour and vendors staff that work on installing, running and tearing down the event.
CLIENTS COMING TO MONTREAL
We love working with clients that are coming into Montreal to plan an event. Whether it be a corporate event, meeting, trade show, wedding, etc. When a client comes into Montreal and hires us, it is the biggest compliment to me. Why? Because the client understands that they are limited in what they can actually do themselves when they are so far away, and they have to TRUST us to do a good and fair job for them. Being awarded contracts from clients from Toronto, Vancouver, Boston, New York, California, The UK, France, Spain, etc. is the tip of the iceberg of opportunities we have had. So when we are awarded the contract, what I interpret that as is, we TRUST you to deliver a great event for us. And each time, I hope that the client leaves the event with even more trust and belief in us than before. I take this trust very seriously, and we all work very hard to earn the trust, and to maintain it.
When a client does come into town, the biggest challenge is to properly understand their needs and thoughts. It’s our job to communicate with them, and guide them so we can achieve their vision. We will always make sure that when sending them information, we do it clearly, with pictures and pricing, and spend the time with them to make sure that it is in fact what they are looking for. The worst outcome is that we refer a venue or a service, and it turns out to not be what they thought it was going to be.
Ideally, if the client is coming into town in advance of the event, we will try and cram as many visits as possible, and show them as much as we can during their time here. Venues come first, most likely, except for what they find online, they don’t know much about the right venue for their event. After the venue, we will try and lock down the F&B requirement, and organize tastings and visits if need be. The thematic, technical, etc. is usually left to us to decide who to work with, but it’s important that throughout we let the clients know the vision and the look we are trying to achieve for their approval.
When a client believes in us, gives us leeway to be creative, and most importantly TRUSTS us, we will always go above and beyond to over-deliver for them. Of course a good rapport and relationship also helps in making the process more enjoyable for all of us too.
I am a very proud Montrealer, I actually left and came back here. To be able to showcase this amazing city to out of town guests, and work with them on their events is a real thrill for me. I feel as I am an ambassador to this city I have always called home, and I want our out of town clients to leave here believing that Montreal is the best city in the world too.