by Kevin Iwamoto | July 1, 2016

I just read about a promotion for all planners from a global hotel chain to enter a contest to win a bed. It brought back memories of an incident that I was pulled into when I was in global procurement. I’ll explain why later, but what happened as a direct result of one of my key intermediary partner planners winning a bed was something I will never forget.

Planner points, incentives and contests have been around forever, but if you are planning meetings and work for a corporation, could entering these contests and winning prizes be a conflict of corporate ethics and guidelines? It depends on your employer, of course, but generally speaking, I would venture to say yes: There’s probably something in your company’s official policy regarding standards of business conduct that references its position on prizes, incentives, points, trips, and especially fam trips and lunches/dinners.

Some folks I spoke to admitted to me that even though they were vaguely aware of such standards, they didn’t see the harm in participating in what is viewed as standard practice in our industry. My advice to them all the time is that they are gambling with their jobs and reputations if they continue to operate that way without respecting their corporate policies.

I know of several individuals who have lost their jobs and suffered damage to their reputations because they accepted incentives that were specifically prohibited by their companies. By the way, the “I didn’t know” position will not save you from potential termination, especially if you undergo an annual refresher course in your company's standards of business conduct and have to sign off at the end that you have completed and fully understand the training.

So back to my experience with this situation: One day I got a call from a good friend who was also a preferred hotel supplier for my company, asking me for help with one of my intermediary partners. It turns out someone at my intermediary supplier had won one of these bed contests and was being unreasonable because it turned out the particular bed type wasn’t available, so this person was raising a ruckus and threatening to pull our travel business from the hotel company if they didn’t get their way. To appease this person, the hotel company offered two free other-type beds and thought the situation was resolved. But when the beds were delivered, the winner of the contest raised a ruckus again and started demanding the full bedding set for each of the beds, including duvet, sheets, pillows, shams, etc. My poor hotel supplier friend was so distraught that the chain's executive management suggested calling me to get assistance, as the company felt our representative was being unreasonably difficult and was once again threatening to pull our corporate business.

Long story short, I got involved, made the prize winner drop the additional demands and advised them that the next time they threaten one of my preferred hotel suppliers with pulling my corporate business they will face serious consequences, including possible termination of their services. Internally I did the following things to insure this wouldn’t happen again:

  1. I worked with our legal department to create supplier policies and guidelines that aligned with our corporate standards of business conduct. These became standard language in our contracts, making it very clear what was expected of our preferred supplier partners.
  2. Changed our own internal policy and guidelines for annual employee training on business conduct, providing a specific sample module for dealing with “I didn’t know” excuses.
  3. Directed all preferred hotel suppliers to advise me of their marketing contests and incentives and then communicated to all corporate planners and admins that points, prizes, incentives, etc. are company property and approvals are to be gained in advance of any participation.

The bottom line is this: Ignorance is not bliss nor justification for actions. Check and familiarize yourselves with your company policies and guidelines around gifts, contests, trips, meals, etc. It’s not worth losing a job or position you love because of a marketing promotion. The old rule, “better safe than sorry,” applies, and frankly, I’d rather buy my own bed and be able to sleep well at night vs. wondering if I will still have a job when I wake up.

Kevin Iwamoto is senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinIwamoto.