by Jonathan Vatner | February 01, 2007

IllustrationIn 2005, Global Events Partners, Philadelphia, a leading destination management company in the city, put together a detailed proposal for a four-day event being planned by a local company. They submitted the bid and it went out into the ether; the recipient didn’t return phone calls or e-mails. Not long after, the DMC happened to be putting on a program at the very hotel the local company was at. Mike Lyons, president and CEO of Global Events, popped his head in, and “lo and behold, the theme [we proposed] was being executed. We were shocked and amazed,” he says.

Idea theft -- which occurs when a company uses a proposal to plan an event without compensating the third party that submitted the concept -- is hardly new. In fact, it happens to most DMCs a few times a year, explains Susan Henderson, CMP, DMCP, president and CEO of Atlanta Arrangements and president of the Dayton, Ohio-based Association of Destination Management Executives. “A client will tell you how much they love your idea and how creative you are, and suddenly they won’t return your calls anymore,” she says. “Later on, you find out they awarded the business to somebody else.”

It’s a problem that affects not just DMCs, but also meeting and event planners. Take the case of Mark Addison, director of experience design and chief financial officer at EventStyle/The Maverick Group, an event planning and branding company with offices in Atlanta, New York City and San Francisco. A well-known men’s clothier asked him to draft a proposal for an event to launch a new line of shirts. He sent in a concept, including renderings of how the shirts should be displayed, and got no response. One day, he walked past the store in New York City. “There, in the front window, was my exact design for the event,” he recalls.

Kelly Nelson, the Atlanta-based director, creative, for EventStyle/The Maverick Group, has been on the flip side of idea theft. Customers have approached her with proposals taken from other event planners, asking her to execute the event. Explains Nelson, “We put up the white flag and say, ‘Tell us what aspects you like, and we’ll see if we can come up with a solution.’?” Generally, the parts clients like are not whole concepts but rather elements, such as spandex tablecloths and branded trays. Nelson will start from scratch and create an event that uses those elements. “Frankly, we haven’t been handed anything we might want to steal,” she points out.

Rhonda Marko, CMP, CMM, DMCP, and president and CEO of Destination Nashville, thinks procurement’s entree into meetings has worsened the problem. “It used to be about your relationship with the client,” she says. “Now it comes down to the bottom line, the dollar. You get procurement people who think they can do it on their own because they planned their daughter’s sweet 16.”

“A lot of it is based on ignorance,” Susan Henderson adds. “What’s so bothersome is it appears to be so casual. We need to do some education in our industry to explain that this is not kosher.”