by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | October 01, 2008
Most meeting planners will work with third-party vendors at some point, especially when organizing large events with several thousand participants. Among those typically needed are decorators or general contractors, audiovisual companies, temp firms (for extra staffing needs), production companies, promotional products suppliers, caterers and security personnel.

With so many outside vendors in the mix, things can get truly overwhelming. Following are tips on how to manage this diverse cast of characters.

Keeping Track
When working with multiple vendors, keep a complete contact list and leverage your spreadsheet to include information such as their specific roles and responsibilities for the event, arrival and departure times, and hotel and food-and-beverage requirements. Knowing in advance how many vendors each third party expects to have on-site is extremely important for managing your bottom line.

Vendors' Vendors
Very often A/V, production and security firms will subcontract or use local union labor to supplement their own core staff. You will not always be informed of this, however, and both you and the vendor will share liability for these subcontractors, so it is important to include specific language in your contracts to clarify their use and your expectations.
In-House Issues
Some venues mandate the use of in-house vendors (usually catering and A/V) or specific preferred vendors. Other venues might slap on a hefty surcharge if you bring in outside vendors. How do you know when it is OK to forsake your known partners and use these house vendors?

Certainly your budget is an important factor. But quality and professionalism also count: Ask for and check references from other planners before signing the contract. Be aware that this particular element of the venue contract is always negotiable.

One exception: If a facility requires the use of union labor, you must use those union workers. Sometimes people are afraid to do so, but unions have extremely high standards, and if you use local teams, they likely will know the facility better than your own team.

Introducing Players

One of the most important things you can do when working with multiple vendors is to ensure that everyone knows what their specific responsibilities are and to spell out, in writing, the production schedule/move-in, move-out times very early on. It is also a good idea to let vendors know in advance about the other teams with whom they will be interacting. Rarely will one vendor refuse to work with another, but it can happen -- and you don't want that to occur during your event.

It's a good idea to hold cross-functional meetings as soon as possible with multiple vendors that will interact. Ideally, the pre-con should not be the first time all the vendors meet.

Space Relations
How do you decide who gets the premium office space on-site and where their working materials will be stored? It is considered a best practice to establish a hierarchy first, and then place people and/or their equipment as close to their primary workspace as possible. For example, put an A/V "bone yard" (the place where all cases and unused equipment temporarily are staged/stored) as close as possible to the working rooms and/or convenient back-of-house hallways for easiest transport and access.

Also keep in mind that the farther and more frequently you move things, the more you will pay for labor, particularly in a union facility.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is a meeting and event consultant based in San Carlos, Calif.