by Jonathan T. Howe, esq. | November 01, 2007

So often we lawyers are brought in to handle issues that easily could have been resolved had the parties talked to each other before the difficulty arose.

As a naysayer to the concept of win/win outcomes from negotiations, I feel the process really just needs to be even-handed. The parties need to share in the risks and the rewards, ready to face any ups and downs. To do this, they must communicate -- and that means before, during and especially after they sit down together at the negotiating table. Because no matter how explicit the terms of your contracts, chances are good a situation will arise that’s outside their boundaries or that makes some of the their conditions moot.

A running Dialogue

A recent concern facing many meeting professionals is the lack of “civility” in how relationships are being handled. This is not unique to our industry. It is a major complaint being voiced by professionals everywhere.

Sometimes, it’s as if road rage has transferred into the negotiating room, tarnishing or ruining relations between business partners. Good com-munication, not an irate tirade, always works best.

In constructing contracts, one of the most important bricks in building the partnership is the sharing of vital information. As I always say, “I cannot blame you for bad news, but I sure as heck can blame you for not telling me that news.”

Once the contract is signed, it’s equally important to keep communications with the other side open. Planners should pick up the phone and contact their sales manager or convention services manager regularly to check in, and vice versa for the supplier.

Are unplanned renovations happening at the property or in its neighborhood that might impact the meeting? Are there changes at the host organization that the venue needs to know?

Your contracts should impose obligations to review such elements as room pickup, which helps keep people on their toes and avoid unwanted surprises. Once those review dates are chosen, put a reminder on your calendar and follow up.

Current Events

Many times, what is happening outside the venue can have an impact on events scheduled to take place inside.

For example, the streets outside the convention center will be torn up for repaving. Planners need to know about this so they can make plans to help exhibitors move their wares in and out of the facility and reroute buses to get attendees back and forth from their hotels.

Or, perhaps there is the possibility of a strike, whether at the property or outside, affecting the quality and integrity of the meeting.

On Cancellation

Failure to inform can have drastic implications, particularly when one party -- either the venue or the planner -- cancels. Hard economics always is the driving force: If a better deal comes along, it seems too easy to say, “Ciao.”

Generally, the hotel is cover by the cancellation clause, which requires the meeting host to pay. This helps assuage the damage (as will any transient business the hotel books over those dates).

But the planner often has no contractual relief set forth if the hotel accepts another event, forcing her meeting out the door. In this case, the property has breached the contract, and damages are measured by the cost to relocate the meeting plus the difference between how much the relocation costs over the original costs that had been negotiated. On top of this, of course, is the trouble of moving the event at the last minute.

Don’t let surprises happen to you. Keep in touch.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.,is a senior partner in the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at