Event planning: hire an agency or find venues yourself?

Should you hire an agency or do all the legwork yourself? Nel Flint, our Director of Operations and industry expert weighs up the options.

Venue-finding vs contracting. DIY or pay someone to do it for you? On first thought, the answer might seem like a no-brainer. Finding a suitably sized venue in a convenient location for your board meeting, seminar, AGM or company awayday… how hard could it be? The answer may be: a great deal harder than you think.

And that is part of the problem. People often think it’s a relatively straightforward task to hire a venue, arrange dates and lay on some sustenance for attendees, but they greatly underestimate the time involved – not to mention the complications and expenses should things start to go wrong. Many big companies are set on being lean and agile, so they no longer have the capacity to organise one-off events. In the past, they might have delegated the task to a PA or maybe the internal comms team. But those people all have busy work schedules to cope with and often very little day-to-day experience of the matter. Our 200 trained professionals keep on top of their game because they organise events all day, every day.

Finding a location for, say, 300 people might not sound like a taxing task, but a PA could spend a full day ringing around, only to discover there aren't any places locally that could handle that number. That’s the type of information that our full-time professionals have at their fingertips.

Small-print specialists

Then there’s the expertise to factor in, too. If a customer is finding their own venue it will be their signature on the dotted line. The major pitfall for anyone doing their own venue-finding is that they may not examine – or be able to interpret – the small print of the contract. Once a contract is signed, a company may well be responsible for the full cost of the venue hire if it cancels within three months of the event.

Our aim is always to have the cancellation terms reduced. Dependent on the size of the meeting or venue, we know how quickly these venues can resell the space. We also understand that if the venue resells that space they shouldn’t necessarily charge the customer. We have fantastic relationships with our partners and they work with us to support mitigation of charges. We also support both parties and can often find another customer that wants the space! So if a company cancels a meeting at two days’ notice in London, it’s likely we’ll have another customer who needs a venue at very short lead.

Likewise, customers need to understand liability and insurance. Typically, the venue is responsible for any problems that arise from the building itself, while the company booking the venue are responsible not just for payment but for the conduct of their delegates. Always something to keep in mind if booking a large party!

Unusual or unique venues can offer fantastic benefits, but is using a totally blank canvas / white space venue may need to provide your own caterer or they might stipulate you have to use their preferred partner. So you may find a venue that seems like a bargain, but do they provide all the extras you need within the price? Important questions to ask before you sign that dotted line.

What happens if the initial booking is for 50 people, but as the day approaches, 20 drop out? Or if the booking involves overnight stays at a hotel, but some attendees live locally and prefer to sleep at home? If, for a multi-day event, the company has gone to a lot of trouble to get the space just right – extensive decoration or AV (audio-visual), for instance – will the room be kept vacant in the evening, so they don’t have to start all over again the next day? All seemingly obvious things, but things that can go badly wrong if a booking is handled by people who are inexperienced.

Strategic support

Of course, an agency is in constant contact with venues. Not only does it know their strengths and weaknesses, a good agency will already have brilliant relationships with them – not just an individual venue, but also at a group level. It can use that relationship – and the repeat business that often comes with it – to leverage a great deal for the client. Here, our deals are often very bespoke. We can negotiate a preferred meetings programme on our customers behalf.  So whether we are organising a board meeting for 8 people or the AGM for 500 people we’re leveraging our wider spend. When we negotiate a fixed rate programme, (three years is our average) then we guarantee that the room hire or day delegate rate will never be more than the negotiated amount. And we still negotiate on that!  As we’re a full service travel and events agency, we can also offer support beyond venue-finding. Often when people are tasked with organising a meeting or event, they look at it in isolation. But we can support on arranging travel, team building, production, off site dinners, city tours etc. as well.

When it comes to preferred programmes we save time by negotiating umbrella contracts with regularly used venues or groups.  Rather than having an individual contract for every meeting, we would negotiate a standard set of terms & conditions  with that venue for a period of time and use our confirmation as acceptance of those terms. It saves a lot of time for both the customer and the venue – and, of course, that time saving is passed on as a cost reduction.

In fact, using an agency would usually be cheaper than venue-finding yourself, because we can negotiate and use our leverage as a major contractor to get preferred rates. So not only is the event efficiently organised by professionals who know where to go, what questions to ask and how to avoid the pitfalls, it will typically mean you pay less, while others do the work. And what’s not to like about that?

If you would like to talk to us about organising your event, please contact the team.