Event planning is a risky business. Recent natural disasters, labor strikes, even a massive data breach that may have compromised the identities of 500 million Starwood guests, have illustrated the number of things that can go wrong in the event professional world. How liable are planners when disaster strikes? What can planners do to protect themselves? And what should they do when the worst-case scenario is reality?
For answers to those questions and more, there are meeting and events legal experts such as Jonathan T. Howe, president and senior founding partner of Howe & Hutton, a Chicago law firm that specializes in the event industry. “The way things are today, when something goes wrong, someone is always going to be sued,” Howe says. “You want to minimize your exposure and think about where your defense is going to come from.”
That is why he strongly recommends planners include indemnification clauses in their contacts, ensuring hotels and third parties take on as much of the risk as possible. Beyond that, the best way for planners to protect themselves and their events is to take preventative steps before the event begins.
Do Your Homework
The most common mistake Howe sees planners make is that they don’t read their contracts. “Contracts are self-inflicted wounds,” he says. “You have no rights or responsibilities unless they are in the contract.” And as a result, every planner needs to know exactly what they are signing on for.
In the same fashion, planners need to do their research when hiring vendors. Too often, planners end up footing the bill for mistakes and mismanagement on the part of vendors, all of which could have been avoided beforehand. “You hired the vendor. It’s your responsibility to know their record and exactly how they are going to affect your event.”
And finally, planners have to take responsibility for knowing and following rules for creating a safe environment. Too many planners don’t adhere to a venue’s guidelines. “You need to be in compliance with safety codes,” Howe says. “It’s that simple.”
Ask the Hard Questions
First and foremost, planners need to protect the integrity of their events. Ensuring an agenda runs smoothly can preempt costly legal complaints.
“It’s difficult to have a plan B without knowing what will happen to plan A, but good planners keep themselves up to speed,” Howe says. “You can’t insure against everything. The best practice is to instead have a back-up plan.” That can apply to something innocuous such as an outdoor event facing the prospect of rain, to a hotel that doesn’t finish its renovations on schedule and can’t accommodate your event on the contracted date.
“Keep yourself—and your suppliers—informed,” he says. Don’t be afraid to probe venues on potentially uncomfortable subjects such as construction delays, labor contracts, strikes and any other business issues that could have an adverse effect on an event.
Prepare for GDPR
Perhaps the most prescient issue in the minds of modern planners, data security, has become linked with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but it’s important regardless of the nationality of the people involved.
“It’s going to be a major, major, major issue,” Howe says. “When you are dealing with a vendor, you need to make sure that vendor knows they are responsible for the security of the data they collect and use.”
One of the troublesome trends Howe has seen is hotels placing clauses in their contracts requiring organizations to get consent from every attendee for data to be collected and used. That effectively puts all the data privacy risk on the shoulders of planners and the organizations they work for.
“That’s where the big word ‘no’ comes in,” Howe says. “You need to compromise and work it out with the hotel. There is a back and forth, but something like that should be unacceptable.”