I’m a strong believer in using specialist suppliers on events, oppose to doing lukewarm versions of everything yourself.
However, a simple Google search will show that there are literally thousands of companies appearing to offer identical services – so it can be a challenge choosing the right one for you. Rather than going into great detail or get bogged down in specifics, I thought it would be useful to simply explore the process of determining what kind of suppliers you need and how to select them.
Here’s what I’d recommend:
1. Start with Your Requirements
Firstly, have a good think about what you want the supplier to deliver on the day. Sometimes it’s as simple as an individual running a workshop, other times it’s an entire workforce armed with truckloads of theming to transform a venue. If you have a solid list of things you want the supplier to do and provide, it’ll be easier to judge their proposal.
It’s pretty risky not thinking about your requirements beforehand, and it means you need an exceptional level of trust in your supplier.
Tip – sometimes the supplier will know what you need better than you will – to get the best of both worlds, you can ask them for what they think they should deliver and combine those with your own list.
2. Get Googling and Start Talking ‘Events’
When Googling, the more specific your search – the better and don’t be surprised if some suppliers’ sites aren’t very techie and the photos a bit uninspiring. You’re looking for a specialist supplier, sometimes a one man band, where a funky website filled with stock images is just unnecessary. I’d look seriously into familiarising yourself with forums, blogs and sites related to events to help you find good suppliers and make the right decisions.
If you come across a venue’s website that has footprints of a similar event to the one you’re organising – give them a call and find out who they used and how the event went. As a rule, people in hospitality and the event industry are incredibly friendly about referring business to good companies and good people.
3. Call or (if possible) Get Together
When you first approach a supplier, let them know what you’re after, who you are and check whether they’d be available for the event (there’s no point in wasting anyone’s time, though you should always ask for a referral).
I would check if they specialise in the service you require (their website might be a good indicator) and find out if they own the equipment they’ll use, rather than sourcing from somewhere else. This isn’t always an issue, e.g. caterers often hire in extra equipment, but if the supplier is just hiring in all the services required and marking them up, you might as well contact an event planning and management company who can take care of the whole event for you.
Email is a great way to clarify points and confirm conversations, but a phone call or face-to-face meeting gives you a real sense of the people you’ll potentially be using. Make sure you’re not just talking to a salesperson but to the person who will be delivering the event on the day. There’s nothing worse than getting sold by somebody charismatic and knowledgeable about the event and then passed on to someone else.
Ideally, you should try and meet the suppliers in person and, if possible, see the equipment they’ll be using. Avoid just relying on websites and glossy brochures. I used to spend three months of the year on the road visiting venues and suppliers, so clearly think meeting face-to-face and seeing kit is really important.
When talking with the supplier try to establish some trust. A perfect way to do this is to ask them about recent events they’ve worked on, who the events were for and how they went.
In the phone call/meeting, be sure to establish a rapport. If you can’t feel comfortable on a personal level, don’t dismiss it – brilliant suppliers are great, but if you can’t get on well together then it’s likely guests won’t either, which could hurt the event. I think we can all attest to working better and having a good time with people we like and people we get along with – there’s the additional pressure of not letting down someone with whom you’ve developed a relationship.
4. Request Informal Proposals from Your Top 2-3 Suppliers
Don’t just get a quote from one supplier, even if you’re sure you’re going to use them. Multiple quotes aren’t just a best practice, they’re a really good way to tell about pricing and scope discrepancies. The quote from the supplier you don’t like might have some inclusions that your preferred supplier overlooked.
5. Event Pricing & Costs: How Much Should You Pay?
Just a word of warning – don’t choose a supplier purely on price (or even make price the biggest part of your decision) unless your budget is a real problem.
Here’s why – I’m going to use a wedding as an example – the couple and their families spend a small fortune on the occasion, such as the service, venue, food and drinks, transport, clothing and entertainment. So saving £200 on a DJ might sound attractive, but if that DJ turns out to be awful (which isn’t uncommon), as music is such a focal point – it can really damage the event. So when looking into pricing, it’s not just the cost of the supplier, but also the importance and impact their services will have on the entire event.
I’m not saying you should get fleeced by some exorbitantly overpriced firms (watch out – some of the companies are ruthless when it comes to pricing), I’m just suggesting that a couple of hundred pounds is not the best reason to choose a different provider.
Also, ensure to ask for a breakdown of what the pricing includes so you can make fair comparisons. For example everybody knows what a Murder Mystery is, but there are a variety of ways to run them. It might cost £500 for a Murder Mystery where one person comes along with a few props and the format relies heavily on audience participation, or it could cost £800 where five professional actors run the event and the audience interacts with them. In this case, that £300 will turn an average event into a significantly better one, especially if it is the main focus of the event, like murder mysteries often are).
Last thing, check the quoted prices include everything and that there will be no additional costs. We’ve had suppliers do this many times, for example, weeks after an event we had a supplier try and claim for a bacon sandwich and pack of Polos – unbelievable!
6. Go with Your Gut Feeling
Making a matrix of price vs. service vs. reputation vs. inclusions is fine if you’re into that, but I’d suggest choosing the supplier who you feel will be the best on the day (who is within your budget).
If you don’t feel confident with the options – ask for more information, or go back to the drawing board and get another quote or two off other suppliers. When you do find the best choice, things just “feel” right. The way they talk about the event makes sense, their advice is useful and they’re excited about the event.
I’d love to get feedback from anyone who’s been through the selection process and how you’ve felt about the decisions you’ve made positive or negative. I know how hard it is to choose a supplier, so I’m really looking forward to hearing stories from others.
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