The Nuts & Bolts of Contract Negotiations in the 'New Normal'

November 23, 2022

Kate Anastasi

Kate Anastasi is the director of sales and marketing at the award-winning Radisson Blu Mall of America. With more than 15 years of experience in events and hospitality, Anastasi and her team create one-of-a-kind experiences for clients and guests, always seeking to elevate their offerings and service. Named the 2021 Radisson Blu Manager of the Year, Anastasi has deep expertise in events—from contract negotiation to execution and everything in between.

After two and a half years of constant adaptation for ever-changing needs in the world of events, it seems we are settling into the “new normal.” We’re thrilled to be working with clients to create meaningful events that celebrate being together again, and it’s inspiring to see the dedication to excellence within our industry. 

This new normal also brings changes to contract negotiations for meeting and event professionals on both sides of the table. Where planners used to be most concerned about food and beverage minimums and room rates, now risk, impossibility and cancellation clauses are getting their days in the spotlight. In an industry where relationships are vital, how do we navigate negotiations to ensure everyone feels comfortable and the event is successful? Here are three tips to make sure everyone is on the same page.  

1. Listen.

Following decades where there hasn’t been much attention given to force majeure and impossibility clauses, now we’re seeing clients and prospects ask about adding language to the contract to help them feel more protected—a reaction to the multitude of changes and cancellations they experienced throughout the pandemic. While on the surface this may seem sensible, it actually opens the door for both sides to assume more risk, so it’s important to get to the underlying fear and recognize what the client is seeking or concerned most about. Ask thoughtful questions and listen—truly listen—to what they are saying so you can find a common understanding and proceed with everyone feeling comfortable.  

Another thing to keep in mind is who your client contact is. Is it someone who’s been doing this for years? Is it someone who has recently assumed event planning responsibilities? Do they have any legal training or background? Using the negotiation process to help them feel heard and ensure they understand and are confident in the contract will only help strengthen your relationship.

2. Keep it simple and define any additions.

Adding language to clauses makes both parties more vulnerable, so it’s best to keep it simple. One of the best ways to do this is to discourage the listing of what someone thinks force majeure is. For example, say a client wants to add language which elaborates that force majeure could include “war, strike, severe weather or strife.” The unfortunate reality is that somewhere in our world, there is war, strike, severe weather and strife every day, so either party could try to invoke this clause at any time with this claim. Adding words or phrases like these don’t strengthen the definition or give you more protection; they actually add risk for the parties involved.

If a client is adamant about adding something to a clause, make sure each word that is added also is accompanied by a written definition. For example, “commercially impracticable” is a request we’ve heard for an addition to our impossibility clause. While this might seem benign on the surface, leaving this open for interpretation could make for a rocky road ahead. In this instance, either side could make an argument that supply chain issues, inflation or staffing challenges make it “impracticable” to move forward with the event, since it’s open for interpretation unless defined when added. Now is the time to ensure a crystal-clear understanding on each side, as negotiating is always better to do before a potential situation arises. 

3. Be transparent.

There’s no denying that the last few years have been full of uncertainty, affecting existing contracts and condensing booking timelines. Whenever possible, do all you can to squelch uncertainty by being transparent with clients. While each property will have different protocols when it comes to rebooking and reselling clauses, make sure your client understands what options are or are not available so there are no surprises if they do need to change plans.  

We’ve learned a lot as we’ve navigated these years, and now, we have the opportunity to take those insights and put them into practice. While contracts are crucial, we all know that in the world of events, it’s all about the people. Keep a people-first mindset as you listen, negotiate and communicate, and you’ll have the nuts and bolts in place for a successful event—for all involved.

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