Contracts 101: Shape the Contract to Your Needs

Decide on your needs, wants, and interests and make sure you are talking to the right person, says Jonathan Howe of Howe and Hutton.

There are two things to take care of before you even begin negotiations: First, find out if you are talking to someone in authority. There are a lot of people in sales who have not been trained in what their contracts say, so they don’t know if they can honor your requests. I always prefer to talk to a skilled negotiator rather than someone at their first rodeo.

Second, separate your requirements into needs, wants, and interests so you know what is non-negotiable and what you can give up in exchange for something else. I had a big corporate group not long ago that needed a certain amount of security, and the venue was unwilling to commit to it. Security is a key element. If a vendor can’t work with you on that, you owe it to yourself and your attendees to move on, and ultimately, that is what the group did.

Once you have what you want in the contract, make sure you understand the details. We got a call from a group that thought it had cancelled a contract by emailing the venue, but the notice provision required certified mail to cancel. The group had not given proper, legal notice and therefore did not have a valid cancellation within the time period required, so it did not escape liability. 

A good contract is a roadmap to a successful event, so you might think that fighting to include standard clauses for certain things you need will protect you. But even if your standard terms are agreed to, it is important to shape the contract for each particular event. If you are concerned with accessibility and have a standard requirement to conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act, you might want to rethink that clause if the event is held outside the U.S. For example, Canada has its own legislation and a venue may not know what is required of it in the ADA. 

Contracts tend to be based on bad experiences. If something happens at one event, you want it covered for the next. But if you don’t tailor the document to each piece of business, you end up clouding the contract with peripheral issues and not focusing on appropriate ones. For example, if you are holding a meeting outside California, why insist on an earthquake clause rather than covering your event in case of an epidemic or something else? The industry is not static. It is constantly evolving and changing and so should your contracts. 


• Do your homework on needs, wants, and interests for each specific event.

• Pay attention to the details.

More cautionary tales to keep you out of the Negotiation Hall of Shame.


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