There is a lot that goes into pulling off the successful event. Before you’ve even begun promotion activity, booking contractors and inviting guests though you’ll need to find and book an appropriate venue. A lot can hinge on getting this right so it pays to make sure you have all the information you need from the outset so you can come to an informed decision.
In this guide I want to examine one of the fundamental elements in this process; that of writing a request for a proposal.
What is a Request for a Proposal?
A request for a proposal (RFP) is a solicitation to potential venues from any organisation looking to put on an event (although RFPs can be sent to any number service providers, from audio video production to catering, for the purposes of this guide we’re going to stick with venues). In effect it is a request for venues to submit quotes and business proposals to the event planners with a view to securing their business. For this reason, RFPs must follow a formal and pre-defined structure and are sent out in a short space of time so the various venue responses can be assessed fairly and whittled down to a handful of possibilities.
It’s worth noting that a request for a proposal is not a substitute for proper venue research and investigation. Sourcing a venue isn’t about sending out a ton of RFPs. Not only will this see you inundated with often detailed business proposals, but it is time consuming and a waste of time energy. Each venue should be assessed on appropriateness (size, location, etc) before an RFP is sent out.
Why RFPs are important
At this stage you might be thinking, why not just get on the phone and call each venue or supplier in turn? Or better yet just send out a generic email. The reason is that both these methods will result in the same problem; inconsistency. The point of using a structured tendering document is to allow you as the event planner to assess venues across a number of predefined areas and responses (we’ll go through these later). Because the RFP is set out in a predefined structure, it will also save you inevitable hours going back and forwards on emails and calls with venues because you’ve missed something out or not got a clear response.
Sourcing a venue isn’t like sourcing a local plumber or electrician. There are a huge number of considerations and requirements to be born in mind when putting on an event. Understanding how each venue can facilitate and cater for every one of these is paramount to getting a true cost comparison, as well as eliminating out the inappropriate venues from your list.
Electronic Requests for Proposal (eRFP)
From sophisticated badging and registration systems to live tweeting and video streaming, the global event industry is changing rapidly and digital technology is playing a huge part in this transformation. It may not surprise you then that digital technology is also shaping the venue sourcing process through the growth of electronic requests for proposals (eRFP) and the online networks that support them.
By linking up with established supplier networks, event planners can not only fire out eRFPs but even get responses back from qualified venues they hadn’t considered. eRFPs have facilitated a huge mutually beneficial ecosystem of corporate buyers, event management agencies, hoteliers, meeting technology companies, convention and visitor bureaus but with this growth there have also been challenges.
A 2015 joint study by the Global Business Travel Association and Convention Industry Council has found that, as well as significant benefits to the industry, eRFP growth has brought led to “buyer and customer misconceptions and lack of understanding regarding what hoteliers value as well as how they evaluate meetings business”.
The large number of eRFPs being sent has also resulted in an increase in responses, with corporate buyers admitting to researchers that “detailed evaluations of proposals are time consuming and they prefer a modest number of venues to compare.” That being said, it’s impossible to ignore the potential of using an eRFP system in the venue sourcing process. Just do your research first so you know what to expect.
Typical RFP Structure
Let’s take a look at how a typical request for a proposal is structured now. As I’ve mentioned, this will be tailored towards procuring a venue, but many of these questions and considerations can be applied to other suppliers in the event space.
1. Introduce your company
Start with an overview of your company and what market segment you fall into (corporation, public, charity, association, trade body, etc). You have to appreciate that the person on the other end of your RFP will not have experience of your industry sector so try to summarise exactly what it is you do and who you do business with in layman’s terms.
2. Define your event
Once you’ve introduced your company, you will need to carefully define your event’s purpose and what you hope to achieve.
What is the aim of the event and what are you hoping to achieve?
Are you looking to host a one off event or are you looking to create a series of regular events?
How often will regular events be held (quarterly, annually, at irregular times)?
If your event is regular will you be looking to host it at different venues or the same one?
Then go onto define your event’s profile. Be as clear and as accurate as you can here so the venue has a good idea of what to expect:
Type of event (conference, training, trade show, etc)
Length of event (an afternoon or a few days?)
The number of attendees (try not to underestimate this figure)
Attendee profile (age, gender, nationality, demographic makeup, etc)
How your attendees are getting to the venue (driving, flying, public transport, etc)
What will your attendees be doing in their downtime (more relevant to hotels)
Will your attendees be bringing their families (more relevant to hotels)
3. Set out the dates
If possible try to be as flexible as you can on dates, so the venue can review what’s available and send you a range of options. These might vary depending on whether they fall in the week or weekend. Mention setup and takedown times as well and try not to underestimate how long this will take. If there is even a small chance you could still be dismantling the day after then make sure you include this.
4. Set out your requirements
Make sure to set out your requirements from the outset. These should include:
Meeting space required (approximate in square feet/meters)
Space required in main event room (approximate in square feet/meters)
Number of breakout rooms required
Room setup (theatre, round tables and a stage, open floor, booths)
The number of exhibitors/vendors you think will be attending and any special requirements
Any specific equipment you or exhibitors/vendors will be bringing (large product demos, digital signage)
Will you require catering and if so how many meals will you need for how many people?
Will you want access to a bar or will you be supplying your own alcohol?
Will you need a high quality internet connection?
Will you be requiring parking for your attendees?
Does the venue offer in-house AV service?
Make sure you stipulate the venue to give a clear breakdown of all charges. As well as the main venue hire fee, this should also include parking and valet services, internet fees, utility fees (water, electricity, etc), corkage (if attendees will be bringing their own alcohol), security, door and bar staff.
Tell the venue when you expect a proposal returned and make sure to point out that you will want to inspect the venue before coming to a decision. You should probably give venues at least a week to come back to you (or two if the RFP is fairly technical and detailed). Don’t rush venues but if you haven’t heard back from them in the timeframe you’ve laid out, put in a friendly call.
The other thing to bear in mind here is that you will need to make sure you are available to inspect the venues after you’ve assessed the proposals.
RFP Tips and Hints
I want to end this guide by firing off some quick hints and tips to bear in mind when preparing and writing up a request for a proposal. Some might seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how many are overlooked or simply ignored.
Once you have put together a template RFP, save it so you can use it again. If the RFP template will be accessed by people across various business sites make sure it is saved in the cloud or on a server that everyone can access.
You should use the same RFP for any event no matter how small. Keeping to a strict layout when approaching venues, will allow you to judge each supplier’s proposal fairly and on a level playing field.
Once you have a template, you should probably take between 2 and 3 hours to prepare each request for a proposal.
Don’t spend ages sending loads of RFPs out to multiple venues. If possible try to keep it to three or four venues, which will give you a good field to compare.
Try not to overestimate or underestimate your needs. This is a fine balancing act. If you end up wildly underestimating attendee figures for example, you may end up having to reject what seemed like a great venue entirely simply on grounds on inadequate capacity.
Double and triple check that your RFP covers everything you need to know. The more thorough and concise you are the less the chance of you having to go back to the venue to clarify certain points.
I hope this guide has clarified some areas around venue sourcing and shone a light on the art of writing an effective and practical request for proposal. There are plenty of readymade templates and online resources available online but there’s no harm in tailoring and tweaking these to suit your own event’s specific requirements.