In the face of a sluggish market, some special event professionals are finding it pays to partner. Instead of going it alone, they see more business open up if they work in concert, even with companies that could be considered competitors.

PAIRING ON PROJECTS

Los Angeles-based More Zap and Pramik Entertainment are both in the entertainment business, but they are merging services for two events this summer, notes More Zap founder Michelle Zeitlin. "As more companies find it challenging to keep loyal clients in this economy, we have found it's prudent to partner," she says.

The two firms have complementary talents, Zeitlin says; she prefers to develop the show itself while the Pramik team is strong on the sales side. At present, the teams are collaborating on a project-by-project basis. "So many special event businesses are scaling back," she notes. Partnerships enable her to "get more opportunity, share the wealth and share the clients. I'm not as concerned about branding More Zap as I am just making new contacts and working with exciting new people."

In contrast, Atlanta-based caterer A Legendary Event has worked with Stamford, Conn.-based contract feeding giant Centerplate for 10 years, notes Legendary founder Tony Conway, CMP.

LANDING THE BIG FISH

The joint venture—known as Legendary Partners—enables Conway's team to go after the larger contract accounts in his market. A recent win: a 10-year contract as the exclusive in-house foodservice provider for Atlanta's prestigious Woodruff Arts Center. Not only will the deal open up new horizons for the design division of Conway's firm, but "We beat out Wolfgang Puck and Sodexho!" he says with pride.

Although negotiations to establish the partnership have required plenty of legal fees—"and we're still going through the process"—Conway says, "It will all be worth it."

PLENTY OF PARTNERS

British caterer Create Food + Party Design has perfected partnerships, creating alliances over the past two years with an event management company, a staffing agency and a production/entertainment firm.

Terms of the deals vary, notes managing director Richard Groves. Create merged with event management firm The Ultimate Experience, which helped both companies create winning—and profitable—proposals. "This has been vital in the last two December and summer seasons as prices have been slashed to deliver footfall in our venues," Groves notes.

Create took a 50 percent stake in the staffing company, which provides a nice revenue offset to the money that Create must itself spend for temporary staff. Create has a similar arrangement with the production firm. Create management is careful to protect its image, however. "There is a danger of looking like we are 'taking over the world,' and one has to be careful not to appear too corporate and all-encompassing," Groves notes. "Also, the staffing agency and entertainment company have to appear nonexclusive to us, as their growth plans also involve supplying our competition."

LOOK, NO LAWYERS!

Remarkably, Create drafted its partner deals in-house. "Our CEO is a hotshot at this type of thing and he tries to keep the legals as simple as possible," Groves notes. "If you get lawyers involved, they do tend to overcomplicate things, and also cost a fortune!"