PROTECTING YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

In the competitive world of event pitching, there is always a fear that your creative solutions will be undersold to the lowest bidder. Some requests for proposal from clients even go so far as to state: “We have the right to use your creative ideas with another vendor without providing compensation.” Whether it is a creative idea, a sketch of a custom decor prop or a catering delight, everyone wants to protect their intellectual property, and most clients respect the ethical bounds of a proposal. That said, it is always in the interest of all event professionals to take steps to protect themselves. To learn more, we asked ISES member Jaclyn Bernstein, DMCP, president and partner of New York-based Empire Force Events, to share some thoughts on intellectual property protection with us.

ISES: What are steps you take to ensure your pitches/concepts are protected?

Jaclyn Bernstein: The steps you take depend on what concepts you are pitching. There are some elements in the event world that are public domain, such as venues or entertainment — they don't “belong” to you specifically. These are things that any event professional potentially has access to, and if you are bidding against another company, they are elements that could potentially be pitched by them as well. If you want to pitch these elements, protect yourself by making sure that you have that proposed venue or piece of entertainment on hold for your company (and clearly state so in your proposal) before submitting your proposal to the client. Hopefully, the client and your supplier will respect the ethics of your business relationships for that proposal. However, when you are pitching a creative idea that is something that your company has uniquely innovated, your proposal must contain the legal language to demonstrate copyright of the idea and protect yourself from having the idea outsourced to other event planners.

ISES: Have you ever had an idea taken from you by a client or another event company?

Bernstein: In truth, we would really have no way of knowing for sure if that has happened to us. We have been asked in the past to present a proposal with pricing based on someone else's pitch — which we respectfully declined to do.

ISES: How did you know that the ideas were someone else's?

Bernstein: Sometimes the client comes right out and tells you, or sometimes it is just obvious in the way the information is presented to you. But it really just takes detective work in your conversations with your prospective clients. When they come to you with a creative concept that they want you to price, you need to be bold enough to ask where the concept came from originally.

ISES: It sounds as though protecting yourself has a lot to do with effective and open communication with your client, correct?

Bernstein: Absolutely. Not all companies are open to answering a lot of questions when they request a proposal. But you have to try anyway. At Empire Force Events, we believe that the initial conversation is the most effective time to both give the client what they are looking for to satisfy their goals and objectives and to protect ourselves when we present that information. A best practice is to ask your client if it is a bidding situation and, if so, how many other companies (and what types of companies) are bidding. Be sure to also ask them what parameters will be used to “judge” the proposals. You can use this information to determine how much you are willing to include in your initial proposal. It is also important to determine if the client is seeking creative work or looking for sourcing services. If it is just sourcing, you can charge for that professional service and then pass along the contacts to your client for them to coordinate and manage.

ISES: Why is protecting the creative/intellectual property so important?

Bernstein: Beyond the inherent reasons of wanting to protect the success of your company and your profit margins, it is really essential for the overall protection and integrity of our industry. In this day and age, especially with challenging economic times, as event professionals we need to educate our clients to make sure that they understand and respect the time and financial resources that go into innovating and presenting creative concepts for them. There is never a guarantee that your work won't be taken or sold by your client to another vendor. But by making the move to protect your creative ideas and proposals, you have taken a big step. And as event professionals, we have to look out for one another and respect the work of our friendly competitors so that as an industry, we can all be successful.

Name: Jaclyn Bernstein, DMCP

Company: Empire Force Events Inc.

Address: 71 W. 23rd St., 6th Floor

New York, NY 10010

Phone: 212/924-0320

E-mail: jbernstein@empireforce.com

SO YOU WANT TO WIN AN AWARD?

No matter your expertise, it is always good to stand out from the crowd. Especially when times are tough, the opportunities you take to distinguish yourself from the competition can sometimes give you the critical edge to win the next bid. Whether it's joining an organization like ISES, sharpening your professional skills or writing an article for a local newsletter or international publication, these activities can give you a higher profile. Along these lines, entering awards competitions helps to build your brand cachet and demonstrate your excellence as an event professional.

That said, I hear time and time again from folks who find the entire awards process daunting. Either they believe they don't have the event that can win, or they find the entry process overwhelming. But these responses represent a missed opportunity to showcase your talents, your creative wits and innovative solutions to the rest of the events community. Here are some tips and tricks to make the process (maybe just a bit) easier:

Nothing is more frustrating than being a part of an outstanding event but having nothing to show for it at the end. So many times colleagues have told me about great projects they have worked on, and they do not even have a picture to share. Get in the habit of thinking ahead about your projects. If you know the event is going to be a “wow” project, contract with a photographer to provide photographs of the event — or your portion of the event — and get the rights to use the photos to promote your work or submit for an award. Collect a couple pieces of collateral (invitations, programs, the floor plan, etc.), particularly if you are listed as a sponsor or provider. Keep the disc of photographs and the collateral in a folder marked with the date and name of the event. It is also great to get in the habit of jotting down a page of notes or details about the event (the goals of the project, what you did, the team, etc.) and keep this page with the file to jog your memory when you return to the folder — whether or not you ever enter a competition.

Most local association chapters (ISES, MPI, NACE, etc.) have local awards programs. It is always advantageous to start here when submitting your first award — or 20th — for many reasons. First, you do not usually have to be a member of the association at the local level to participate, which means there will be many opportunities to practice. Second, many of the local awards programs — ISES, for example — are based on the international award criteria, so submitting for a local award is great practice in submitting for the international one. And you can usually resubmit the local binder to the international competition — but check the rules first. Third, local chapters often offer the expertise of local members who have entered and won awards before.

As an event professional it is very easy to be too close to the project to be able to effectively describe the event to someone completely unfamiliar with it. But that someone is the judge who has to read your binder. In the process of writing a winning entry, work hard to explain details succinctly but clearly. Things that seem obvious to you won't be obvious to the judges. For example, there may be a venue in your town that the clients love but is notoriously difficult to work in. Your entry needs to explain in a sentence or two the challenges posed by the venue so that the judge has the perspective to understand what amazing feats your event team accomplished.

The hardest part about judging event award entries is often getting past the “fluff” to the heart of the project. Often the entrant tries to explain every detail and challenge, along with the solution that caused yet another challenge, so the entry ends up backlogged with extraneous text but no meat. Remember, the judges are event professionals. They understand the basic challenges of any event and want to see what great things you did to be successful. Like any good essay, the best entries stay simple and tell it like it is. Frame your points, articulate them and summarize. Demonstrate your success succinctly, and the judges will love you!

Many people find themselves overwhelmed by the prospect of entering award competitions because all the rules on the entry form stop them before they even begin. But there is no need to be overwhelmed; just take the rules one by one, read them and follow them. If you are asked to put a cover sheet on the outside of the binder with the event category and date, do it. Treat the call for entries as a checklist. Don't try to interpret it, just do what it asks.

To enter awards programs effectively, you have to treat the process as you would if submitting to your clients. Would you send a client a creative proposal that wasn't spell-checked? Would you quickly print a grainy picture of your newest product to give to a potential client? Of course not. So don't do it when you enter an awards competition. Try to work ahead when assembling your entry. Create a timeline that gives you ample opportunity before the entries are due to proof and double-check your entry. And the best advice I have ever heard is to finish your entry, then walk away for a day or two. Even better, have a colleague who didn't work on the event read through the entry; listen to their feedback and make any necessary changes. You will be glad you did.

If you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of putting together an entry, remember two things: No event is ever the work of one person, and most awards allow group entries. Try entering as a group or a team. Divide the work of the entry among the group and collectively assemble the entry. Like any great event, being able to rely on teammates can be a big help!

One of my first jobs in this industry was working for an agency that supplied models for events. And one of the great lessons I learned from several of the models was that even when you are perfect, you may not be selected. As entrants, we need to celebrate our nominations because you will never know or be able to control why one entry wins over an-other. Being nominated for an award, particularly at the international level, is a win. It affords you all the opportunities to market your company and your work as being recognized among the best in the business. In fact, many professionals I know get more buzz from being consistently nominated for awards than winning, because it demonstrates that they are constantly innovating and creating. Publicize your nominations, and share them with clients.

And what happens if you don't win? Was it a waste of time and money? Absolutely not. The best part about writing and submitting an award entry is that it becomes an educational process. You learn about and see your events in a new way. Going through the process challenges you to think through what worked, what didn't and what you can do next time.

Name: Ryan Hanson

Company: BeEvents

Address: 2112 Broadway St. N.E., Studio 110
Minneapolis, MN 55413

Phone: 612/360-3180

E-mail: ryan@beeventsdesign.com

CALL FOR ENTRIES FOR ISES ESPRIT AWARDS

The Call for Entries form for the 2009 ISES Esprit Awards is available for download from www.ises.com. This year, the international Esprit Awards committee worked to streamline the categories and requirements for entries to ease the process for entrants and judges.

  • All events must have occurred between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2008.
  • All entrants must be ISES members in good standing on or before May 1, 2009.
  • Award entries must be submitted to and received at ISES headquarters by April 1, 2009.

The ISES Esprit Awards will be given out at the Esprit Award Gala, which will take place on Aug. 8, 2009, at ISES Eventworld — An Institute for Professional Development in San Francisco. Remember — you can't win if you don't enter. So think back over the great events of 2008 and submit your entries! If you have questions about the process, please contact info@ises.com.

SPACE PLANNING PART II

In many cities around the world, we have for some time now been maxed out when it comes to venues. Time and again, I have heard friends say, “There is nothing out there — we are having the event at our fourth option because ‘there is no room at the inn.’” This problem has forced many of us to stretch our creativity beyond what we thought possible with alternative spaces.

But as events are being cancelled or downsized across the world, I am hearing that more traditional venues are becoming available again, and they are fighting for our business. Now is a good time to go back to basics in many ways. There are lots of things that can complicate an event, affect your client's budget and — more importantly — hurt your bottom line. Here are some ideas to overcome these venue issues:

  1. Ensure that your production schedule is comprehensive and well planned. Some nontraditional spaces don't care if you are supposed to be out by 6 a.m. and the event runs over to 7:30 a.m. But in most major venues, being even 20 minutes late on a load-out has a domino effect. The space is watching its labor dollars, and now you have put them behind on prep for the next client to arrive. They have every right to come back to you with a penalty fee.

  2. Ensure that you have contingencies in place for load-in helpers who might call in sick at the last minute. Everyone is under a lot of emotional and financial stress right now, and with that comes illness and depression; you have to plan for this.

  3. Get back to basics on everything from labor planning to managing on-site, setting clear expectations and stressing open and direct communication. Creativity is great, but only solid event skills are going to ensure that you can easily face whatever you are called upon to plan, coordinate and execute in different spaces.

  4. Be aware of the fire regulations regarding aisles and room capacity. Remember, just because no one offers the information doesn't mean you don't have to know it. A lot of nontraditional venues stretch the rules a bit, but once you are in that big hotel or conference center again, someone will be walking around with the measuring tape before your doors open.

  5. Focus on what is simple and readily available when planning your space. For the last few years, the industry has tried everything from squares and octagons for plated dinners to those dreaded triangles (try renting linen for that). Embrace the rounds for a little while. Most clients right now will appreciate the simplicity and the fact that you can scale back the budget. To shake it up a bit, try different sized rounds within the dinner setup.

  6. Many times the Internet speed quoted to you by the venue may not be the true working speed if everyone in the hotel fires up their laptops at the same time. Requesting isolated Internet lines will be more expensive and requires a time allowance to arrange, but this may be necessary in order to Webcast your event or allow speakers to go online for their presentation.

For event professionals in the current economic climate, now is not the time to fall behind in the creation and execution of events. Flawless execution to secure your client relationships is not the goal — it must be the level at which you perform daily.

Name: Kenneth Kristoffersen CSEP, CEM

Company: experiential events/experiential weddings

Address: Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Canada

Phone: 866/921-9801

E-mail: ken@experientialevents.ca, ken@experientialweddings.ca

ISES EDITORIAL TEAM AND STAFF

Ryan Hanson
Volunteer Editor
BeEvents
ryan@beeventsdesign.com

Amie Shak
Editor/Coordinator
ashak@smithbucklin.com

Kevin Hacke
Executive Director
khacke@smithbucklin.com

Kristin Prine
Operations Manager
kprine@smithbucklin.com

Lauren Rini
Education Coordinator
lrini@smithbucklin.com

Jamie Devins
Membership Services
Coordinator
jdevins@smithbucklin.com

Tom McCurrie
Membership Services Associate
tmccurrie@smithbucklin.com