The Strauss Blog

RFPs for Association Conferences – What to Ask and How to Ask It

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One of the first steps in the association event planning process is venue selection. Whether the event is being planned for a local or national association, the need to book space early is often a requirement. Because of the growing availability and flexibility of meeting spaces, there will likely be a number of host venues that can accommodate your event. To determine what these options are, most planners make use of a Request for Proposal (RFP). An RFP is circulated among potential venues in the targeted geographic area and the responses are compared. Comparing the responses can be easier said than done and a streamlined process should be implemented in order to save time and resources.

One of our earlier articles takes a more detailed look at the actual RFP process: Attracting and Evaluating Great Venue Proposals for Your Next Event.

A typical response to an RFP can range in size with some coming in looking like a short novel! Different venues present information in different ways and some include details that others exclude. Comparing these proposals can be a daunting task that often involves quite a bit of follow up. In order to increase efficiency, it is important to standardize this process as much as possible. Efficiency lies in knowing what to ask and how to ask it.

What to Ask

There are key pieces of information that need to be considered when deciding which venue is best suited to host your association’s event. These details will vary based on the event and the level of importance that each specific detail has to your association. Regardless of the association, there are factors that affect your budget and there are factors that affect your delegate experience, – these should be the major influencers in your decision making process.

Factors that Affect Your Budget

  • Minimum food and beverage (F&B)
  • Catering costs
  • Meeting space costs
  • Audio visual (A/V)

These factors can come with high price tags that quickly eat away at your budget. A clear understanding of these line items is crucial in order to ensure that you are not surprised by costs in the future. Some proposals require a minimum F&B spend where others do not. This does not necessarily mean that the proposal with no minimum F&B is a better option. It could be that their catering costs are higher or their meeting space costs are higher. Some venues charge meeting space costs and others will waive the fee based on minimum F&B spending. Some will be a combination of both. Excellent examples of this can be found in our article Calculating the True Cost of Food and Beverages.

Just as there are a number of ways that food and meeting space costs can be presented, so too can A/V can be a complex thing to evaluate. Audio visual services can turn into a large portion of your budget very quickly so it’s important to be clear about what you are buying. Some venues will have an exclusive A/V provider whereas others will charge a patch fee if an outsider provider is brought in. This may be an important factor if your company has a strong relationship with one specific A/V company.

Factors that Affect Your Delegates

  • Room rate
  • Location
  • Venue layout

A number of factors included in a proposal can affect the delegate experience rather than affect the association’s bottom line. The average delegate wants and needs will have to be considered when deciding on a fair hotel room rate, where the delegates would like to spend their time (i.e. downtown hotel or hotel with greenspace) and if the layout of the venue itself is accessible to your demographic (i.e. how far is the walk from the main plenary to the breakout rooms, is the exhibit hall on the same floor, etc.) These may seem like small details but they may be big enough factors in determining whether or not a delegate comes back next year.

How to Ask

When putting together an RFP, it is crucial that you are clear on your decision making factors. From the factors listed above, decide which are most important to your association and clearly outline these as your main decision making factors in your RFP. Venues will likely be more generous in certain areas if they know that your final decision will be largely based on that item.

Another important thing to think about when putting together a RFP is being as transparent as possible. Be transparent in your budget limitations so that you receive a proposal that aligns with a realistic budget. Be transparent in what your requirements are and what some benefits would be. This means outlining what your sticking points are and, what some added bonuses might be that you would like to see in a proposal. A vendor will be more flexible in their offerings when faced with a combination of needs and wants as opposed to a long list of needs only.

In order to easily compare proposals, it is important to be consistent in how you ask for information. In the case that you expect to receive a number of proposals with a large amount of information, it may make sense to provide vendors with a template and ask them to plug in the information that way. This will ensure that you spend less time scanning through pages of information and more time comparing the important facts. Again, efficiency!

Overall, the RFP process can be a bit overwhelming because of the volume of information that is received. If the process is transparent and consistent from the get go, you will be sure to save yourself hours of frustration. The vendors will appreciate less follow up and you and all those involved will appreciate the efficiency.

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