12 May 2020

Buying, procuring, hiring… call it what you want, but when it comes to live events, procurement doesn’t work. Whether they realise it or not it doesn’t work for clients and buyers, and it doesn’t work for those being procured.

Such waste and loss of creativity and value should be abolished post-COVID… a period of time that will see budgets stretched and value scrutinised.

It starts with procurement – almost universally broken pre-COVID – there has never been a better time to appraise and fix it. Fixing it is straightforward as we look at in this episode along with the reasons and examples of why it’s broken, before moving on to how to get whatever you want… and there are only 6 things you will ever want or need.


Hi, I’m Will Glendinning, I’m a producer, writer, designer, and director.

So, it’s episode six of this series, and we’re starting to look at how to get what you need and what you want, be that a whole event, part of an event, or the goods and services to bring them to life.

We’re looking at procurement in its broadest sense, be that a formal process, an informal one, or even just a verbal process.

Broader still, we’re looking at procurement and HR, finding whatever you need, be it ideas, staff or people: resource.

As we deal with and emerge from the crisis we all find ourselves in during 2020, businesses, agencies, everyone will be looking for more value and looking to buy better. Make no mistake, procurement of, within and around live events, in any form, was almost universally broken pre-pandemic, whether you realise it or not, and it’s so bad, it’s an epidemic in it’s own right.

If this isn’t a wake-up call and time to finally sort out the madness, then, I don’t know when the best time will be. If you want better value, you need to fix how you find stuff and how you buy stuff. We all do.

I’m neither a procurement professional or a human resources professional. What I am, though, is someone who has over twenty years’ experience of wrestling with and guiding the procurement challenges of both the largest and smallest organisations in the world, and navigating human resource requirements for roles that are often hard to define. I’ve been the client and worked client side, and worked agency and contractor side across almost every type of event. Live event procurement, as I say, is broken.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either.

When I get asked into and I’m paid good money by brands or governments to find ways around their internal governance issues or their own procurement rules, sometimes, without those responsible for such governance and procurement finding out, to do even the most basic live event-related activity, it is clear, without question, that we have collectively reached peak levels of insanity. Insanity and waste that should surely become a thing of the past in these current times.

Let’s look at a straightforward event to illustrate some of these issues. The marketing director of a large organisation, let’s call her Claire, has been asked by the CEO to sort out an event to celebrate a recent award. Dinner, entertainment, networking and fireworks are a must. She considers doing it herself, but has no experience, so, thinks about hiring a few people to sort it out.

Someone in the risk management team, though, thinks this is high-risk and insists Claire puts it out to tender to find an event company to do it. So, Claire writes a tender as best she sees fit, and eventually, awards the event to an event agency.

It all starts well, but a few weeks in, the CEO tells Claire he wants to add an experiential exhibition to the event and to cut the dinner to afford it. Claire talks to the event agency, who initially react badly, as the dinner was where the agency were making most of their profit. But Claire talks them around, albeit the event agency are now less enthused. Struggling to make the project financially viable, they look at what corners could be cut elsewhere. And the service level Claire was getting begins to diminish.

A few days later, the event agency have to tell Claire they can’t get permission for the fireworks and that this was always going to be a risk. Claire is furious and asks why they put it in their tender response if it was a likely risk. The event agency explained that had they not put it in their tender, they would have looked less appealing than their competitors, regardless of the reality, as the tender process is a competitive situation and not conducive to total honesty and openness. And had they not put it in their response, they would have been non-compliant.

The CEO is furious, and demands some A-List talent is added to perk the fireworkless event up, and demands the event agency cover the cost, as the issue, in his eyes, is their fault. Legally, the event agency’s proposal was caveated, so, it isn’t their fault, but the two sides have different views on the matter.

The event is now only two weeks away, so, there isn’t the time to get into contract wranglings. And Claire doesn’t have time to find another agency to replace the one she, rightly or wrongly, believes is at fault, and becomes increasingly stressed with each passing day with constant negotiations and changes. The risk management department has got involved again too, as the cost looks like it might spiral upwards, putting pressure on the whole company.

And once the event is over, Claire’s relief is immense, relief the event is completed, rather than enjoying what should have been a straightforward event.

This is an example of a fictitious and simple event, but the fundamental flaw here was the procurement process, typical of those used the world over, just doesn’t work. It may look like it works, but behind the scenes, there will be all manner of wasteful madness that someone will be paying for, needlessly.

Typical procurement approaches merely create the illusion of finding the best value and solutions, whereas what they often do most successfully is merely get a box ticked.

A quicker and easier approach would’ve been to simply find the right idea or the right approach, the right team on the right terms, agree a budget or budget range and move on, openly. It can be that simple and without risk.

Marrying the fluid nature of live events with typically rigid procurement processes, even with their change control and variation procedures, just doesn’t work very well, whether you realise it or not.

People quite often find themselves needing to procure the talent and expertise they need in order to work out what to procure in the first place, especially if that talent or expertise doesn’t exist in-house or isn’t immediately available.

Many clients and event owners understand this, yet struggle to get the expertise they need at the front end, due to their own internal procurement and governance rules. And sometimes, of course, they just don’t know what they need.

Most procurement exercises, therefore, ask for a proposal and cost for something that has not yet been developed or planned, in order to find the people to develop and plan it, which requires people to develop and plan it, before they’ve been appointed to develop and plan it, so, they can submit a compelling proposal and price.

Or in other words, a paradox that’s all too common.

You wouldn’t hire an architect based on how cheaply they could provide concrete. You hire them based on the ideas or the solutions they offer. And then, work together to agreed budgets or against agreed terms. This issue is so rife and so normal that some responses are structured to capitalise on that chaos, knowing that’s where the profit will be. It’s crazy.

The rapidly and ever-increasing cost of running tender processes and responding to them isn’t sustainable either. When you have a group of agencies spending more collectively on responding to a tender than there would be any eventual profit from those contracts, it’s obviously not sustainable. And also buyers are only going to have the choice of suppliers willing to play this insane game, missing out on huge swathes of new ideas, creativity and innovation that might be more valuable and create a bigger impact.

The whole process can be far simpler, opening up new possibilities and options.

Even some agencies and event professionals struggle with procurement too, if they’re from, run or governed by people with traditional project management or procurement backgrounds, rather than understanding how events really work. So, by and large, finding, procuring and buying live events and the things needed to deliver them is often riddled with issues, at most points in the chain.

Common practice isn’t always best practice.

If only there was a simpler way.

Well, there is.

A few years ago now, I started developing procurement approaches that actually work, whether the process is formal or informal. The aim here is not to replace existing procurement, governance or guidelines, unless you want to, but a set of simple tools to find better value and create more impact. And they work.

I’ve used these approaches both client and agency side for contracts worth just a few thousand through to, I think the largest one was just north of 50 million US dollars. And by and large, once those responsible for procurement understand the bigger picture, they’ve been happy to modify their approaches slightly.

And the simplest thing about it is that there are only six approaches to get whatever you need and whatever you want, regardless of whether your event is a tiny, small meeting or the largest mega event or expo, or anything in between.

First, how to find goods with a specification.

Secondly, how to find goods without a specification, that is when you don’t know what you need exactly.

Third, how to find services and talent even when you don’t know what you need.

Fourth, how to find a flexible turnkey solution, where you know things will change.

Fifth, how to find a fixed turnkey solution, where things won’t change, which is almost never, but it’s here for completeness.

And sixth, finally, how to find a promoter. If you have rights or similar that someone else can sell or promote in return for delivering your event at no or less cost to yourself.

Six approaches, that’s it. All you will ever need.

This and the previous episodes provided the foundations for what comes next. And in the next episodes, we’ll look at how to use each of these approaches starting with goods, services and talent, and then, moving on to turnkey solutions.

f you want new ideas, new creativity and the best value, you need to set about getting what you want and need in the right way, which may not be the typical or accepted way, but it is the simplest.

Why complicate it?

Thanks for your time, thanks for watching, and I’ll see you in the next episode.