20 May 2020

Event and exhibition procurement is broken. If you’re using traditional procurement techniques, you’re almost certainly only securing the illusion of value and the best solutions – whether you realise it or not. Live events need two things – goods (the stuff) and services (the people and expertise). In this episode, we look at how to get the goods you need, at the best value possible – irrespective of whether you know what you need or not. We also look at the difference between a specification, brief and scope – three critically different words – and the clarity could save you a fortune.


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

And in this episode, episode seven, we’re looking at the goods you need for all or part of a live event, exhibition, or anything live.

There are two things any live event or exhibition needs. Goods, and services. Goods are all the things, and services are the talent, the resource, or the expertise, which are people, mainly.

As we discussed in previous episodes, there are a whole range of reasons why traditional procurement doesn’t work with live events and exhibitions, even if you think it is working – it typically creates the illusion of finding you the best value and solutions, and you’re quite possibly wasting huge amounts of money, or missing out on other ideas and creativity. I’ll save repeating previous episodes, though.

There are just six procurement approaches that I’ve developed to get you anything you could possibly need, whether you’re looking for the smallest event on earth, a small meeting for example, or the largest event, a mega event, an expo, or multi-sport event, for example, and everything in between. I’ve proven with the client-side and agency side on contracts ranging from about $5,000 through to contracts worth well in excess of $50 million.

These six approaches are finding goods with a specification, goods without a specification, finding services and talent, finding a flexible turnkey solution, that’s a combination of goods and services, a fixed turnkey solution, and finding a promoter.

I’d also add I’m not offering financial, legal, or safety advice here. I’m providing approaches that will find you the best value and solutions, here to enhance or support your existing efforts. So if you need professional advice, in the official sense, be sure to seek it out.

These approaches can be used for formal, complex procurement processes, perhaps with existing policies, guidelines, and practices, informal procurement, or just verbal agreements. It’s up to you how you use them, they are simply frameworks. And in this episode, we’re looking at how to find or buy the goods you need, whether you know what you need, or not. Before we get started, there’s an important clarification we need to cover off, some common confusion, which needs clarifying. Make sure you’re clear on the difference between what a brief, scope, and specification are. A specification is unambiguous detail, open to zero interpretation. A brief is a summary of what you’re looking for, but it’s open to interpretation, and could be interpreted in a number of different ways. A scope is broader still. An overview, direction or list of requirements perhaps.

For example: this is a specification, this is a brief, and this is a scope. This is not a specification, and this is not a specification. The reason this is important is that it doesn’t matter whether you know what you need or not, but the approach you adopt will depend on whether you do or don’t. You can only conduct parity checks if you’re comparing like for like, with clear specifications. If you’re comparing responses to briefs or to scopes, you need a different approach. And I’ve got an approach for each.

The first approach is to find goods with a specification. You’ve got makes or model numbers, or you know your exact requirements, and you know exactly what you need. There are seven steps to this approach.

First, specification. Specify the goods you need, when and where you need them, for what duration, and any other relevant requirements. Add any goods-specific guidance, or clarification if necessary. Remember this approach is for when you have a clear specification. If you don’t have exact makes and model numbers or the exact requirements or specifications, use the next approach, finding goods without a specification. Add any specific guidance or clarifications necessary. For example, certifications for electrical equipment, rating or classification of security personnel or any contractual requirements for a venue hire agreement. That sort of thing. It can also be helpful to specify what you’re not looking for, if this helps clarify any incorrect assumptions that could be made.

Second, governance. Add any governance requirements if you need to, or you want to. For example, health and safety checks, environmental checks, financial standing, sustainability management, quality assurance checks, or any other criteria important to you, and or appropriate to the size and type of the live event. But be realistic. The more of this you add, the less interested some suppliers are going to be. So strike the right balance, depending on contract size, and what you’re looking for.

Third, distribution. Send your specification in whatever way works for you, or your organisation, to a relevant supplier. Or suppliers, if you want to compare prices for an identical specification. And be sure to offer to clarify any details if needed.

Fourth, review. Assess the responses you receive on the quality and the value of the goods you’re looking for. Look closely at any caveats, notes, or exclusions. And conduct interviews or ask for clarifications if they’re necessary.

Fifth, references. Check references relevant to the goods you’re looking for, if you’re not familiar with the suppliers who are responding. And perform any governance checks you deem necessary.

Six, appointment. Agree the price or unit prices, and confirm your requirements.

And finally, seventh, management. Don’t assume that once you’ve confirmed your requirements or ordered your goods, they will just turn up. Keep in close contact with your suppliers, to check they have what they need, and are fully informed of what you expect from them. Ideally, they will become deeply involved with the planning process. Keep up two way liaison throughout the project.

As we’ve looked at in previous episodes, events are about people.

Collaboration and conversation are everything.

Ok, secondly, we’re looking at how to get the goods you need without a specification, where you’ve only got a brief where you don’t know exactly what you need. And unless you’re an expert in exactly what you’re looking for, this is gonna be most of the time.

First, write a brief, detailing what types of goods you’re looking for, and the likely location, date, type and scale of event. If you don’t know the details yet, estimate as much as possible, and indicate that details may change. It’s much easier for a supplier if they have at least some idea of the scope and scale of the event. Avoid using acronyms. Use plain language rather than any phrases or industry jargon. Unless you know exactly what you’re talking about, jargon or trying to sound more knowledgeable won’t lead you anywhere useful.

Secondly, governance. As before, add any governance requirements if you need to, or if you want to. Again though, keep the amount of checks and information required realistic and balanced.

Third, distribution, again, send your brief in whatever way works for you or your organisation, to suppliers you believe can support you.

Fourth, review. Assess the responses you receive on the quality and value of the goods you’re looking for. Look closely at any caveats, notes, or exclusions. These could end up costing you more than the entire quote. Conduct interviews or clarifications if they’re necessary. You’ll be working closely with this supplier, as if they’re one of your own team. You don’t know what you’re looking for exactly without a specification, so they’re going to need to do some digging. Therefore, chemistry is important. If their responses come back using terminology you don’t understand, or it’s different on each response, simply ask each supplier to use the same terminology. Be explicit, say you’re comparing responses and that’s why you need comparable information. Be totally open with your suppliers. The less you share, the more you will lose.

Fifth, references. Check references relevant to the goods you’re looking for if you’re not familiar with the suppliers who are responding. And again, perform any governance checks you deem necessary.

Sixth, you need to check content and contextual experience. If you’re looking for help from a supplier to guide the content or purpose of your event, then they will need relevant content experience. If you’re looking for help delivering or facilitating your event, the supplier will need relevant contextual experience of events with a similar scale, complexity, budgets, types of location and if applicable, marketing and commercial activity. And as you don’t have exact specifications, your supplier is likely to need relevant contextual experience, to help you. You can’t both be on a learning curve. That would be a disaster.

Seventh, appointment. Appoint a supplier on the indicative value of their goods, and how they feel to work with. Agree on unit costs of goods if possible, or a framework or milestones in payment terms, if you’re looking at manufacturing or similar. You can set hard budget limits at this stage too, if you’re working to a fixed budget, or want to limit expenditure. But make this clear before appointing anyone, and make sure you or someone with the relevant content and contextual experience assess any notes, caveats, or exclusions a supplier may have included.

Finally, stage eight, management. Work with your supplier to develop a specification against the brief. Make sure you support them and confirm requirements once you’ve received their quotes as they evolve, based on the terms, prices, or framework you’ve agreed, when you appointed them, in the previous step.

This exercise, the whole approach, gets you the expertise you need, while making sure you’re not getting ripped off, as plans evolve, and your event date approaches. If you don’t have a specification, you’re going to need to be working with your supplier collaboratively, which is exactly what this approach gives you. So those were the first two approaches. How to find or buy the goods you need, with or without a specification.

There’s clearly only so much technical detail I can get into in a video. If you’d like more detail into how and why these approaches work, and why others don’t, you’re free to have a read of my book, and the approaches are all summarised, free to view, on the book’s website. In the next episode, we’re looking at finding talent and services.

How to find the right expertise, even if you don’t know what you need exactly, or at all.

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