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Hiring the Perfect Events Production Partner: The RFP and Beyond

Martha Stewart and NY Times Tech columnist David Pogue at TWTRCON NY 10

A top-notch production partner is key to making sure that onstage moments such as this one are possible. Martha Stewart and NY Times tech columnist David Pogue thrill the crowd at TWTRCON NY 10.

There are many “make or break” components that go into the execution of a successful live event. One of the most critical is the production of the program. Production mishaps impact the timing and flow of the an event. Speakers can be thrown off by the slightest technical challenge. As for attendees …. well, let’s just say that annoyance should never be part of the attendee experience.

I see production like this: the goal is to be in a state characterized by the absence of mishap. And the only way to reach that state is to know that you’re working with a Production Partner (caps intended) as anxious to be there as I am.

If you don’t already have that perfect partner, here’s how to find — and work with — one:

1. Get the Referrals.  Ask planners who you know and trust for recommendations. Your goal should be to identify three to four potential vendors to evaluate.

2. Prepare your RFP.  The Request for Proposal is the key to setting the stage for the success of the event as well as for your long-term partnership. You must be able to articulate what the objectives are for the event in a way that is clear to the vendor. Do not provide budget numbers at this point. (Never!) Do include full descriptive information, including:


    • The event itself: the topic, purpose, program, size and venue
    • The audience: demographics, executive level, etc.
    • Production value: your expectations, including complexity of stage design, lighting and use of video and multimedia throughout the program

Equipment and Labor

    • Be as precise as possible in listing all equipment that will be needed (LCD, screens, mics, etc.) Prepare the vendor for possible additional sponsor equipment needs.
    • Provide not simply the show and program times but also the availability of rooms for set-up and dismantle; this information can have a major impact on a quote if a larger crew and/or overtime is required.

Along with the RFP request at least three client references and information about recent events that the prospective vendor has executed for those clients.

3. Evaluation of Quotes  Create a “snapshot” of the vendor estimates, a spreadsheet that includes all components of production. This will allow you to organize quotes in a way that both reflects your needs and makes it possible to do a side-by-side comparison. A hole in any one quote becomes a question to ask the vendor (or, occasionally, a reason that the vendor is eliminated).

Follow up with each, asking questions and discussing concerns you have, including those about the quote itself. Unless wildly out of sync with my budget, I always give a vendor an opportunity to revisit their quote at this time. And I usually learn a lot about each from these conversations!

Based on final estimates, your follow up with client references, and your conversations with the prospective partners, you now have everything you need to make a decision.

4. Partner Picked. Now What?
The key to success now becomes communication. With your partner’s input, create a project schedule, including detailed descriptions of deliverables and the dates each is due. Establish a calendar of regular meetings or conference calls to allow you to review progress against the project schedule and the program. As each meeting or call approaches, create and distribute an agenda. Make it a rule never to skip distributing a meeting recap as well, highlighting what was discussed, decisions made and upcoming deadlines. I include the program management team on calls at key milestones to make sure that all are on the same page as we roll toward the event date.

Finally: all events “morph” during the cycle. And even minor adjustments impacting program production will also impact your budget.  The rule of thumb: never discuss a program change with your partner without also discussing its impact on the budget. This is the key to minimizing that impact.

Have I covered all that it takes to choose a partner that will help get to that state of absence of mishap? Let us know if you have anything to add!