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July 1, 2008

Procurement guide shows industry means business

On 13 September, a groundbreaking document was unveiled at the Hotel Booking Agents Association (HBAA) annual forum. The CIPS Events Services Guide, represents a major step forward in the relationship between meetings and events and procurement, and is the fruit of two years’ hard debate between Eventia, the HBAA, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and CIPS (Chartered Institute of Procurement Services).

“The guide is fantastic news for the agency world,” said Peter Rand director for industry relations at Zibrant, and chairman of the working group behind the guide. “It shows that instead of being led by procurement we now have a tool that will enable us to move forward together – it shows we all want to learn and benefit from each other.”


Building bridges between events and procurement


Traditionally, the relationship between events and procurement has been a thorny one. Because much of what the industry supplies is complex and not unit based it has proved difficult for procurement to get a handle on, which, combined with a reticence from the events industry to share its knowledge, has lead to many on our side of the fence seeing procurement as the worst thing to happen to events.

Changing attitudes

“Purchasing has been seen by many as a bad thing,” said Rob Allen chief executive of TRO and chairman of Eventia. “The idea behind the creation of this guide was to change that attitude and try to befriend procurement and show we’re all on the same side. Hopefully it will create structure around how events work and help CIPS members do their job better.”

And this has proved a breath of fresh air for CIPS, with the body claiming we are the first industry to have gone to it to ask “how can we both work together?”. “The guide has certainly established the credibility of the industry, said Rand. “It gives procurement answers and a transparency of what the industry is all about, to what extent it can be commoditised and if not why not.”

While we are starting to see a good body of procurement professionals coming through who understand events and the events marketplace, there are still gaps in procurement's understanding of events, but much of this can be put down to procurement spending too little time on events.

Market snap shot

“One of the challenges has been that many of the procurement people involved in events are not involved on a full-time basis, they just dip in and out,” continued Allen. “The Event Services Guide gives them an overview of the market and its language – a crib-sheet, if you like, for dealing with event procurement.”

The working group first met around two years ago, but was instantly faced with one big problem before any serious work could be done: agreeing a common frame of reference. “With so many people involved, all looking at events from different angles, there were a number of different experiences, models and procedures to contend with,” explains Rand. “It took us a while to create a framework we could all understand.”

Allen agrees, adding that language was also an issue: “Even within the events industry there are different definitions of key concepts, for examples what actually constitutes an event. We’ve also been faced with having to create a dictionary of the business.”

Looking to the future
As for the future, this is seen as very much an ongoing process. The guide currently has an undeniable bias towards meeting planning, because it is easier to commoditise and therefore a good place to start, but the aim is to expand it to other areas of events. And Allen is keen to see it extended to the creative and innovative use of events.

He also believes that this is very much a two-way thing. “We can all learn from this," he says. "Agencies can start to employ elements of the procurement disciplines to help them control their suppliers. Both sides need to be looking at each other as long-term partners and start to build lasting relationships. Sometimes we will get beaten down over price, that is inevitable but this is the start of greater understanding.”

The group also hopes to take a lead role in the return on investment debate, and as such has installed Mark Budge, who will bring his measurement and evaluation agenda to the table, as its chairman. But, said Rand, this is very much an ongoing process.

“We’re hoping people pick plenty of holes in this first draft,” continued Rand. “We want lots of feedback from procurement as we need this material to be able to push forward. We need something tangible to really get the argument rolling.”

Rand is keen to point out that this shows a united front. “Importantly the working group proves that the different organisations can work together on specific projects, and it shows people like CIPS there is a common voice for our industry,” he says.

So far the response to the Event Services Guide has been positive, but this is the start of a long and tough journey as events encompasses so many procurement models, suppliers and agencies.

The CIPS Events Services Guide is available to CIPS members and also members of all three associations, via their respective websites. The working group is also planning a campaign of seminars to get guide’s message across.


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