BY BARRY GROSS
It’s been remarked quite a bit lately: group business is back ... and in a BIG way! And with business this good‚ chances are excellent to secure a local piece of this lucrative pie. That said‚ let’s skip ahead to where you’ve actually secured the commitment ... now how in the world will you deliver?
THE CONTRACTThe most important first step is to put it all down on paper; a written contract detailing the specific services contracted‚ expectations‚ costs‚ and recourses for both sides. This is a vital document that will clearly show what each side is responsible for‚ so tackling a large program without it is professional suicide. Some key components of every contract are:
Scope: What specific performance is agreed upon‚ and at what cost. If it’s not listed on paper‚ it’s not part of the agreement—it’s that simple. The contract should detail what equipment and resources will be utilized‚ under what protocols‚ and for what period. If your contract specifies transport between airport A and ZIP code B‚ your client cannot reasonably expect the same rates and/or services available‚ should they later have some guests needing transport to ZIP code C. The contract should also list any exclusions or prohibitions‚ such as farming out‚ additional staff‚ or substitution of vehicles.
Protections: The contract should be clear on when payment is to be tendered and by what means. It should have tangible deadlines‚ with delineated consequences for failure to comply. The protections should extend to both parties‚ such as missed payment deadlines on the part of the client or failure to perform as agreed by the vendor. There should be specific steps for resolution of any conflicts (e.g.‚ mediation or a specified jurisdiction for legal recourse).
Opt Outs: What are the acceptable opt outs? Force majeure‚ cancellation policy‚ etc. What is the provision for recoupment of capital outlay? These are the sort of questions that must be accounted for in the contract.
Named Parties: All financially liable parties should be clearly named‚ including subcontractors if possible. Liability provisions listing the named parties must be secured and verified. All named parties must be vetted as to their specific authorization to enter into the binding agreement. This is the time to re-verify pricing and commitment from any potential subcontractors.
PREPARING FOR THE DAYOnce the contract has been executed‚ the operational planning can begin. The specific performance and protocols will have been locked in by contract. The question then is what capability do you have to perform those services? Can they be performed “in-house‚” or will you need to subcontract or require ancillary vendors? The answer to those questions lies in the anticipated volume. Without the specific details‚ performing the “how” is just a guess—and guessing is a recipe for failure. If the program is a repeat‚ what is the historical data? If there is no historical data‚ aim high in estimates; it is much easier to scale back in a hurry than to ramp it up. Ascertain information on potential attendees‚ locations‚ and services. Refer to any official event-specific programs or websites as a means of cross-checking estimates. Thinking big during this stage is critical; you want to consider all possibilities before they become problems on the day of.
Resources: Once you have a reliable estimate‚ determine what assets (human and equipment) will be necessary. If the necessary equipment is in place‚ determine whether you are adequately staffed for the uptick in volume. Consider your core business as well; you don’t want to alienate your base in pursuit of a one-time payday. If you will need additional resources‚ work with subcontractors to lock in what you need for your program. Secure written commitments for equipment‚ staffing‚ and pricing. If staff is being subcontracted from out of the area‚ agree as to how they will be accommodated (lodging‚ food‚ per diem). Account for increased need of ancillary items‚ such as bottled water‚ ice‚ coolers‚ detail supplies‚ fuel cards‚ signage‚ specific wardrobe‚ and communications equipment. Discuss who will be responsible‚ and how‚ when last-minute needs arise.
Personnel: Determine a plan for event-specific training of existing staff‚ as well as the recruitment and training of temporary labor. Do not limit attention solely to driving staff. Account for increased needs in dispatch‚ accounting‚ on-site‚ reservations‚ and detail teams as well. Decide if there will be dedicated event staff‚ or if the program will be melded into the everyday operation. Transcribe and disseminate specific operational protocols‚ so that staff is clear on their responsibilities and chain of command. Be extremely specific on rates of pay‚ pay dates‚ bonuses‚ or “spiffs” if any. Leave no ambiguity regarding attire; consider having plenty of additional items such as company ties or vests on hand.
Locations: Verify all requested locations including airports‚ hotels‚ conference centers‚ off-site dining‚ and/or recreation. There may be 5 Marriotts‚ 2 airports‚ 3 stadiums‚ etc.‚ so it is critical to match full addresses. Make certain to actually scout the locations‚ and verify that they are suitable for the equipment and resources requested. It is critical not only to ensure that your vehicles and staff can be accommodated‚ but also to know in advance if there will be any changes in access‚ security‚ traffic patterns‚ etc.‚ due to the event. These can be either positive or negative‚ depending on your level of planning.
Reach out well in advance to location management and law enforcement to express your needs and gain cooperation. Be sure to ask for things like dedicated loading zones‚ bagged parking meters (temporary “no parking” for the event)‚ coned-off access lanes‚ and/or law-enforcement personnel to direct traffic. It is often surprising to discover how much accommodation can be made in the interest of keeping people and traffic flowing smoothly.
Gather key staff and make a program playbook. List services to be provided, equipment needed, and agreed protocols.”
If airports utilize require special credentials‚ such as driver badging or vehicle AVIs‚ arrange either waivers or advance appointments for both vehicles and staff‚ should you be using rentals or outside subcontractors. Nothing will sour a program faster than a problem at the airport‚ the very first point of contact.
Law Enforcement: It is imperative to attend any and all planning sessions that may be scheduled by local officials. This is the best chance to express the needs and challenges that the event poses in an open forum. Ask questions. Policy can often be crafted at this level‚ as officials are keen to facilitate smooth execution of a high-profile event. It is also an unparalleled opportunity to make contacts that can be helpful as potential hiccups arise.
Having a good relationship with a city council member or police captain can yield instant results in cutting through red tape. Establishing an immediate rapport with any on-site personnel can be even more critical. Take the time to explain to officials exactly what the plans are‚ and make them an active participant. Be sure to introduce them to your staff‚ and let them know how much their assistance is appreciated. If they become vested in your needs‚ the results will definitely reflect that. If refreshments or lunch are offered to staff‚ make certain that officials are included as well; same with “swag” ... they may not be able to accept it‚ but the offer will be much appreciated. Law enforcement personnel most often see people at their worst; so when they are treated with respect‚ they can move heaven and earth to make sure the program goes well. They are important allies to have.
Communication: The greatest plan is useless if it cannot be communicated. Decide how the details will be relayed to your team‚ such as direct meetings‚ emails‚ and interoffice memos. It is important to lock in the preferred method and then set a fail-safe‚ such as a mandatory response to all emails. It is always the best idea for information to be relayed in writing; however‚ when that is not possible‚ always at least follow up in writing. Don’t leave anything to interpretation. Unless directives are in writing‚ there is a risk that there could be as many different ideas on the plan as there are staffers.
Select a preferred method of communication to be utilized for the actual performance of duty‚ such as two-way radio‚ Nextel‚ email-enabled tablet‚ and/or cell phone. It is important to know what laws govern the site of the event: Are handheld devices legal or advisable? It is important to tailor the use of communications tools to both local ordinance and agreed protocols with the client.
The recommendation is that as much information as feasible be communicated in writing rather than by phone. Have drivers text or email when on site or clear‚ instead of flooding the office with phone calls. When information is communicated thus‚ clearly identify who is responsible for timely attention and response. Interactive GPS systems are helpful in this regard‚ as they can be used with geo-fencing alerts or manual status changes. Designate an emergency communication protocol that clearly signals an immediate change in duty; an internal “emergency broadcast system” if you will.
Contingencies: There’s an expression regarding the “best laid plans of mice and men ...” and it exists in response to Murphy’s Law—i.e.‚ that which CAN go wrong often WILL! This is especially true in transportation where there are so many moving parts‚ both literally and figuratively. Very few industries are subject to as many uncontrollable factors as transportation‚ which is why you need backup plans for your backup plans. While operators have no control over weather‚ traffic‚ and airline delays (to name a few)‚ ultimately it is the operator who is held accountable. As such‚ it is critical to have contingency plans.
Designate a staffer on each shift to monitor road conditions and traffic patterns; make that person responsible for any re-routing plans and for communicating with internal staff‚ drivers‚ and most importantly‚ with the client. Train dispatchers and drivers on the need to have a paper map backup on their original route and at least one contingency route.
Prepare binders for all staff listing step-by-step instructions in the event of: traffic accidents‚ injury or illness‚ mechanical failure‚ weather event‚ or law enforcement issue. Never leave emergency procedures subject to interpretation; spell them out‚ and make certain that staff knows to follow instructions to the letter. In the binder‚ include an incident reporting form‚ and a list of emergency contact numbers. Assign a manager for each shift that can be tasked solely to an emergency‚ should one arise; otherwise one incident can affect the entire operation. Instruct staff that only designated management may relate details of an emergency situation to the client‚ insurance‚ law enforcement‚ or the press. Communication and containment are your goals in such cases.
Discuss your plan thoroughly with your insurance carrier; they may have suggestions for procedures or additional coverage that can minimize exposure and protect your business. The stakes are higher during large programs; there is more activity‚ different protocols‚ and higher profile guests. Make sure that your business is adequately insulated from disaster.
Gather key staff and make a program playbook. List services to be provided‚ equipment needed‚ and agreed protocols. Include the emergency procedures‚ a phone list of relevant parties‚ and a checklist of verifications and redundancies.
PLAN YOUR EVENT RUN-THROUGHOnce all the details are laid out‚ select a subset of staff to review it from start to finish. It is best to have multiple sets of eyes from multiple divisions. Confirm that adequate staff and vehicles are prepped and available‚ that locations have been scouted and confirmed‚ that turnaround times are realistic. Verify any regulatory compliance and chain of communication with officials and law enforcement.
Identify key staff and review specific duties. Highlight contingency procedures and redundancies; practices like wake-up calls and verifications can be overlooked in light of special events ... don’t let them. Make certain that there is a recordable means for the client to sign and verify reservations and changes. Put the onus on them to approve or change plans in writing.
Verify payment arrangements with accounting personnel well before the day of the event. Confirm that contracts are signed‚ dates are locked in‚ and payment methods have been agreed and assured. Do the same with vendors‚ to ensure a timely delivery of necessary resources.
When all is said and done‚ hold a pre-conference meeting with the client and ancillary partners. This is the opportunity to get all parties together and confirm plans so that all questions are answered. Any differences should be immediately escalated to priority status with clear steps for resolution. Exchange contact information with key players. This will greatly increase efficiencies during the actual program.
Review the playbook and role-play potential pitfalls. Update the playbook as may be necessary‚ and complete the checklist. With the contracts signed‚ preparations made‚ and checklist complete‚ it’s time to get team members mentally ready. This is a perfect time to engage in team-building. Encourage staff participation‚ praise preparations well-made‚ and show appreciation in tangible ways such as meals‚ swag‚ giveaways‚ etc. No matter how tight the plan‚ it is only as good as the people executing it. Do all you can to have good employee buy-in and excitement for the event; strong positive leadership is key in motivating staff.
With a solid plan and properly motivated‚ the team is ready to shine in its big moment. Make sure to take time to enjoy it. Too often‚ operators are so focused on the results that they don’t allow themselves to enjoy the process. This is a prime opportunity to see what an organization is capable of‚ and most importantly‚ to share and celebrate success with the whole team. Their victories are a direct reflection of leadership! [CD0714]