Dodging the GSA and VA Trade Show Bullet
In spite of publicized events about wasteful and excessive spending for conferences, particularly from government agencies, it’s happened again! This time, the Veteran’s Administration is under fire for two human resource conferences held last summer in Orlando, Fla., to the tune of between $3 and $9 million.
Oddly reminiscent of the 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas ($823,000), this time the offenders are being dealt with quickly (well, a year later, but in government time, I guess that’s kind of fast), and the VA has stripped those employees of their contracting authority. And they’ll probably be sitting through hours of ethics training – the panacea to all offenses.
As an event planner and trade show manager, I hate reading these articles because I know how damaging situations like this are to our industry. For example, after the GSA conference scandal, government conferences and trade shows were painted with the broad brush of impropriety, when in actuality, these events are a conduit of professional development and training and are legit.
Not all conferences are a boondoggle or a haven for misconduct, but a flurry of official conference guidance from all sectors of government entities (including the DoD) suggests otherwise.
We event planners MUST be familiar with the rules and regulations our customers are facing when managing their conference or event planning services. But then some might ask why should it be on the event planners to police their clients?
Technically, you are not under an obligation to, but my take on it is the client looks to us for all aspects of planning and managing their conference or event. We have a professional, ethical, and, in many ways, self-preservation obligations to do all we can to keep them out of trouble and ensure a successful event.
Every time one of these negative stories pops in the headlines, it brings down all event planners and our industry directly. I’ve commiserated with many of my event planning and trade show management colleagues who have felt the financial fallout from these events personally. And while it may be pretty awesome to plan and execute these spectacular events, taking your eye of the regulations and perception ball can result in tarnishing the professional and ethical reputation of us all.
Here are a few tips when dealing with government clients:
- Know and respect their budget
- Have an appreciation of the current perception and political climate that faces your client and plan accordingly
- Know that they are not allowed to receive gifts, meals and other perks over the $20 amount (including alcohol, gift baskets, concert tickets, spa treatments, etc.)
- Be aware of how favors and freebies you offer may be perceived
- It’s OK to offer sage counsel and advice. We’re the professionals here and it’s part of our job to steer clients away from the rocks if that’s where they’re headed.
I would love to hear if your business has suffered under the crackdown of government spending on events. How has this affected what you do for your client? Have you ever had to pull the reigns in on a client who was overspending government money? How did you handle it?
Rachel is Vox Optima’s premiere event planner and trade show master. Along with all her experience managing successful shows and trade exhibits, Rachel most likely has several post-graduate degrees in schmoozing and persuasion (nah, just kidding). You can learn more about Rachel at her staff profile page or connect up with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or via email.
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