Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 11, 2010

Snow Job, Part 1

Today we had a conference call to continue planning an upcoming company event. We’ve been preparing for this meeting for months. It was rescheduled once, throwing everything into disarray, but we’re on track now for the gathering that’s just a couple of weeks away. Our headquarters is just outside Washington, D.C. and many of the people on the call were working from home, since leaving home requires sled dogs or a helicopter after their mammoth snowfall. That is where the meeting will occur.

Our vice president pointed out something the rest of us had not noticed: the original date for the two-day event had been yesterday — Wednesday — the day of the worst snowstorm in the city’s history. The airports were closed, streets were impassable, and all travel except by emergency workers was out of the question. Had that original date held, our meeting would have vaporized, erasing the months of planning, significant expenditure of money, and hundreds of man-hours of work. It would have taken us months to get all the schedules lined up again, if we could accomplish it at all. For once, what had seemed to be a sizeable irritation proved to be a stroke of luck.

Others surely are not so lucky. Washington is a convention town. Large meetings, conventions, symposia, hearings, discussion panels and events of every size and description are booked into every large and small facility in the city year-round. Many weeks during the year, this surfeit of special events in combination with the regular drumbeat of federal government business and the steady press of tourism fills the Capitol’s available hotel rooms to near-capacity. Having spent enough time in the meeting business to know what goes into producing a big convention, I can picture the disaster that has fallen on some organization. They have spent the better part of a year selecting the location for the meeting and staffed-up with specialists to work on every one of the many disciplines that comprise a major meeting, all of which requires the investment of tens or hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars. They have arranged hotel rooms and travel schedules, scheduled the shipping of dozens of semi-loads of equipment, designed and produced signs, graphics, videos, presentations and have been tracking each of these items in detailed project plans. They have designed, ordered and produced staging, lighting, sound equipment and professional teams to operate them. They have sent the invitations to attendees, promoted the event in publications and consumed forests in printing brochures, handouts, menu cards, table tents and name badges. They probably spent fifty man-hours deciding whether they would serve water in recyclable plastic bottles with custom-logo labels or just use carafes stationed in the hallways. All of this stuff may have been sitting in trucks on I-95, trying to make their way through a blizzard to deliver them to the loading dock. They have planned meals down to the last fillip of decorative sugar sauce on the dessert and kept commissaries working overtime to have the food ready, not to mention selecting and ordering the table decorations, the evening entertainment and special little gifts for each attendee to receive at the final banquet, all nicely wrapped with ribbons that match the event’s theme colors.

Then, the blizzard struck. Trucks are stranded. Travelers are unable to fly into closed airports. The staff either can’t reach the city at all or, if they did, they’re marooned in second-rate hotels somewhere out by the airport. The venue itself is closed, because its staff are stranded in their homes.

Two words are on the minds of everyone involved: “Contract?” “Insurance?”

One can assume that somewhere within all those organizers, sponsors, planners, sub-contractors and purveyors is someone who doesn’t have an excellent contract. They will get two snow jobs: one now, falling from the sky, and another one, later, when they attempt to recoup some of their losses and find that they should’ve paid closer attention to the terms of their contracts.

I shudder to think of it, because I’ve been there. I’ll break with my usual pattern and post a Saturday entry tomorrow, telling one real-life tale of such a disaster.

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