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Why do (almost) all convention centre staff read the same script? And how it’s wasting money

Convention word cloud concept on grey background.

By Julius Grafton.

‘How may I direct your call’? After emailing countless convention centres across the USA and Canada we are reduced to a phone call since often we get no response. The call usually runs the same way. ‘What kind of event are you running?’ Then: ‘When is the event?’

That’s hard to know when you’re scoping out a city and its venues for a future ENTECH Roadshow. Sure we know we are thinking of a month and a year, but they seem to want an actual date in time, at the enquiry stage. So you make one up. And if they are fully booked with a big Proctologist Convention that week, they just drop the enquiry!

This is about how the very same approach is in place across most venues, not just over USA but also Australia and New Zealand. It’s like everyone has the same script, and I’m going to show here why a new approach could be better.

Once the gate keeper has enough facts I get through to Jillian’s extension. A distracted ‘Hello’ sounds like she is expecting an internal call. ‘Hi Jillian, I’m Julius from ENTECH Roadshow and I need some information about your venue’. That leads directly into an analysis of the info already given and then, usually, ‘I’m going to refer you to another team member who handles those events.’

When you go to a restaurant, does the wait person say ‘OK, I’ll go get the steak person. I only order fish’? While I expect always to deal with a catering person (watch for future article called ‘the chef needs to know how many people eat the tray of sandwiches’) or an AV person (article would be called ‘it’s $400 for the projector and $100 for the screen with 2 techs required) I do not understand why a convention centre sales person cannot, like, sell the space!

We do it in Australia too. ‘Sorry, I’m on the convention team, I need to put you in touch with the exhibition team’. Then: ‘Oh, you have an exhibition in the ballroom? You need the convention team.’

There are some standouts. Craig Thompson from Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland emailed me right back, even though it was a weekend evening where he was. All his communications showed he took the time to understand our event. Jackie Lewis at Indiana State Fair Commission was also right on the money, and our site visit with LaShanta Johnson can best be described as zany and enchanting!

But the mediocre rule the planet, with some total oxygen thieves wasting their employer’s time and driving us crazy. How about THIS for an opening line in an email? ‘WHAT exactly are you trying to achieve?’ Or this: ‘We cannot assist you moving forward’.

I propose that all convention centres train all sales staff to sell events across all their spaces. How hard can that be? The spaces are all lumped together in one catalogue. That assumes the venue has a rock-solid reservation system that shows everyone confirmed (contracted), first pencil, second pencil and third pencil enquiries over each space. Our largest single venue conflict (Randwick Racecourse, see story) seems to be because they had a broken system – or they were exploiting a contract abnormality.

Next; how about having a consistent pencil policy? I get this a lot: ‘OK we have a couple of pencil holds over your date, so I’ll get the people handling those accounts to contact them.’ This usually takes several weeks. Most venues seem to let pencil bookings lie on the system until I come along looking for the same date. I think it’s lazy to not chase those more often.

Finally, if there are several different price structures for the same spaces, then make sure everyone is on the same page. One Australian venue quoted us LESS money for the same space and had a whoops moment explaining there was an ‘exhibition’ rate and a ‘ballroom’ rate for it. Naturally we now always specify we expect the lowest rate.

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