Potato farmers engaging with porn stars? Tobacco advocates congregating with the American Cancer Society? Pro-life meets pro-choice?
All of the above are real-life examples of “incompatible” groups meeting in the same facility as if by some mystifying twist of fate, the results of which can range from being a boatload of laughs or a temporary inconvenience to a recipe for violence.
We work in a multifaceted industry, which can be both fascinating and terrifying, and as meeting planners, you better know who could be an uninvited guest at your party.
“It’s one of those topics that’s kind of hidden,” says attorney, speaker and professor Tyra W. Hilliard, principal of Hilliard Associates, who presents on the subject of incompatible groups at meetings industry trade events. “It’s one of those [contract clauses] you don’t know you need to have until you need to have it.
“At the very least, planners have been in a hotel or some property where they’ve had a noisy group, and at worst they’ve had a really inappropriate group,” she continues. “And then you have the corporate planners who have to worry about competitive issues. It hits people at different levels and in different ways, but almost everyone has some story.”
According to Hilliard, corporate groups typically have the most at stake, especially regarding corporate espionage if they have a new product coming out, such as a pharmaceutical company launching a new drug.
One such pharma group combated this at one of their meetings by announcing a fake meeting later in the day during a session, and informing their employees to keep it confidential, so anyone who showed up was obviously an interloper.
In the most basic sense, the ultimate responsibility rests on the shoulders of the meeting planner, as they are typically the most knowledgeable about who may be in their organization’s competitive set.
“A lot of times, with our association acronyms and fanciful corporate names, the hotels don’t have any idea who your competitors are. They’re just trying to put heads in beds,” Hilliard says. “In the contract, say this is who we are, this is what we do, and something like, ‘no one else in the elevator industry.’ You have to be a hammer, because if you don’t, you won’t have any recourse and your clauses are basically useless.”
Hilliard says that planners need to be very specific and decide in advance who or what kinds of groups might be conflicting or incompatible; make a list with the names of such companies, if possible, and if not company names, identify the industries that may conflict with the group; and also to consider both the nature of the groups and what type of event they are having.
Another tactic is to include a “frustration of purpose” clause that can be vague enough to allow for negotiating wiggle room if your group is hindered by the atmosphere at the meeting facility.
If the hotel or meeting facility does not live up to its end of the contract, remedies can include moving the other group; having to pay to move the aggrieved party’s meeting to another hotel; allowing the group to terminate without liability (which is not recommended, because then the planner is stuck); or getting various ‘freebies’ such as free Wi-Fi, receptions and the like. The important part is to include in the contract what you want in order to resolve the situation.
One interesting story Hilliard shared was what she labels in her presentation as “Studs v. Spuds,” highlighting the meetings of the National Potato Council and Adult Entertainment Expo, which both met in Las Vegas at the same time. Picture in your mind exhibits detailing everything the world of adult entertainment offers clashing with a floor brimming with tractors and other farming implements.
Due to its very nature, Las Vegas offers ample opportunity for group collisions, given its immense popularity, sprawling convention facilities that can contain multiple groups at the same time, and its reputation as “Sin City.” What could go wrong?