Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Way to Come to the Aid of the Party; Professional Secretary Incorporating Office Appointments: Check the Small Print, Agree Terms and Take Precautions

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Way to Come to the Aid of the Party; Professional Secretary Incorporating Office Appointments: Check the Small Print, Agree Terms and Take Precautions

Article excerpt

Byline: PENNY COTTEE

READ the small print.

We do it when we take on a new stationery supplier, or when we buy office furniture.

But apparently we don't do it when we're organising corporate events and conferences.

Strange, really, when you consider that the firm may be paying [pounds sterling]20,000 for the Christmas party.

But if you are not used to dealing with the legal and contractual aspects of organising events, how do you protect yourself against costly problems?

According to Jackie Poole, a solicitor with Olswang who specialises in corporate work with exhibition companies, there are steps you can take.

"Know who you're dealing with," says Poole, who gave a seminar on this subject at the partyorganisers' exhibition, RSVP.

"Check companies exist and are not in financial difficulty, at Companies House, and get references from previous clients." And, ultimately, use your own judgment.

"Always taste the caterer's food, watch the cabaret, listen to the band, check out the venue."

Avoid costly misunderstandings by agreeing details with suppliers in advance. "Pin down what the band will wear, how rude or not the cabaret's jokes can be, what time the caterers arrive, whether cloakrooms are included ...

absolutely everything," advises Poole.

"Negotiate the fee in advance, and agree when it will be paid.

Leave nothing open to misinterpretation and you limit the opportunity for disputes."

Experts stress the need for a written contract between client and supplier (or at least an agreement on headed paper signed by both parties), but dangers also lurk here for the unwary. Poole gives advice on three specific areas to look out for: Liquidated damages. If your caterer doesn't show up, what is the loss to your event? How much will it cost to get another on the spot? These costs are "liquidated damages", and it is worth agreeing in advance with your supplier what you expect to get if they don't perform adequately or deliver.

Exemption clauses. Check terms and conditions carefully for exemption clauses. Your supplier may try to use them to limit or totally exclude their liability, even if a problem is due to their negligence. …

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