Business EthicsMay 6, 2024

Transparency in the Meetings Industry By
May 6, 2024

Business Ethics

Transparency in the Meetings Industry

Navigating the handling of event attendee data requires the right balance between collecting valuable information and respecting privacy. But with rapid advancements in technology and laws that struggle to keep up, finding balances can be tricky, especially as tech becomes cheaper and easier to access.When it comes to ethics in meeting and event planning, meeting professionals need to be transparent about any potential conflicts of interest, ethical concerns, inaccurate claims or exaggerations, while upholding the principle of integrity throughout all aspects of the event.

A planner who fails to disclose a conflict of interest, a vendor who pays a planner a commission for selecting their services, or a client who pressures their event planning team to engage in questionable practices — these seemingly minor issues can quickly snowball into major problems that damage relationships, reputations, and ultimately, the success of the event itself.

In the fast-paced and often high-pressure world of meeting and event planning, it can be tempting to cut corners or make decisions that prioritize short-term gains over long-term integrity. But as Kimberly Gora, founder and CEO at KG Event Agency, explains, the focus of ethics within the meetings and events industry has evolved significantly over the years, driven by changing societal values, increased awareness of sustainability issues and advancements in technology.

“The focus of ethics within the industry has evolved to encompass a broader range of considerations, reflecting the changing values and expectations of attendees, companies and society as a whole,” Gora says. “By embracing principles of inclusivity, sustainability, transparency and social responsibility, meeting planners can create experiences that not only meet the needs of their participants but also contribute to a more equitable and sustainable future.”

For Gora, embracing transparency of business ethics is crucial for meeting planners when planning meetings and events for several reasons. She says it is essential for meeting planners because it builds trust, meets expectations, mitigates risks, ensures compliance, enhances brand reputation, promotes sustainability and facilitates ethical decision-making.

“By prioritizing transparency and ethical behavior, meeting planners can create events that contribute positively to society,” Gora says. “Ultimately, transparency of business ethics isn’t just a choice — it’s a fundamental necessity for planners committed to excellence, integrity and the greater good.”

According to Kris O’Brien, CMP, owner at KOB Event Solutions, ethics has become a more prominent topic in various ways within the meeting planning industry. Where ethics was most noted regarding vendor selection, it’s now seen in all facets of the event planning space, even by involving event attendees.

“A common practice I see is including a ‘code of conduct’ statement within registrations. Companies are now taking a stand and asking attendees — employees or non-employees — to acknowledge the request by their code of conduct,” O’Brien says.

And remember, transparency of ethics in event planning — whether it is with clients or attendees — creates trust. Meeting planners, suppliers and clients must work together in order to have a successful event.

“When your decision-making process includes ethical considerations, it’s helpful for your partners — clients and suppliers — to understand how you came to your solution,” O’Brien says. “They may not agree with you, but at least understands the rationale for your decision.”

Ethical Dilemmas

From vendor selection to environmental impacts to data privacy, there are a myriad of ethical dilemmas that meeting planners may encounter throughout the event planning process.

Gora points to some common types of ethical dilemmas, including conflicts of interest, budget allocation, supplier relationships, data privacy and protection, diversity, environmental impact and social responsibility.

“Navigating these ethical dilemmas requires careful consideration and a commitment to upholding ethical standards and principles throughout the event planning process,” Gora says. “Prepared meeting planners can address ethical challenges effectively and create events that align with their values and ethical obligations.”

Recently, a prominent tech corporation organized a hotel buyout for their annual conference, implementing stringent protocols mandating that participants and affiliated companies seek approval through them before hosting events elsewhere.

“Additionally, strict time constraints were enforced, aimed at ensuring attendees remained immersed in the conference atmosphere until its conclusion each day,” Gora says.

When Gora’s client tasked her with exploring alternative venues directly to negotiate better pricing and secure an event start time one hour earlier than the conference’s end, she was faced with a moral dilemma. Despite the potential benefits, she recognized that bypassing the company’s established policies would be unethical.

“Therefore, I expressed my discomfort with the request and emphasized the importance of adhering to company guidelines,” Gora says. “While I was committed to navigating within the established framework to optimize pricing, I firmly believed that integrity and compliance were paramount for our mutual long-term success, as well as future business with both companies and the hotel.”

As O’Brien points out, meeting planners are entrusted to make vendor recommendations to their clients. “If vendor selection is based on personal relationships or kickbacks versus selecting the ‘right’ vendor for the need, that can come back to haunt them,” O’Brien says.

While working with a client on an incentive trip to Mexico, O’Brien discussed having the four-hour meeting to meet the tax requirements and added it to the agenda.

“When the group was onsite at registration, it was requested that I tell the attendees they do not need to attend the meeting. The meeting was only listed on the agenda to meet the tax requirements,” O’Brien says. “I did not agree to their request and asked that if they wanted to share that information, that would need to come from someone within the company.”

Ethical Approaches

Picture this: you’re a meeting and event planner, and you’ve just landed a dream client. The budget is hefty, the vision is grand, and the possibilities are endless. But as you dive into the planning process, you realize that some ethical gray areas need to be addressed. Do you sweep them under the rug and hope for the best, or do you bring them to light and have an open and honest conversation with your client and vendors?

Daniel Meursing, CEO and founder at Premier Staff, an event staffing agency based in Los Angeles, has had the privilege of working alongside many corporate meeting planners in the trenches of event planning.

“In recent years, we have seen a significant shift in the focus on ethics within our industry. As events have become more high-profile and scrutinized, there has been a growing emphasis on transparency, accountability and social responsibility,” Meursing says. This has led to a greater awareness of the potential ethical dilemmas that can arise in the course of planning and executing events, and a more proactive approach to addressing these issues head-on.

“I think that what is important for meeting planners is for us as individuals to have a clearly defined value system for ourselves,” says Deshawn Wynn, CMP, meeting planner and owner of The Wynning Touch Event Design. “We have to know what is important to us. When our clients take a stand that we don’t agree with, we need to be willing to walk away. I was faced with just that a few years ago.  I had to walk away from a client that I truly loved and was a significant part of my income. But they were making decisions that benefited their budget, and I thought the decisions were dangerous to their attendees. My personal ethics told me that I had to sacrifice that income and business security.”

Meursing further explains that meeting planners hold a unique position of trust and influence. “Our clients, attendees and partners rely on us to make decisions that are fair, honest and in the best interests of all stakeholders,” Meursing says. “By embracing transparency in our business ethics, we can build stronger, more resilient relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.”

Transparency means being open and honest about processes, partnerships and decision-making criteria. Meursing says it also means disclosing potential conflicts of interest and working collaboratively to find solutions that benefit everyone involved.

“Most importantly, it means holding ourselves and our teams accountable to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism,” he says. “Of course, transparency isn’t just about having difficult conversations — it’s also about leading by example. As event planners, we have a responsibility to model ethical behavior in everything we do. That means being honest about our capabilities and limitations, being upfront about our fees and expenses, and being willing to walk away from projects that don’t align with our values.”

At Premier Staff, they once faced a challenging ethical dilemma when a client requested that they staff an event with a theme that we felt was insensitive and inappropriate. The theme played into harmful stereotypes and had the potential to offend and alienate attendees.

“Rather than simply refusing the business, we chose to have an open and honest conversation with the client about our concerns. We shared our perspective on the potential negative impacts of the theme and worked collaboratively to find an alternative that aligned with the client’s goals while also respecting the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the attendees,” Meursing says.

In the end, the client was grateful for Meursing’s candor and willingness to find a solution that worked for everyone. By handling the situation with transparency and professionalism, they were able to strengthen their relationship with the client and create a more inclusive and successful event.

When it comes to handling ethical dilemmas in event planning, Gora’s advice for planners: Stay informed, keep yourself updated with industry standards, legal regulations and relevant guidelines. Take the time to reflect on your personal and organizational values.

“Knowing what you stand for will guide your decision-making process when faced with ethical dilemmas and ensure alignment with your principles,” Gora says. “Don’t hesitate to seek advice from colleagues, mentors or industry experts.”

Indeed, consulting with others can provide valuable insights, alternative perspectives, and support in making difficult decisions. Consider the potential consequences of each decision, both short-term and long-term.

In addition, consistent, honest and clear communication about successes, challenges and mistakes is vital. Always be completely upfront regardless of the situation as well as be transparent about price, fees and commissions.

“Transparent communication builds trust, fosters accountability and encourages constructive dialogue. Reflect on past experiences with ethical dilemmas and learn from them,” Gora says.

Meursing further advises fellow planners that when faced with an ethical dilemma in event planning, always lead with your values. Take the time to reflect on what’s most important to you and your organization, and use those values as a compass to guide your decision-making.

“We make it a priority to have frank and forthright conversations with our clients and vendors from the very beginning. We ask tough questions, we challenge assumptions, and we don’t shy away from uncomfortable truths,” Meursing says. “By creating a culture of transparency from the outset, we lay the foundation for a partnership built on trust, respect and shared values.”

He suggests that planners be transparent with corporate clients, partners and team members about the issues at hand, and involve them in the problem-solving process. Consistently and thorough communicating best practices and showcasing ethical behaviors to your stakeholders will grant you significant favor with them so seek out diverse perspectives and be open to feedback and constructive criticism.

“Document your decision-making process and the rationale behind your choices, so that you can refer back to it if questions arise in the future. And most importantly, trust your instincts and your professional judgment,” Meursing says. “You have the skills and the experience to navigate these challenges with grace and integrity.”

The benefits of transparency in event planning go far beyond just avoiding ethical pitfalls. As Meursing explains, when planners build relationships based on openness and honesty, they create a ripple effect of positive outcomes.

“Clients feel more confident and empowered, knowing that they have a true partner in their corner. Vendors feel more valued and respected, knowing that their contributions are being recognized and appreciated,” Meursing says. “And event attendees feel more engaged and inspired, knowing that they are part of an experience that was created with integrity and purpose.” C&IT

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