Event Planning: All I need to know I learned from a birthday invitation?

Event Planning: All I need to know I learned from a birthday invitation?

Event planners, I present to you… the “Birthday Invitation” The 5 W’s: Why, Who, When, Where and What…?

It does not get much simpler than that. That’s it… REALLY!?

Well, I might be leaving out a few minor details. Just a few!

I oversimplify the process to make a point… OBVIOUSLY!

Events range in size from small family gatherings (such as birthday parties—I’m sure you have been to a disaster or two), to multi-day music festivals (such as the Fyre Festival—if you are not familiar, please look it up), each requiring qualified and competent event planners to address a multitude of issues—easier said than done sometimes. By-the-way… Just because you have been to a birthday party or attended a music festival—does not mean you can plan one.

Many event planners spend countless hours developing and managing their events; the bulk of which are extremely successful—apparently following a rigorous process—or they are just lucky!

I’ve spent over a decade examining and participating in 100’s of legal matters surrounding the event industry. I have concluded that the rigor to achieve event success is not practiced by all—or even understood.

Let’s start with the basics—the birthday invitation. When developing an event, an event planner must determine five (5) necessary elements, specifying:

  1. Why (the purpose and role of the event);five W questions for event planning (what, who, where, when, why).
  2. Who (the audience and stakeholders);
  3. When (date and duration);
  4. Where (location and available space); and,
  5. What (the resources available and desired outcomes).

By now you have determined that the “birthday invitation” is just the starting point to having a successful event.

For those that are not formally trained or might have missed a class or two… the process is much deeper. In fact, the event industry has a formalized model that uses at its core the 5W’s to create, develop, and deliver a successful event. This internationally recognized framework, known as the Event Management Body of Knowledge (EMBOK) Model, not only requires planners to answer the 5W’s, but to manage the design, administration, marketing, operations, and risk.

To effectively deliver an event based on the EMBOK Model, an event planner must follow a systematic process—every time.

In addition to the 5W’s and management responsibilities, event planners must measure (identify and analyze event objectives), select (determine goal-oriented outcomes), monitor (event progress and status), communicate (acquire and distribute content), and document (collect data and evidence) to achieve event success.

The real kicker… now apply ALL of these principles to every decision you make (selection of staff, vendors [food to amusements], locations [purpose-built vs. non-purpose-built], audience type, transportation, insurance, contracts, security, and more.

Remember, for an event to be successful, the planner must manage all obligations appropriately; after all, you only have one opportunity to succeed.

The birthday invitation is a great starting point, but consider when you are identifying, selecting, organizing, developing, and promoting an event with the purpose of providing people an experience, you have a responsibility to adhere to more than the fundamentals… you have a duty to deliver a reasonably safe and enjoyable experience following the established standards set by qualified and competent planners and industry experts.

Some friendly advice… This is not a suggestion, this is the rule! So find the time to incorporate it into your process and avoid any potential pitfalls—before it’s too late!

Vetting vendors: An 8-step guide for event planners and venue operators

vetting your event vendors:

Vetting product and service suppliers is not a new concept. In fact, according to ADWEEK, over 80% of shoppers conduct research prior to a purchase—for personal consumption and use.

Unfortunately, in the corporate world, it is a 180-degree shift—maybe it has something to do with spending other people’s money?

Global Risk Management Solutions, a leading compliance management firm, estimates that less than 20 percent of companies do any type of screening of their vendors, suppliers, and subcontractors. This gap in due diligence is a significant area of risk for any industry or organization—especially the events industry.

By failing to examine vendor’s capabilities, insurance policies, SOPs, permits and more, event planners and venue operators are exposing themselves to numerous liabilities.

Vendor/third-party vetting and oversight requirements are on the rise due to broken promises and disastrous results—oftentimes leaving the event planner or venue operator “holding the bag” —a haute couture bag. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Selecting product and service suppliers can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be—it can be done with ease with a little pre-planning.

How well do you know your vendors with whom you conduct business? The truth is, probably not very well! Most organizations are not fully aware of a vendor’s abilities and/or shortcomings until it’s too late. Let’s change that.

It is understood that most events, and therefore planners, are pressed for time and money when identifying and selecting vendors. There is no benefit in the long run to fast-tracking this process. A well-established and methodical process will save you time and money in the end—as well as protect the reputation of the business.

Brian Avery, of Event Safety Services, has developed key concepts your company should address when evaluating vendors. Consider developing a checklist based on these ideas for your organization. Let’s get to know your supplier…

  1. Reach out to more than one vendor… and compare answers—it might surprise you. If you notice discrepancies… do more research. Also, determine if the vendor subs out work to other vendors. If so, make sure you use this process to vet them as well.
  2. Have your vendors provide a list of references (at least 3)? Word of mouth can be a very powerful tool… but it is only a place to start. There are many examples of suppliers that could paint a wall but could not pull a permit for work (think unlicensed contractors). Dig deeper… Check online references as well: Better Business Bureau (BBB), Google, Facebook, etc.
  3. Are they financially stable? Request to see financial statements—make sure the company can fund the job you have requested. The more expensive the job is, the deeper you dig to ensure they can complete it.
  4. Insurance… hedging your bet! Being provided a COI, named on the policy and setting limits is just the beginning. Insurance can get complicated… consult an insurance agent/broker or attorney that knows the event industry—be honest about what you are doing. Sneaky underwriters and spotty coverage is leaving many event planners and venue operators exposed. Claims based policies and policy exemptions often provide service providers with lower rates—but at what cost to you—the planner/operator. Read each vendors policy and ask questions… based on solid research/knowledge.
  5. You might need a license/permit for that. You might be surprised by what is regulated. A great place to start… state department of business and professional regulation. Each state maintains a list of regulated industries (everything from amusement rides to talent agencies). Ask each vendor if they are regulated by state or federal (separate database) requirements. By speaking to multiple vendors, you might get multiple answers—red flag.
  6. Is it written down? Verbal policies and procedures don’t hold much water. Uniformity, based on exacting regulations, standards, etc. make for good policies and procedures… if they are written down and followed. Everything from weather-related matters to food service handling should be addressed with plans. The goal is to compare policies and procedures and ensure compliance is obtained by all parties involved. If a vendor does not have written policies and procedures based on manufacturer materials, regulations, standards, and practices… you should consider finding someone else. Handing out waivers and stating it’s not my problem “won’t hold water.”
  7. Does training come with that? Determine if the staff provided by the vendor is trained per the policies and procedures provided. Ask to see training logs and manuals… you might even ask to speak to a staff member—you can learn a great deal from them. If staff are not properly trained… move on!
  8. In case of emergency! Preparedness is key to timely and efficient response. Make sure your vendors have a set plan addressing guest injuries and even natural disasters (size and scope of the event is relevant). Make sure plans are shared on both sides to provide consistent and timely care. Once again—they must be written down.

A comparative analysis of your findings should be conducted to determine the most suitable vendor for the job. There are instances when it benefits you to simply walk away. When in doubt—get out! By the way, this is a two-way street.

As event planners and venue operators, we have an obligation to ensure the safety of our patrons—by vetting your vendors, you are taking a huge step in the right direction in doing so.

Let’s set the example… the event industry should take the lead on this and show other industries how it can be done.

Quiz: Are you an expert or a novice event planner?

Test your event planning skills

Are you an expert or novice event planner? Test your knowledge regarding important event industry concepts that separate experts from novices.

Hospitality, Tourism & Event Safety Regulations & Standards: The Basics

event regulations, standards and rules

Events, Tourism & Attractions Safety Regulations & Standards: The Basics

This list is made available for educational purposes only as well as to provide you with general information and understanding concerning the regulations, standards and best practices that apply to the hospitality, tourism and events industries within the United States. This list does not constitute a complete list. The agencies and organizations provided are a snapshot of the regulators or standards writing committees that impact the hospitality, tourism and events industries. Each location, property, facility and event will be impacted uniquely by the agencies and organizations provided and not provided. It is important to analyze your circumstances to determine the regulations, standards and best practices that apply to your situation.

Each locale that you host an event or conduct business will be subject to federal, state, county and local regulations, standards, codes and ordinances. It is important to contact the representatives associated with the location that the event or business will be conducted in order to determine the process and application of various regulations and standards. Jurisdictional requirements can sometimes be complicated and require flexibility and patience. It is important to start the process early. A great place to start at the local level is with the fire marshal’s offices. Additionally, most city websites provide special events information and materials and building code requirements.

As stated… the list provided includes general insight into regulations, standards, etc. that impact the hospitality, tourism and events industries. As a planner or venue operator you must explore and be fully aware of the numerous sections and subsections within the various regulations and standards provided. It puts you, your organization and patrons in jeopardy when you don’t have a clear understanding of the regulations and standards impacting your hospitality, tourism or event location.


  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides fire, electrical and life safety information. The hospitality, tourism and events industries must comply with numerous aspects of NFPA both from permanent and temporary structures. NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, NFPA 102: Grandstands, Folding, and Telescopic Seating, Tents and Membrane Structures, and NFPA 601: Security Services are a few of the numerous standards available and applicable to the hospitality, tourism and events industries provided by NFPA.
  • Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has jurisdiction over workplaces in the U.S. Some find OSHA irrelevant within the events industry because of the temporary nature of the industry. The reality is that there are many regulations that apply to the events industry. OSHA’s Theater Rigging Provisions Section 1926 of the “Safety and Healthy Regulation for Construction,” subpart R is a good example.
  • Others believe that an exemption allowing smaller companies to avoid compliance somehow absolves them from meeting OSHA’s expectations on the job. Just because you are exempt from being regulated does not mean you do not have to follow OSHA. Safe workplace practices and adhering to regulations assists in reducing incidents.

Regulations & Standards 

  • ADA Americans with Disabilities Act-Regulations, standards and best practices concerning the accommodation of employees and visitors.
  • ANSI American National Standards Institute-oversees the creation, promulgation and use of norms and guidelines. Many products utilized within the industry are required to be ANSI approved.
  • ASHRAE American Society of Heating, Ref. & A/C Eng.-standards writing and guidelines for acceptable use.
  • ASTM International-Amusement ride and device, playground, and recreational equipment standards.
  • ATF Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms-Regulation and enforcement concerning use.
  • CDC Centers for Disease Control-Monitoring, alerts and reporting.
  • CPSC U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission-Regulations, standards, and advisories/alerts concerning consumer products…recreation equipment, etc.
  • DOJ Department of Justice-Antitrust, civil liberties, etc.
  • DOL Department of Labor-Employee labor practices.
  • DOT US Department of Transportation-Traffic management, pedestrian safety and signaling/signage requirements, standards and industry best practices.
  • EPA Environmental Protection Agency-Regulations, standards and industry best practices for spills, etc.
  • FAA Federal Aviation Administration-Airspace management.
  • FDA Food and Drug Administration-Regulations, standards and industry best practices.
  • FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency-Disaster preparedness and response.
  • IMO International Maritime Organization-Regulations, standards and industry best practices in international waters.
  • IRS Internal Revenue Service-Taxes, reporting and liabilities.
  • ISFP International Society for Fall Protection-Requirements, standards and industry best practices…elevated platforms, rafters, catwalks, etc.
  • NEC National Electric Code-Electrical safety for the electrical trade…fairs, festivals, conventions, etc.
  • NFPA National Fire Protection Association-Provides fire, electrical and life safety information.
  • NHCA National Hearing Conservation Association-Guidelines for acceptable noise levels and exposure…concerts, festivals, heavy equipment, etc.
  • NIOSH National Institute for Occupational Safety-Workplace injury/illness prevention.
  • NLSI National Lightning Safety Institute-Lightning guidelines… outdoor events, buildings, etc.
  • NSPF National Swimming Pool Foundation-Regulations, standards and best practices.
  • OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Administration-Employee safety.
  • UL Underwriters Laboratories Inc.-Product safety verification… electrical, heating, etc.
  • U.S. Coast Guard – Costal waterways-Vessel checks, accident reporting and use.
  • USDA United States Department of Agriculture-Food safety guidelines and alerts.
  • USFWS US Fish and Wildlife Service-Education and permitting for select activities and events.

ASTM F 24 on Safety for Amusement Rides and Devices

Amusement park ride safety

ASTM International, originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), has been working with the amusement industry since 1978 in the development of amusement ride and device safety standards. ASTM is one of the largest independent standards-writing bodies in the world. Producers, consumers, government and academia have all had a hand in developing and providing input on various standards on design and manufacture, testing, operation, maintenance, inspection and quality assurance of amusement rides and devices since 1978.

ASTM F 24 on amusement rides and devices is the only standards-writing body with exacting safety standards on amusement rides and devices. The adherence to these standards is voluntary, unless the adoption of these standards has occurred at the state level or an organization has self imposed these standards. As of February 2010, Forty-four states have adopted ASTM F 24 amusement ride and device standards either completely or in part. Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah are the six states that do not have state ride safety laws.

ASTM F 24 standards have become considered common practice within the industry. Essentially, this means that the patron is provided with a level of protection; however, the protection is commonly experienced after an incident on an amusement ride or device. Regardless if a state or entity has adopted the standards whole or in part, the organization could be held to design and manufacture, testing, operation, maintenance, inspection and quality assurance practices within the standards. The benefit comes in the form of potential compensation as a result of the loss due to the actions or omissions of the fixed site location or mobile organization. ASTM F 24 standards are still evolving in an effort to address the complexity and ever-changing landscape of the amusement ride and device industry.