Sometimes the smallest things can trigger the biggest problems at outdoor events…like a stale sandwich, a lengthy queue for the coffee kiosk or, heaven forbid, a shortage of chemical toilets.
And should the latter scenario present itself, the legal ramifications for the event’s organisers could be disastrous.
In fact, according to Andy Fraser, an associate and member of the brands team at top Scots legal firm Harper Macleod, not having enough lavatories to accommodate the masses could potentially destroy a brand’s reputation.
“There are valuable lessons to be learned from all events,” he warned, “One extremely important lesson being that, quite often, it’s relatively small things that can damage the brand. For example, you could put on the biggest, most spectacular, fantastic event in the world, but if you only have one Portaloo, with about 500 people queuing for that Portaloo, it’s going to ruin the experience for the customers and, ultimately, could ruin the brand’s reputation.”
Andy is part of the Harper Macleod team who gave legal advice to organisers of Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, which attracted over half a million visitors to the city.
Prior to the event the legal team worked on around 20,000 separate legal contracts, ranging from small-scale agreements – there is such a thing as a ‘toilets contract’ – to extremely large and complex contracts covering elements such as transport, security, ticketing and broadcasting.
But as Andy points out, it is usually the most obscure affairs – the kind of occurrences you wouldn’t even think to consider – that cause the biggest legal headaches. For example, do your contracts with catering providers include sample menus with options for all kinds of food intolerances, or cater for various religious and cultural requirements? And are you covered for incidences such as food poisoning?
“You have to look at it from the perspective of the attendee,” Andy explained. “Working on the Games we did receive the odd letter – people complaining about stale sandwiches or having to queue for ages to get a coffee. When you’re trying to promote a brand and create value in an event, even if it’s a one-off event, there is still a reputational risk of things not going well, either legally or financially. If people don’t have a good time it clearly dilutes the brand. You have to think about all the small issues that make up the bigger picture.”
Wildlife protection issues must also be considered – to ensure environmental laws are not breached. This recently became an issue for T-in-the-Park organisers when a pair of osprey were discovered on the festival’s new site at Perthshire’s Strathallan Castle. DF Concerts then had to pay for two 28-day long public consultations. They also had to move the main stage and bring in bird experts to make sure they were not disturbed – and introduce a buffer zone, as well as restrictions on lighting and fireworks. T-in-the-Park boss Geoff Ellis claims the cost of the osprey pair has set his company back to the tune of £1m.
Andy’s colleague James McMorrow is a partner at Harper Macleod, where he is part of the business law and contracts team. He also advised on the Games. The two lawyers talk about their experiences – and offer some valuable advice to those working in the open air events industry.
From a brand perspective, Andy said the key to success is all about maintaining good relationships with sponsors and advertisers.
He said: “For the Games we had to ensure that the event zones were brand neutral so we had to take away references to brands which were not sponsors. For example, Irn Bru, being a sponsor of the Games, would not have taken kindly to Coca-Cola branding being everywhere. We needed a clean environment to work in and that involved working alongside both sponsors and trading standards in Glasgow.
“We provided advice on trademarks such as the Games’ logos and wider association rights the Games enjoyed, which included limiting commercial activity to the Games’ sponsors and advertisers.
“Take steps to protect your own brand. If you have sponsors they will be expecting a whole range of sponsorship rights, including naming rights, association rights and prominent display of logos.”
When organizing any event, no matter the size, insurances are essential, as James explains. “Insurances are important and you need a whole range of insurances, from public and employers’ liability insurance to product liability insurance and specific insurance for event cancellation.”
According to James, security, transport and ticketing often create major issues.
He said: “I attended a few events at the Games and this made me think about the whole customer experience, from going online to order tickets, getting them delivered by courier, being able to use event tickets as travel tickets on trains. Then, once there: being directed to events by stewards; being searched by security guards and going through the X-ray machines and metal detectors; getting a programme and getting to our seats to see the event; watching the medals being awarded. To most attendees, this is quite a straightforward experience, but behind the scenes there were hundreds of contracts underpinning that customer journey – and it’s important not to lose sight of that.”
But what if something goes wrong? For example, one weekend during the Games saw a huge demand placed on transport, resulting in additional trains and buses being deployed at very short notice.
James said: “In cases like that you want contractual arrangements based on a fix first, argue later principle. Events are dynamic and there’s no time to get the contract out and start reading out clauses of x, y and z. You need to fix it first, then work out whose fault it is and what the contractual remedies are for that afterwards. You can’t have a transport provider saying, ‘I’m sorry we don’t have enough buses so people are not going to get to the event today. The reputational consequences for any event would be massive and would have spin-off implications for sponsorship and value of brand.”
James added: “Andy and I worked with a lot of people who had worked on multiple international events, such as the Olympics and football world cups, and they all remarked on how things always go wrong. But the trick is to make sure that the key stakeholders’ experience is not affected, and that you have a contractual framework in place for things to be fixed quickly. In short, you need to be adequately protected as an event provider.”