Reality vs. Perception - Where do you draw the line?

Reality vs. perception can often times be the fine line that determines the type of event professional you are.  The reality is you are a good person that enjoys lunches, drinks and attending fun events.  The perception can easily become that you look for perks, shake down vendors and only attend social engagements if you are given complimentary VIP admission.

Laws, ethics and morals are all a part of every profession. Every industry would say they have their own particular set of norms and circumstances that they abide by.  Laws, ethics and morals all have their individual places in the world of special events.

Event leaders frequently have to decide to what extent they are going to be lawful, ethical and moral.



Following the law doesn’t seem to be too questionable, right? The law is the law and it would make sense that every law is adhered to.  But special events coordination provides many opportunities NOT to follow the law.  Some common law breaking examples are:

-          Not seeking the proper permit for a specific activity

-          Ignoring capacity levels of a venue

-          Not being as stringent as possible on underage drinking

-          Speeding when late for an event

Laws are black and white.  You have either broken a law or not.  Very rarely do I think there are grey areas of the law.  Does the health department require a permit for you to serve food outside? Yes. Did you obtain it? No.  Then you broke the law.  Bottom line.

Ethics on the other hand work in the grey.  In fact, there are FAR more than 50 shades of grey when it comes to ethics.  Ethical behavior tends to apply more to a group of people.  Many organizations have ethics boards and committees to help employees navigate the grey areas.  Special events isn’t an exception.  While it would be easy to write a ‘DO THIS, NOT THAT’ list of what’s right and wrong you have to realize that in many cases it can be seen very differently.

-          Is it appropriate to meet with a venue manager and allow them to pay for lunch?

-          Is it ok to attend a Chicago White Sox game in the sky box paid for by a sponsor?

-          Is it right to attend a rock concert without paying for the ticket because a band wants you to book them at your event?

-          Is drinking booze while “working” at an event OK?

Many of these situations are the norm in the world of special events.  It’s part of the ‘business’, it’s the ‘perks’ of the job.  Well I’m not so sure that’s the case in 2013.  Does accepting a perk mean that you will have to repay that perk? What if you can’t? Do you owe someone? Do you think it’s appropriate to accept perks from a vendor competing for your business? What if another vendor doesn’t supply that perk? Are you simply choosing the vendor based on the perks offered?

Are you breaking a law? No, but do you want to be known as the event professional that only works with vendors when they give you cool stuff?

Segway to morals.  These are more personal.  Morals are more about your own internal compass.  Morals are the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  It’s your own personal decision how the issue should be handled.

-          Do you report your colleague when you know they are pocketing registration fees?

-          Is it ok that your client is being up-charged for every single expense and they trust you?

-          Are you comfortable with your co-worker talking inappropriately to another colleague?

-          Is it your place to suggest to your boss that he/she should take a cab home instead of drive?

To further compound the issues, it’s important to realize that the special events world can be a boozy, boozy profession.  Beer, wine and top shelf alcohol are all options you are responsible for coordinating.  Consuming alcohol is part of the business and with that comes impaired judgment.  Harmless situations can become incredibly uncomfortable very quickly.

The end of this blog doesn’t sum up the problem and offer a solution.  It’s simply important for you to consider where you draw the line.  Will the results of your behavior end up on the front page of the Chicago Tribune? If so, then perhaps you need to re-think your decision making process.  Step back and consider REALITY vs. PERCEPTION.  The reality is you are just having lunch.  The perception is that you are looking for perks to make a decision.  Whether it’s right or wrong the perception is likely what will stick.  It’s up to you to determine the line.

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Tags: ethics, laws, morals

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