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EVENT VENUES: WHEN IT'S A CASE OF LIPSTICK ON A PIG

"I truly appreciated the honesty of the venue salesperson taking me through the site visit. She didn’t try to oversell the venue or distract me."

hotel reno

There's nothing worse than a venue site visit where the sales person blatantly glosses over all of the shortcomings of the venue. 

I recently did an ‘SOS’ site visit to a convention centre in a Canadian city (undisclosed for the purpose of this blog). My client had booked meeting space for its large annual conference in a bright and shiny new convention centre that was scheduled to be completed one year in advance of their event. Due to a potential delayed opening of the new building (go figure – construction is not on time – like that never happens), I had to come up with a Plan B. So, a move to an existing venue in the same city was potentially going to be the contingency plan and a site visit was in order.

So, I hopped on a plane between Christmas and New Year’s and spent two hours on the ground having lunch with the convention centre sales director and then touring the existing (older) building. The first thing the sales person said to me as we entered the building following a lovely lunch was this:

“We’re trying to put lipstick on a pig here, so please bear with me."

lipstick on a pig

According to Wikipedia, this phrase is defined as ‘a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product’.

I laughed and then immediately tossed aside my usual event venue site visit checklist and settled in for a more relaxed walk-through.

Sure enough, there were several cosmetic upgrades in the works at the older building in anticipation of the new one not opening on time. Obviously my event wasn’t the only one affected by this unfortunate turn of events! I couldn't help but notice the distinct smell of fresh paint (apparently baby poop yellow walls had been refreshed with a creamy linen colour) and payphone booths had been recently removed from the corridors (remember payphones!?).

The carpet on two floors of the building had been replaced less than 12 months ago too. The new sedate navy-coloured rug was a huge improvement on the psychedelic marigold patterned carpet found on level 1 in a ballroom that obviously hadn’t been privy to the carpet upgrade.

As I toured the space, we had a few laughs and I politely ignored the obviously annoying functional elements of the space that would no doubt cause me major headaches if my client ended up being stuck using the existing building for its event - pillars everywhere, low ceilings, depressing lighting and airwall after airwall.

The point of this blog is simple.

Normally, a successful site visit plays out a lot differently. A site visit checklist is a MUST (more on how to find the best venue for your event in my blog: How to Find a Host Venue that Impresses). However, in this situation, I truly appreciated the honesty of the venue salesperson taking me through the site visit. She didn’t try to oversell the venue or distract me from the obviously dated appearance of the meeting space. This was the same person that had toured me (and my client) through the new building (still under construction) a few months earlier - a space that features a bright open-concept layout with all the latest technology built-in, plus stylish and modern décor. The new building is clearly a no-brainer to sell and easy to get excited about. The existing space – not so much.

The Lesson

I concluded the site visit never having even glanced at my site visit checklist. And, I thanked the sales person for one of the most honest venue site inspection experiences that I have ever had! Then, on the way back to the airport, I quickly typed an email to my client indicating that if we had to execute Plan B in the old building we could, but it wouldn’t be pretty.

Subject title of the email: Lipstick on a Pig.