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Industry Ethics

An anonymous supplier questions our industry's ethics in drawing the line between serving the client and giving it all away


Last year I responded to a competitive bid (several companies apparently were invited to participate) to source a gift of up to $100 for a large corporate event by a very prominent and well-respected company in the meetings industry. While my client provided information about what had been given in the past, it was a “let’s see what you come up with” approach.

Countless hours over several months were spent researching, pricing, sourcing shipping costs for products of interest, creating proposals, ordering samples that they had requested, going to their office for meetings, etc. After a presentation, my client provided slightly clarified direction, which required another round of researching and sourcing and so on. When the client still didn’t see an item that appealed to them, they sourced the gift themselves. Despite all the time and energy that my competitors and I spent on this project, no one got the business.

Recognizing that this was an important bid process, the fairer approach—in my opinion—would have seen the company selecting the supplier who had done the best and most thorough job. The supplier would then purchase the item that the client had selected. By doing it this way, there is recognition and respect for the front-end effort, and the best supplier is rewarded with the business. This is how bids for creative ideas have been handled in the corporate sector.

As suppliers we work for “free” in anticipation of getting business. We all know this. You win some; you lose some. However, when multiple suppliers present their best ideas, is it ethical to take the inspiration from the suppliers and source it yourself? How, as the empty-handed supplier, do you deal with clients who do an end-run and don’t respect the process by not paying for it? In today’s market, has getting around tight budgets lowered our personal and professional standards?

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