Friday, July 07, 2006

Corporate Entertainment

Corporate Entertainment. It’s a funny pair of words, almost an oxymoron. Yet it’s a integral part of modern business. We live in an age that prides itself on the rule of law, and a base set of ethics. Things go wrong, Enron is a prime example, but on the whole businesses are run to a set of rules that allow society to work. Some are clear, even legislated. Some are not.

In the grey area is graft. To accept money in exchange for awarding a contract is wrong, to accept “entertainment” is not. The first is deemed harmful to society, the latter an whimful extravagance that allows dour men a moment of pleasure. “Entertainment” is big business in its own right, which is part of its respectability. It is transparent, understood.

Few companies have rules governing its acceptance. The rules are mostly unspoken, yet frankly, vary wildly from individual to individual. Everyone has their “entertainment” that won’t be turned down. Even me.

I do have my own rules, and as yet have never broken them. Temptation is rife though. I manage large budgets, and am continually bombarded by companies interested in selling me their wares. A large part of my PA’s job is weeding out the continual stream of cold calls from those in the sales profession desperate for my business. I get offered a lot of “entertainment”.

My rules are, I think, straightforward. I will only talk to companies that I am serious about buying from. If we are in the purchase process, and no contract is awarded I at most will accept a drink or lunch. This may sound faux, but social interaction is important in buying and selling. I only buy from companies who’s personal face I trust. I need to know that if something goes wrong, as it often does, I have contacts I can pick up the phone and know they will do their best to sort it out. That means spending time with them, and a drink or a meal helps oil that process.

For companies I have bought from I have occasionally accepted an offer of something more. It has to be proportional. For a company I’ve just spent a few thousand with, tickets to the Ashes and a corporate pavilion are over the top. I will generally only accept if its clear that the company is doing this regardless of whether I accept or not. That is, the offer is in no way individualised or tagged to any purchase or contract. That it’s a general event the company is sponsoring and I am one of many. If I say no, someone else will just get the offer. I also will only accept no more than one or two big events in a year. I do hand off offers to subordinates who’ve been as involved as I in a purchase. Its my way of staying comfortable that I’m not going over the line in gaining benefit from my job.

I’ve had some good times from all this. Wimbledon, Ascot, Twickenham (I’ve done that more than anything else, Rugby I like), various music events, you name it I’ve been one of the corporate suits sipping something suitable from the sidelines.

Yet I’ve got one at the moment that’s made me uncomfortable. It fits my guidelines to a tee. A big purchase last year, and though I negotiated a hard bargain (I’m pretty sure I got it at price or close to), they got a lot in return. I’m a deep user of technology, and in this case they got great case study, plus I hosted various reference visits. They are one of the sponsors of the event, so if I had said no, someone else would have got the invite.

But it’s a big event, one many people in the world would give their eye teeth to be at. It’s a sport I’m at best indifferent to. So I keep wondering if I should have said no. I’ve told almost no one, and in a way I’m almost glad England dropped out, otherwise I likely would have been lynched. You see, I’m going to the final of the World Cup.

Don’t hate me…


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