One of the more glamorous yet difficult facets of this industry is providing transportation for high-profile ceremonies and large sporting events like the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl. Although these events are very exciting, they also present operators with a lot of red tape and headaches. Dealing with transportation coordinators and large venues can make or break your passengers’ experience at one of these large events. There is no time to make mistakes. Being prepared is everything.
Have questions about permit requirements or need to know if a particular venue has a staging area for your vehicle? Finding out all of this information can be a tough and time-consuming task. LCT has compiled a list of data and contacts to use that will help you prepare for some of the largest events in the industry and give you a little insight into what to expect.
Planning & Communication
Planning and communication are the two key elements to delivering successful service for any large job involving the movement of many people on a time schedule. Plans must be laid out in advance, which will include who is assigned to drive what vehicle as well as maps of every address involved.
Communicating all of the plans and staying in communication during the job will have great bearing on the service you deliver and quite possibly on whether or not you will be asked to participate again in the future.
Getting the Job
Unless you already have an established base of celebrity clients, you can expect to be working for one of the many “host” livery companies that have large contracts with the organizations producing these events. For instance, the Academy of Motion Pictures designates a handful of companies as “Official Academy Awards Transportation Providers.” While you may not be a regular affiliate of some of these companies, these host organizations begin lining up limousine companies well in advance from near and far to assist them. You must be on the list and be in communication with the affiliate manager or event manager handling these large jobs. In most cases, you will need to comply with the normal procedures of doing affiliate work, such as providing a certificate of insurance naming the company you are working for as “additionally insured.”
Be prepared to sell yourself and your company to get on the list. You may be required to submit photos of the actual vehicles you are planning on using. You may be required to submit the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of each vehicle. Don’t try to pass off your 1999 limousine as a 2006 model, as the VIN will reveal when your vehicle was actually manufactured. Don’t substitute vehicles as the license plate numbers are used as a secondary method of identification in the event you are not displaying a number placard in the window. Provide information about your experience in working any large events, how long your chauffeurs have been on the job, what affiliate networks you belong to, and what industry associations you belong to. Provide references and letters of recommendation from other operators who have used your services. Remember, only the best of the best are allowed to work these large events and you must fit the image the host companies are trying to project.
Once you have been secured by a host company and are expecting orders for the event, you need to determine how the orders will be filled. This begins with assigning a designated person to receive the orders within your organization. Do not handle these orders as routine reservations handled by the reservationist on duty. An owner or manager should be the single point of contact for the affiliate or event manager to call. This helps the host company gain confidence in you before the big day and provides you with the opportunity to build a relationship for future jobs. Make sure to exchange cell numbers and Nextel Direct Connect codes for your company contact as well as the chauffeurs assigned to the event.
In addition to the designated owner or manager receiving orders, you should have a clearly designated backup person who also reviews every order and is just as involved in the entire process as the primary contact. This provides continuous and consistent management in the event the primary person should become ill or injured on the day of the event.
The next step is the assignment of chauffeurs. This is the most important decision of the entire event. The chauffeur will represent your company at the event. The chauffeur will deliver the actual service on behalf of both your company and the host company. Any errors committed by the chauffeur on the show date could have devastating effects on the client, your company, and the host company.
Because of the importance of this, it must be realized that not all chauffeurs are created equal and only the cream of the crop, best-of-the-best, should be considered for these assignments. This includes chauffeurs that are thoroughly familiar with the geographic area of the pick up location, the venue, and all surrounding areas in between. The chauffeur must be level headed, able to think on his feet, and adapt to changes and last-minute requests without hesitation. He must be able to handle emergency situations as they arise and follow verbal and written instructions to the letter. There is absolutely no room for errors in these jobs.
The General Procedures
All of these large events are handled in a similar manner with slight variations. Each vehicle working an event for a host company is provided with a vehicle number on a placard, which is displayed in the windshield. The passenger is assigned the same number. The passenger may provide the placard or the host company may provide an envelope for the chauffeur to hand to the passenger, which contains the placard. Either way, this vehicle number will become a very important part of the event. When your passenger is ready to depart, he or she will provide an exit coordinator with a claim check, which bears the number assigned to the vehicle. The coordinator will summon the vehicle by that number.
As you arrive at the venue, there may be security checkpoints. These checkpoints allow the event producers and/or law enforcement to verify who is entering the area. The numbered placard identifies the arriving guest and designates which host company is operating this vehicle. The placard may be read several times by several people prior to reaching the passenger unloading area. By the time a vehicle arrives at the actual drop off point, everyone in that immediate area knows who is about to exit the vehicle. In the case of sports events such as the Rose Bowl or Super Bowl, there won’t be a red carpet exit and the chauffeur will tend to the passenger doors as usual. However, on a red carpet exit or entry, the chauffeur will never exit the vehicle. The door will be opened and closed by greeters either from the show or from the host company.
Once the drop off is complete, the chauffeur will proceed to a designated waiting or staged area. The designated waiting area is predetermined and can be a holding area for all limousines working the event or may be a parking lot rented by the host company strictly for its own cars. Depending on the event, the waiting area may have television monitors to keep track of the event. There may be food and beverage provided as well as restroom facilities and other amenities. Most of the time amenities are provided on a complimentary basis.
Chauffeurs will wait in that designated area until called for. The call can come over a public address system, a bullhorn, or to a Nextel/cell phone. It is extremely important that a chauffeur never miss the first call. Once that call is made, the passenger has declared, he is ready to depart. While passengers do expect a brief waiting period, excessive delays should not be caused by inattentive chauffeurs who are too busy socializing or watching the television monitors and miss the first call.
Once called, the chauffeur will proceed to the passenger-loading zone. Once again, the car number will be used to correctly match up the passenger to the vehicle. Once the passenger is in the car, the chauffeur will be directed to return to the pickup location or perhaps attend a post-show party. There may be many parties after a major show and a list of those known parties will be provided to the chauffeur in advance. The chauffeur should carefully examine all known parties and have a route planned to any of them from the venue.
The chauffeur must provide his cell number to his passengers as they exit to attend a private party, as the same procedures used for the official show will no longer be in place and the passengers must contact the chauffeur when they are ready to depart. Parking in the immediate area will be limited and certainly an abundance of super stretches all vying for prime spots will cause parking problems as well as traffic issues.
Tools and Materials
The chauffeurs assigned to work the biggest events need to be prepared with detailed maps of road closures, security checkpoints, passenger loading and unloading areas as well as designated waiting areas. Make sure you determine in advance what credentials are needed to get into an event and in some cases even the surrounding neighborhood. Some organizers require information about the chauffeur including name, Social Security number, and date of birth to be prescreened prior to the event. Make sure you know where to pickup the credentials and when to do so.
Make sure the chauffeurs have extra cell phone batteries and/or a car charger. Have at least two methods of communication in every vehicle, such as the chauffeur’s personal cell phone and a company cell phone. While the chance of one failing is rare, this is no time to be out of communication.
Of course the most important part of the job for the operator is making money. Make sure you have a clear understanding of how you are getting paid. Most companies will pay a flat hourly rate, which includes the gratuity. Don’t expect to handle the billing of the host company with a normal hourly rate, gratuity, fuel surcharge, etc., as that isn’t how these events pay. The host companies are providing as many as 100 limousines for an event and, of course, the producer of the event is looking for a discount based on the volume he or she is buying. This pushes the hourly rate down but most host companies will offer an eight-hour minimum payout even if your car only worked four.
Ask when you can expect to get paid. Again, remember the host company is reconciling as many as 100 or more trips and the processing of each order can take days after the event. They may not get their invoices out to their client for an entire week after the event and it is not uncommon to expect payment on these jobs as long as 60 days after the job is done. If you can’t bankroll at least 90 days, you might want to consider avoiding these large-scale jobs.
On Your Own
In the event you decide to take on a charter to a big event on your own, realize that the arrangements above must still be made, and these details will vary by event. No limousine is allowed to enter a red carpet drop-off zone without a placard in the window. Parking on your own at the Rose Bowl is $300 and up for limousines. Without prescreening by the U.S. State Department, no chauffeur or limousine will get anywhere near the Republican or Democratic Conventions. Passengers arriving by limousine at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles without proper credentials will be forced to drop off passengers blocks away from the venue in a less than favorable neighborhood. Make sure you contact the venue and inquire about these issues to avoid embarrassment to both your company and the client.