(An edited version of this article was originally published in MeetingMentor Magazine in Winter 2018. Expanded and updated July, 2019)
I’ve been doing this meeting and event production thing for quite some time now, but somehow it’s still surprising how often you hear the same old questions, over and over again. In the spirit of clearing up some of the most common questions about AV and event technology, I decided to reach out to my AV friends all over the world and asked them to tell me the one thing they wish meeting and event planners knew. The answers were as varied as the people themselves (and some returned full-fledged rants that contained way more than one thing), but a few trends definitely emerged.
So without further ado, here are some of the most difficult questions and comments we hear from planners, and the honest responses on behalf of me and my fellow AV folks!
“This seems like more than I asked for. How do I know I’m only getting the equipment I need?”
This is by far one of the biggest concerns planners express, and it stems from people being worried they’re being “cheated” somehow- that the AV firm is “padding the bid” with unnecessary equipment. Well, guess what? They might be, but not for the nefarious reasons most people think. While there are bad actors in any industry, the vast majority of times a company adds gear to a bid, it’s not because they’re trying to cheat you. Instead, they’re covering their butts. And yours.
Many planners freely admit that things change at the last minute, and frequently that can mean adding equipment. An in-house AV company might have the ability to just go in back and grab some more gear if they happen to have it in stock, in which case it’s going to get added to your bill anyway. If they don’t have it in stock, they and any 3rd party company are going to have to get it from somewhere else. That could be on the other side of town, or in a completely different state, and if it’s a last minute thing you’re going to be paying a premium.
A better play is to just plan for the unexpected. Make sure you have a few extra microphones on hand for that panel that just popped up, or an audio mixer capable of taking a few more inputs for when you remember at five minutes to doors, “Oh! We should have some dinner music. And can you play something energetic during the awards?” Yep, we sure can.
This actually happens on a lot of events, and believe it or not most of the time you don’t get charged for it. The number of times I’ve seen AV and production companies throw extra gear on the truck “just in case”, even though it wasn’t on the bill, can’t be counted, and most of the time the client didn’t ever know it.
“It doesn’t take up any more room on the truck. And you own it, so what’s the difference?”
This one’s a little more rare in my experience, but it came up in a couple different forms with my AV contacts, so it seemed worthy of making the list. I think it stems again from planners being worried they’re being “taken”, but unfortunately it comes off as being cheap or having a fundamental misunderstanding of how renting equipment works. The idea is this: if the vendor owns both a 3-year-old projector and a brand-new one that’s twice as bright, of course you’re going to want the newer, brighter projector. Who wouldn’t? But here’s the deal: the newer projectors probably haven’t made their money back yet, while the older ones have been rented out enough not only to cover their original cost, but to start generating profit. As a result, they can be discounted if necessary. If you want the latest and greatest, however, you’re going to have to pay more for it. Expecting otherwise is to expect AV companies to work for free, or worse, at a loss.
“I’m willing to work as late as it takes, and *I* don’t get paid overtime.”
AKA “Geeze, these overtime rules seem harsh!”
This one doesn’t get said out loud as often as some of the others, but usually manifests itself in the form of eyerolls and under-the-breath grumblings, some of which I’ve been guilty of myself. Labor can be expensive, and it can get really expensive if you go into overtime with your crew. It can get really, really expensive if you violate what’s called “turnaround time” which guarantees a crew a certain amount of time off before they have to come back and work again. Violate turnaround time, and the entire next day turns into overtime. OUCH!
For a lot of planners, once the event is over they’re able to take some downtime to recoup, relax, and recharge before they start thinking about their next event. Many independent and even full-time or corporate planners do not immediately go on-site to the next event, and have time to catch their breath. I know so many planners that will take a full week off after their big annual events. For those in AV, it’s just on to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.
It may be your company’s Super Bowl, but for Johnny the Camera Guy, it’s Tuesday.
The average AV “day rate” usually covers a 10 hour day, already 2 hours more than a typical work day (though this is starting to change, and we’re seeing more and more 8 hour days). Overtime rules exist in many professions because the human body isn’t capable of working 16-18+ hour days every day without breaking down over time, and overtime is a way of discouraging over-working crews day in and day out. It also makes sure they’re compensated when they do work long hours. Turnaround time ensures at least a few hours of sleep and a chance to recharge a bit before showing up again in the morning.
“I can buy it for that!”
Yep, you can. But then it’s all on you.
When you contract an AV or production company, it’s all on them. They purchase the equipment, they have road crates built to protect it on the truck, they make sure it’s clean and functioning before it goes out, they make sure it gets to the event safely via truck or shipping, they set it up, they pack it up after the event, they inspect it again when it gets back to the warehouse and if it’s damaged they repair it, they clean it, and then they store it until it’s time to take it out again.
If you buy it, you’re responsible for all of that. You have to weigh the value of your time against what you’d be paying professionals to handle for you. In the end, it might make sense for you and your organization. The biggest one people forget is the storage. Sure, you could buy all the projectors for your breakout sessions yourself, but where are you going to keep the 30 projectors afterward? The broom closet? That empty cube down the hall?
“Bring us in earlier, please!”
Ok, this one is flipped- something I hear AV folks say all the time. It still falls into the “things we wish you knew” category, though.
AV people can be an enormous resource for you, and not just when it comes to technology! We can help with the creative side, helping you design your event to maximize your AV spend, and guiding you into (or away from) themes and ideas that might impact your budget. Maybe you don’t need that Miss Saigon helecopter closing, and besides, it wouldn’t work in that venue.
And speaking of venue, we can help with contract negotiation! Be sure to run your venue contracts by your AV or production company before you’ve signed them. We’ve seen every trick in the book, and can help you head off problems before they start. More and more venues are imposing stiff penalties for using 3rd party AV companies, or charging through-the-roof fees for WiFi. Even if you haven’t settled on which AV or production company you’re using, most every AV person I know would be happy to be a second pair of eyes on your contract, even if they’re just “in the running” for the job, so don’t be afraid to use us as a resource from the earliest moments in the planning process!
The following items were “cut for time” on the original article. Enjoy a few more things AV people wish planners knew!
“But those guys can do it with fewer techs…”
Different companies have different best practices. They also have access to different people and skill levels, and you can’t possibly know what staffing circumstances might exist. One company may have a group of well-rounded “Jack of all Trades” techs, while another may choose to employ specialists in each field of audio, video, and lighting. If a company A says it will take 4 people and cost $10,000, and company B says it will take 3 people and still cost $10,000, do please do not ask company A to try and do it with 3 techs in an attempt to save money.
“Can I get that by tomorrow?”
I’m sorry you need it tomorrow- if you want it to be accurate, it’s going to take time. Hurried quotes are more likely to be overbid, include unnecessary equipment, or leave out equipment you need. It’s simply human nature. If you want a more accurate quote, you need to slow down. Send your AV company the RFP, and then make sure you hop on a call with them to go through it line by line. Then, once they’ve sent you the bid, go through it line by line to make sure you have everything you need. A little patience early on can save you thousands in last-minute additions.
“Can I buy you lunch?”
Yes. Yes, you can. Buying the crew lunch has so many benefits, it’s hard to believe not everyone does it. On most events, tacking on a few more of the meals you’re serving the attendees wouldn’t even show up as a rounding error on the budget. Even if it does and you’re counting every penny, it’s still a good idea.
First and foremost, it keeps the crew together and makes them feel more a part of the event. If they all go their separate ways at the food court, it’s just not the same as all sitting around the same table. And even though the point of a break is to forget the show for a minute, you’d be surprised how many solutions to problems get figured out over a flat-meat sandwich backstage.
Providing crew meals, coffee stations, beverages and snacks show you care about them, and when a crew feels like you care about them, they’re much more likely to care about you.
"Do we really need rehearsal?”
Yes. Yes, you do. The more smoothly casual it looks, the more likely they rehearsed the ever-living crap out of it. Everyone wants to deliver a Steve Jobs keynote, but what so many don’t realize is that Jobs required a full week of rehearsals in advance of Apple events. Every move was meticulously choreographed. It’s no coincidence that after Jobs was gone, most people agree that Apple keynotes lost their luster. That just the man…
Here’s a “Whiteboard Wednesday” I did on this topic for Endless Events…