(An edited version of this article was originally published in MeetingMentor Magazine in Fall 2018. Updated February, 2019)
If there’s one universal truth for all events, it’s that there’s no such thing as an unlimited budget. Even world-class sporting events and megalithic awards shows have their limits. Every planner, at one point or another, is faced with the limits of their own budget and is forced to find a way to save a few dollars.
There’s plenty of big-ticket items on events: the venue, catering, transportation. Most of those costs are easily understood and can be adjusted based on the level of quality and service desired. If you want to save money on the evening dinner, you may need to change the menu or choose a lower cut of meat for your guests. If you want to save money on transportation, your folks are flyin’ coach!
When it comes to AV, however, far too many planners still just accept “the price is the price” on a bid full of equipment they don’t understand or collapse under pressure from the venue to “just use the in-house”, stacking on fees and charges as disincentives to bringing in your own AV company. There’s plenty of good reasons to use an in-house AV company, but let’s be honest- price isn’t usually one of them.
Let’s take a deeper look into that and a few other ways to save money on your AV bill!
Back to School: Learn More About AV
This one’s probably the more difficult, so let’s tackle it first. I’ve heard so many planners and other event folks say, “Oh, I’m just not techie, I could never learn that stuff.” But here’s the thing… You’ve probably never heard someone saying, “Oh, I’m not French, so I could never learn French.” AV is just a language, and if you just spend a little time learning the lingo, you’re able to enter into a more informed conversation with your AV providers.
If you’re still in school, make sure you find out if they offer an AV 101 class. More and more schools are providing these as part of their hospitality programs, thank goodness! If you’re out of school, take advantage of industry conferences and associations that provide education sessions. Keep an eye out for AV and other tech-related classes. Full disclosure: I teach an online technical meeting production course for planners, but that’s not why I include this point. Education really is one of the best ways to save money on your AV.
Why? Because most of the time when AV providers “bulk up” their order, it’s not because they want to cheat you, it’s because they want to cover their, umm… bases. The more you sound like you know what you’re talking about, the more likely they are to take you at your word that what you want is what you need. That helps make sure you only get the equipment you need, and nothing more thrown in, “just in case”. Your quotes are going to be more accurate, so you’ll truly be only paying for what you need.
House Party: In-house AV vs. 3rd Party
Most experience planners have at least a couple of horror stories when it comes to using in-house AV companies. I always try to remind folks that crew vary wildly from property to property and city to city just like any AV company, so it’s important to take these stories with a grain of salt. There is something that’s true more often than not, however, and that’s in-house AV companies tend to be more expensive. Why? Well, lots of reasons dealing with economics, real-estate, and market differences, but the easy one to understand is this: they’re convenient.
Much like the $8.00 can of soda in the hotel lobby store, you’re paying for convenience. The equipment is all on site in case you need something last minute, and at the end of the show, it all goes on the master bill. No muss, no fuss.
Unfortunately, many venues will discourage you from shopping around and trying to get a lower price. Many will have penalties in their contracts if you choose to bring in a 3rd party company or will revoke certain concessions like free wifi. But don’t let that stop you! No matter what, I always recommend people getting at least one 3rd party bid. They’re almost always less expensive, sometimes even with the penalties and discounts. I once saw a client save almost $10,000 by bringing in a 3rd party AV company, and that included paying the hotel a penalty!
Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
Some people prefer to use the in-house because it’s so convenient, and that’s OK. But you should still get at least one bid from a third party. Why? Leverage. The biggest thing that getting educated and getting additional bids enables you to do is negotiate. An in-house company will more often than not come down in price if they know you’re seriously shopping around. Be tactful, be polite, but don’t be afraid- you don’t have to go all Godfather on them. You’d be surprised how often, “Look, guys. I want to use you, but this other crew is willing to do it for $10k less. Can you at least meet me halfway?” will work!
And if you’re worried about the quality of your crew, one final tip: don’t be afraid to ask for references. We do it all the time with 3rd party AV companies, so why not do it with the in-house? Ask the venue to be put in touch with the most recent clients to use the in-house AV. It shouldn’t be an issue, and it might even be a red flag if they’re unwilling to do so. That might give you more leverage if you’d rather use a 3rd party, as no respectable venue should force you to use a vendor that was getting bad reviews.
What are your favorite tips for saving money on your AV bill?