(An edited version of this article was originally published in MeetingMentor Magazine in Spring 2019)
It’s happened to the best of us: Your event is winding down and you’re in the home stretch. Everything was flawless. The boss’ boss is happy as a clam and already talking about how you can take things to the next level. Just a few more folks to depart and you’re home free!
It’s at that moment that the representative from your AV company decides to approach you with what appears to be half-ream of paper and a pen with the venue logo on it. It’s the final bill. And it’s thousands of dollars more than the estimate.
Now, in what should be your moment of triumph, you’re figuring out if there’s anything left in the “popcorn balls” budget you can move around to cover the overage.
The good news is that the vast majority of budget-busting surprises can be avoided, with a little planning, a little negotiation, and a little common sense. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest offenders to keep an eye out for.
Let’s get this one out of the way first. More planners than ever are making sure to address this issue with the venue as part of the negotiation process, but there’s still just enough of you out there that aren’t to include it in the list. WiFi is infrastructure. Unlike water (which you don’t get charged more for depending on how much your attendees use), WiFi doesn’t cost the venue more or less whether or not you use it, so why not list it as a concession?
Many planners are requiring “top tier” wifi access for their attendees as part of their agreement to choose the venue, but if you’re not able to secure it in the contract, make sure you know exactly how much you’re being charged, and how it’s being calculated.
Unlike Wifi, power is definitely something the venue gets charged for the more it uses, so any opportunity it has to shuffle that cost onto its customers, you can bet it’s going to take. This is another one of those items you want to be very sure exactly how much you’re going to be charged. Sometimes it’s a flat rate, others it depends on whether special equipment (extra circuits, power “distros” that AV companies can hook up their gear) is required.
Many cities and states have laws that prohibit the resale of public utilities (aka power and water) so some venues have gotten quite creative on charging for power. Some venues will actually charge you for the use of wall outlets, and even charge you per wall outlet if you use them, so beware. The average attendee looking to plug in their phone for a little extra juice could cost you hundreds of dollars!
Here we go again with an infrastructure item being used as a source of revenue. Rigging points are permanent positions in the ceiling of a venue from which heavy items such as truss, lighting, speakers, and projectors can be hung. Once installed, these positions are permanent and do not require any unusual maintenance.
But here’s the deal- especially in older venues, these points might not actually exist. Mega-corporation in-house AV companies will approach the venue with an offer of installing them… in exchange for the exclusive right to charge for them. Venues, seeing it as a win-win, agree. “Point charges” can run as high as several hundred dollars, per point, per day.
3rd Party and In-House AV Fees
More often than not these things - WiFi, power, and point charges - are used as incentives to use the in-house AV. “As a benefit of using the in-house audiovisual services, we’re proud to offer your attendees complimentary WiFi, and waive the following fees and charges…” Nice! They might even throw in a 20% “discount” for using the in-house provider. Sweet!
That’s the carrot. If that doesn’t work, there’s the stick. Many venues will charge you a fee for bringing in a 3rd party vendor to handle your AV. If you’ve been reading my past articles, what I’m about to say should come as no surprise...
Always, always make sure to get a comparable bid from a 3rd party vendor (or two) to make sure your in-house bid is fair. Use this as a negotiation point, because much like a lot of the Black Friday sales this year, it’s not a 20% discount if they’ve marked up the price significantly beforehand. Plus, sometimes even with the fee, it can still be cheaper to use a 3rd party.
In addition to the fee charged for bringing in a 3rd party vendor, some venues will require a “supervisor” to be on site when doing so. You, of course, are on the hook for paying for them. This supervisor is there to make sure, theoretically, that all rules and practices required by the venue are being followed to the letter, which usually entails making sure the right color tape is used on the floor.
The short answer to this (and frankly all of these charges) is to negotiate them away at the contact stage. If it’s too late for that, however, you should require that they be there, in the room, doing the job you’re theoretically paying them for - not in the AV office working on renderings for other clients. You’d be surprised how often this requirement goes away when the in-house AV realizes they have to have someone sit in your room doing nothing all day.
The Catch-All Clause
What’s the biggest way to avoid unexpected charges? Make sure everything, everything is laid out in advance. Many planners are starting to add clauses to their venue contracts that say, “if it’s not here, you can’t charge me for it.” I’m not a lawyer (and I don’t play one on TV), so I’ll leave it to the reader to research these types of clauses and what they cover. If you’re going to use one, make sure you read and understand everything in the contract. If you don’t, find a trusted AV partner to give it a once-over before you sign on the dotted line!