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Anthony Bollotta

AV for the Event Planner: An Outsider’s Guide to the In-house Approach

AV—audiovisual—is likely the most misunderstood of all event and meeting elements.

At its best, it is set up when it’s supposed to be set up, and works when it’s supposed to work. And at its worse, it’s a list of seemingly unconnected pieces of equipment expressed in combinations of acronyms and numbers that give no clue as to how they serve a meeting or event, and end up costing more than any planner really wants to budget.

Complicating the platform even further is the abundance of providers supplying the wide variety of equipment that comprises audiovisual, the disparity in technical ability that exists within the ranks of those providers, and the lack of guidelines around oft-confusing audiovisual estimates. Apples to … what?

Sifting through the myriad of confounding questions that accompany each audiovisual purchase cycle (What does that do? Do I really need it? What is the daily cost?), it’s no wonder that planners often choose the most uncomplicated route--that of the in-house audiovisual department. But is that really the best choice where cost and value are concerned?

Before you sign on the dotted line, not only with the in-house audiovisual company, but also (months or even years in advance) with the venue itself, consider these tips to strengthen your AV procurement prowess and give you the option to choose the provider that offers the best value:

1. When a venue in-house capability is identified by the venue salesperson, ask to interview the department as part of your pre-contract signing site visit.

2. Request a detailed description of the services they offer, and pricing to include charges for rigging points and motors, scissor lifts and rigging/non-rigging labor, power supplies and connections, basic equipment rentals (projectors and screens, microphones and sound systems, lighting instruments and lecterns), wireless and wired Internet drop fees, and teleconference services (if applicable).

3. Request documented guidelines from the in-house company and/or hotel that define terms for bringing in outside production support.

4. Know that audiovisual discounts offered at time of venue contracting are generally of little value, unless you know exactly what you need at that time, and don’t include labor costs, which are typically not subject to that 20 percent discount, but are subject to service fees of 18 percent to 23 percent.

5. Know that power and rigging fees are often used by the in-house AV department as bargaining tools. In other words, they’ll eliminate those fees for “going in-house,” but will likely make up for lost revenue by charging higher equipment and labor fees.

6. Know that where in-house audiovisual departments exist, there can be a division of services … meaning that the venue itself and not the in-house AV department may handle Internet and/or power supplies, and therefore those items may not be subject to discount.

7. Vet the venue contract for penalties to use outside (non-rigging) providers or laborers, and negotiate these clauses out. They show up as “oversight fees,” “elevator/loading dock fees,” "fees to lay Visqueen on the ballroom floor prior to load-in,” and other assorted nonsensical costs.

8. Know, despite what the venue will have you believe, that many reputable audiovisual providers successfully and respectfully work within their walls. They just haven’t paid for the right to be in-house.

9. Understand that being in-house is a right that the in-house provider pays for and that that cost is ultimately passed along to you (in one way or another).

10. Know that for more robust production needs (meeting setups, multi-day presentations), the crew on your job--which you believe works for the in-house company--may be the same crew you’d be paying less for (and without those services fees) through another provider. A crew pool is a crew pool is a crew pool.

11. Know that with very little exception, an in-house team can provide no creative support or solutions should that be needed, and that more than your branding needs, they’re interested in selling sets and equipment they’ve likely sold to the client the week before you arrived (which is why it is set up when you arrive).

A graduate of Syracuse University, Anthony  Bollotta has a BFA with an emphasis in musical theater. As a San Diego-area based producer/director, he is the president of Bollotta Entertainment, a 20-year-old entertainment production and booking company specializing in corporate entertainment.


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