Good ole AV and production – the unsung heroes of events. When things go according to plan, your bosses/clients and the audience will never realize the impact things like lighting, sound, event flow, and the hundred other little production details have. When one or more of these things are off, however, the overall impression of your event can go from ‘Wow!’ to ‘meh.’
Venues like hotels and conference centers generally offer an in-house option for AV and event production. We’ve had several clients who’ve gone this route, only to come to us either in a state of panic during the event or for the next event swearing they’ll never use the in-house option again. We’re not suggesting there aren’t some good in-house options out there. But there are substantial reasons bring in your own independent AV/event production company – and at the very least, vet the in-house team and compare them to available independent options.
An important note: You are NOT required to use the in-house AV & production services. Securing your venue often comes early in the event planning process, and you may not yet even be thinking about who will provide AV and event production. But be aware – your venue is! Unfortunately, some of our clients learned this lesson the hard way, only after venue contracts were signed. It’s a rude awakening to find that you have to pay a ‘corkage’ fee of up to 40% (!!!) to the in-house provider just because you want to use the best team for the job. Before you sign your venue contract: here are 10 things to negotiate with a venue, including the ability to work with your preferred vendors.
Working with the venue’s in-house team ended up costing me, both financially and in stress. I had to manage everything too closely and mistakes were still made. I need a partner who works with me repeatedly, gets to know my style, and can really be creative across venues – someone I know will deliver every time.
–Samara Halterman, Director of Marketing, Groupware Technology
And now, without further ado, the Top 5 Reasons to Go Independent (you can also download this one page PDF comparison of independent vs. in-house):
#1 – Dedication: Your independent AV/production company (at least at AVT) has at least one AV expert and one project manager dedicated to your event full-time. In-house AV staff will probably be working on several events at the venue simultaneously. In the event of an equipment malfunction elsewhere, they may be called away from your meeting. And what about your project manager? Will you even have one or is your event put together by someone in the sales department that might not truly understand your event needs and outcomes? Will they be distracted with a bigger show or 10 smaller ones? How ‘bout those middle of the night phone calls when you realize you need to change something before the show starts at 7am? No matter which way you go, be sure you won’t be left hanging and that you’ll get the attention you need throughout the show.
#2 – Cost – in dollars or value: You will generally get more bang for your buck with an independent event production company. Cost alone shouldn’t be your deciding factor, but the reality is event ROI is more important than ever these days.
For the most part, the ‘in-house’ option offered by a venue is actually a preferred vendor. When this is the case, that vendor is usually paying a hefty commission (up to 30-50%) to the venue. This can lead to one of two things:
1 – Exorbitantly high prices – mark-ups get passed along to you, the end customer and will often include a “Service Charge” or something similar which is built into the sales models of the hotel industry.
2 – Less skilled labor and lower quality equipment – margins need to be maintained; if the cost to you is reasonable compared to independent vendors, it’s likely being made up for in other areas. Typically, technicians that are hired are paid a substantially lower rate, and we all know how much ownership someone will take for something when they aren’t feeling as valued as they could be.
And when in-house is indeed owned and managed by the hotel, number 2 above is a real concern. Hotel AV departments are considered good training ground for AV technicians and are filled with staff without big event production experience. Regardless, do your due diligence like you would any vendor, with references and examples of work. Compare costs, features, and services with outside vendors too. Independent companies may be able to provide custom services that in-house teams can’t.
#3 – Highly skilled and experienced staff: When you select your own independent AV/event production company, you can select a firm that works with event planners day in and day out to produce professional, memorable events. Many companies, like AVT Productions, regularly train staff on the latest equipment and installation techniques to run events like a well-oiled machine. In-house AV/production may or may not have extensive experience working in event production. This can lead to mistakes that cost you financially and in lousy attendee experience.
#4 – Creative, customized design: For creativity, independent teams can’t be beat. They work in multiple venues with different types of equipment on a regular basis which stretches the imagination. In-house crews work at the same place, with the same equipment, over and over again. It can be tough to get hotel teams to stretch outside their standard designs whereas independent firms like AVT work to bring your vision to life.
#5 – Trust built over time: Even if you’re working with the same chain of hotels or conference centers, your AV and production team will vary from location to location. When you work with an independent event production company, your core team can travel with you from event to event, venue to venue, and get to know your style, preferences, and needs. Working with a team that knows what you need before you even have to ask is a fantastic comfort, not to mention time savings. And think about the energy saved when you just know your event will come off without a hitch – no more worrying and micro-managing your production company because you’ve seen them deliver, time and again.