I’ve been involved in the corporate audiovisual production industry for over 20 years, and one of the most consistent issues I hear meeting planners and end clients complaining about is the cost of their technology spend, specifically “hidden” or unexpected AV expenses.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that many meeting planners are not technologists. I’ve spent years focusing on these areas to get to the level of understanding I currently possess, so I know that it’s unreasonable to expect all but the most experienced meeting professionals to really understand this area. The problem is further complicated when the meeting planner has other full-time responsibilities at work that have nothing to do with the program they are responsible for putting together — non-titled planners simply don’t have the time to learn all there is about AV and other meeting technologies, they just know they need to stay on deadline and under budget.
So here are five simple ways that you can proactively manage your AV and meeting technology spend:
1. Take the time to figure out your needs.
When your meeting is 12 or more months out, it’s nearly impossible to know exactly what your program(s) will look like from a technical perspective. However, it is critical to your ability to manage future expenses on this level that you at least do some serious speculating. Using the event’s history, if you have any, is another good way to have at least some of the critical questions answered. The more you know about your needs on a technical level, the more opportunity you have to negotiate favorable concessions and avoid unexpected or unnecessary expenses.
2. Block set-up and strike times and 24-hour holds when booking your main space.
This should be a no-brainer, but it is not always obvious when you get focused in on the “dates/rates/space” conversation with your AV provider. However, as we like to say in the meeting tech business, this is one of the single biggest areas where “Murphy lurks.” That is to say, this is where most people get tripped up with the biggest budget-busting charges. Always try to block a reasonable amount of set-up and strike time when you’re blocking meeting space, especially general session or “main tent” space. Failing to do so will, at best, cost you significant amounts of money in additional labor (which can often fall between 12 and 6 a.m., when most AV companies and unions charge at least double time). At worst, it will literally endanger the success of your program because there are physical limits to how quickly certain AV configurations can be set up or stuck.
Additionally, always put a 24-hour hold on any main tent rooms that will have technology in them. If the property is unwilling to give you 24-hour holds on those rooms, then you may have to consider other dates or rooms, or insist that any costs associated with moving equipment in those rooms be contractually covered by the venue. If none of that is feasible, consider another venue. Seriously, this is a huge trap that all too many planners fall into. Those of you who’ve been in the business long enough know, likely from painful personal experience, exactly what I’m talking about. So avoid a potential train wreck by blocking the space properly from the outset.
3. Pay attention to the little things.
The cost of “little things” — easels, flip charts, house phones at registration desks, business center services, charges for notepads and pencils, water breaks, etc. — can really kill your budget, especially when you consider that some venues charge $50 or more for just for an easel. The good news is the cost of these items is easy to negotiate, especially if you’re willing to pay a fair room rate.
4. Negotiate the big things.
There are two primary “big things” venues are willing to negotiate. One is Internet charges. Some venues charge more than $2,500 a day for dedicated, hardwired Internet connectivity in a ballroom. This can typically be successfully negotiated to a much lower rate, especially if you’re willing to give a little in other areas, like the room rate, where the venue has more financial “skin in the game.”
The other major area where you can save a lot of money is heavy power charges. The reality is that venues cannot legally meter the electricity and charge for actual power consumption without being a licensed utility. So, they charge for access to certain sized power drops, typically on a per amp, per phase, per day basis. In the case of a typical 200 amp, three-phase drop (such as the one that powers my 2,100-sq. ft. home in Scottsdale, Ariz.), it is not uncommon to see charges of $3 per amp, per phase, per day — which, in this example, would cost a whopping $1,800 per day. By contrast, during the month of July, with the air-conditioning running around the clock, it only costs me $250 to power my home for 31 days. Negotiating this charge alone can save you significant sums of money, so don’t be afraid to try and haggle it down to a fair and reasonable amount.
5. Reign in costs before you sign.
You’ve probably heard the adage, “Before you sign, you’re asking; after you sign, you’re begging.” This is true of any negotiation, but really fits in this context. Proactive cost containment starts at the point of maximum leverage … before you sign. It’s difficult for the venue to give you concessions on AV or other technology if you don’t ask for them until after they hand you your BEOs. The onus is on you to understand not only what your potential technology needs are but to do the research to learn what the venue charges for any related services that very likely aren’t specified in your contract or proposals. Ask your sales manager to provide you with any and all house rules, policies and vendor tariffs, and review them or have a professional review them prior to signing.
There are a significant number of items that can be effectively negotiated, including things like penalty charges for bringing in outside AV or IT vendors. Paying attention to these details can save tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on your technology spend if you negotiate them and get them specified in your contracts. If you don’t feel that you have the experience to know all the ins and outs of what those areas are, if you don’t have the logistical bandwidth or simply loath the entire technology conversation, then you should engage a professional on a consulting basis to help you figure out where you can save and negotiate concessions on your behalf. A professional with the right knowledge of how the game is played should be able to save you at least twice their salary if you have a modest technology spend. With larger programs, that amount can be significantly higher. The right professional support can make you a hero. Ignoring this area can cost you a job.