Welcome back to month two from your friendly AVGirl, Midori. I know we are in the middle of discovering the various positions and responsibilities of our audiovisual (AV) crew; but I would like to address a reader letter I got last month that reflects a repeating source of concern and debate in the meetings industry … the furious matter of in-house vs. independent AV providers.
What does “in-house” mean exactly? In most cases, this is a situation where an AV company is contracted to provide AV services at a hotel, convention center or other venue. In exchange, they pay a percentage of their revenue to the property. At other times, in-house providers may be part of a preferred vendor list. Another, increasingly frequent, situation that has sparked major headache amongst planners is when this in-house provider is actually an employee of the hotel who has minimal experience with AV … whether they are usually a banquet manager or something similar (and yes, this has happened!).
The seemingly innocuous in-house concept has generated countless conversations, several letters for advice and many online discussions. The issue generally arises after a planner signs their contract with the property. In skimming over the the AV section, they miss a clause that states they will have to pay anywhere from five to 40 percent (ouch!) of their total AV billing to the in-house provider should they choose to bring in their own service provider. This is commonly referred to as a corkage fee — and it is a red flag to alert planners they need to strike through this portion of the contract! Even if you’re not sure yet who will provide the AV, it is imperative to leave yourself with options and not subject yourself to such a restrictive situation.
So how do you circumvent in-house v. independent provider challenges?
- First and foremost, if you have an AV provider that you’ve enjoyed working with in the past, contact them before anyone else. This way, you have service you know and trust as well as pricing you can rely on to be fair.
- If not, then take your mama’s advice and shop around! Definitely obtain a bid from the in-house provider, but don’t be afraid to contact two or three independent providers for more bids (the main reason why it’s so important to eliminate the corkage fee from that contract).
- Never assume that in-house is the most affordable or convenient. Believe it not, most of the in-house companies are no longer keeping anything but the most basic of equipment on-site.
Finally, I suggest two key questions to ask any service provider:
- How soon can you respond to additional equipment needs?
- Will I have a dedicated project manager pre-, during and post-event? During the event, what will be their availability? (e.g. How many simultaneous duties/events are the expected to handle? Will they be available 24 hours/day?)
This truly is just the tip of the iceberg. Obviously, you’ll still want to ask all of the usual questions of your service provider, but at least this will help with your decision on whether to go in-house vs. independent.
As this is truly an advice column, I’d love to discuss more of the burning AV questions that you’ve been harboring but were honestly just too afraid to ask. Please e-mail me, midori (at) pulsestaging.com to possibly see your topic in a future column.