Recently, I lost a bid on a large event that I was excited to have the chance to produce. It was one of those events where I absolutely knew we were the right fit for a great, new client. I lost it because a certain hotel, which I will not name, had the client sign a contract that stated they would be charged exorbitant fees if they brought in a third party production company for their audio visual needs. Sadly, they didn't try to fight the clause, but I'm very happy to say that I'm hopeful they'll come our way when they do the event again next year.
I want to take this as an opportunity to inform and remind everyone that your venue of choice should not monopolize your options for the production of your event, whether it's your catering choices or audio visual production.
If there's a clause in your contract that prohibits the use of third party audio visual companies, contest it. At the very least, you'll be able to use your quotes from those third parties to negotiate with your venue. There's a steep learning curve to handle when trying to navigate the politics and the business of working with a new venue. Most hotels and conventions center have in-house audio visual providers or, at the very least, a preferred lender that somehow provides the hotel with a cut of their profits. Thus, many venues are incentivized to build their contracts in way that strong-arms you into using their in-house services before disclosing the costs and quality of their offerings. If you assure yourself the freedom to choose from a third party company, you can judge the third party and the hotel's offerings on a level playing field. Most of the time, the third party will win out where it matters: Cost, Commitment, and Quality.
Cost: Where Is Your Money Going?
Anyone who has ever paid more to rent a projector from a hotel than it would have cost to buy two at Best Buy understands that the price of an event can get jacked up enormously when using in-house A/V. The $400 a hotel charges for the daily use of one projector has the spoils normally split with $200 going to their in-house A/V company and $200 to the hotel. (Maybe with a percentage to going to one or two other parties.)
What does that $400 get you? Probably an out-of-date projector that doesn't even meet the lowest standards of most production companies. Third party A/V providers have to constantly update their equipment or get left in the dust by competitors. Our company, King Audio Visual, rents top-of-the-line projectors out starting at $100 for a daily rental of a 3000 lumens projector. That same $400 will get you a very nice, 6500 lumens HD projector for the day.
Commitment: Where Are Their Priorities?
Hotels and convention centers are enormous establishments with a billion moving parts. To them, a single event brings in money, but it's only one event among many, many clients. Even with an attentive sales team, there are many aspects of your event that can get overlooked for the sake of the different priorities a large venue deals with on any give day. If you use an external audio visual provider or production company, you become the top priority immediately. Now, the equipment available to you isn't limited to the equipment owned by the venue, and you can customize your event however you see fit.
Many of our clients have been with for many years, and we can mold our offerings to any venue they choose. For the Maryland Society of Accountants, we provide numerous webinars every year at multiple venues across the entire state. You may develop that sort of relationship with some venues but you'll still be limited by their offerings.
Quality: When Was The Last Time...
Above, I mentioned being wary of spending too much on out-of-date equipment that often doesn't get updated by venues. Really, you just don't want to pay to use out-of-date, unkempt equipment, ever. Audio visual technologies change rapidly and many venues don't have the staff or know-how to keep up with or afford changes. While most consumers have already switched over to High-Definition-everything and many third party A/V providers are eagerly moving onto 4K quality displays cameras, I still see hotels using 1500 Lumens XGA projectors. Your HD video isn't going to look so hot on that. Do yourself a favor and get more information on the equipment available from your provider or venue. Then, do a quick Google search and see whether or not it's up to snuff with current trends. It won't be hard for you to figure out who is providing you with the best quality equipment after that.
Read The Fine Print
More than anything I've mentioned above, read your contracts and, if something looks fishy, ask about it. If it is fishy, negotiate. Below, you'll find a clause that you should add to all of your contracts, even if you decide to use in-house providers. Trust me, it's a life-saver.
Buyer will not accept or agree to any proposal or contract containing conditions, terms, or clauses which unreasonably restrict our choice of third party suppliers for our event(s) at any meeting facility, whether such conditions are expressly stated in the proposal or contract, or whether they are contained in the general operating policies of the facility, be they published or unpublished.Furthermore, Buyer will not accept or agree to any fees, surcharges, or penalties of any type charged by a meeting facility that are in any way based on or tied to our choice of third party suppliers, whether such fees are expressly stated in the proposal or contract, or whether they are contained in the general operating policies of the facility, be they published or unpublished.This “Buyer’s rights regarding third party suppliers” clause shall be appended to all contracts that are executed by Buyer, and if it is determined that this clause is in conflict with any other clause, portion of any contract, or any general operating policy of the facility, then this “Buyer’s rights regarding third party suppliers” clause shall be deemed to take precedence over the other item(s) with which it is determined to be in conflict, unless specifically agreed otherwise.
Matthew King is the Director of Sales and Marketing at King Audio Visual and runs the new A/V and Events Services blog, Technically A/V. He grew up in the audio visual industry and has over 10 years of professional experience in the hospitality industry as a chef, event planner, audio visual technician, and operations manager.