Hidden AV Costs: 4 Places They Hide

By Scott Reagles, May 1, 2013

The reality is that the cost of audiovisual production at your conferences and meetings doesn’t end with the proposal from your AV provider. You might be surprised where some of those extra costs come from and how high they can get. There are ways to plan for and try to avoid some of these unexpected costs, but it is going to require diligence on your part. A lot of factors affect the price of AV for an event, and we’re going to focus on how to find hidden AV costs and stop them before they’re billed in four common areas of AV production.

1. Facility Charges

First, if you are going to use an outside AV company, it’s paramount to ask before you sign a contract with a facility if there are any fees for doing so. Some facilities charge mercilessly for not using the in-house AV provider and the language stating such is often buried in the fine print of a contract. Ask about it upfront. Most hotels drop that language if asked to do so, but you can’t negotiate that after a contract has been signed.

Most AV bids specifically designate any facility charges to be the responsibility of the client. There’s a reason for this. Facility charges vary greatly depending on the facility and the requirements they have. If you are considering or have already contracted with a facility, one of the first things to ask for is an exhibit and production requirements list.  It might include a few items likely absent from your AV bid, such as carpet protection (often called Poly-Tak), mandatory liaisons for part or all of the event, mandatory use of house rigging supplies and/or personnel, and charges for use of facility equipment such as house lighting controls.

To give you an idea of how these items can add up, consider something as simple as carpet protection, which is becoming a requirement at more and more facilities. Recently, a client charged 30 cents per square foot to put down Poly-TaK, which is like a big roll of Saran Wrap for carpeting. It cost $1,800 to cover the 6,000-sq.-ft. space.

Also, a house liaison sometimes is required by a facility. This is usually someone from the in-house AV company staff. They look out for the interests of the facility and make sure outside AV companies play by the rules. The charges for such a person can range from a few hundred dollars to up to $700 a day, excluding overtime.

More and more facilities require AV companies to use in-house or designated rigging companies, which ensures a level of safety and competency. The bad news is that they charge whatever they want, and it’s often exorbitant. You can plan on paying per point (see definition) per day for anything hanging in the air, not including labor to put it in place. Labor usually has minimum requirements, including double time on weekends and after hours. There also may be charges for man lifts, rigging equipment such as chain motors, and other supplies.

Electrical power is never free and is rarely included in your AV bid. Any AV proposal you receive should state how much power is required, for example a 200-amp three-phase service. If your AV bid doesn’t mention power, ask about it. Electrical power can be hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on the event duration and power needs.

Finally, some facilities charge for any kind of technical interfacing with the building. A good example is a house lighting controller. If you want the ability to lower and raise the level of lighting in the room, there might be charges for the controller to do that. If you are diligent, you can often negotiate to have items like this included for free in your contract.

2. Security

The client is responsible for providing a secure environment for an AV company. Make sure that any rooms that have AV can be completely locked down and secured and you know who has access. Depending on the size of the event, it may be necessary to provide security to watch AV areas during off-hours. You may be liable for any AV gear that is stolen or damaged by someone who is not on the AV crew.

3. Labor

Be aware that any labor on a bid is usually an estimate. The labor charges vary depending on the length of schedule, time of day and day of the week.  If your AV bid does not include a specific schedule, plan on paying more for labor than what is listed in any bid.

Also, most AV bids do not include local labor, such as union labor. A bid often tells you what’s required but also states that the client pays for it directly. Local labor, especially union labor, can be costly. There are often minimum requirements for number of employees, number of hours, meal breaks, overtime, etc.

4. Client Obligations

Make sure you check any AV bids for terminology describing what you are responsible for. This can include any of the items discussed above, but might also include items such as meals and lodging, minimum storage requirements, parking fees and so on.

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As with every other aspect of meeting planning, do your homework and diligently ask how much things cost, even items not listed on an AV bid or contract. Expect that any surprises you throw at your AV company come with a price. Good providers can help you get prices for excluded items. Don’t be afraid to ask.

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