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How to have a Happy Audiovisual Experience

By on May 10, 2012




A couple of weeks ago I was on a site inspection at a small conference centre in western Canada.  I had arranged to meet the convention services manager to review their meeting space for an upcoming conference and was surprised to find that the CSM had also invited their in-house audiovisual company to join the meeting, without asking me first.

I have never experienced this before and whilst it may be considered by some venues to be acceptable practice, I felt that I was put in a difficult situation as I always put audiovisual services out to RFP and by including the technician in our meeting I felt that the process could be compromised.  I could have asked him to leave, however instead I addressed the issue by only asking generic questions and not giving too much advance information to the in-house company, so as to be fair to the other respondents.

There is an increasing number of hotels and venues that continue to use exclusive or preferred audiovisual companies, for a variety of reasons – some more valid than others. The planner is then left with three basic options.  Select another venue; agree to the venue and in-house supplier terms in full; or negotiate a compromise.

Properties that cite non-compete or exclusive supplier clauses may do so for any of the following reasons. In each case, an option is given on how to work to mutual advantage for the best result.



 Venues and set ups that require the use of cherry pickers, rigging, installation near electrical wiring, pyrotechnics or other potential hazards, have expert and licensed staff hired specifically to work in such conditions and will require using them exclusively.   Such properties could include exhibit halls and theatres, race tracks, parks and zoos, and most sports venues, unionized or not.

Attempting to negotiate the use of outside staff where safety is an issue, could result in insurance cancellation or invalidation, as well as potential liability resulting from injury to inexperienced staff.  Where safety is an issue, it makes sense to agree completely with terms and conditions and also to have a clause built into contracts that release the planner and client (each named independently) from any damage or injury liability due to faulty work, carried out by in-house suppliers.



 Some venues will argue that service is compromised when outside vendors are used at their property.  This works both ways and it is up to the planner to decide whether it is more important to rely on the service of an audiovisual company that they use on a regular basis, or accept that the in-house supplier can provide better service because they know the property better and have easy access to last-minute requirements.  In my experience, I would prefer to use any vendor that I am completely confident will deliver on their commitment, that can anticipate my requirements and will not spring surprises on me at the last minute.

One surprise I had recently in a Toronto landmark hotel was to find that our contracted AV company was not allowed to plug their equipment into any of the meeting room outlets.  I had deleted the “Patch Fees” from the contract, however was told at the pre-convention meeting that a special electrical connection had to be provided by the in-house AV company (at a fee for each meeting room), which our AV team could then plug into. The reason given was that the electrical supply was old and that the hotel had to make sure that the power was evenly distributed to avoid crashes.   (Note to self, avoid old hotels with sub-standard electrical supplies in the future and by the way, we didn’t pay the fees).

 By far the most popular response to audiovisual companies, when I asked them about how planners can help them serve their clients better, is to book the meeting space the day before the event to allow for sufficient set up time, equipment testing and rehearsals.  It never ceases to amaze me that planners still gamble with venues for set up time, in the hope of getting it free of charge, at the risk of the suppliers having to work through the night to meet the breakfast meeting deadline.  Be very wary of venues that verbally promise to hold the day prior for you free of charge and make sure the contract clearly covers your expectations.

The second most popular response to how we can help AV companies give better service is to be transparent about how much money is available for audiovisual.  For this reason, I have started including the event budget in the RFP, with a 10% buffer for last minute additions. There is an urban myth that if the supplier knows how much he has to spend, he would spend it to the last cent, however, I believe that knowing the budget ahead of time avoids a considerable waste of time to the planner, the client and the supplier.  For example, if I have $20,000 to spend and a supplier doesn’t leave his warehouse for less than a $30,000 contract, he will simply decline to bid – thus no time is wasted at any level. Consider the time wasted for all concerned had he not known my budget and had responded to the RFP and it becomes clear that transparency is ultimately the most economic option.



If a venue charges an AV company 50% commission to be exclusive, the chances are it will impact the final cost to the client as the AV company has to recoup operating and inventory expenses somehow.   Any charge levied on the client by the venue for not using preferred suppliers, is allegedly due to having to pay them to be on site anyway, (should the client prefer to bring their own suppliers), as the in-house vendors are the only ones allowed back-of-house.  An effective way to negotiate is to offer to use some of the in-house labour whilst still being able to bring in outside vendor product, thereby reducing the penalty charges.

Always ensure the name of the in-house AV company is clearly stated in the contract and request a guarantee clause be included that the named vendor will still be under contract at the time you actually hold your event.  Since so many contracts are negotiated several years in advance, it is possible that vendor contracts may expire with the property in the meantime, and you could end up with a completely different vendor than anticipated.   Likewise, when a venue is still under construction, it is unreasonable to expect a client to agree to use exclusive vendors if they have not even been contracted.

In conclusion, planners are under increased pressure from all sides when negotiating audiovisual contracts.  The client naturally wants the best service for the lowest price and the venue needs to make a reasonable profit in order to stay in business.   Perhaps if there was more transparency around the relationships, financial and otherwise, between venues and preferred/exclusive vendors, planners might be more receptive to using in-house services.   It is also up to the preferred and exclusive vendors to be competitive and negotiate better terms with venues, enabling them to still provide excellent service whilst being able to make money.

Many planners also feel that the higher cost of using in-house suppliers is justified by the convenience of having them close at hand.   The key is to create a win-win situation for all concerned and to ensure a successful event.




Jyl Ashton Cunningham CMP is a regular contributor to The Planner.  She can be reached at and welcomes your comments on her articles.


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