Charges you may encounter when using an outside AV company and what you can do about them

AudioVisual is often one of the largest meeting expenses and it also seems to be the one most prone to last minute budget surprises.

One of the main reasons for this is that venues are normally selected and contracts signed long before the actual event AV needs are ever considered. As a result, planners often find out much later, that they had unexpectedly locked themselves into using the in-house AV provider or if they want to use an outside AV company, that they had committed to paying the venue for additional AV services and fees.

While in-house AV originally began as a convenient, value-added service, it long ago evolved into a major source of additional revenue for venues. As a result there is a significant incentive for venues to lock events into using the in-house services. However, in-house AV, although convenient, may not always be the best choice for every meeting and budget. While most venues still can't force you to use their in-house AV, their contracts can contain clauses that provide them with additional compensation to offset the loss of AV revenue.

When choosing venues, here are some potential AV charges that could be encountered if in-house AV is not being used.

Loading dock and freight elevator charges
There is an additional fee for outside AV companies to access the venue loading dock and freight elevators in the early mornings, late evenings, or on weekends and holidays.

Load in-load out supervisor
The venue charges for someone from their in house AV department to supervise the AV load in and out.

Carpet protection
Where AV cases are rolled over carpeting, many venues require outside AV companies to cover those areas with Visqueen vinyl or in some cases plywood.

AV Service Charge
Venues will simply add a service charge at a rate they determine, to the master bill, for all equipment brought into the venue by an outside AV company in order to compensate for their loss of AV revenue.

When it is necessary to suspend AV lighting and equipment from the ceiling, venues will require a daily rental of their ceiling hang points, using their equipment and that all rigging be done by their riggers. Rigging charges can vary greatly from venue to venue.

While nearly everyone expects to be charged for power these days, but there is no standard rate or method to calculate the cost and the actual charges for electricity can be significantly different from venue to venue.

While meeting room wi-fi for attendees is often discounted, AV will generally require hard wired Internet connections on a network separate from the attendee wi-fi. This is almost never part of the basic venue Internet package.

Union Labor
Convention centers, sports arenas, and theaters are nearly always covered by collective bargaining agreements for staging and AV production and will require the use of union labor. Lately many hotels have extended their union contracts to include AV services as well. Union requirements vary from state to state, city to city and even venue to venue.

Exclusive Vendor
In most venues the in-house AV provider is the recommended or preferred vendor and clients are not required to use them. Some venues however, now designate their in-house AV company as their exclusive provider which prevents the use of any outside AV vendor.

These final two costs are currently encountered mostly in the major cities along the east coast, but planners considering venues in that area need to be aware of them.

Shadow labor
Some venues now include shadow labor agreements in their contracts. A shadow labor agreement means that when AV technicians other than in-house AV are being used, clients are required to hire additional venue provided AV technicians for the same jobs.

24 Hour holds and Meeting Room Strikes & Resets
Meeting rooms are not contracted on a 24 hour basis but instead for the actual time they will be occupied. The meeting rooms can be resold for the times they are not in use. So, if a multi-day meeting ends at 5pm on the first night and the venue can sell that space for a dinner to another client at 7pm, the meeting AV company must remove their entire setup from the room to make way for the dinner. They then have to return after the dinner and reset everything for the start of the meeting the next morning.

Now, some of these charges are relatively minor and will have little impact on the overall budget. Others can increase the overall AV cost significantly. Often these charges are not clearly detailed in advance.

So how do planners avoid or minimize these charges?

The best way is to simply bring your AV Producer or company into the planning process as early as possible. Rather than thinking about AV after the contract is signed and these additional charges already locked in, bring your AV provider in before any commitments are made.

Include them in the site survey or have them contact the venues being considered to discuss the specific AV related requirements. Often the AV Producer or company has experience with the venue and is already familiar with the AV related charges likely to be encountered as well as the options available. They can also prepare a breakdown of the probable rigging, electrical, Internet and labor requirements to obtain a ballpark estimate of these costs from the venue.

Getting a clear picture of the total AV charges for each venue before the contract is signed allows planners to see the true cost of each contract and places them in a much better position to negotiate more favorable terms that remove or minimize these additional charges.

At the very least involving your AV provider early can help identify those AV costs which cannot be eliminated, allowing re-forecasting to reflect the increased costs before they become eleventh hour budget surprises.

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