When Less is More: The Great A/V Debate

As the old saying goes, when investing scarce meeting budget funds, it never pays to be “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

When considering the cost of audio-visual staging for an event, the question always comes up about whether it’s more cost effective to us local technicians as opposed to bringing in your own contractors for A/V support.

The issue really boils down to cost vs. performance. To be sure, if all you need is a screen and a projector with a single presenter for a half-day meeting, any hotel can provide you with that equipment and a “tech” to set it up, connect you, and monitor the system in case an issue arises.

But, when you’re investing big money to bring important guests and attendees together, using local technicians unfamiliar with your presentation style, SOP’s and confidential materials is risky at best—and potentially disastrous under certain circumstances at worst.

PSAV, the nation’s largest audio-visual provider, is owned by Goldman-Sachs. They have a virtual monopoly on in-house hotel equipment rentals. Recent price hikes of 20% and more are not uncommon, all topped with a 24% service charge, usually with local sales tax on top of that. It’s not unusual to pay more to rent a piece of equipment for two days than it would to buy it and throw it away; and that’s without even considering the cost of a technician to install and operate that equipment!

Consider the consequences of trusting a high-level meeting to un-vetted technicians at a hotel in an unfamiliar city who may not possess the skill level, personality, or client contact skills necessary to interact with your senior management. After all, your meeting will be over in a day or two, and the hotel will have a new customer the day after that, and the week after that, regardless of whether your meeting goes up in flames.

At first blush, the cost of bringing your own production specialists to a meeting may seem an unnecessary extravagance. Yet for important meetings, having your own dedicated professional team can be the best insurance to guarantee a professionally run meeting. There’s nothing worse than five minutes of dead air in a roomful of skilled professionals to take the momentum out of a carefully planned meeting.

Ultimately, the flow of a meeting falls upon the organizer to “keep things moving”, and an unscheduled lapse during a presenter change can adversely affect the delivery of your message. Even worse, sub-standard sound, overcrowded meeting rooms, poor projection angles, and a myriad of other technical maladies can befall a meeting produced by a tech with no skin in the game – he or she will probably never see your group again.

The larger your meeting, the more important having your own dedicated production team becomes.

I HAVE TO QUIT NOW – is this going in the direction you want it to go?

It's about the cost saving of unknown performers vs. using vetted techs, people whose skill level, personality and client presentation have been established as expectable -- known vs. unknown at a comparative cost.

If you use an un-vetted tech, someone who does not know your process or SOPs, he's going to require a lot of hand holding at a time when you have precious little to spare, just to get to even a functional operational level. Further, an unvetted tech leaves you with fewer resources to manage last minute changes to presentations, loading presentations to the proper equipment, synchronizing presentation transitions and dealing with any abnormalities that require an interaction with the hotel.

With an untrained/un-vetted tech, you are likely to be left with one incapable of dealing with any equipment above a first level and certainly ill-prepared to deal with crises. He's not likely be able to operate more sophisticated gear, i.e. video switching or routing, recording. (audio or video), WebEx and teleconferencing equipment. For us, a tech at this sub-standard level is a very real liability.

With all this in mind, let's start the process of planning by establishing exactly what is to be accomplished. Let's establish a benchmark scale of acceptable performance. Let's say that at one end of the scale we have a demanding client who expects everything to go perfectly, including last minute changes and being able to turn on a dime. Let's say that this is a client who expects 100% or more performance.

At the other end of the spectrum, lets establish a client who runs a very loose meeting, one that is low-budget and doesn't use much more than rudimentary equipment and doesn't expect much in technical ability. Let's say his meetings require 20% performance. Having made the distinction of what we want to accomplish, we can assess what it will take to meet our client’s needs.

To this point, cost has not been a consideration. Certainly, there are clients who do not expect much. They'd be happy with a 20-50% performance. For them, there is room for errors. For others, not so much.

What counts here is assurance, quality, service and the ability think on one’s feet (think innovation). Yes, cost is an issue, but not until you've decided on what you want to accomplish -- this must be determined before any decisions can be made -- you can't project without a projector, you can't record without a recording device; and it takes planning to know what and when things will be needed.

Once you've established your goal, assessed the technical needs required to accomplish your goal, then you can assess the technical skills and talent required to meet adequate levels of performance. It is then that we can talk intelligently about costs, not before.

The process is generally pretty much the same for assessing the needs to accomplish any goal and its related costs. There is a logical, systematic, scientific process that has stood the test of time. It must be addressed.

The process begins with defining the client’s needs and expectations. Then figuring out just what it will take to meet the client’s expectations. Will they be happy with less or do they require more? What level of performance of going to please your customer?

We do this at every meeting and wherever possible.