Among meeting and event professionals there seem to be three different approaches to dealing with the AV needs of their programs. Each of these approaches can (and do) make sense in certain instances, and there are many factors that come into play when making these decisions. It is, however, always helpful to step back and consider if the choices you are making create the most value while providing the best chance for a positive outcome.
In-House AV Suppliers
The first approach is to contract the in-house AV supplier in each venue. Depending on the size and scope of their programs this may make sense for some planners. This choice can be very convenient (especially for smaller events), but rarely is it the most cost effective. In-house AV suppliers must pay a percentage of their revenue to the venue as a commission, and this cost is always passed on to the customer. Many venues try to charge “corkage” fees (arbitrary charges for bringing in outside suppliers) which are in place to deter planners from contracting outside AV suppliers. These fees are meant to protect the profits that are being made through the in-house AV service. It is important to understand that these fees can always be negotiated out of the contract before signing. I have never encountered a venue that is willing to lose an entire event over the lost AV revenue.
Independent AV Suppliers
The second approach is to contract independent AV suppliers for every event. Many meeting and event planners take this approach because they have developed relationships with certain AV suppliers, and there is a level of comfort and trust that comes with these partnerships. Contracting an independent AV supplier can often be the less expensive option when compared to the in-house company, but even when it is not there is comfort in knowing the level of service that will be provided. Unless you frequently hold events in a single venue it is impossible to know the level of service you will get from the in-house supplier until it is too late.
The third approach is actually a hybrid of the first two, and this option may make the most sense for many planners. For some programs the in-house company may be the most reasonable option. For example, maybe you work in a certain venue quite often, and you have developed a relationship with the in-house supplier. There may be other times when the AV just isn’t that important, and the convenience of the in-house simply makes your life a little easier. Even I use in-house suppliers sometimes because it makes sense. I may be biased, but I do think that in most instances there is more value in developing a relationship with a few trusted independent AV suppliers and contracting them for every event possible.
Perhaps the very best option is to partner with a trusted AV professional who can look over contracts, quotes, equipment lists and labor schedules then manage the program on-site to ensure you are getting the most value out of your suppliers. This might be the most valuable type of partnership because it allows you to choose the best supplier option for each event.
After posting this blog I was reminded by @OneWimpoleStAV on Twitter that there are still some venues that employ their own in-house AV staff and equipment. These AV teams are different from the in-house suppliers mentioned above because the venue takes full responsibility for the quality of service which is always a good thing.