Pro Tips for Choosing an A/V Vendor

Originally recorded Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Choosing an A/V vendor for your conference doesn’t have to be a nail-biting experience. Learn from the experts what questions to ask, what issues matter for your event, and how to vet the candidates to ensure you get what you need.

Jon Trask of AVforPlanners lead this tour of the key questions to ask your vendor, tools to help you build RFP’s and pro tips for making the right call.

AV-Handout-thumb

Download the A/V Planning Checklist

Read the transcript 

Jon Trask

For me to bring my camera up, I have to lose my screen for a moment because I can’t … my mouse is out until I take this out so give me just one quick second to do that.

Jordan Schwartz 

These are the kinds of things …

Jon Trask

I’m going to show you my webcam. There you go.

Jordan Schwartz 

… That A/V Vendors have to deal with, right? Perfect. All right then. All right. Thanks everyone for coming today. We have a couple of experts on A/V on the line and me who is a non-expert so I will try to be the advocate for everyone else. If you have questions as we go through this, feel free to ask them on the question interface that we have here in GoToMeeting. I’ll keep an eye on that and I’ll either respond or I’ll try and bubble them up and ask Jon or Mike to get them answered and hopefully we can learn something. The … I know one question we get after these education webinars very frequently is how do you get CMP credit, these are good for one credit hour of CMP credit.

It’s really simple, if you just print out the description, the web page that you use to sign up for this webinar or the one that we will send a link to, afterwards with the recording. You print that out and you’ll submit that as your … to the CIC with your CMP Certification documentation that they require and that should be that. Without any further ado, so I am Jordan Schwartz, I am the president and founder of Pathable. We build event apps and community platforms for conferences, love to chat with you about that, if that’s what you’re interested in. Otherwise, I’m going to turn the podium, virtual podium over to Jon and we’ll be talking about A/V Vending.

Jon Trask

Well, good morning, good afternoon. My name is Jon Trask. I’m a CMP and a CMM and we have a company, Mike and I called A/V For Planners which works on helping event planners source their audio visual and find good companies to work with. I think that’s why Jordan talked to us about doing this particular topic because it’s a lot of the work that we do on a regular basis. I’ve put together a little bit of a supporting presentation here and I thought first, I just lay out a couple of goals for what we want to talk about today. First off, I wanted to touch on what are the types of audio visual vendors that you run into because there are a few different distinct types of companies that you could end up working with.

Then, we’ll talk a little bit about how the venue itself can affect your audio visual because there can be some real specific things at a venue that will affect what you need to support your meeting. A little bit about questions that you should ask of a vendor or questions they should be asking you. Just some ideas of places to start talking to them and the last one, I figured we’d cover a little bit of time about the quotes themselves and just things that you could look at when you’re getting a quote back from vendors and you’re trying to compare them side by side. Let’s start with the vendors.

Jordan Schwartz 

Again, if there are questions that people have that they specifically want to have answered, that, it doesn’t look like Jon is going to address, please feel free to go ahead and type those into the question ….

Jon Trask

Absolutely. All right, so audio visual vendors. Not all A/V vendors are going to be same. They’re .. I kind of classify them out into 3 types here. These lines can be really blurred and you’ll find that there are vendors who fit in to more than one of them. It’s not really secret information that they’re hiding from you. Talk with your salesperson and understand how their companies is set up and what they do and what their specialties are. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that each one of these has their strengths and has their weaknesses and what you’re going for here as an event planner, is to find the best fit for your needs and your budget but just not by the marketing height.

Very rarely we find a company that’s honest enough to say, “Oh that’s not the best fit for us,” for whatever reason. More often than not, they’ll try and secure the business and then figure out how to service it. I’ve seen companies do that a lot where it’s just all about getting the business and not really what is a fit for what our inventory is and what our skill level is and what our capabilities are. With these 3 types, let’s look first with the in-house vendors. Most larger properties are going to have an in-house through a preferred vendor. Occasionally, this is actually owned by the venue. More often than not, it will be an outside company who’s contracted to provide the service there.

That’s a key thing to keep in mind. They’re contracted, there is money involved. They are there to make a profit and they’re there to make a profit for the hotel or whatever type of venue that they’re working on as well. There is a commission involved and sometimes that can drive the prices up so the convenience of having them there is a positive, they’re right there property, they’re familiar with the venue. There is sometimes inflexibility on power and rigging which we can talk a little bit more about. The price can be higher and again because they’re on the property, they may have a limited equipment available there and they may have limited experience. I know, the industry has changed a lot.

I’ve been in the industry close to 30 years and when I started particularly, hotels were really the training ground where kind of new people got their feet wet. One of the things about that was we didn’t know what we didn’t know back then. We would be in a situation, where we would think, we could support that type of show and be frustrated that maybe we didn’t get an opportunity to do some of the larger things. As time goes on, I can look back and see that there were very good reasons for outside vendors coming in. Again, this is a very long time ago when dinosaurs roam the earth.

It’s … Projection was a different sort of thing and we have special team of projectionist who would come in with very large units and things that we didn’t have on property. That limited equipment, limited experience can be a factor. Let’s say you’re talking about breakout rooms, let’s say you’re talking about very straightforward requirements, because they’re familiar with the venue, because they’re right there, that can be a really great fit and I have situations when I’m producing events where I will often times use one company for say, my general session and then use the in-house company for my breakout rooms or vice versa. If there is a strength that I have with an outside company.

Maybe I want to bring them in and maybe the general session is a good fit for the people who are there because they have some installed equipment or they’re flexible on the rigging cost. A lot of companies have taken over doing the rigging at a venue. Rigging just to make sure everybody understands what rigging is. We’re talking about when you’re hanging things from the ceiling, over your audience, over your stage, lights, speakers, projectors, screens, all of these things, when they have to go up in the air and not be standing on the ground supported, that’s called rigging.

There are safety factors involved in that. There is insurance, there is liability and obviously, the safety being the key thing. You want to make sure that the people who are doing this know what they’re doing, that they’re bonded, that they have certifications and that their equipment is all checked and tested regularly. Those are the things that often times the in-house company will take on and they will basically own what’s called the rigging points within the venue. When we talk about venues, I’ll talk a little bit more about this as well. Having them …

Jordan Schwartz 

It seems like their familiarity with their own venue would be pretty important. If you’re talking about hanging things and safety. I mean, they’re going to know the idiosyncrasies of their catwalks and the … what pieces are loose, even though they’re not supposed to be. Just things like in a room, I know that the acoustics of a room, there can be dead space for example, just because of the nature of how things are built and having somebody who’s put sound into that room a hundred times is going to be pretty valuable I’d imagine.

Jon Trask

Yeah, you want to make sure that if you’re bringing in an outside vendor, they’re doing due diligence on things like that. I mean, when I’m bringing in a sound system for a couple of thousand people, I have an audio engineer who’s using a calculator and figuring how many speakers he needs, how they’re arrayed within the room to get that optimal coverage, so that the room is covered. Yeah, those are … That familiarity can be very useful. It can also be very useful in situations where sometimes knowing the back of the house is more important than the front of the house. They’ve got ways to maybe get in through the hallways a little easier and move things in earlier than maybe an outside company can.

These are all things to discuss but the caveat to that is the rigging sometimes is not done by the people who actually work there on the property. They’re bringing in an outside rigging companies specific and often times, it might be the same riggers that I would be hiring if I was hiring that company directly. It’s knowing, it’s kind of knowing who is actually doing the work, that can be the same thing that we’ll talk about when we’re looking at labor in general because most hotel offices are not going to have enough people to do all of your event. They’re going to be bringing in people out of their labor pool and depending on where you’re at, that labor pool maybe the same labor pool that everybody is using. It’s, kind of that point comes down to who’s managing the show much more than who is actually servicing it.

Jordan Schwartz 

I don’t know if you plan to address this later or if there is anything specific to say here, but I imagine that union rules may dictate using what … whether or not to use the in-house vendor and how that works, is there …

Jon Trask

There are definitely union contracts in place and we will touch on that a little bit later when we’re looking at kind of the quotes and some of the things there. When we talk about an outside vendor, I kind of put down a few pros and cons. Pros, they’re flexible on their choices, you probably going to have more flexibility because again, they’re bringing in equipment from the outside and they probably got a warehouse that they’re pulling from and maybe more choices. Again, it varies with every situation and it’s very hard to have fast hard rules of just how it works because every market is different.

The vendors and every market are different so really just knowing that where their warehouse is and where they’re pulling their gear from can be important about an outside vendor because that’s down on the cons side of shipping and storage cost. You’re usually going to have dedicated staff with an outside vendor because they’re bringing these people in specifically for you. That can be one of the challenges with the venue, is that often times your staff can have a split focus there because they’re not just doing your meeting, they’re also doing the other people who are on the property and depending on their level of staffing and the dedication of, if you want people specifically through your event, you may have to pay for that staff.

There may also be flexibility. It’s all a balance here. The flexibility on paying for that staff maybe that because they’re already on property, they’ll do a less than minimum call. Maybe your outside vendor has … Yeah, they have to hire a guy for 8 hours no matter what, whereas the people in property might say, “Oh, yeah, you only need them for a 2-hour luncheon, that’s all we’re going to charge you for,” because it’s people who are already there on property. The outside vendors like I touched on earlier, tend to be a little more experienced. Not always but certainly, as I say, the hotels used to be training ground and where a lot of people broke in, whereas the outside touring guys or the guys who work nationally tend to have a little bit more miles under their belt, as far as events that they’ve done.

Like I was saying when we’re talking about sound coverage in a room, I’m using an audio engineer who’s been in the business for 30 years as well. He’s got a lot of background and a lot of understanding so when he’s putting together the specifications for that room to tell me this is how I need to do the job, it’s coming from a deep base of experience, even if he hasn’t worked on that property, he’s probably worked on very similar properties. The travel and crew and those cost can have an overhead to it as well. It’s the trade off, you’re getting this great experience but you are paying for it in a couple of different ways. They may have a higher rate, not necessarily but they might and you’re going to be paying maybe for a hotel room for them, for per diem, for air fare and all of that can vary quite a bit.

It’s one of those things to look on your quote and understand in a conversation, how the vendor you’re talking to is intending to service the show. There are shows, where maybe they’re flying one person in. He’s the project manager and he’s going to direct the local crew that they’re all hiring locally, that can save some cost. Equipment availability, again, depending on the market and where they’re at. I mean, maybe you’re in kind of a remote location, maybe you’re in a resort property. You might come into a situation where you need to add something and they just don’t have it. They might be able to get it, brought in but it may take them hours. Literally, I’ve been involved in putting a specific very unique lectern on to a plane and flying it in to Aspen for an event because it was just insisted on and required by an executive and it had to be flown out of Southern California on a private jet to get to Aspen so this guy could have …

Jordan Schwartz 

I got to ask, what was it about this lectern. Was it .. did it have a display on it. Was it, had a logo.

Jon Trask

I couldn’t really tell you. It was not that unique. It adjust height and he had a comfort factor with the ability to change the height of the lectern.

Jordan Schwartz 

Ok. Great.

Jon Trask

That was it. I mean, this was in the 90s and budgets were a little less scrutinized, I would say. I mean, we use to shift stuff all over the place for the comfort of executives. I work with some large financial firms back then. When these guys wanted what they wanted, you got it for them and they would say, it cost …

Jordan Schwartz 

It’s sounds like that, I don’t know what the story is, the brown M&Ms in the backstage room for the Guns N’ Roses, the great Van Halen.

Jon Trask

Van Halen.

Jordan Schwartz 

Van Halen. Thank you.

Jon Trask

Van Halen.

Jordan Schwartz 

Yeah. I don’t know if you’re … there is a little back story to that. Do you know the whole back story, I mean.

Jon Trask

Yes, there is.

Jordan Schwartz 

Yeah, you want to do and tell it?

Jon Trask

I do. What … The interesting thing about the brand M&Ms was, and there are a number of artists who’ve done this in their technical writer of the years. It was really more of a check to see if people were paying attention, because if they walked into the room, if the production manager who was there to advance the show, walked into the room and saw there were no brown M&Ms, he know that meant that the people in charge had not only read the entire thing, they followed it. He didn’t have to go through and check every single technical item within the entire venue. Whereas, if they had ignored that, that was a red flag.

John Tesh, I heard a story, would ask for a Power Ranger in the middle of all the requirements, a little figure, a Power Ranger figure. If it showed up, his production manager knew they were on the ball, they had read everything and they were fulfilling everything. He just give it to his kid to play with while he was on stage.

Jordan Schwartz 

Right. Yeah, and I guess the original motivation there had been that maybe when it was Van Halen who kind of started this, that their set which is much heavier, I mean have more speakers and more equipment than any rock show had done previously. You’re showing up with these venues with a, it’s a basketball court for the local basketball team and structurally, it cannot hold that. You have to have extra equipment that spreads the weight out and does this particular things. If they don’t do that, the set is going to go through the floor and there could be a lot of unhappy people. That was explained in the contract but if you didn’t read the contract, you might miss that. Yeah, so sorry, go ahead.

Jon Trask

There were a lot of … it was a much more, particularly the concert industry, back then was sort of being invented, as was the A/V industry, even into the 80s. It was not a mature industry. It was not something that had a lot of established rules or ways that they did things and yeah, Van Halen probably … I think they had the largest lighting rig on the road which is what we’re talking about, hanging. It was a tremendous amount of weight and you could literally collapse the building if you put all that up there and it wasn’t designed properly to hold the weight. The power requirements were very high and very specific. If they couldn’t turn the lights on, you didn’t have a show.

If they didn’t have enough power to run all that, there were going to be problems down the line. That actually kind of, is a nice dovetail right over to the specialty vendors. There are companies that do segments of the industry. This is really more relevant when we’re talking about larger shows and more complex shows. The photo that I used in here, there were I think at least 4 vendors involved in that show. Even though, as you can see, it was a couple of hundred people. It was put together with a scenic vendor. There was a lighting vendor. The company that I was working for did audio and video. There was a like a graphics production team that had come in. All of us were cooperating and working together to fulfill that specific show that the producer had brought us in. Sometimes …

Jordan Schwartz 

And it’s so cool about all those different others was that … was there a … who is the producer? Was the producer someone that was also essentially a vendor for the company or they … was that in-house.

Jon Trask

The producer was not … he was not in-house in this case. He had been hired by this pharmaceutical company to produce a series of events for them. He brought in his favorite vendors, the people that he worked with and would have them do this size of show and just basically merge them all together. It fit well because the company that I was working for at the time, actually didn’t even own any lights. If we were asked to bid lights, we would bring in an outside vendor anyway because it just wasn’t in their inventory. It wasn’t something that they had focused on to and so whenever there were lighting requirements that was part of a show that they were quoting, they would simply get a quote for that equipment from another sub-vendor.

That team would come in as part of the overall team but they really were employed by a different company. We all just wear the same shirts. Specialty vendors, it’s very big in like the concert industry, if you look into things like that, you’ll see there is one company who will be doing the video 1 or 2 or another company will be doing the sound. There maybe another one doing lighting and so all of this pieces will be merged together by somebody who’s a production person in charge, a technical director or producer. That’s actually something that I’ve had to talk to people about in the past as well. I’ve run into situations where I’ll get a list of things that somebody wants and I can put that list together and make sure that they have all those pieces but a good vendor is going to be asking some deeper questions than that.

Specially when it’s like an end company that’s coming to me and saying, I want these things because let’s say it’s a widescreen that they’re doing, you need to have some understanding of who is creating the content for the screen and know that your video team will be working with this graphics team to create this content correctly and that everybody is on the same page, so they’re not going to show up with graphics that are shaped 4:3 and the screens are all 16:9 or it’s a 40 foot wide screen that nobody designed anything for because that cost you time and money and a lot of stress on site. I had to push back and ask that question sometimes. It’s like yes, I can do a great widescreen for you but who’s doing the content for it?

Those are situations sometimes when an executive will say, “See a meeting that another company has done” and go, “Oh, that’s really cool. I want that.” The meeting planner will say, “We want that,” but not really know the pieces that have to be in place beyond just the actual equipment, if that make sense?

Jordan Schwartz 

Yeah, it sure does.

Jon Trask

I’m going to take another quick drink here. I happen to be out in the desert so it’s very dry. That’s really an overview of the 3 types of vendor. The in-house, the outside vendor and the specialty vendor and we’ll talk about some more specifics at the end. I’ve got kind of a little wrap area there. Let’s move over to the venue itself because there is some things that affect your venue or the venue affect your audio visual. They can add to your cost and add to your stress and often times, people just don’t even think to take them into account. They’re looking at the aesthetic of a room as a meeting planner and not considering the impact that might have on the technical side of things.

This is kind of a general list but I’m going to go a little deeper into a few of these. One of the things you’ll run into is ceiling height. People will say, “Oh, we have a 16 foot ceiling.” Let’s say this room here has a 16 foot ceiling. I don’t remember what the actual height was in that room, but those chandeliers are hanging down probably to 14, maybe 13 feet so the actual effective height of that room is not 16 feet. I mean, yeah, you can stand something up that goes that high but you have to work around those chandeliers and you have to be aware that they’re there. You also have to be aware, we were talking earlier about rigging, where the points are.

When you get into situations like this, now, you’re having to find where the points are and work around the chandeliers so suddenly your lights are hanging down below what you thought was the height of your room and that’s causing problems, complexities or even where you can place your stage. I remember about … something about the show very specific and that is when we got the reflected ceiling drawing, it’s a CAD drawing that the in-house company or the company that’s in charge of the rigging will send you. The closest points to the wall were about 8 feet off the wall. What that meant is we had to be 8 feet off the wall to hang anything.

Now, if we need something hung at the back of the stage for a screen, that means your stage has to be 8 feet off the wall unless you can ground support it which is actually what we ultimately did. This is the front lighting for that show but they were tight on space and, to fit their audience into this room and it puts us into a situation where we couldn’t move the stage that far forward because of the location of where those back elements had to be hung. We had to come up with a creative solution. Luckily, this is all, conversation that is happening well and advanced of the show, that you don’t want a vendor who shows up and finds out, we can’t hang things there because that’s when you start getting into problems or overtime or compromises. Being aware that that low … Yeah.

Jordan Schwartz 

Is that CAD drawing that you’re talking about, is that something that you should expect to get proactively from the venue when you book the venue. Is that something you’re going to have to ask for? Are there any issues around, to bring in your own A/V vendor and … over the option of an in-house vendor is that something that they would withhold or maybe sandbagged.

Jon Trask

Well, they won’t withhold it per say. Yeah, it’s not always the easiest conversation to pull some of these things out of them. It’s not … some places will readily share it and readily share their rules right up front and I love those guys to death. Tell me what the rules are and I’ll work with them. This is something that you need to be having a conversation about back at the contracting stage because I’ve seen a lot of people get sandbagged and that they didn’t realize their show would need things to be hung in the first place. They just weren’t even … they’re not thinking about the technical aspects of their show.

They’re not looking at that part of the contract very much and that’s where they’ve signed away certain rights or said that they agree to certain things that maybe they’re not comfortable with and maybe they need to discuss that with the venue, what are your rigging cost? Tell us in advance so that we can account for that one, we’re budgeting for our audio visual so we have some sense of. Well, you can’t necessarily know those rigging cost until you plan out what you’re going to do.

Jordan Schwartz 

Is there, and maybe you’ll get to this but is there a checklist for someone who doesn’t have experience in negotiating these kinds of contracts before, that they can think about, “Okay, am I going to get the CAD drawing. Am I going to be able to hang things? How far in advance will my 3rd party vendor be able to get in?” I don’t know if there are other questions like that. That ones you’re thinking about.

Jon Trask

There are a couple of resources like that that I’ve seen and I don’t have them off the top of my head. I have a link that I can give you for kind of a quick little PDF that I did years ago of just this basic information. Kind of some of the things to look for when you’re doing a site surveying. It’s kind of a site survey tips and I’ll share that with you.

Jordan Schwartz 

That would be great.

Jon Trask

I’ll be happy to let you post that with the link.

Jordan Schwartz 

Yeah, exactly so we’re going to send out a link to a recording to this whole webinar and if it’s all right with you, links to these slides as well, there was a question on that earlier and maybe we can make sure to include a link to that resource as well. Don’t ask, give me a couple of days to put it together. We’ll be emailing all these slide too. Go ahead.

Jon Trask

Yeah, it’s something that almost everybody in our industry agrees, has become kind of an issue in that, you need to be having these conversation at the contracting stage and at the site survey stage and at the point before you’ve locked yourself in because that’s when you ran into the surprises. Some of these things just don’t necessarily disclose in a contract right off the bat. I mean, it will just be … this is like we’re accepting the rules of the property but it doesn’t say all the specifics. I’ve talked to people who ran into like shipping and receiving bumps in the road or labor. I know one fellow, a friend of mine who had $35,000 in unanticipated labor and shipping cost because the company he was working with brought in their own video.

They actually manufactured video so it was their own product and they brought in their own technicians of course to assemble their product but found out that within the contract, they were still liable to hire a union crew and they’re reliable for the shipping drayage receiving cost within the dock of that property. It added up to $35,000 for them to use their own equipment in the ballroom.

Jordan Schwartz 

That’s how tempting it is.

Jon Trask

It was … No, it was not really disclosed. It was just, “Well, these are the rules at the property. You have to use our shipping and receiving,” which happen to be an outside contracted company and I’m being circumspect because I don’t want to throw anybody into the bus and it wasn’t my show. There are pluses and minuses to everybody so I’m not trying to hit anybody below the belt. I do think that disclosure and conversation needs to happen early on. An understanding of the planner is fine.

Jordan Schwartz 

I think that often times things maybe omitted from contracts or glazed over in contracts and it’s not … no one should made a, pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, necessarily. It’s just … there is a certain expectations and so, from the perspective of the contract writer, everything is clear because they know what the expectations are and from the contract reader, and signer, they just may have a different perspective on what these expectations are. I mean, that’s why we write contracts. That’s why it’s so important to get everything down in writing and to read the contracts. Again, I don’t think there is nothing … it’s not a negative necessarily.

Jon Trask

People are in business. People are in business to make a profit. They’re writing a contract of course, that’s going to be favorable to them making a profit and that’s why they’re there. Some of these things are conveniences, some of these things are safety issues. It should be done with your eyes open. You should understand what you’re retaining and what you’re signing away and you should understand why you’re doing those things in the negotiation process because after you’ve signed, you are locked in. You’ve agreed to those terms.

Jordan Schwartz 

Right, right.

Jon Trask

Again, nobody is trying to do anything nefarious. It’s how business is conducted. That’s a bit about low ceilings. Basically, low ceilings mean also … the other thing I don’t want to miss about this, is things end up being lower in the room which means you may need more of them because people can’t see them from this far away. Say, instead of using a big screen upfront, maybe you’ve got to use blur delay screens, we call them back toward the back of the room. Maybe you don’t have enough height for that.

I’ve been in a lot of situations where it’s very challenging to figure out how everyone can see the screen because you’ve got a 10 foot ceiling but the room is a 100 feet long and now you’re putting things along the sides and trying to angle them in. It’s just something to look at from a technical perspective and pay attention to the room height and not just the aesthetic of the room height. The same thing with windows. I put these up because this is … I can’t remember the name of the room now but it’s like the cloud room in New York at the Saint Regis. This is a beautiful room but, I mean, you can see the challenges with the chandeliers. You’ve got windows down, each side of each room.

You’ve got mirrors in there that we have to cover up because if you have mirrors behind your presenter, you can see how the blue drape covers that back wall, shining those lights, there is somebody in the audience, going to be at just the right angle and he’s going to end up looking straight into a light. Mirrors and windows can be aesthetically very, very cool looking but they can be challenging to work with from a technical side, which is why most ballrooms don’t have a ton of windows. You want to make sure that they can be covered up or blocked out. It’s not as big an issue as it used to be when projectors where incredibly low powered compared to the, what’s available today.

At the same time, having a darkened room for projection can be more dramatic and it can pull the attention better and it’s one of the tools you use and if you’ve got a bunch of windows that everybody is looking out, it may pull their attention away from the content that you’re trying to present to them. Columns, in a large convention center and I use this drawing just as an illustration to show you how … when I was quoting this show, we had to work around a set of columns to make sure that that black outline is the area, the audience was going to be seated in. You can see there were people who were going to be behind a pillar from the stage or the screen, that needed to have some way of seeing the content that was up there.

Whether it would be through cameras, showing who’s on stage or whether it would be through presenting the Powerpoint or whatever. Those additional screens toward the back of the room, in front of those columns are what we call delay screens. Now, this was a convention center so it was a high enough ceiling that we could lift those up above the audience and not have them, themselves affect the sight lines but you can imagine if the room wasn’t tall enough, the challenges that could be presented by that and just making sure that everybody has a clear view of what’s being presented at the event. Non-dimming lighting. This is something on the convention center side that people don’t always pay attention to

Those lights up there are sodium-vapor type lights and it takes them about 5 minutes to come back up to full strength. If you turn them out, they’re just out and if you turn them on, it takes them a while to light back up. Obviously, you can’t lower the lights and do a presentation and bring the lights up easily. In a situation like that, when it’s non-dimming, you may have to bring in additional lighting. I’ve had shows like that where we’ve lit the aisles with truss through a convention center because they had a couple of thousand people. It wasn’t a ballroom and we needed to have room lighting that we could control so we put in lighting and just turn those off and didn’t use them during the show.

The other thing that I didn’t really have a representative picture for to use here but time and distance. That’s free of the venue that a lot of people don’t pay attention to on behalf of their future vendor. Let’s say you’re bringing in an outside company. I can tell you of a hotel in New York where the loading dock for the ballroom is a city block away and 4 floors down. I can tell you a venue in Las Vegas where it’s about a half a mile from the dock to one ballroom of pushing equipment. What happens is truck pulls in and that gear gets unloaded on to the dock and now you spend a couple of hours having labor simply move the equipment into the room. It’s worse if you don’t have a dock.

There is another venue I can think of right off the bat in New York where they don’t have a dock. You just have to pull the truck into the venue which is great except you can only bring a truck into it during certain hours, like between 8 and 10am, are the only times you can bring it in or I think there was another window like 9 to 11pm. Those were the only times so you have to get your truck in there to be unloaded or unload it whether or not that’s a convenient time for the actual production. Being aware of how that equipment gets into your space can be very important and those docks are also being used by the rest of the property. It maybe a very busy property.

You may not be able to pull the truck in, during certain hours because there is food deliveries being done or there is laundry deliveries being done and all of these things are on a regular schedule. Being aware that you have to get this gear into the room somehow and looking at what that path is and how torturous it is to move it from where it has to be unloaded to where you need to use it, is a consideration because it can eat up a lot of time and cost you a fair amount of labor. That was really some of the pit falls of venues themselves that you should be aware of when you’re talking to your vendors and have conversations with them. Hopefully your vendor will be familiar with the property. I can tell you that whenever I get asked to quote on anything, I always … the first thing I do is go to the website.

I pull up the floor plans and I pull up photos and I start researching it. If it’s not a place I’ve worked before then I don’t have it in my head, that that’s literally the first step before I ever put anything on paper, is starting to understand what’s the situation.

Jordan Schwartz 

As someone who’s choosing a vendor, how critical … If I’m comparing to 2 bids from competing vendors, for example and one of them has worked in this venue before and the other one hasn’t. I mean is that … is that a big deal?

Jon Trask

It’s not a deal breaker but it is a comfort factor. If I’m talking to 2 vendors and I know that one of them is familiar with it, versus another who’s not, I definitely have more comfort with the person that I know has been in there but it also needs to be verifiable.

Jordan Schwartz 

Yeah, sure. I wonder if there are questions that you can ask the … a vendor who hasn’t worked in a particular venue before to get a sense of how much of an issue it will be. I mean, can you say to them, “Well, if you look over the floor plans and did anything, jump out at you about … do you have any concerns?” If they don’t have any concerns, well maybe that’s a concern because it means that they haven’t found the brand M&Ms or they haven’t been on the … They won’t have the Power Ranger ready for you.

Jon Trask

There is a few challenges that I get frustrated, we have in a blog post about this just a couple of months ago because I see some quotes that just appear, that people are kind of grabbing a template and just throwing things together and making this assumption that we’ll sort it all out later, get the business, that thing I referred to earlier about get the business and then we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it. That to me is backwards of how I want to approach a show and how I want my vendors to be working. I want them to know everything that’s going to happen so that when and something inevitably does go different than planned, we can focus on that.

We can fix that but we’re not standing there scratching our head, from the minute the trucks unload saying, “Wow, we got to get all of this stuff 2 blocks away from here. Now, we got to push all this.” Well, that’s going to take more labor, we need to call more people in. Those are the situations and I see a lot of quotes that come out that they don’t appear to have done that due diligence. They don’t appear to have an understanding of the property, of the room and I’ve seen it from in-house companies to be quite honest that surprised me. One of the things that prompted this was, I was comparing a series of quotes to each other and the in-house vendor had neglected to bid projection for the general session.

That’s a pretty big item to miss. When you don’t have screens or projectors but you have switchers so you know there is video. How do you miss that? Those are the things that don’t give me confidence in a vendor, that make me think, you’re just slamming through this, trying to get a number out quick and not really doing any investment in time and energy and attention even to your own property. I mean, to me, you have to read your budget back before you send it out. How do you miss that if you’re looking to cover it?

Jordan Schwartz 

When you’re putting out an RFP for an A/V vendor, how much time do you allow to allow them to do their due diligence and put together a credible bid?

Jon Trask

I try and give people a week or so. I mean, obviously, situations happen where I have to have them turn things faster. I have good relationships with a lot of my vendors where I know their pricing enough. I’ve occasionally written their own quote for them pretty much. I’ll just say, I think this should cost this much and I think that should cost that much. Do you agree with me and we’ll work through that way but …

Jordan Schwartz 

They’re not all trying their best but yeah.

Jon Trask

No, I try and give them a week or so. I like to give them at least a couple of days at the minimum, even if it’s a rush thing so that they can sit down and think this through because it’s the old adage of quality time and what’s the third, and cost and you can have 2 of those 3.

Jordan Schwartz 

Don’t forget that there.

Jon Trask

If you’re asking somebody to just throw something together, they’re going to be guessing and estimating more than if they have the time to do the diligence and look at the room better. If it’s possible to have a vendor come out when you’re doing your site survey, it’s almost nice to meet with them at the property. I love the opportunity to look at a room in advance. I’ve had situations where we’ve literally move shows with clients I was working with because the room was booked in advance and we got there to look it over and prep technically for what we needed to do. It was for an auto show and it had columns in the room and the ceiling was too low.

We literally had to go back and say, this room will not work for what you’re doing and they move that event from Houston to Dallas, to a different property simply based on the fact that even though they had held the space, they weren’t going to be able to do the event that they were envisioning within that room. We ended up in a completely different place just based on the site survey that we did to confirm the room would be okay. We were going through a series of venues over the course of a week, one after another because it was like a simultaneous launch of a car model. Yeah, that was the city … one of the cities in the middle that we said wouldn’t work and they ended up shifting the whole thing from Houston to Dallas.

Jordan Schwartz 

I’ve got a question for you. This one from the audience. Kelly is a DC based planner who’s planning an event in the Netherlands and was asking about sourcing and choosing A/V Vendors internationally. I wonder if there are any special considerations either for your … in particular or just in general when you’re crossing international boundaries like that, that you have to think about?

Jon Trask

It’s … Every region has distinct differences, I’ve learned. You probably want to find someone that you trust with a knowledge of that area as a start and maybe let them kind of be your point person because … like I’ve worked with inbound technical directors who’ve come from other places and we’ve had fun just sitting there talking about the differences. In Hong Kong, they don’t call it IMAG. They call it live stream or like live screen. If I were to say, I’m putting an IMAG camera, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the guy in Hong Kong. If I say I want the image on the screen, they’ll understand what that means. Having somebody who knows how the work is kind of done on the ground within that area, I don’t think Europe is as extreme as maybe going into some other areas where the differences are going to be that great.

They have different health and safety regulations in every country so you may find that if a stage is over a certain height you need to have a railing on it or you may find that the venue has certain aisle clearances that have to be done. I mean they have those here in Las Vegas too where you have to have Fire Marshall approval of your drawing for your group and getting that approval is a time consuming and can be costly experienced specially if you’re working last minute. It’s much more expensive to do it at the 11th hour than if you’re doing it 30 days out and sending it over and getting it stamped and approved.

Because of those unique differences between venues, between regions and between countries, I would try and find a relationship with somebody who’s used to working in that area, that I was comfortable with and then begin sourcing from there. Does that kind of answer, Jordan?

Jordan Schwartz 

I think so, I think so and I think, one thing you mentioned in particular was safety and that there maybe different regulations there. I think that kind of … it goes in 2 directions, right? They may have more stringent requirements or just different requirements than you’re used to but also I think specially coming from the US and then working in kind of a non first world countries, the safety regulations may go on the other directions. In fact, you should expect that some of the things that you’re used to may not be followed and you’ll have to consider whether or not you’re comfortable with that.

Jon Trask

Yeah, and that’s very true. I know some of the … and some of the cost are very skewed in like some of the non first world areas, because they’ll just throw people at it as suppose to throwing skilled people at it, if that makes sense. Yeah, they’ll kind of make up with quantity for quality and so you’ll get a bunch of people who don’t really know what they’re doing except go climb that and lift these things up there. It’s not being done in a manner that we would be comfortable with.

Jordan Schwartz

Right, and then for the last time, cheap can become expensive. We have about 8 minutes left in our allotted time here. I want to make sure that … Yeah, if there is key points, let’s go ahead and hit them and I’ll throw up other questions from the audience. Feel free to, go ahead and type them in there and I’ll make sure we’ll get to them.

Jon Trask

Well, and I’m going to share this deck with you so you can share it with everybody and like the questions for the vendors here are pretty self-explanatory. It’s just a way of getting a grasp of what they’re quoting to provide you and that’s really what a lot of this boils down to. I’m going to go to the second page of it as well. You’re trying to find out, like with a detailed quote, if they give you … the more detail they can give you on the quote, the better you’re able to sit down, and this is not something done off the top of your head necessarily but you can sit down and actually compare these on a technical level side by side.

Even if you’re not a technical person, if they’re telling you what model of projector they’re using for example, you can do a Google search, you can pull that projector out and you can get a sense of its capabilities, of its brightness and a little bit of its material, for its marketing right off of a Google search and right away you may find, well, this person’s quoting a 20,000 lumen projector and these other people are quoting a 10,000 lumen. Why is that different? That’s a question you can go ask the vendor. Okay, you’re quoting a 10,000 lumen projector, is it cost … is it, that’s what you own. Is it right for the show? You can have a deeper conversation out of a detailed quote than you can have out of, we’re going to do projection for your room without any details.

Jordan Schwartz 

Right. It sounds like, you don’t necessarily have to have the technical knowledge to understand what lumens mean or at least how they apply but if you can just … if you have at least 2 quotes, you can this side by side and start to see, well, where are the differences. Yeah.

Jon Trask

To me, it’s always good to have that conversation. That you can go back and ask the why. Why did you make this choice and a good A/V salesperson will explain. I made that choice for this reason. This is … I thought your budget wouldn’t handle anything larger. The screen that’s acceptable for, in my standards. Here is why it’s acceptable. You can go through this conversation and you can get down into the whys that come from just getting this list of gear, that looks intimidating that you don’t really understand. Vendor questions for you, audience size and seating. The room being on 24 hour hold. Having time to set, strike and rehearse. If anything has been specifically requested by the presenters.

When will that material arrive. These are all very relevant things that your vendor should want to know. I mean, it’s great if you can put that right in the RFP and let them know up front but if you don’t tell them the audience size and how they’re going to be seated, you better be hearing back from each vendor asking you that because if they’re not asking you that, they’re not really putting together a quote designed for your event because I have to know how many people are there so I know what size of screens you need and so I know how many speakers you need. All of those things key off of certain items like that and so that’s a quick overview of vendor questions.

Jordan Schwartz 

A quick question from the audience, will a chain give a list of their venues that meet requirements, the high ceilings, column, loading rules or do you have to go to each property to get that.

Jon Trask

I haven’t found a database of people who have it nor have I found a really good database of production guidelines or rules which a lot of properties have. It’s really very ad hoc right now.

Jordan Schwartz 

You really have to go to each property and even a chain that owns multiple properties isn’t going to have a roll up of that information for you.

Jon Trask

Probably not and there are some chains quite frankly that make it rather challenging just to find the info on their website. Just getting in and finding like room size, there are some that want to publicize the square footage which I’m not interested in. I want to know that the room is 73 feet by 102 feet not that it’s 7,000 square feet or whatever. Those can be challenging but it’s information that you want to get and give to your vendor and your vendor should be looking at, Like I say, that’s the first place I go when I’m asked to quote something at a venue, is right to the specifications, on the meetings tab, on that venue website.

Something like a convention center is very good because most of those are city owned and it tends to be public information. A lot of convention centers, you’ll find that stuff very, very up front but some of the different chains, I found it a little more challenging to dig up.

Jordan Schwartz 

Yeah, yeah. Interesting. Just, one question from the audience, Adelle was saying that she’s on the other side of this as a vendor and find that some clients really aren’t doing their homework and are just paying attention to that cost line and aren’t asking the right questions and I don’t know if you have recommendations for how to deal with that, to how to get a client to … I mean, I know, from my business too that we have an event app and there are lots of them out there and we’ll get people to say, “Can you give me a quote.” I’m like, “Well, I can but you know, if all you’re looking at is price, you’re going to miss all the other differences in what we’re providing.”

Jon Trask

I wish I had the magic answer to that because it is a huge issue. I think a lot of it has gotten worse after the economic problems around 2008. A lot of planners are doing more work with less time and they’ve got a lot of pressure on them to maintain cost and to keep things within certain parameters. I don’t know the answer, I wish I did, I wish I could say, let’s make this go to a different conversation. That’s actually why we created A/V For Planners. We’re trying to change that conversation. It’s a challenging thing because I understand the planners are given guidelines by their boss and you need to do this for this much. They need to talk more about what is being provided for that number.

You can tell me I want the show down for X and it’s like, “Okay, well, I can do it for X if you give up the cameras but I can’t if you want the cameras.” It’s got to be a conversation and you need to as a planner take time to discuss things with your vendor. Give them the courtesy of having a conversation and there are really smart people in this business and they’ll get creative and they’ll do what they can do make your show happen within the budgets you’ve got but you need to understand the trade offs. I have to give this up or I have to be less of this to make me hit that number. There is always somebody who will be cheaper. Like you say, with your app.

If you’re just going to compete on price, then I’m probably not your guy because that’s not the way I’m designed. It’s not how we work.

Jordan Schwartz 

I think that kind of honesty can go a long way in breaking through that mindset and being comfortable with walking away from it. If they know that you’re not just chasing the dollar, you’re not just putting together the lowest bid so that you get the business and then you’ll work out the details later. You’re serious, let’s say, well if you want to do this right, let’s do this right and if you don’t want to do it right, then there is lots of other people to work with.

Jon Trask

Yeah, there is a whole list of people who are lined up behind … who are happy to compete on price but in the end you’re not going to be satisfied with the product that you get because, yeah, yeah. That’s … the last part about reading quotes here, I’ll kind of jump through this well. It’s just how a typical quote is broken down. I wanted to get to this, what am I missing page before we wrap up because this touches on a couple of different areas that we’ve hit on earlier. We’ve talked about rigging and power quite a bit. We haven’t really talked about internet. Internet is a huge concern. It affects the A/V even though it’s not directly the A/V company usually providing it.

Just, there are good places and good resources out there and a lot of conversation about internet and be aware that it’s only growing to be a larger and larger component of meetings because everybody in your room is walking around with a smartphone and an iPad and they want to be connected all the time. You’ve got to be aware of that or your audience is going to be unhappy. Go to something like the Convention Industry Council, which is conventionindustry.org I believe and they have an area called APEX and within APEX, there are a lot of resources on internet and that can lead you off in a couple of directions of understanding bandwidth and understanding traffic and some of those things that … I’m just going really gloss over.

Jordan Schwartz 

Yeah, there is a calculator. I don’t know, that I’ll include in the email that we send out after this that, again, as an app vendor a lot of times, we’ll get the question, well, how much bandwidth do I need to ask for for my venue and we found a calculator that, if you kind of estimate the number of attendees you have and we know how much bandwidth our app requires, plug it in and you can sound smart when you’re asking, when you’re having that conversation with the vendor.

Jon Trask

Be aware of union agreements the properties have. I mean, if you’re going into Chicago, if you’re going into New York. It’s very likely that you’re going to … the property is going to covered under union agreement. There is nothing wrong with that and there are very good union guys I work with and so it’s not that you’re being beaten up for a specific reason just because of who you are or something. It’s … the union has negotiated something with that property. One little factor of that though is you’re probably going to be getting the same labor again, no matter who you hire. It’s really more about who’s managing it because the union call is going to be the union call.

It’s going to be done a certain way within the agreements and you may have overlapping jurisdictions that you have to sort through. I’ve seen those be challenging and I’ve seen those be very easy so just know what’s in place.

Jordan Schwartz 

Is that your responsibility, is that an event planner’s responsibility to sort through that or is there a producer who will be more familiar with that because if I was on the line to sort through union jurisdictions, I mean, shoot me, I don’t know what to do.

Jon Trask

It’s more of an awareness. I mean, just be aware that if you’re going into this venue, and you’re going to contract with them there is an existing, let’s say, IATSE agreement with the property and that means that you’re going to be using union labor and just know that because it may change your cost structure. I mean, back in the battle days in the 90s, I had a situation where literally, I went from one city which was a non-union venue to a city which was a union venue, same show, same requirements and the labor bill was higher than the entire bill had been in the previous city, simply because there are 5 unions with jurisdictions.

Jordan Schwartz 

Are there particular cities that, where that’s going to be more of an issue than others?

Jon Trask

I would say, what I do in Chicago. Well, Chicago had a rep at one time as being a tough city. I’ve had great luck there and I’ve had a great crews. I use a labor broker and actually even when I was working for an A/V company, I would often say I’m not going to bill you the labor at all. I’m going to bill you my labor of the people I’m bringing and I’ll let you pay the union via this labor broker person directly and I would bring them in because they work with the unions on a daily basis. Once the requirements were laid out, there was no surprise that’s … yes, he were paying for that service but there was never the thing of, “Oh, we’ve decided you need this or this many more people or any of those things never happened to me on those shows because I used a local broker who dealt with the unions on a daily basis and had their own agreements in place.” It made it very consistent and very clear what we were doing.

Jordan Schwartz 

That could save itself, pay for itself in one got you that doesn’t happen.

Jon Trask

Yeah, I mean, I’ll give you another quick example. I had a show in New York where we were in a non-union property but while we were negotiating and figuring out the rigging we found out that they were trying to claim jurisdiction on it and negotiating. Basically, I had a discussion with the planner. I had a discussion with the vendor who was providing me with the rigging and we decided to do it as a union gig. It cost the planner a little more upfront but the planner wasn’t willing to risk having a picket line in front of her venue based on her show. It was much easier to say, “Okay, they’re negotiating, they’re probably going to be here, let’s just work with the union and have them bring their guys in.”

It was the same … basically, the vendor was doing the same work for us. It just changed the way that it was being done on the labor side and how the calls were being put out through the people whether they were non-union or union, if that make sense.

Jordan Schwartz 

Yeah, we’re a little bit overtime. Are there any … Let’s, do we have any last key points we want to hit before we let people go to lunch?

Jon Trask

Really, we’ve talked about the types of vendors. We’ve talked a lot about venues. We touched a bit on questions. We touched a bit on looking at your quote itself. That was really what I had set up for slides and I mean, I’m always happy if you email me with questions, it’s jon@avforplanners.com or mike@avforplanners.com. Either of us are happy to step in and offer advice or consultation or commiseration.

Jordan Schwartz 

Right. Well, thank you Jon. I appreciate it. I will include your contact information in the email that we send out afterwards. Also a link to A/V For Planners which is a resource for putting together bids for this exact, solve this exact problem. Thank you so much for taking the time. This has been great. There has been a few questions that came in at the end. We’ll try and hit those in email but overall, what I’m hearing is that, from the audience is that this was really useful so thank you.

Jon Trask

Excellent.

Jordan Schwartz 

Thank you all…

Jon Trask

Very happy to be here. Thank you for being here.

Jordan Schwartz 

Right. Have a good day everybody.