Even seasoned veterans of the event planning wars can misunderstand their options (or get trapped into over-paying) when it comes to their venue’s in-house AV. Not all venues have an in-house department for this, but if yours does, do you have to use their team? Can you bring in your own crew? And what does that contract really say? Don’t sign anything until you have all the facts.
Let’s demystify the in-house AV situation.
Who are these people?
“In-house” means contracted out. Venues typically do not maintain large staffs of AV experts, just in case a client needs lights, sound, and/or video services. They may have someone on staff, but it is their preferred provider(s) who will be doing your job, based on your AV needs. (That might even be your favorite AV company or some of their personnel.) Companies pay a fee to be “preferred,” and they will recoup that cost through the fees you pay.
In some cases, your venue may have different in-house departments and/or outside providers that handle various AV needs – say, physical equipment versus internet/power supply. That can cause communication confusion regarding costs and “who’s on first” when it comes to equipment, set-up, etc.
If there is an AV department, talk with them directly before making any decisions. And get a written copy of their guidelines for use of in-house AV, including detailed lists of equipment available and costs. Ask if there are any costs you can’t see.
Can you use your regular AV production team?
Possibly not. However, many venues will allow your regular crew to do your work – as long as you pay in some way for their in-house services as well. The guidelines we mention above should spell out their policies regarding “bring your own” AV providers.
Experienced professional AV companies are used to working cooperatively and efficiently in conjunction with in-house AV folks. But be very vigilant here -- often, venues are happy to allow outside AV crews, but they may charge you a penalty.
Just say no to that. Your job is to negotiate so that you don’t wind up paying for duplication of labor, especially since your venue probably charges a “service fee” on top of labor costs. (It’s like the gratuity they automatically add to F&B charges.) You also don’t want to pay for extraneous labor or materials. So read every word. Ask for clarification of every “service” or cost you don’t readily understand. Is this something you actually need, or is it a needless budget-booster?
Just because it’s on the list of charges doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay full freight. Venues commonly give discounts (not on labor) or waive certain costs – it’s all part of the bargaining game. Don’t agree to a discount, though, until you know exactly what you will need. It’s easy for the venue to cut one cost but raise another to make up for that.
What you won’t get
The venue’s in-house AV people are there to supply equipment and accessories, set things up, and run them. They typically do not provide creative design services or ideation to improve the aesthetics or branding of your event to make the final product unique and memorable. If all you need is simple plug-and-play AV for a small meeting, that won’t matter. But the larger and more complex your event, the more you can benefit from the experience and insight of your established AV partner.
You have a right to the best possible event, so don’t choose a venue that will keep you from achieving that. Before you sign any contracts (with the venue or their in-house AV department), discuss the situation with your regular AV folks. You know each other well, and you trust them, so let them help you read between the lines. You’ll want them to participate in your event planning process anyway, so think of this as the first step.
The Bottom Line
It’s your event and your vision. So read carefully and ask questions until you feel comfortable that you understand every detail and all your options. With diligence up front, you can make in-house AV work your way, getting the best AV production and value for your budget.