Not to belabor the point, but, ultimately, it’s the people who make your event shine. Labor costs can run anywhere from 10% to 50% of your budget. So when you’re planning an event, it's important to understand how those costs are computed. Let’s break it down.
In the entertainment business, labor is usually charged by half-day or day rate. A day is defined as 10 hours. It doesn't matter if someone is working one hour or five, it will be classified as a half-day. Anything between five and 10 hours is a day. Anything over 10 hours is considered overtime. Always check to see what rate rules apply given your venue’s location. They may very well be different from city to city.
An experienced AV company knows how long it takes to get things done, but there are always variables. Their quote will reflect their best estimate of elapsed time for set-up, live event time, and tear-down. Because AV jobs are often highly specialized, different rates will be applied to different types of labor.
Although day rate is usual, labor might be charged by the hour if the job is short and straight-forward. In this case, there will probably be a minimum — say, four or five hours. The reason is simple. By the time the person travels to your job, does the work, and gets back, a one-hour job has grown longer. The minimum makes it worth their time, especially since they can’t bill out those extra hours to someone else. In general, it’s safe to say that each market area and/or freelance technician may have minimum day rates that need to be followed.
Early in your budgeting process, it’s important to check on the daily labor overtime rules that may apply during your event so that you know the impact they may have, based on your schedule.
Travel and Per Diem
Bringing in an AV crew from out of town requires them to travel. That takes time (again, time they could be working for someone else), so you’ll see a travel rate for that — generally half the regular rate. Your AV company may also charge for the per diem they pay crew members to cover food and other travel expenses (taxi, parking, etc.) It’s just like your employer paying your costs when you travel for work.
Your AV crew needs time to test every bit of equipment. That’s far cheaper than a failure in the middle of your event. Presenters and entertainers need time to rehearse with full AV, too. When planning an event, you’ll want to budget testing and rehearsal time separately from the set-up.
They DO Need Breaks, Even if They Resist
Your AV crew is working their tails off for you, doing sometimes-dangerous, always-tiring work. Legally (and by union contract), they are entitled to breaks the same as any other worker, but they may not adhere to that. Good AV pros are good because they are totally dedicated to the job at hand — making sure your event is flawless in every way.
Fatigue is the enemy when you’re working long hours with heavy electrical and other equipment, not to mention detailed execution that requires serious concentration. The very last thing you want is for someone to get hurt or miss a cue. Insist that your folks take breaks to restore their minds and bodies. (And make sure that time is covered in your labor costs.) If there is some comfy seating near the food and beverage, that would be divine.
Food and Beverage
Keeping the cold water, ice tea, or coffee flowing and the trays filled with nutritious snacks and delicious sweets will help your AV team stay fueled up without missing a beat. No, you don’t have to, but smart event planners know where to put their budget dollars to achieve the best effect. And a few bucks for food and beverage will bring you return on investment beyond belief. Wouldn’t you rather work with people who appreciate you?
From a purely practical standpoint, you may save time (and money). The farther crew members have to go to find meals and a beverage, the longer it takes. You’re paying for this time, and while the clock is ticking, work has slowed. You might have to budget more prep time to account for that. Worst case, interruptions can lead to mistakes.
The easiest way to understand and control labor costs is to work with your AV company right from the start when planning an event. That way, they can organize both labor and equipment needs as efficiently as possible.