The corporate AV industry is Broken. Not just a little broken, fundamentally broken and the customer is the loser. Our clients and their clients deserve better. In this blog I will outline the problem and present my solution. Together we can change the world!
Meet Evelyn, our fictitious event planner.
Evelyn works hard and loves pizza. While visiting her favorite pizza place she orders and enjoys a delicious pizza.
Evelyn doesn’t worry about the tools and process because she trusts her favorite restaurant to make a great pizza.
Let’s say Evelyn is in charge of a one day corporate event for 1000 attendees. The vision is for an awesome educational, motivational and bonding experience; one day, in and out. The event structure is simple: continental breakfast buffet, morning session, lunch, afternoon breakouts, dinner, closing remarks, done. Evelyn has a lot of moving parts to coordinate but today we will focus on only two: food and beverage, and Audio Visual. Evelyn’s buying experience is about to take two very different paths.
Evelyn: I need an f&b package for 1000 people, one day.
F&B Vendor: What are your goals/budget?
Evelyn: Continental breakfast buffet, networking lunch, seated dinner, budget $10,000.
F&B Vendor: Let’s talk about the guest experience, food quality and taste, presentation and accommodating any special needs. Let’s meet for a taste test so we can start building a program that thrills your guests.
Evelyn: I need an AV package for 1000 people, one day.
AV Vendor: What are your goals/budget?
Evelyn: Podium mic/sound system and video screens for keynote, stage and room lighting, budget $10,000.
AV Vendor: OK…so you need 3-phase power distribution with 200′ of feeder, 24 channels of dmx dimming, 4 @ 6.5K projectors with SDI, 2 @ large projection screens, 18 @ DSP controlled line arrays, cardioid subwoofers, digital video switching, matrix and distribution, fold back audio monitors, video confidence monitors, acoustic room measurements and tuning, dual-reeved chain motors, a 4 universe lighting console, 750 watt lekos with barn doors for washes and specials, color correcting gel, on and on and on and on and on…
After all the technical munbo-jumbo, Evelyn may also learn how the vendor’s technicians are the “best in the business”, the gear is state of the art, useless information about how the equipment is stored, prepped and QC’d. The AV vendor is talking to Evelyn about tools and process, and frankly, none of that information matters if they are a reputable company with a track record of success and clients who trust them. It’s up to the vendor to use the best gear and train their staff properly so events are successful, or risk their reputation with substandard equipment and/or poorly trained staff. (The same as if the F&B vendor prepared food that tasted bad or made people sick.)
I’ll bet during her time with the AV vendor who is talking about equipment, Evelyn is actually thinking about her favorite dishes from the sample session with F&B, how nice the dessert presentation looked, the wonderful smell of the soups… Evelyn may even be excited about treating her guests to a terrific dining experience and looking forward to post-event feedback. Evelyn is probably dreading “dealing” with the AV vendor who continues to focus on equipment and talk about their gear and themselves but never properly address the RESULTS that Evelyn wants and needs.
Evelyn likely does not care what brand of stoves or how many of them are used to cook the delicious food, nor is it likely she will care what brand of loudspeakers or how many of them the AV vendor uses to help the attendees hear the keynote speaker clearly. Yet, the corporate AV industry insists on torturing clients with very long, extremely detailed lists of the tools and processes they will use but hardly ever is there contract language about the final RESULT. What really matters to Evelyn? Will the food be delicious and on schedule? Will the keynote speaker be heard clearly? Will the room look beautiful? Will the presentation on schedule?
If you are an event planner in charge of acquiring AV, what are you buying? A list of equipment or a result? They are not the same thing! The chef uses a stove, the lighting technician uses a …spaceship looking thing… The final RESULT with AV and F&B requires ingredients, equipment, talent, and the passion to make the result amazing.
Imagine if F&B talked about the knives it used to cut the food, the stoves it used to cook the food, what brand of chicken it serves, the carts it uses to transport the food to the event location, and the warmers it uses to keep the food at serving temperature instead of talking about how the guests will enjoy great tasting food served on time in an aesthetically pleasing way. If the chef was in the AV business the conversation might go something like “We’ve just upgraded to the ‘Warm-a-Matic’ 2000 food warmers! They are the latest and greatest and are twice as shiny as the old warmers our competition is still using.” What value does bragging about the “Warm-a-Matic 2000” bring to Evelyn? What problem does it solve? Why should Evelyn care as long as her objectives are met and budget maintained?
Unless a tool solves a problem (e.g. portable charcoal grill for onsite beach side cooking/battery powered lighting for beach side dining) or provides a point of differentiation (e.g. upgrade to wood oven baked pizza from electric oven baked/upgrade to LED lighting from conventional to save 90% on power costs) I see no reason why it would matter or be of interest to the client.
Evelyn is not renting stoves, knives, and food warmers for the day, hiring chefs, and buying chicken parts, she is buying a delicious sit-down meal for 1000 guests. Evelyn is NOT renting loudspeakers, microphones and technicians for a day, she is buying natural sounding, perfectly intelligible dialog at every seat, for 1000 guests. Evelyn is NOT renting lekos, dimmer packs, power distribution and lighting consoles, she is buying beautiful lighting for the stage and room. Evelyn is NOT renting screens, projectors, video mixers, sdi distribution systems and line filters, she is buying perfectly legible PPT presentation for her 1000 guests.
None of the line by line information offers any value to Evelyn or her end client. That information is required internally by the AV company to plan and deliver the desired results. I wonder if long ago the AV industry started sharing their internal planning data with clients to make it appear they are getting “more” for their money? Or does the AV industry not know how to listen to clients, assess their wants and needs, then fulfill them as trusted partners?
* Natural sounding, perfectly intelligible dialog, with no feedback or missed cues, at every seat per the event diagram.
* Beautiful lighting for the room, dynamic lighting for the stage, with no missed cues.
* Clearly legible PPT presentation, with no PC malfunctions, at every seat for 1000 guests.
* 8AM – 8PM $10,000
Estimate A is my vision of how to do better. Requirements, expectations, cost and RESULTS are quantified, agreed upon, and put in writing. When working (dealing…) with an AV vendor and they send you an estimate with a grocery list of their tools and processes, send it back and demand contract language that speaks to the RESULTS you need. This is far more useful, and allows the vendor to exceed your actual expectations. (Or, alternately, you can hold the vendor accountable if they miss cues, if the video looks blurry or dull, if the sound is not clear or feeds back, or any other deviations from the RESULT you expect.) In closing, event planners, unless you plan to operate it ourselves, STOP renting equipment, technicians, and trucking. Be clear about your wants and needs and be specific about the results you expect.
Estimate B is a simplified example of an estimate the status quo AV industry would currently provide to a client like Evelyn.
Estimate B (a greatly oversimplified but typical example)
(often each line has its own prices and adds up to the total)
1 @ Yamaha LS9 32 channel Digital Audio console
1 @ Cat 5 Digital snake box
4 @ Shure UR2 Wireless Mic Package with Antenna distribution and 10dB paddles
1 @ Shure Podium Microphone
4 @ microphone stands
12 @ JBL VRX 932 Constant Curvature speakers
4 @ JBL VRX 932 fly brackets
1 @ 20,000 watt amp rack with DSP
1 @ SMAART room measurement system
1 @ rigging package
1 @ audio cable package
1 @ prep fee
12 @ leko fixture 750 watt
6 @ 19 degree lenses
4 @ 26 degree lens
2 @ 36 degree lens
1 @ color correction gel kit
1 @ ETC dimmer rack
36 @ Colorado LED fixtures
6 @ Martin Mac 700 moving yoke spot fixtures
1 @ Roadhog 4 lighting console
2 @ opto splitters
1 @ cable package
4 @ Christie 10k projectors
2 @ Christie projector rigging kit
1 @ image pro switching rack
1 @ SDI video distribution package
1 @ cable kit
1 @ equipment shop prep fee
1 @ Technical designer
1 @ Technical Director
1 @ Audio lead
3 @ audio assist
1 @ Lighting Lead
3 @ lighting assist
1 @ Video Lead
1 @ Video Assist
1 @ Head Rigger
1 @ Rigging Assist
1 @ Trucking/Delivery
8AM – 8PM $10,000
As for sports cars, this article makes no reference to them, but Evelyn thinks they are fun, and is working hard to be successful enough to buy a red one. Cheers.