Consider an Independent AV Consultant When Planning Your Next Event

Planning considerations for your next event
By: Eric Bracht
Choosing an Audiovisual provider for meetings has been an on-going struggle for many in the meeting planner community. For years the accepted practice to plan and execute technical requirements for your event has been to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to one or more AV Production providers for a quote, choosing the provider that best meets your needs and budget. The AV Production providers all use the same RFP to build their proposals, including the equipment used, the type of labor required, and the amount of man-hours it will take to perform the work. The meeting planner then receives proposals back, typically in whatever format is produced by the bidders’ rental software and reviews them to make their decision. 

The result of this practice is that proposals are often frustratingly different, and vary greatly in equipment and labor costs, making it very difficult to make an accurate “apples-to-apples” comparison between them. The question becomes “why are the proposals so different, they each received the same RFP?”.  The answer really has two parts: one is that RFPs are often general, leaving them open to interpretation by the bidders; and two, the bidders are answering the proposals based on their own inventory and capabilities. 

Attempting to compare proposals from multiple vendors can be very frustrating, particularly because not all planners have the technical background to interpret the responses they receive.  Even before the pandemic, meeting planners were being tasked with “doing more with less”, meaning the same person responsible for booking the hotel, coordinating presenters, selecting catering menus and organizing sessions is also responsible for planning the AV. Only the most experienced of planners has the broad skill set in these areas while also having the expertise to know which of the proposals best meet the needs of their event, or to determine if the pricing is fair and reasonable. 

Meeting planners may want to consider engaging an independent AV consultant. An AV consultant does not own inventory, they have nothing to sell, and are product agnostic when developing an AV solution. They discuss the needs of the event and can make suggestions on what is possible while also providing estimates of probable cost to keep things realistic from a budget perspective. 

Once the needs have been determined they will write a non-technical programming report, describing the needs of the event so that the meeting planner has the opportunity to make certain that there is understanding of the overall goals. After the programming is approved, the AV consultant will develop the RFP to send out to the selected bidders. This RFP will specifically detail the technical requirements of the event and the specifications of the equipment, while allowing the bidders flexibility to meet those needs with the types and brands of equipment they have in inventory. This will typically result in receiving quotes back that are consistently priced within a 10% margin. 

An AV consultant’s knowledge will also allow a complete review of the RFP responses to ensure that the providers’ proposed solutions cover all of the bases. They will be available to the bidders during the bid process to answer questions and clarify any of the specifications. All of this helps to ensure the meeting planner that each quote meets their needs and allows them to select the best value option. The AV consultant can also assist with negotiations, and review any changes proposed by bidders to lower costs to ensure they still meet the needs of the event. They provide an unbiased opinion because they have no stake in the sale.

Having an experienced AV consultant is also valuable to the AV Production providers, as it can save them time and effort in producing proposals based on vague or incomplete information. Since the presentation needs will already have been thought out and organized, they are able to quickly build their quotes based on the RFP and not try to imagine how their competition may be offering a different solution.

The consultant will conduct an in-depth “needs analysis” by interviewing the event planner(s). Their role at this point is consultative, and sometimes educational, as the meeting planner may have an overall vision of the event but not a clear understanding of the technology options. Having someone detail the pros and cons of options without a vested interest in directly selling those options builds credibility and trust in the relationship. The consultant will produce the RFP and submit it to the client for issue to bidders, then review the responses to ensure they meet needs. They will review and level all of the bids, and typically point out any bidders who are either falling short of, or offering added value to, the specified needs. They will rank the bids in order based on the criteria received from the client and provide a recommendation. For some projects, the AV consultant’s involvement will end upon award to an AV provider. For more complex events, the meeting planner may choose to retain the consultant through the event to adapt to changes and reconcile the billing at the conclusion.

The good news for AV providers is that the inclusion of an AV consultant does not come at their expense.  While the consultant will take over the initial development and specifications of an event, the provider is still the one to supply all of the equipment and labor.  So for only the time it takes to build the quote the provider is delivered a pre-qualified buyer, with specific needs and a clear vision of what they are looking for. 
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