by Cheryl-Anne Sturken and Tom Isler | August 01, 2005

Even in financially strong organizations, a heightened emphasis on the bottom line remains the basic framework upon which today’s events are crafted. There are still plenty of ways for budget-minded planners to save on costs without sacrificing quality or value. Here is the best advice from experts in every major aspect of event realization.

1. Have it your way.
“Some hotels try to strong-arm you into using in-house A/V services whose prices tend to be way, way higher than street prices,” notes Pete Pandit, co-owner of AV Guys in National City, Calif. Other properties might add a surcharge for the use of outside A/V suppliers. Pandit suggests planners make sure they have A/V freedom before committing to a venue or at least understand what the consequences will be.
     2. Use what’s there. A number of experts recommend getting the most out of a venue by using the built-in audio system instead of renting an external setup. Similarly, if the conference room has a perfectly serviceable basic screen, do you really need to rent a fast-fold or other technically advanced counterpart? 
    3. Bless the darkness. Beware of natural lighting, says Steve Sokolowski, production manager of Design Audio Visual in Farmingdale, N.Y. Avoid spaces with skylights or large windows that would have to be blacked out during presentations or would require super-bright projectors or special screens. “Those could easily run $5,000 per day,” Sokolowski warns.
    4. Reserve the space. If a meeting will require A/V equipment over multiple days, see if a venue will allow exclusive use of conference rooms, so technicians need only to set up the equipment once, and clients will save on labor bills. 
    5. Mind the labor. Jeff Wilson, director of sales at Houston-based J&S Audio Visual Inc., says labor charges can surprise planners. He suggests negotiating a day rate instead of an hourly rate for jobs that will require more than eight hours of work. If a day rate isn’t available, be careful not to run into mealtime penalties with union workers, and try to keep setup and take-down during regular work hours to avoid paying overtime. Planners also should review labor charges at the end of each day to note any discrepancies with the original quote, Wilson advises.
    6. Do it yourself. Sokolowski says corporate clients can save a lot by putting their own energy and resources into A/V offerings. For example, he suggests self-producing PowerPoint presentations, slide shows or video clips, if possible, instead of outsourcing the job. Pandit adds, perhaps a bit ruefully, that he sees a number of clients cutting costs by providing their own laptops or projectors. Planners also can provide staff to man computers and run the presentations to reduce the number of hired technicians needed on site.
    7. Simplify. Sometimes the “wow” factor can be overrated. Is it necessary to have multiple presentations at once? Try to organize the event so one projector can satisfy your A/V needs. And how vital is the velvet draped around the projection screen?  Using floor-supported lights instead of hanging lights is simpler. Don’t necessarily accept recommended packages from A/V providers; see if less expensive, less showy and more streamlined items can be substituted. Good rule of thumb: If it doesn’t add significantly to the décor, lose it.
    8. Don’t wait. Wilson advocates getting proposals signed and back to an A/V supplier 30 days prior to the event. “Most A/V companies will allow better discounts by doing this and you should ask for a better discount,” he says.