by By Ken Kirsh, CMP | May 01, 2009

In difficult times, it is essential to share information and provide reassurance to your group. Meetings and events can help deliver those tangibles; a planner's professional partners can ensure they are delivered flawlessly and effectively -- even when the budget has been cut.

Our industry has seen its share of downturns, but the elements of production that are seen as extravagant have not changed: Hiring Aerosmith to entertain, Rich­ard Branson to speak and using dazzling sets might not be in order. However, good sound, lighting, and appropriate speakers or video messages enhance any event -- and can be achieved at low cost.

Consider the following tips when negotiating for production services. (Note: If a company or in-house A/V department is unwilling to be flexible in these times, think twice before using them.)

Pricing Strategies
There are several ways to determine what you can spend on production.

Budget-based. Begin with an estimate based on available funds or event history. When sending out requests for proposals, ask potential vendors to include as much value as possible for the amount you can spend. Be sure ask them to identify all expenses not included (travel, power, rigging, etc.) so you're not surprised or over budget when the final bill comes in. The plus: When comparing bids, you can easily determine which vendor has included more (or better) services for your dollars.

Fee-based. Some companies charge a flat fee for services, separate from the cost of equipment, labor or subcontractors. The plus: If you're able to pay for equipment and other subcontractors directly, you'll save on the additional administrative fee the production company would get.

With this pricing strategy, each line item is listed at cost and marked up by a percentage. The amount of the percentage can vary for equipment, labor, expenses and creative or technical services. The plus: Using a detailed matrix with built-in formulas enables you to instantly determine the effect of any change in service/cost.

If it makes sense, consider a combination of the above pricing strategies. Remember, you're being paid not just to run programs but also to be smart and creative. Work closely with your team, including your event producer and other suppliers.

Procurement Tips
Procurement departments understand how to arrange special deals by offering alter­nate payment terms that are agreeable to vendors. Learn from their example and con­sider presenting any or all of the following alternative payment structures to your production partner.

Pay early. If you're willing to pay a portion of fees sooner than is customary, many suppliers will value the opportunity to cover their overhead and reduce their fees to some reasonable extent. First check with your procurement or finance department to determine whether this is feasible. If so, offer it as a possibility.

Offer installments. Spread payments over a period of time, offering the largest payments early on.

Pay more often. Consider offering more frequent installment payments than requested. The rationale is the same as above.

Think Long Term
You want to keep your job and help your company stay afloat, and your suppliers are in the same boat. Production firms and A/V vendors want to help you through these tough times so you'll be there for them in better times. Now more than ever, planners and suppliers need to help each other navigate through this most challenging time for our industry.