April 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio April 2000 Current Issue
April 2000 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Susan Kacapyr


Finding the perfect provider keeps problem presentations to a minimum

Barco 9200. Sharp 3500. Sony 1292Q. Do you need to know what all this means in order to choose an audiovisual provider? Certainly, the more you know, the easier it will be for you to make an informed decision.

Remember, the audience will take A/V for granted if nothing goes wrong. But as soon as a problem occurs, it is glaringly evident to all in attendance. Following are guidelines for choosing a supplier that will keep the technical aspect of an event seamless and invisible.

The request for proposal. Your RFP should include a cover letter, a fact sheet or overview of your event, a list of equipment needed for each activity (breakouts, general sessions, luncheons), a schedule of events (listing when each will take place and the setup times) and a floor plan. Be as complete as possible. If you don’t know much about the company, include a questionnaire to find out such details as how many employees/locations it has, how many years it has been in business and how its labor is trained.

Know the basics. You don’t need to be an expert, but be aware of your needs. You should be able to tell potential suppliers which projectors you want, what type of lighting you prefer, whether you will be using front or rear projection, and if you will be using house sound. Learn all you can by talking to planners who run similar-size events and by networking with A/V professionals.

Types of services. Several kinds of suppliers might fulfill your needs. Equipment companies provide not only gear but labor and expertise. A technical freelancer has a specialty, like lighting, and will handle specific elements of your event. Production companies vary in the services they offer; most can handle all aspects of a meeting, including elaborate staging. Full-service communications firms are similar to production companies, but they also help define and communicate your message. Of course, your budget will be a key factor in deciding what type of company to hire.

Build a comparison spreadsheet. Be sure you are comparing apples to apples (or Barcos to Barcos). There are many different brands of equipment and models within each brand. Do you need the top-of-the-line data projector the supplier is recommending? It is important to know the size of the room, the type of projection you are using and the type of images that will be projected.

Even if you specify how you want the bid to be itemized, responses will come back grouped differently. For instance, some suppliers might include travel expenses, while others expect to bill those separately. When building your spreadsheet, include as many columns and criteria as are necessary to compare what you would be getting from each company.

Check references. Once you narrow down your choices, call references. Try to talk to people whose events are about the same size as yours. Ask how the companies handled last-minute requests, how well the A/V staff integrated with the meetings staff and if the final bill was in line with the supplier’s original quote.

Now negotiate. Be sure each company knows it has competition. Be up front about your budget. If the sales manager knows your bottom line, he will do what he can to get to that point. (Be sure the supplier is not compromising the quality of your event, however.) If complimentary items are included, be sure to outline everything in the contract. Verbal promises too often are forgotten. After signing that contract, communicate frequently with your sales manager. Update him on any room and attendance changes as well as additional equipment requests from your speakers.

Susan Kacapyr is program manager and conference planner for F&W Publications Inc. in Cincinnati.

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