Reining in High Labor Costs

How to control spending on audiovisual and production teams

You will never eliminate the expense of labor, but with a little investment of time, you can manage and control it.  

Negotiate venue-service requirements before signing a contract.  

 Book space to allow for sufficient storage and setup time.  

Work with current production partners to understand the costs, requirements and local market restrictions of the city.

 During an event, always review labor costs daily.

For many, it is a dirty five-letter word. But we all use it, need it, pay for it, complain about it and occasionally even praise it: Labor is a crucial part of any audiovisual and production plan. It comprises 50 to 60 percent of the A/V and production budget. Unfortunately, in most cases very little planning goes into laying a solid foundation to help manage that labor.

As vice president of sales and industry relations for PRG, I work with clients across all industries to stage events with labor needs ranging from five to 500 technicians. From the time you contract with a venue to the time the last truck is loaded, a few simple strategies can help you effectively manage and control your labor costs.   

Whether you book your space four months or four years out, the same basic principles apply.

Read and understand the "service manual" part of your venue contract. This document outlines many key areas that can impact your labor costs. The time to negotiate these issues is in the pre-contract stage; once the contract is final, you are no longer negotiating -- you are groveling.

Ask your current audiovisual and production partner to help you understand the cost implications of a particular venue or city. Regardless of whether they are contracted, a true partner will provide you with some insight as to the local labor rules, regulations and issues that are likely to have an impact on your costs.

Block and book your space in a manner that provides you with as many straight-time days and hours as possible. This is not to suggest that you need to book all your space for extended days. Simply blocking storeroom space a day earlier and a day later can save you thousands of dollars in move-in and move-out costs. Also remember that in some cases rent is cheaper than labor, and it might make financial sense to rent the ballroom for an extra day and have a dark day to avoid overtime charges.


Not all labor is created equal. While there might be certain technical elements that you have used in the past or would like to use, it is important to understand the local market's ability to effectively operate and deploy that technology.

 If the local market cannot support your design, you'll have to bring in additional labor from elsewhere. In some cases, you still might require a local union shadow, effectively doubling your costs. The bottom line is that "cool and shiny" elements can get very expensive.

To ensure that your design works within your budget, have a clear understanding of the total budget implications for each related cost. This would include equipment, labor, travel, hotel and other related expenses. While some pricing for technologies such as LED are dropping, not all labor is adequately trained on its installation and operation. Skills can vary by market.

This is where the rubber meets the road and costs can easily spiral out of control.

 Control rehearsal times, particularly with executives. Many, many labor hours are wasted with crews waiting for someone to show up for rehearsal.

 Review your labor costs daily. Most planners review and sign BEOs daily, yet very few check their daily labor expenses.

 Watch your breakout labor closely. This falls into the category of death by a thousand cuts. Thirty minutes might not seem like much, but multiplied by 20 rooms, by three days, it can add up.