How do I save money on my AV bill?

Or: “How can I lower my AV costs?”

Gold podium
Tip: Ask if they have a podium that isn’t made of gold and encrusted with jewels

I had talked to a client about their event, this was the first time this particular meeting was being held. It was a few days, with a general session and four breakout rooms along with a special awards gala. I put together a proposal and sent it. I immediately heard back from them – “This is three times what I can spend!” This wasn’t the first time I had a conversation like this; maybe you’ve experienced it as well. Especially when you’re working with a constrained budget, what can you do to lower your AV bill?

If you’ve already received a quote there’s a couple options:

  • Ask for a discount – Your simplest and first step is to ask if the price can come down. When I was with hotel AV companies there was always some percentage discount I could offer. Event staging companies will have less leeway, but are typically lower priced to start, and may be able to offer something.
  • Ask to change the way items are billed – Request to wave costs for small items like carts, stands, or flipcharts. For flipcharts if you know you’ll only use one pad of paper for a multiple day event, ask to be billed for one day only, or at least for only one pad. For longer events ask about being billed a “weekly rate” instead of five days or whatever the case may be.
  • Ask what you can scale back – A good partner will be able to make some suggestions about areas to reduce the cost. For example, maybe you could use a podium microphone instead of a few wireless microphones, or bring your own projectors for the breakouts instead of renting them. One note here: you don’t want to skimp on labor. If there’s a technician listed it’s usually for a good reason so consider this area carefully.
Chess pieces
Just like chess, your first moves are important. Unlike chess no one will call you “Grandmaster”

There’s also some steps you can take before getting a quote that will help keep costs down:

  • Keep things competitive – Before you sign a contract with a venue, negotiate out any clauses that penalize you for using an outside AV partner. The hotel’s preferred vendor may be a great fit, but keeping things competitive protects you by keeping your options open. (See “Do I have to use the in-house AV provider?“)
  • Shop around – Get two or three quotes for the services you need. If you prefer one partner who is priced higher, you have the added leverage to say “I’d like to work with you, but another partner offered me this price. What can you do?” (Also see this post on putting together an RFP)
  • Give a budget – By stating a range for how much you want to spend, you’re using a negotiating technique called “anchoring”. You’re setting an expectation. Even if an AV company might normally come in higher than your budget, they’ll try to adjust if possible to hit your number, or at least come closer. (Keep in mind your range has to be somewhat realistic or you may just get offers from lower quality partners)

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