More with Less??? Yes!

hyattShowBy Kelly Kucera

After working closely with the association and non-profit markets over the years, I have discovered one ubiquitous trend that never fades… people always want to do more with less money.

Is that a bad thing?  Absolutely not.  Many corporations are also adopting this philosophy, even though our national economy is improving and overall revenues are on the rise.  The need for prudence is still universal, so what can be done to achieve this balance with an event?

A client once told me, “I want a nice event, but not too nice.  I don’t want to spend a ton of money, but I don’t want it to look like I didn’t spend a ton of money.  The most important thing is for everyone to be able to see and hear, I guess.”

I love this quote.  It is very indicative of what many clients want, regardless of whether it is a corporate event, social, non-profit, government or association.  Give me a great event, make it sound good, make it look good, but be creative to help me save budget dollars…

“Seeing and Hearing”

Sound.  THIS IS NOT WHERE YOU WANT TO SAVE DOLLARS.  Ask any production company and they will advise you to always secure a proper audio system.  For those planners out there that have experienced inferior audio, you know it is the one area of production that will plague an entire event.

I have been a guest at many gatherings where I have had cold soup, undercooked meat, a wobbly chair or stuffed in a 5’ round of 12.  These were inconveniences, but nothing is worse than hearing cracks in amplification systems or feedback from improper line levels.  Can you remember the last time you had a bad entrée?  Maybe…  Can you remember the last event when you couldn’t hear or the mic fed back? Bet the date is easier to pinpoint.

Take… a concert for example.  Arenas and stadiums fill to capacity, and it’s implied that if your seats are located in upper levels, the “seeing” is going to be tough.  But, is there the same implication with sound?  NO!  Regardless of the printed value of your ticket, you better be able to hear it all, and hear it all well.

The same psychology applies to events.  If attendees choose to sit in the back, there is a perceived understanding that views may be obstructed and in many instances, if they can hear clearly, this trade-off is acceptable.  However, if the audio is off in any way, this perception turns into a miserable experience.

Good news is that many venues are upgrading and maintaining their in-house audio systems more frequently, a huge benefit to planners.  House sound is inexpensive and almost always included in room rental.  However, there are limitations to these pre-fabricated amplification systems, so be forewarned that augmentation will be necessary in larger rooms and venues and for larger groups.

“Right-Sizing”

Your production company should be able to right-size your event and use their expertise to save on the video portion of your AV budget.

Back to my client who wants to “see and hear.”  While I know his audio has to be stellar, there are more cost-efficient ways to project video and more options with recent technology.  The frequent AV set is two large screens and two projectors flanking staging.  It is a fact that more screens reduce “line-of-sight issues,” but it is not always necessary.  If your event totals 250-350, you can easily upgrade the size of the screen, increase stage size and center the screen, while shifting podium position to one-side of the stage.  This reduces projector and screen costs in half, and also saves on equipment that distributes data or video signal to both areas.  Moreover, less equipment means less labor, an additional area where dollars can be spared.  At this size event, your audience will be able to see content from both sides of the room and YOU just saved yourself a good chunk of cash.

If your event is larger, you can accomplish the same thing by raising your screen above the stage, commonly using truss to lift the screen atop the set.  The height will offer you more visibility for your back tables and still save on equipment costs in most cases.

One caveat… I have many clients that nix video cameras for live projection of their speakers to save costs.  You can do this when your event is smaller, but if your event reaches the magic number of 400, this becomes a necessity for the success of the event… especially with token keynotes, guest speakers or government officials.  Have your AV contact supply you with other options to make sure live image production is not cut from the budget.

“Looking Good”

Set design is always the first thing to go in an AV budget.  Many groups will sacrifice décor and design for functionality and sensibility.  But, there are some ways to have your cake and eat it, too.

LED lighting is always a go-to for adding color and texture on backdrops behind stages.  LED is cost-efficient and does not require a huge amount of power, a huge plus when some venues charge upwards of $250++ for common power drops.  In addition, truss pieces come in decorative patterns that can be lit within to offer depth to a stage set, or sheathed with covers that become decorative columns for a more elegant look.  You combine these together, and you can create a fresh, modern set, which doesn’t break the bank.

“Be Creative”

This can apply to all event planners out there – there are many creatively designed venues that have AV equipment with décor and design built-in, saving you on equipment and labor costs.  Image’s Systems Installation Team recently overhauled the Marco Polo Ballroom at The Curtis Hotel, upgrading sound and installing LED around the room that can be accessed and controlled from an iPad.  With a little creativity in selecting sites, you may be able to find great locations that offer all-inclusive meeting packages that include AV and fantastic ambience.

One final note… while these suggestions work in many cases, please be advised that venue pricing is not always comparable to stand-alone production companies, like mine for instance.  I was recently on vacation at a resort and grabbed the in-house AV price list.  A standard “Projector Package” for a small room with an LCD, screen, cables and cart rents for $825.00.  Our projector package rents for less than half that… even at our hotel partners.

Questions or comments?  Tweet me @kellykucera

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