Les Goldberg on how to qualify live event providers

Best practices in qualifying your equipment provider
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The start of the new year is the perfect time to take stock and review your approach to identifying the right audiovisual provider and improving decision making in the future. In the live event industry there are many different types of equipment providers to choose from to handle your show, with a varied degree of specializations. Are you currently working with the most qualified technical provider for your type of event? When selecting from the available providers, it is important to ask the appropriate questions during the bid process, and come to the table as an educated buyer to minimize the risk in successfully executing the show.
Equipment providers in the live event industry can greatly vary and have different areas of expertise. Some providers have a high degree of technical proficiency, and can handle very complex events, while other firms specialize in basic “bread and butter” audiovisual. In my opinion, the group of firms within the event industry that can successfully handle the really high end shows is limited to a few key providers. For medium size and small events, the range of providers is much greater. As you plan and craft the RFP for your event, it is important to be able to properly qualify these providers and understand the difference between their areas of expertise to avoid pitfalls during the show.
Let me offer some insight on the right questions to ask, and factors to consider to ensure you find an equipment provider that will meet your event needs and budget:
Understand the technical sophistication of the event. The degree of technical complexity is a critical factor in determining the level of equipment provider you may require to execute the show. Are you looking to create a “one of a kind” experience for the audience? Are you looking to use innovative technology or techniques that are new to the industry? By understanding that your event is not a basic configuration, you can ask pointed questions to determine the experience of the bidding providers, and guarantee your event is not their first time working with the required technology.
Ask whether the equipment provider owns or cross rents gear. An equipment provider that owns an inventory of gear is going to be better equipped to handle a high end event. For example, a company that doesn’t own LED isn’t going to be an expert in a show that requires a large LED component. A company that owns the gear required for your event will normally have an internal team in place to maintain and operate the equipment, and is more likely to offer a higher degree of technical expertise.
When it comes to events, size matters. An event for 100,000 is obviously much different than a show for 500, and will require scale. For larger events you need to ensure your selected provider can not only operate the required technology, but be able to provide a large amount of gear. During the proposal process, be specific about the size of your event and setup, and inquire about available inventory levels.
Look for the deer in the headlights. If you ask specific questions regarding complex technical setups, but receive generic responses or even no response, be cautious and carefully examine their event experience. In addition, look at the questions they ask you during the process – are they relevant and convey experience with the setup? Ask for examples of shows with similar requirements as your event. Photos of events can be deceiving and do not always convey what portions of the show that were supported by the provider, and do not tell the story of the actual client experience. Be sure to check references and ask about performance.
Highly discounted price can be a red flag. Bids for medium size or small shows can be very price driven, but larger high end shows are typically not commodity-driven, and require technical expertise and knowledge to deliver them successfully. If you are seeing a much lower price in comparison to other bidders, be cautious, and look carefully at the provider. The lower price may come at a cost in regards to the quality and value of what you are receiving for your event.
People make the difference. As I previously mentioned, owning equipment is an important factor in determining the type of provider you are hiring. But, I want to clarify that just because a company owns a vast inventory does not automatically mean they have the technical skill to deliver a highly complex setup. A provider can own a large inventory, but their area of expertise may focus on more basic equipment setups. Ask about their technical pool of skilled labor and account reps, and the qualifications and experience of the team dedicated to your event.
When it comes to preparing for an event, whether it is complex, basic, large or small, an educated buyer armed with the appropriate questions is positioned to make smart decisions and mitigate the risk involved in selecting an equipment provider. An event producer should be able to focus on their end client, and not have to worry about the onsite equipment execution. Hiring the right type of equipment provider is critical to the success of any event, and by taking steps to ensure you have a qualified technical team in place will take the gamble out of the process. Be sure to hedge your bets as an educated buyer.

Les Goldberg is CEO of LMG, one of the world’s top AV staging companies.

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