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An Insider’s Guide to AV Budgeting

It doesn’t have to be stressful, confusing, or overwhelming—but you do need to ask the right questions.

If you’ve found your audiovisual costs unexpectedly bouncing around from meeting to meeting, keep reading. By asking the right questions and collecting the right information, you can deliver an exceptional experience and avoid budget surprises.  

A number of elements dramatically impact your AV budget, but let’s start with a seemingly self-evident culprit: location. While it might be obvious to you that costs vary from city to city, you’d be surprised how many of the planners we work with aren’t anticipating dramatic cost differences from one location to another and planning their AV budgets accordingly.

The fact is, where you hold your event has a huge impact on the bottom line. For example, Seattle, Wash., has a sales tax of 10.1 percent. For a meeting with a $1 million price tag, that’s an additional $101,000 that needs to be accounted for in the total cost. On the other hand, drive three hours south to Portland, Ore., and there’s no sales tax at all.

In Chicago, multiple union jurisdictions result in labor costs that can be 150 percent higher than other cities. Consider this example: In 2017, a small association held its annual meeting in Providence, R.I., with a total AV labor cost of $96,000. The following year, the meeting was in Chicago with the same AV specifications, and the total labor cost was $152,000. Don’t get us wrong; Chicago has great infrastructure, easy access, and a big-city appeal that makes it a natural for meetings, but planners need to budget accordingly.

For any destination, the AV budgeting process should include asking:
• What is the sales tax rate?
• Are there union requirements or local labor laws for which I need to account? If so, what are the guidelines?
• Are there costs specific to holding an event in this destination? (For example, if you’re meeting at a remote property, there may be extra shipping costs.)
• Can I get a reference from a planner who has used your services in the same venue? Those planners can be a rich source of information about budget surprises or considerations.

Finally, have a conversation with your AV partner about the locations you’re evaluating and the budgeting considerations for each.

Those Often-Forgotten Charges
More often than not, it’s the unexpected costs that raise eyebrows and throw budgets off kilter. A few of the most common surprise expenses are rigging, electrical services, taxes, and internet service. Some examples:

• Certain venues require in-house electricians to install all power, sometimes even requiring the presence of an electrician throughout the duration of the event. This can even include charges for plugging equipment into existing wall sockets.

• Most venues handle, and charge for, rigging (hanging things from the ceiling). For a big general session with a lot of screens, lighting, audio, and scenic element to hang, those costs add up quickly, and vary from venue to venue.

• The majority of venues offer some level of Internet bandwidth for no additional cost, but this often is not enough to meet the demands of today’s attendees or your meeting’s presenters.

Here are some questions to ask your meeting venue to avoid surprises: 
• Are there any restrictions or requirements in your venue around electrical, especially in meeting rooms?
• Who handles the rigging in your building, and can I get a rough price sheet including labor? (You want to get an estimate a year or two out from your event, rather than months out. Most venues like to have a final rigging plot generated by your AV provider before giving you an estimate, but they should be able to give you a ballpark price on materials and labor.)
• What level of Internet bandwidth do you offer at no charge? What can attendees do with that level of bandwidth? Can our presenters stream video in their sessions? What is the cost to add bandwidth? (For more on Internet bandwidth, you can check out
Projection’s blog post or read 12 Questions to Ask to Get the Wi-Fi You Want.)

Armed with these questions, plan a call with your AV partner where you focus only on the budget. Walk through your spreadsheet line by line to identify what questions you need to ask of other vendors, including the venue. Also, spend time looking ahead and identifying the elements that change annually so you can budget accordingly. Then schedule regular budget check-ins as the event draws near so costs can be discussed and surprises are avoided. 

Karen Cuviello is corporate vice president at Projection, the Springfield, Va.-based audiovisual company specializing in meetings and conventions.

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