A Guide to Establishing AV and Event Staging Costs – Part 1

August 22, 2019

Scott Stedronsky

Scott Stedronsky is a principal at Stage Right, Inc. A known presence in the event staging and AV industry with decades of experience, Scott is the former president of RSN (Rental & Staging Network).

As event planners ponder budget numbers for their next event, one of the bigger line items will be establishing AV and event staging costs. In many cases, they won’t consume the majority of an event budget, or the meeting planner’s many ongoing concerns leading up to the day of the event. 

But, as we routinely counsel our clients, AV should be a primary planning item at the very outset. This is not just to nail down budgets, which of course is important, but how corporate objectives will be met.  

Like many purchases, AV and event staging costs can vary – widely. For example, if you’re in the market for a new family car, you can conceivably pay anywhere from peanuts for an older, used gasoline vehicle, all the way up to a top-of-of the-line Tesla SUV. One is basic transportation while the other fulfills other wants and needs.

So, the size of your AV budget depends on size, scope and objective of your event.

Before Equipment

Initially, AV and event staging pricing begins with people and space. The kind and amount of equipment the AV firm specifies is based on how many people you believe will attend, and the kind and size of venue that will hold them.

Then there is seating. Will attendees be seated behind rectangular or round tables? In a classroom setting or long rows of chairs like in a theatre? 

The answers to these questions will help the AV firm understand the requirements for how sound and visuals will be delivered and will aid calculating what kind, and how much gear is required.

Objective(ly) Speaking

So, you have size and space accounted for. Next, consider the event’s objective. 

Is it an annual multi-day meeting with thousands of people? A new product introduction with in-person and remote audiences? A VIP gathering for 50 top company officers? A simple mid-day lunch and learn? 

Whatever the occasion, understand event importance and where it fits in with the organization’s larger corporate objectives. This includes who is attending. Board members and executive attendees will always raise expectations of how simple – or polished – your event should be executed.

Equipment Tally

Now you can think about equipment cost. AV and event staging companies assign an amount to each piece of equipment in its inventory.

Based upon understanding the number attendees, the size of the venue and event scope, the event architect has a far better idea of what pieces of equipment are needed for your event. Those items are tallied up for a total.

AV companies arrive at their equipment pricing by assigning a price per day of use. Rental rates used to be calculated by charging five percent of the equipment’s purchase price for that day of rental.

Luckily for the consumer, that hard and fast equation has fallen out of favor for more flexible and customer-advantageous estimating. 

Industry practice has evolved where AV companies now consider a multiple of variables, such as pricing differentials between older gear and new equipment, how many days of the rental and established relationships. 

First, for the equipment itself, the latest technology with greater capabilities might cost more to rent than older gear. But that same equipment could conceivably save on labor and execution costs elsewhere.

Next is how long you’ll need the equipment. It’s important to note the difference between hotels and event specialists. 

When a hotel calculates equipment rental, it charges for the time the equipment is dedicated to your event. If, for example, the duration of your time at the hotel is a week, then you’ll be charged an equipment rental for every day of that week.

With AV specialist, for that same week, the maximum number of days you’d be charged for equipment use is typically no more than three. AV companies take into consideration days for travel, setup, rehearsals and travel home versus the three days the equipment is in actual use. During slow periods, some AV firms might offer two-day rentals for that week.

Finally, long term, established relationships have their advantages. Using the same outfit over the course of many events will likely result in volume discounts. 

The first price quote from your AV provider will not be the final word. This is where conversation about “wants” vs. “needs” crystallizes event scope, and ultimately AV and staging requirements. The initial amount helps to establish a baseline from which to add or subtract elements to help you come in at a price you’re comfortable with and execute the event based on corporate objectives.

Want to arrive at realistic AV numbers more quickly? In Part 2, we’ll supply the seven essential questions to answer prior to meeting with an AV pro.


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