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Good As Gold

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It’s Time to Start Charging for the Production and Coordination Work We Do

For several months, I’ve been expounding (alright, whining) about the decline of production meetings, client disorganization, and the fact that these trends have left the AV technician often “holding the bag” for duties that should have belonged to the client or a producer. This diatribe produced a number of emails that said, essentially “OK, you’re right — we now do a lot of the production and coordination work, and since this isn’t going to change, how do we get paid for it?”

Well, that’s a bit more difficult than complaining. But it falls into line with another trend in the rental and staging industry — the rising cost of talent and the need to get paid better for people’s time. This trend really began with the need to get paid more for shop labor. When I got started (the ‘80s) it was unusual for an AV company to charge for inhouse labor. In fact, we derived most of our income from renting gear, and often didn’t even charge for setup or delivery on a rental order. But the ‘90s produced both a major expansion of our business and huge increases in the cost of labor and benefits. As a result, we began to charge clients more for people’s efforts in areas like pulling and delivering the order.

So, now that we often provide more coordination and logistics efforts for our client’s shows, maintaining profit margins demands that we get paid for it. And, as with shop labor, that begins with two things:

  1. Defining the work
  2. Making it clear to clients, up front, that it is work, and is something we’re going to charge for.

This should be a good exercise in analyzing your labor costs. Clients (most of them, anyway) have never had a good appreciation of how much upfront time goes into a show. But this is mostly because we never told them, and often because we never took the time to really analyze it ourselves.

So let’s take a look, briefly, at a number of areas where we provide services that we need to itemize in our quotes and define for the client:

1. Consulting time.We used to provide the time to help a client plan a show for free, but the time used to be both less expensive and better organized. My personal policy is now to provide an initial meeting free to discuss the show. But, as times have changed, and shows have gotten more complicated, I’ve realized that all this time has to be itemized and charged for. Especially now that coordination is often done by email and phone calls, which is a weight I’ve taken off the client and his/her (often non-existent) producer.

2.Design time. I don’t believe that any show, ever, can be done without at least minimal drawings and a real plan — even if, for small shows, that plan is done in pencil on a yellow pad. These designs, no matter how simple, are done by senior people (read: expensive people). Plus, clients often now demand drawings to show the other people who are involved but won’t attend a meeting to have it explained to them. So, once again, this becomes an itemized hourly charge.

3. On-site inspections and visits. These have gotten both more necessary and more frequent. Often, now, we need to go out multiple times to meet with presenters who couldn’t make the initial meeting. So, once again, this is something that needs to be explained upfront as a chargeable item.

4. Communicating with presenters. In the last few years, it has become more and more common for our

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clients to avoid coordinating with presenters by dumping them on us. We now answer pages and cell phone calls from people we don’t know who insist on discussing their setup for next month right now, often while we’re working on another show. Interruptions are expensive — and should be expensive to the people who produce them. In fact, this puts the decision on costs in the client’s hands — they can minimize these charges by providing organized information — or they can pay for them.

5. Organizing, editing, and backing up presentations and materials. Along with presenter questions, many clients have begun dumping these kinds of materials on us, expecting us to help them combine them into a coherent show. This is time-consuming and requires, once again, expensive personnel.

Along with these items, add the fact that shop time has become more expensive and requires more hours — and you begin to understand what has happened to our costs. You also begin to develop an appreciation for the old-style producer that truly handled all these items. I have little patience for the current crop of “producer- as-creative-god-who-thinksthey- don’t-need-to-understand-technology- but-still-get-to-mark-it-up” crowd, but real producers, who handed me a well-organized show book that contained everything I needed to know, were worth their weight in gold.

And now, so are we.

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