Today we’re talking about the difference between an event production company and AV company. And as we all know, the world of events is complex. So understanding some concepts might get tricky. But this is exactly why we thought this would be an important topic to tackle. Because as someone who operates in the events industry, it’s key that you’re up to date with things like event production and AV. And, bottom line, how they differ from each other.
Thankfully, our two lovely hosts are the perfect people to walk you through the motions. Brandt Krueger and Will Curran have extensive experience in this matter. And on today’s edition of the Event Tech Podcast, they will be answering the million-dollar question: what’s the difference between an event production company and AV company. So press play and join us on this quest!
“It’s just one of those things that I think it’s worth having a little bit deeper conversation about”, says Brandt. “Because there are differences between the two models of companies. I think what you get out of them can be very different depending on who you go with”. Will draws from his own experience and says that “Endless primarily it uses the words event production company. But the thing is when I say production company, people say “Oh, so you make movies?” So when I’m talking to some people, if I don’t see their eyes light up when they go event production, I usually follow it up with we’re an AV company. And then someone’s like, “Okay cool, you do AV. Okay, that makes sense.” And on that end”.
Is There A Definitive Answer?
“It can be different depending on who you’re talking to”, explains Brandt. “When you’re trying to tell someone what you do, it’s such a muddy verse and it really depends on if you’re someone who’s adjacent to the industry. Knows anything about the industry. I think that to a certain extent, it comes with the game. We have to tailor what we’re saying to who we’re talking about. I think though, most people in the industry have at least heard those terms float around. So an event production company and AV company”.
“You can name yourself whatever you want to be”, says Will. “If you want to be a meeting planner today, you can be a meeting planner, just call yourself a meeting planner. There are no 100% certifications around. And I think one of the big issues with the event production company and AV company is that you can just title yourself on an event production company because you want all the benefits. I think that’s what’s also really interesting as well. No one else is naming you, you name yourself”.
Event Production Company And AV Company: The Differences
“From what I’ve understood, one of the biggest differences is that production companies do creative services, AV companies do not. AV companies are gear in labor, production companies are creative design. True or false?”, says Will.
“I think it’s, again, where the lines start to get a little blurry”, Brandt answers. “Because frequently an AV company will come to the table with some ideas of, “Hey, this is what we’re thinking.” There’s definitely a creative aspect to it unless they’re acting as a true just order taker. So most of the time I would say there’s some creative aspect to it. Especially once the budget gets involved. I usually shoot for the moon first, and then say “Okay that’s ridiculous. We can’t afford that.”
“My take on the creativity level is that there’s always a level of creativity unless you’re a pure rental company”, he continues. “But I think that’s a delineation, that’s a factor is how much creativity is involved. How much are they doing when it comes to design and really designing the experience. I think that tends more towards the production company”. On this front, Will adds that “AV companies, they only do AV, whereas production companies, you might also see them do furniture design, like signage, things that are complementary to the AV services as well”.
“There’s a lot of blurring between the lines when it comes to it”, says Will. “Especially with that leaning of wanting to use other people’s stuff. I mean talk about hiring other people as well. I’ve also seen it that traditionally event production companies hire AV companies. So they might manage an AV company or bring them in. I think that’s where Endless gets a little blurry though. So our model is all built and we don’t own the equipment, so we hire rental companies to rent the stuff. But then we’re producing and doing all the setup and everything like that. So we’re like this blur between AV company and production company. But definitely I’ve noticed that production companies are usually totally okay subbing the entire AV to just an AV company”.
“Traditional production companies didn’t own equipment or don’t own very much equipment”, adds Brandt. “I know at Metro Connections, the company I used to work for, it was always a discussion of does it make sense for us to own that or does it not make sense for us to own it? And sometimes we would guess, and sometimes we would guess wrong. And then it goes out four times and yikes, we just ate that money for nothing”.
“But then there are other times when we had a client where we were on a three-year contract. And we knew they were going to have 30 breakout sessions every year at least”, he continues. “So, okay, well maybe then it makes sense to buy a bunch of short-throw projectors and some small AV rigs for laptop speakers. That’s, especially spread out over three years, that’s a guaranteed contract, that starts to make a lot of sense instead of hiring it out and renting it”.
Strategy Versus Execution
“So the question becomes do production companies focus on strategy like larger brand messaging, versus the AV company who’s going to say, give me your messaging, give me your PowerPoint and I’ll project it?“, says Will.
“I’d say more so than AV”, says Brandt. “But a lot of the production companies that I know, and a lot of the AV companies, most of the people in our industries are like, “Hey, we’ll do as much or as little as you want us to do.” So if you’re the client that is way into the strategy and way into the theming, then either a production company or an AV company is going to be there to help you execute that”.
“At the same time I would lean more towards a production company for helping me with that strategy. And helping me come up with a theme”, he continues. “I think the production company generally is going to be looking at those broader trends. The production companies are going to help you be able to do a little bit more on the strategy side than the AV companies. They’re going to be a little bit more tuned into that”.
The Core Competencies
“I think it’s also just a difference in core competencies”, adds Brandt. “And so the core competency of the traditional AV companies is going to be the gear and the people. So the techs and the people, and that might include a graphics operator. But usually, most of the AV companies that I know don’t have an on-staff graphics crew, content creation on-staff designer, PowerPoints, videos and things like that”.
“Whereas frequently production companies will have that person on staff, someone who is there to help massage those PowerPoints into something that doesn’t look like crap”, he continues. “Someone there to help design, to help with the video, on-staff videographers, things like that in addition. It’s one of those things that’s a core competency that in my experience the more of the production companies are going to have those types of on-staff than a traditional AV company”.
“I think one total caveat that we need to make is it doesn’t mean that you’re getting them for free”, adds Will. “It doesn’t mean that you’re like all of a sudden, “Oh yeah, because I hired a production company versus an AV company, all of a sudden I’m getting all these free strategy sessions and things like that.” A lot of times you’re paying for it in terms of pre-production work and hours and all those things”.
A Hand To Hold?
“I found that on production companies usually you have some sort of role that’s there from the beginning”, says Will. “We’re talking about someone who’s working on the project management, they’re called production manager. There are a million other different roles, but usually, there’s someone there from the beginning to work with you on things beyond just order taking”.
“So production companies, I feel, generate a lot more paperwork along the way regarding show schedules and keeping track of all the different vendors. And when people are coming in and coming out, show design, CAD drawings”, says Brandt. “All of that pre-production work can be offloaded onto the production company, offloaded onto the producer and their team. So that they’re able to help you build this show from soup to nuts. So I think that’s a huge differentiator, that pre-production work. The traditional AV company generally they’ll have a production manager who’s assigned maybe to your group. But still, to a certain extent, it’s you reach out and say, “Okay, this is what I need. Or this is what’s changed.” And then they say, okay”.
“I’ve seen some AV companies that have amazing service. I think there are some production companies that have really bad service and I’ve definitely seen it on them. The important thing to know is that maybe that stems from the idea that you have a project manager or producer holding your hand a little bit more beyond just the AV portion, that’s also maybe why you feel like you’re getting better service”, adds Will.
“Someone said that AV companies have more flexibility for competitive pricing”, says Will. On this note, Brandt says that’s “because anyone can rent gear if you need to. I think when you own the gear you do get some flexibility in the cost of the gear. It’s true and it’s false because I think there must be a reason that traditional production companies will still hire a traditional AV company as opposed to trying to do it. But I think it’s just, again, different core competencies. So the AV company traditionally owns the gear and supplies the techs, and so the flexibility would come in the owning of the gear. You’re not going to be able to discount necessarily the techs, but you might be able to throw stuff in for free because you own it and you want to show it off”.
“The thing is that there are differences and nuances between both of these”, adds Will. “You can have some AV companies that have great customer service, that don’t own any gear. You can have production companies that own gear and there’s so much nuance. So I think the important answer is that you can’t just rely on what they described themselves on the website or how they describe themselves to you. You need to have a further conversation about what their model is and what they’re doing. I think it’s important that the label doesn’t necessarily perfectly describe that company, and what they need and what you need as a client as well”.
It’s Not Linear
“The traditional models are still worth talking about”, says Brandt. “Because this idea of here’s a company that doesn’t own gear, that does all the pre-production work, the handles more of the design, that handles all the other things besides AV related to your event. Like furniture, like displays, like carpet, all of those kinds of things. Versus a company that provides the gear and the tech. Keeping those in mind I think is still beneficial. Understanding that you can have an AV company that is able to help you with show flows that is able to do CAD drawings, that is able to do design work. Keeping in mind that you may have a production company that also owns gears, that may have contact with techs that they really like”.
“I’ve seen that as well where they start to lock into freelance techs”, he adds. “So even though they’re still hiring individual AV companies from city to city, they’re bringing along the techs that they know are going to be the best bet for their clients. I think it’s important to understand the base models, understanding the fundamentals of it. Just knowing that you might be an AV company, there’s an AV company that might be stretching into production, there’s a production company that might be stretching into AV and really pressing them on trying to get a vibe of how competent they are in that area. Because unfortunately, a lot of times people say yes first, and then think about, “How are we going to do it?” But maybe it’s not their core competency”.
And that’s a wrap on this week’s incredible edition of the Event Tech Podcast! Do you feel more enlightened on the differences between an event production company and AV company? Make sure you let us know. And before you leave, make sure you check out our new sponsor, Event Leadership Insitute.
But don’t just go to that website, check out eli4.me/etp for a 20% discount on individual courses, or a 20% off of that monthly membership. Join us again next week for even more event tech talk!