Think about cost structure, staffing, rehearsals, and more when bringing on a production partner for your event. Choosing the right production company is a foundational step in event planning. Here are eight questions that will help ensure you’re making the best decision for your needs and goals.
What is your cost structure?
Transparency about costs and fees is the foundation for understanding what you’re paying for. “Ask your potential production company if they work on a cost-plus basis, if they charge hourly, and how their management fee works,” suggests Whitney Kirkland, partner at Firebrand Event Productions in Miami. “There are a million commonly used tricks where people hide inflation into pricing so that a management fee appears to be less than it actually is.” Asking the right questions about pricing helps ensure that you can appropriately compare quotes, make an informed decision, and avoid last-minute surprise costs.
What tools do you provide throughout the planning process?
Knowing what deliverables to expect from your production company helps get you on the same page visually. Ask if they provide renderings, layouts, 3-D models of staging and signage, and/or CAD drawings throughout the production process. “These are all questions that should be asked before a contract is signed,” says Camille Hill, president of Merestone, an event production company in Scottsdale, Arizona. Such tools and visual aids enable everyone involved in the event, including planners, key executives, and decision-makers, to stay informed throughout the entire process. They also help set realistic expectations and eliminate last-minute surprises that can lead to added costs and disruptions.
Do you own or source your audiovisual equipment?
Purchasing and maintaining the latest audiovisual technology can be expensive, so while some production companies own their own equipment, many work with third-party vendors who spread the costs among their clients. If the production company owns its own equipment, follow up with questions about how they care for it and how often they upgrade it. If the company hires outside vendors for audiovisual needs, check whether they have a long-standing relationship with their suppliers. “We are able to choose a team that we have worked with before, so we know the people running the teleprompter, the lights, and the equipment,” says Terri Sue Wensinger, founder and C.E.O. of Dallas-based Snap Event Productions. “We also get discounts that we pass along to our clients.”
Do you use the same crews for each event?
As staffing needs vary from event to event, production companies often hire part-time workers and freelancers. “We have a core team, and then on bigger shows we supplement with more staff who we are familiar with and work with often,” explains Wensinger. For out-of-market events, it can make sense to hire a local team for tasks like transportation. However, for jobs that require specific expertise, it is usually smartest and most cost-effective to travel with an experienced crew that is already familiar with the project.
How long will setups take?
The amount of time needed to prepare a space can vary greatly depending on the size, scope, and intricacy of an event. Planners who know how long producers need to prep on site can work with the venue to reserve the space for the duration. When producers scramble to race against the clock due to lack of setup time, it can result in added costs and last-minute fire drills. “If a production company stresses how you book your space, that’s a company that’s trying to protect you,” says Hill. Being aware that setup time can also affect staff needs, which impact cost and logistics. For setups that take multiple days, it is important to address concerns about feeding and housing workers. “Taking care of people’s basic needs is often overlooked in the planning process,” says Liz Sizer, director of business development at Syzygy Events International in Washington, D.C.
What is the course of action in case of emergencies?
Events can be affected by emergency situations, whether they come in the form of earthquakes, fires, or acts of terror. Having a plan in place to deal with such circumstances is essential. “Even though we can’t predict these things ahead of time, knowing what the protocol will be in case of emergency is an important part of event production and planning,” says Lauren Colman, creative director at Los Angeles-based production firm Bixel & Company.
How do you conduct rehearsals?
With all of the preparation that goes into an event, no planner wants it all to fall apart because the execution wasn’t properly rehearsed. “We always emphasize the importance of both a technical rehearsal and a speaker rehearsal,” explains Hill. Rehearsals ensure that the equipment works seamlessly, graphics and presentations are properly formatted, the program flows well, and there are minimal last-minute surprises. Hill often recommends a test run days before the event, as preparing in advance allows time to make any adjustments. “Sometimes we will even fly to a client’s office to do the speaker rehearsals,” she explains.
Are there any innovative concepts that you haven’t gotten to try yet?
“I love this question,” says Colman. “Ninety-five percent of the time, the event production company has something they’ve been dying to do but haven’t had the chance to work on yet.” Asking the production company for their wish-list ideas opens up the channels of creativity, which makes the experience more fun for the producers, planners, and attendees.
Text by Amy Gordon, Bizbash