Posted by on February 16, 2012

This week’s blog post comes from Tom Graybill, Tri-Marq’s Director of Sales.

One of the most useful – and potentially confusing, frustrating, and irritating – tools in planning meetings is the request for proposal (RFP). When it comes to the audio visual (A/V) aspects of your event, a poorly composed RFP can lead to the wrong equipment, the wrong budget, and the wrong results for your clients and audience.

So how do you build a better RFP? Like anything, it starts with the basics.

The Basics

Every RFP should include a description of the event. This will help your production partner to understand the scope and intention of the show. This description should include: the dates and times of the show, the venue(s) along with room names, the audience type and size, the name of the event, and frequency of the event.

The venue and room information is crucial, as elements like ceiling height, room size, server access, union considerations, and other factors will have a bearing on the equipment, labor, and creative components needed for your event.

If there are pictures of previous shows available online or via email, all the better. These extra elements will help the responders note the level of complexity in the show and see what design elements have already been used. Your deadline for response and contact information for questions and submittal complete the basics.

What about budget, you ask? It is always helpful to provide at least a budget range for potential vendors to let them know what ballpark they are playing in. This may eliminate getting responses that are well over your budget and not actionable, but be aware that your budget may not be sufficient based on the location of your meeting, the going rate for crew and equipment, union regulations, logistics of the room, etc.

The Next Step

After putting together the basics, the next step is to add detail to the event so your A/V folks can prescribe the best solutions. This generally takes two major directions, with lots of gray area in between.

The first direction is to provide a detailed description of each element in your show that will need to be supported by A/V. A paragraph on your general session, your breakouts, your trade show, your off-site, and any other components will aid in determining the right gear and team for the job.

The second direction involves providing an equipment list, either based on a previous event (perhaps the meeting from last year) or experience with a similar show. This is a great way to help the responder determine the level of expectations, and bid accordingly. They can also see opportunities to be more efficient if they can provide better and potentially cheaper solutions due to the advance of technology or their particular mix of equipment.

Please note that if you provide an equipment list, your vendor may not have the exact mixer or projector that another vendor provided. However, a good provider will be able to get a comparable model based on the level of gear you cited.

The best approach would be to provide both elements, if possible. More time spent upfront to make your RFP as clear as possible will yield better results and fewer questions along the way.

The Response

Now that you have asked for what you need, how can you compare apples-to-apples?

Every A/V group will have a standard way they respond to inquiries. Often, the main difference is the level of detail. Without direction, each responder will provide the quote their way, making it difficult at times to decipher and compare quotes.

If possible, categorize your needs so you can compare the totals for each aspect of your event. The goal isn’t to piecemeal equipment from one vendor for this and another for that, but rather to note any red flags due to discrepancies between the numbers among your respondents.

Suggested categories could be creative/show direction, projection (projectors, screens, etc.), lighting, audio, staging, breakouts, trade how, off-site, labor, etc. This approach should bring some consistency to the responses and make comparing easier.

Within each of these sections, request line items wherever possible. Ask your vendors to provide specifications for projectors (lumens), screens (screen size, rear or front projection), monitors (inches), and numbers of lights, microphones, and production crew.

Avoid the response that provides a lump sum or even a lump sum within category. The opportunity is great that the quote is a low-ball one to get you in the door, and then be subject to additions that weren’t “accounted for” until you are on-site.

The Extras

Encourage your bidders to provide additional ideas which can enhance your show. You can always say “no” to the options, but there may be opportunities that you haven’t thought of that could be a good fit.

This also allows you to get a sense of the personality of the vendor. Do you want to work with a group that only offers you the minimum that you asked for? Or do you want a group that is aiming to get you the best “bang” for your buck?

Provide the respondents with a chance to let them tell you about their organization – what they’ve done, who they’ve served, what you can expect as a client. Think about what you need to know to ensure that you not only get the right equipment, but the right service for your show.

Reading the response

Hopefully, if you have followed these tips, you will receive responses that are fairly easy to compare. If you have specified how you want the quote formatted, responsible vendors should follow your directions. If they didn’t, you need to evaluate how this lack of attention to detail could impact their performance on-site.

Depending on your show, sometimes the numbers are all you need to see. But even then, look closely at any discrepancies in the equipment from one vendor to another. Note if technicians are assigned to your group or are “on call.” Ask what kind of service you can expect if something breaks. See if there are additional fees or service charges that are detailed outside of the budget number – especially those listed in small type at the bottom.

If creative aspects are also included, how appropriate are they to your group – both budget-wise and approach? A caring partner will provide solutions in-line with your budget, rather than waste your time with grandiose ideas.

While it may be tempting to think “equipment-is-equipment-is-equipment”, comparing solely on price removes the essential human element from the equation. A/V for your event is not a commodity, and shouldn’t be viewed in such a disposable manner. Can you explain to your client and their audience that although the A/V didn’t meet their expectations, that it was inexpensive?

A good RFP and response puts your event on a winning path. And allows you to concentrate on the 10,000 other things that are part of your show!