6 Red Flags To Look Out for in Production Vendors
Small details at live events make a big difference.
We’ve talked before about making sure you choose the right AVL partner in order to stay on budget and have a successful event, but live events have a lot of vendors beyond AVL. You’ve got scenery vendors handling furniture and drapes, staging companies, staffing for security guards, ushers, and local labor, and even the whiz-bang specialists for aspects like pyrotechnics and light-up bracelets.
Every production vendor has the potential to affect the quality of your event, but how can you spot a problem ahead of time?
We’ve noticed six red flags that you can watch for to avoid problem vendors and instead find great partners who will fulfill the vision of your event.
Red Flag #1: Add-On Invoices
What is it? An add-on invoice is the invoice that comes after the show. These invoices are essentially hidden charges that result from an inadequately planned budget.
Red-flag companies commonly use add-on invoicing as a tactic that lets them offer incredibly low bids for shows, undercutting the competition. They only reference these additional charges in the fine print of contracts and later use them to increase your bill substantially.
Why is it a problem? Add-on invoices cost you more than you budgeted for — sometimes as much as an additional 30% of the cost of the whole show. They leave you feeling cheated and unable to trust your vendor.
What do you look for instead? You want the most accurate quote possible up front, so look for a company that’s thorough in their quoting process. They should ask you questions about your event and be interested in the details.
This usually means the best quote won’t be the first one you receive. If it comes to you quickly, the vendor likely didn’t have time to do adequate homework.
Red Flag #2: Incompatible Crew
What is it? An incompatible crew is one that just doesn’t match the type of event you’re hosting. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad crew — just not the right fit.
Imagine a rock-n-roll band’s crew staffing a corporate event. You might not want Ozzy Osborne’s backstage guys moving equipment at a conference featuring prominent business leaders.
Why is it a problem? An ill-suited crew won’t represent you and your brand appropriately. They can affect your audience’s experience and their perception of your company.
What do you look for instead? Look for a vendor that specializes in your type of event. They should have a list of previous experiences that match up with what you’re doing. Are they specialists in concerts or conferences? Ask questions to find out.
Red Flag #3: Unclear Chain of Communication
What is it? When you don’t have a clear idea of who your contact is, you likely don’t have the right people on your side talking to the right people on the vendor’s side. Who’s making the decisions? Who needs to be informed of those decisions, or of changes?
Why is it a problem? On the vendor’s side, unclear communication can lead to a breakdown in communication between sales and operations. On your side, that breakdown means you won’t have what you need for your event when you need it.
What do you look for instead? A good production vendor values communication. Look for vendors who communicate well and even put you in touch with multiple people on their end. This ensures you’re heard by the team who will be personally handling your event.
CTS likes to meet with clients far enough in advance so we can include the production lead in the earliest discovery meetings. This way, we can fully understand client decisions and why they’re important to the overall event.
Red Flag #4: Promising One Thing, Delivering Another
What is it? If a production vendor quotes one piece of gear to get your business, but then switches it out for something they already have in stock, that’s a red flag.
Why is it a problem? Unexpected, unfamiliar equipment can throw off the technical aspects of your event. You might not have what you need to run a successful show for the audience or performers.
What do you look for instead? Find a vendor who’s honest and very direct about what they can get and why. Ask them if they’ve ever had to switch out gear and for what reason.
Even though we caution against playing favorites with gear, if CTS promises our clients a certain piece of gear, we make sure they get it. Every client wants a company that does what they say they’ll do.
Red Flag #5: A “Big Fish” Mindset
What is it? A vendor with a “big fish” mindset spends lots of time talking about themselves, their past productions, and their clients — with no regard for whether any of it applies to your event.
Why is it a problem? This kind of vendor doesn’t listen to what you actually need for your specific event. As a result, they may just do what they’ve done in the past with little regard for your needs.
These companies are usually focused on selling you a broad solution you never asked for rather than catering to your particular needs.
What do you look for instead? Find a company whose clientele and past work match your event. Also look for someone who shows more interest in finding out what you need than in singing the praises of their past work.
Red Flag #6: Limited Resources
What is it? Some vendors have a very limited inventory or a limited ability to get what you need when you need it.
Why is it a problem? If you’re stuck with what a vendor has on their shelf, you can find yourself limiting your show to fit what the vendor can provide. Your event’s creativity will suffer, and you’ll put the same old show on year after year.
What do you look for instead? Find a company with a good inventory and/or the ability to procure what you need on short notice. Ideally, you want a company that’s small enough to give you personal service but large enough to hold a respectable inventory or purchase gear on the fly.
By keeping an eye out for these red flags, you’ll be able to weed out problem vendors or vendors who don’t meet your needs before they cause issues for you or your show.