In-house venue tech: worth the investment?

Originally published in the April 2020 edition of Conference News, Nicola Macdonald asks, should venues be investing more in their in-house tech?

Central Hall Westminster's Great Hall

As the events industry continues to evolve, so does the relationship between venues and event planners. For venues, in an ever-changing and increasingly dog-eat-dog marketplace, the slightest edge over the competition could mean the difference between winning a pitch and not quite making the cut. The question is, are the venues that are spending significant amounts of money on their in-house technical infrastructure getting a return on that investment? And, perhaps more importantly, are event planners noticing the effort?

“We try to use on-site AV wherever possible for events around the country in order to save on costs and support the venue and the local area,” comments Alison Fordham, Group Events Manager at Bravo Group. “However, sometimes we need larger sets and higher quality AV, which often the venue struggles to provide, so they need a recommended supplier to step in and facilitate this.

“In my opinion, the provision of AV at some venues could definitely be improved upon. Sometimes if you book a meeting room for 50-60 delegates you get a low-quality projector, a six-foot pop-up screen and a flipchart – that’s just not going to cut it for the viewing quality we need and style of event we run. As events become more and more experiential, there’s a need for video streaming and more in-depth/technical slides.

“A technician on-site is a must for any problems that arise. In this vein, Wi-Fi provision can be an issue, as some of our events include live streaming. We often need a venue that can accommodate private bandwidth and hardwired connections. It’s incredible how much the technical aspect of conferencing costs within an events budget, so if you’ve shortlisted two venues and one has higher quality tech and more capability – it is a major influencer in the decision-making process.”

Central Hall Westminster, alongside on-site technical partner White Light, has made a significant investment in in-house tech over the last five years, including a motorised rigging system built into the Great Hall dome in 2015, a Crestron digital matrix system connecting lighting, audio and video throughout the venue, and the largest in-house installation of Yamaha equipment in Western Europe.

“The objectives were to make each room multi-purpose, maximise occupancy and to offer the level of modern technology that today’s event planner expects from a venue of this calibre,” explains Managing Director Paul Southern. “With the diversity of events that the Great Hall can accommodate, an automated rigging system was essential, enabling every configuration to save on time and money, while offering greater flexibility.

“We have seen a significant ROI from an increased utilisation of in-house production services and delivering a growing number of events at Central Hall since White Light became our in-house tech and AV partners in 2015.

“Importantly, a lot of this growth has been from enabling clients to spend more of their budget on equipment to enhance their events, rather than on high crew costs for set-ups and turnarounds.”

Budget is a significant factor in the conversation around in-house venue tech: if the venue can provide a good enough technical service and include that in their offering to organisers it frees up not-inconsiderable funds which can be spent improving an event in other areas.

“It’s a shame more venues don’t have better tech, because we would save money for us and the client,” says Rebecca Hartley, Founder of Saving Grace Events. “We tend to bring in our own because it’s usually better. We almost always use our own AV and the only in-house we use is projection, but the quality varies from venue to venue.

“Clients are definitely asking for more experiential and high production events, but it’s difficult when clients such as charities have a low budget and need something high-end to justify the ticket price, that’s when good venue tech can make a difference.”

“The right in-house tech can be really transformative for a venue and what it can offer to prospective customers,” adds Matt Stridgen, Head of Projects & Installations at SRD Projects. “A permanent technical installation can create an infrastructure which will allow a venue to modernise over time and adapt to changing client needs.”

If venues do make the decision to invest in their in-house infrastructure, says Fordham, it’s worth thinking about how that advantage is promoted to event planners during site visits or FAM trips.

“Some of the best site visits I’ve been on have included a representative from the in-house tech team or preferred supplier, where they’ve shown what’s possible in the space” she concludes. “At the end of the day I’m no expert on AV, so having someone there that is unbelievably helpful.”

The issue of venue in-house tech is arguably a chicken and egg scenario. Event organisers choose dry hire and bring in their own technical teams because the venue offering isn’t up to scratch, meanwhile venues are reluctant to make a significant investment because they aren’t confident organisers will use their services. The events industry is built on successful partnerships, perhaps all it needs are more event profs to take the leap?