Commodity vs Service in Audiovisual

 

In the audiovisual (AV) industry, the distinction between commodity and service has long been a contentious issue. As AV professionals, our value extends far beyond the equipment we provide. Yet, too often, we find ourselves compensated only for the equipment that makes it in the room, while our expertise, creativity, and design skills go unrecognized and underpaid. This imbalance not only undervalues our work but also threatens the innovation and quality that define our industry.

The Commodity Trap

A commodity is a basic good that is interchangeable with others of the same type. In the context of AV, commodities are the physical pieces of equipment — speakers, microphones, projectors, and screens. These items, while essential, represent only a fraction of what we offer. When clients focus solely on the hardware, they miss out on the broader value we bring to their projects.

The real magic of AV lies in how we integrate these components to create seamless, engaging, and memorable experiences. This often requires dozens of hours in advance of an event drawing, ideating, visualizing and iterating a design. This also requires a deep understanding of technology, an eye for design, and the ability to anticipate and solve complex problems. Unfortunately, when budgets tighten, clients often revert to viewing AV services as a collection of commodities, leading to a race to the bottom on price.

The Value of Service

Services, on the other hand, encompass the intangible aspects of our work — our creativity, expertise, and problem-solving abilities, our design thinking. These are the elements that transform a collection of equipment into a cohesive system that meets the specific needs of a client. They include:

  1. Curiosity: How we approach our questioning strategy to understand what is truly important to our clients and to get a deep appreciation of what is going to make them look good.
  2. Design and Planning: Crafting an experience that fits the unique requirements of an event and integrating the knowledge we have gained through our curiosity.
  3. Drawing and Visualization: The process of bringing that knowledge together into a beautiful picture that allows our customers to stand in their space and see what their event will look and feel like.
  4. Iteration: The process of evolving a design through multiple iterations, slowly and thoughtfully incorporating feedback until we have a comprehensive design.
  5. Logistics: The pre-planning, paperwork, signal flow drawings, content schedules, production and rehearsal schedules, transportation schedules, music and cue sheets.

 

These services are not interchangeable. They are unique to each project and are crucial for delivering high-quality results. When clients recognize and pay for these services, they invest in the success of their events and the long-term performance of relationships.

At our company, we believe that the journey is as important as the outcome and that as much work happens in the weeks and months leading up to a project than in the hours and days of its execution.

Progress and Setbacks

Over the years, our industry has made significant strides in educating clients about the value of our services. Many have come to understand that investing in design and creativity leads to better outcomes and that the cheapest option is rarely the best. This shift has allowed us to demonstrate our true value and receive fair compensation for our expertise.

However, recent economic pressures are threatening this progress. As budgets become constrained, there is a growing tendency to revert to old habits — viewing AV services as commodities and selecting providers based on price alone. This trend is concerning for several reasons:

  1. Quality Decline: When price becomes the primary factor, quality inevitably suffers. Lower budgets mean less time for planning, fewer resources for customization, and reduced support.
  2. Innovation Stagnation: Without proper compensation for our creativity and expertise, there is little incentive to innovate. The industry risks becoming stagnant, with fewer groundbreaking projects and less advancement.
  3. Devaluation of Skills: Continually being forced to compete on price alone devalues the specialized skills and knowledge that AV professionals bring to the table.

Moving Forward

To counteract this backward shift, we must continue to advocate for the value of our services. Here are a few strategies to help reinforce the importance of our expertise:

  1. Educate Clients: Consistently communicate the benefits of investing in professional design and integration. Talk about your work that contributes to the final product.
  2. Highlight Total Value: Emphasize the long-term savings and improved outcomes that come from a deep, empathetic relationship with you and your team. Show clients that the investment in quality services pays off over time and that a long-lasting relationship with a partner is vastly more beneficial than an initial savings on paper.
  3. Collaborate with Industry Peers: Work together to set industry standards that promote fair compensation for services. A united front can help shift the market perception from commodity to service.

In conclusion, while economic challenges may push clients towards a commodity mindset, it is crucial that we continue to champion the value of our services. By demonstrating the importance of design, creativity, and expertise, we can ensure that our industry continues to thrive and that we receive fair compensation for the invaluable work we do. Let’s not allow the progress we’ve made to be undone; instead, let’s strive to elevate the perception of our profession and secure the recognition we deserve.

 

Kyle Brooks is CEO of Bespoke Audio Visual, headquartered in Toronto. He is also a founding member of the Canadian Audio Visual Providers Association.

 

 

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