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Whether to bid out venue services

Joe Fields, director of convention management at the Lexington Convention Center

If you have used a convention center, you know that like any other type of meeting facility, the various services offered are either exclusively provided by the building (almost always catering) or are offered on a nonexclusive basis.

Services that are often offered on a nonexclusive basis include audio/visual, exposition services and security. Many planners will bid these services out, but you should realize there are some advantages to using in-house providers that go beyond bottom-line costs.

When evaluating bids from multiple vendors, some advantages to consider from in-house providers that may or may not be evident in their proposals are:

•    An onsite or in-house AV provider has intimate knowledge of the facility’s permanent lighting and sound systems and can respond more effectively to problems. Though another provider may offer comparable or better rates, patch fees are frequently assessed by a facility for use of its permanent sound system by an outside entity and those fees are usually added to the vendor’s invoice.

•    If you have not purchased a move-in day for AV set-up, it can be challenging to get everything done before the start of the program. An in-house AV provider will have access as soon as a space is available. In addition, their equipment is onsite, eliminating the need for storage areas or dock space, which can often be limited in a busy facility.

•    The same goes for an in-house decorator or exposition services company. They have access to set the show when the space is available and because their equipment stored at the facility, it is easier for them to respond to last-minute or unexpected requests. And, the need for storage and dock space is eliminated.

•    Because buildings always control their own utilities — including electric, internet, phone and water — there is no need for a separate service desk with in-house services. This makes ordering and invoicing easier for both exhibitor and show producer.

•    For event security, the facility’s provider has multiple advantages. They have a comprehensive knowledge of building layout, access to all parts of the facility at all times, are in direct radio contact with the building’s security headquarters and have an established relationship with the community’s law enforcement agencies.

To sum up, when bidding out services for your next convention center event, remember that the advantages of in-house providers may not show up if you only compare the bottom line.

Joe Fields is the director of convention management at the Lexington Convention Center in Lexington, Ky., where he has worked for 11 years. Contact him at 859-233-4567 or at The Lexington Convention Center manages the convention center, Rupp Arena and the Lexington Opera House. To learn more about the Lexington Convention Center, visit