My Accountant Wears a Suit

So I guess lots of industry people are wondering what’s with all the mystery and secrets behind the InfoComm 100 even that just passed in Portland.  No one was allowed to talk about the guest list no one was allowed to talk about the award winners until the event had begun.  What’s the deal??!!?? (Wait- don’t stop reading; I know InfoComm 100 has been covered to death- but stick with me here.)

Well, the deal is, I got to rub elbows with the most amazing people. The invitation only 100 person group wasn’t stuffy AV executive suits. No- they were/ are excited, energetic, passionate people (mostly men- but there were 9 women) who really were interested in discussing how to better our industry as the future unfolds.  They are sincerely proud to be involved in audiovisual. Like Dawn Meade says – they were evangelizing AV. Every yearInfoComm picks a key topic that is affecting the path, growth and future of the audiovisual industry as we know it. The few days we spent in Portland were filled with great discussions all revolving around the InfoComm 100 2011 topic of AV / IT convergence. For a fantastic recap of what went on at InfoComm 100- and some goodies about the AV/ IT convergence topic- check out Jennifer Willard’s post here (couldn’t have said it any better than Jennifer.)

What I would like to highlight is my second favorite AV passion- next to Green AV, of course.  “AV as a professional service.”  Let’s face it, for as long as there has been AV, AV people have been viewed as “tech geeks” or “roadies” – a bunch of guys in jeans and a t-shirt, obsessed with presentation perfection. Many within the industry view themselves as such…further perpetuating the generalization. At InfoComm 100, I argued that if the AV industry wants to be taken seriously in a time when IT type product margins on AV gear could be heading toward the single digits we have to change our self-perception.

AV as a professional service begins with the AV industry conceding the fact that product margins will continue to fall. In order to survive, service will have to become the profitable part of the business model. The AV industry historically hasn’t seen labor as a money maker. Whereas, other professional services, such as those offered by the IT industry, make their money exclusively from service and labor. Why is that? Our panel at InfoComm 100 proposed that it is because AV integrators might see the service as necessary to incorporate the products into a workable system that offers an impressive, emotional experience. Not nearly as impressive as the end product- perhaps the service is a means to an end and so not offered at the professional, specialized labor rate that it deserves. We know that’s silly. Our installers are worth every penny that we charge and more- they are what make the end product possible. That amazing audiovisual experience that evokes more responses and stimulates more senses than most other industries can.

So how can AV geeks move toward seeing and presenting themselves as a trained professional? First, change your mindset (got this covered in last paragraph.)  IT will overtake us and will make money selling OUR service if this doesn’t change. We already see it happening. Second, dress the part. How many of you (be honest) have seen a rep from a small AV integration company go to a job site, install or sales call in jeans and (maybe) a polo shirt? Or better yet- an old arena rock (Def Leppard, maybe) t-shirt? AV as a professional service means that you sell yourself, you sell your company and you sell the experience. You can be the most talented AV “guru” in the world- if you don’t dress the part- take time on your self-presentation- you won’t show people that YOU are worth it, let alone the money for your services.

Last, detail the value in your services and charge appropriately for them. There is a certain level of education that is relevant and necessary for AV design, installation and programming. This education is specific to the field and cannot be generalized over other industries (i.e. IT doesn’t have the skill set to do what we do, right now).

My example of a profitable and well recognized professional service is: I have a very small company- PLS.  My company employs 16 people. We aren’t big- but we are a great company. The president of PLS knew an accountant (Bill) from another company at which he was employed prior to PLS. He became personal friends with Bill, having had him over to dinner, family BBQ’s etc. When we startedPLS, our president hired Bill on a monthly retainer of $750 to close our books every month and give some guidance for the financial growth of the company. Bill comes in every month in a suit and tie- despite being casual and comfortable with us- and stays for 2 hours to close our books and meet with us to discuss the status. 2 hours at $175 an hour. We don’t blink when paying his invoice. He is well worth the money we pay for his services- he is well trained in his field, he respects himself and treats us with respect. Now, granted, you don’t want to be wearing a suit while running wire in the tightest of spaces- but you get the point.

The AV industry deserves no less than to be seen as a professional service provider. I have outlined three things that any AV company- consultant, integrator, installer, etc- can accomplish. The final statement, however, must come from the industry associations. We need standards. InfoComm is doing a fabulous job and in short time, there will be a number of new standards that will help to carry our AV as a professional service industry into the future. We have to abide by them. Our consultants have to spec them. And the rest of the world has to be educated about them.  We don’t want any other service industries to do what we do. We know they can’t offer the experience. Now, it’s time to show the rest of the world why…