What’s in a name? Members of the audio visual industry have a number of names for ourselves, from audio visual dealers to systems integrators. In Sound & Communications’ Annual Audio Visual Integrators survey, published this summer, one survey question asked respondents what they call their business. While it’s true that different names reflect, to a degree, different core competencies, the fact is that two businesses with very different titles may actually perform very similar jobs.

“Systems integrator” is the most common name cited by S&C survey respondents. In this age of ITAV convergence, this makes sense. While it can cause confusion as the IT industry also uses this term, it’s safe to say that if a contractor is telling you where to aim the speakers, he’s not the IT guy.

The next most common company title is “Design/Install Firm,” which is an apt description for the daily business of most AV systems integrators. For many of us, we design the systems, from equipment placement to selecting the right products for the job, and our team installs them. However, the phrase doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or fit neatly on a business card.

“Consultant” and “Contractor” were tied for third place, with each placing emphasis on a different aspect of the design/build process. A consultant would typically design systems and specify equipment. Most people think of “contractors” as the hands-on types who do the work in the field. However, in the AV industry, this may or may not be true.

Fewer than five percent of respondents preferred the terms “Dealer” or “Installer,” perhaps because they are very narrow descriptors that don’t reveal the full range of service most AV systems integrators provide.

What does this matter to you, the customer shopping for someone to help you create an AV experience in your home or your commercial building or house-of-worship? Not much, but it does provide some insight into the questions to ask when you begin your search.

The Hunt for the Right AV Professional

If you have a clear idea of what you want in terms of AV design, are familiar with the different models of equipment from different manufacturers, but just don’t have the staff to hang speakers and terminate wires, you may be looking for an audio visual installer. But an installer may very well offer design services, as well. The solution? Ask specifically about the services you need. Then ask for references from people the company has actually performed those services for — preferably within your vertical market.

If you’re looking for an AV design consultant, ask references if the consultants drew up the plans and disappeared, or if he was available for questions and modifications during the installation process. Sometimes, AV designs don’t work out as well in the real world as they do on paper; this requires the consultant to stay in touch with the on-site team to ensure a quality finished product.

On the other hand, if you’re hiring an AV installer, find out how well the company does working from other people’s plans. What do the consultants the installation firm has worked with say about them? Audio visual systems installation is a team effort; “plays well with others” is a job prerequisite.

Is a One-Stop Design/Install Firm the Right Choice?

If all this “coordinating of trades” sounds complicated, an AV firm that can provide consulting, design and installation services might be the right choice for you. There’s already an architect, general contractor, and possibly an electrician and other trades on site. If you can get all your audio, video and control system needs met by one entity, it can simplify processes, from scheduling to billing. Our friends in the restaurant industry use the term “too many cooks.” Wouldn’t you rather work with just a handful of Master Chefs?

What’s Really in a Name?

Few other industries even debate what they would call their business. But no one ever said AV systems integration is easy. Whatever decision you make, be certain that the company you choose can provide the services you need. It really can be as simple as that.