This week Charles sits down and talks about three things that he has found to be really important from his time in the events world. He talks about hiring a planner, hiring A/V and production, as well as maintaining your relationships with clients. Use these points to up your events game!
So today we are going to be talking about things like tips for hiring planners, talking about A/V and production. I really want to dive deep on that one. Then we’re going to talk about a few tricks I have to make your relationship with your team, your executive leadership team, or even your client a little bit better than maybe it is today.
So first we’re going to dive into talking about my tips for hiring a planner. We’re currently in the process of hiring a planner ourselves, but for years I have personally worked with planners and I have to say the right planner is absolutely an asset to your team. Whether this is somebody that’s internal or this is somebody that is being hired by a production or being hired by the client. A planner is absolutely a godsend in the right context. I have to tell you whether they’re managing just the budget or all the way up to like onsite details, you really cannot replace the need or the position of a planner with anything else. This person is a key component and I think it’s important to keep in mind there are a few things we need to look at when we hire planners.
I had a friend of mine, Amy Zaroff in last week and we were talking about planning, we were talking about all of this stuff around what makes a great vision for an event. And then also what makes a great planner. But I want to reiterate to you guys a couple things that I really learned and one of them was you want someone to be kind of a rule breaker. And not in the negative sense. But you want somebody who is willing to think outside the box. Somebody who’s going, yes, I know that’s how we’ve done it for 10 years or yes, I know that’s how the industry does it, but is that good for us? Is that good for our event? You want this person to question the status quo.
The other thing is when you’re looking for a planner, you want to have someone who is very detail oriented. A while back we did an episode with a gal talking about, she is a spreadsheet Ninja and I thought, man, what a cool thing to claim for yourself to be the spreadsheet Ninja. A lot of times in events our world lives and dies by these spreadsheets. And so somebody who can really manage and track detail with spreadsheets is absolutely a must. It is absolutely a skill that you cannot, um, you know, go without.
The other really important thing is as you guys probably know, we need to have people that are able to make a decision without clearing it from above. So a great planner is going to be given enough authority to make an onsite decision that needs to get executed right now, hey, we’re thinking about adding additional seating in the back in this area. Is that okay? Well, I don’t know. Let me call the manager of this person who get ahold of this assistant to the CEO. And you really want somebody who can be autonomous that can make those decisions on the spot and can actually be impactful. Another really key component here is someone who has realistic ability to give the people and vendors they’ve hired the autonomy as well. And the reason I say that is have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had so many people doing so many different things, but you have this one person overseeing them and this one person wants to be in control of all of it. So everyone literally has to ask this person for permission or their thoughts or their opinion on everything. I recommend finding someone who is, willing to give autonomy to the people they have delegated stuff too. So if they’ve hired a production company like us, we have a good enough relationship where they trust our decisions. If there are budgetary items that are going to be added, you obviously need clearance for those types of things. But in general, someone who feels comfortable giving that authority away just as they have been given that authority. I have to say another qualification or characteristics I look for is assertiveness. Now some of you listen to this and you go assertiveness. I don’t want to be pushy. The truth is that assertiveness and pushiness are two different things. Being assertive is absolutely crucial in the events world, especially if you’re in a position where you are making decisions and you’re guiding other people, and I’m not saying be assertive, like be a blowhard or be a jerk, I’m saying be assertive. Look for somebody who is assertive. This is if you’re hiring or if you’re the planner yourself, being more assertive actually plays well to the overall picture. Now obviously don’t step outside your role or don’t have someone, don’t hire someone who’s going to constantly step on everybody else’s toes. But having someone who is assertive in the planning position is absolutely critical. Somebody who’s decisive and assertive and all these other things. So those are the kind of the things that I’ve been looking for and those are the things that I have seen are successful in the planning world.
Also experience for those of you guys who are listening, who don’t have a lot of experience planning events, I guess for those of you who have been doing it for say less than two years, or if you’ve done less than say, 50 events, I would recommend hooking up with an organization that can give you more experience. I’m not saying work for free for them, but don’t expect them to pay you top dollar when you don’t have the experience yet. Right. Use it as an opportunity to gain more experience and while you’re there, add the value that you can add.
So let’s talk about tips for hiring A/V and production. This is like a giant, hairy beast that’s sitting in my office. Everyday I walk in and we meet with some client or prospective client and we talk about production. I always break it down into basically three different types of production companies. Now granted I am in one of these boxes and I am more biased to one of these boxes because that’s the box I’m in. It doesn’t mean anyone is good or bad, they’re just different. But as a client, I think it’s important you are able to differentiate the differences between these different things.
So number one is a producer. A lot of times they say they’re a production company, but really they’re a very talented producer who knows how to orchestrate all of the necessary production elements. So this is someone who maybe has been in the business a long time and they say, you know, I don’t want to carry the overhead of equipment or a staff, but I have companies I can call on that have all of those things. A producer generally will put together their team and bring their team in to execute a show. Sometimes they tell you this is how they’re doing it. And other times they just say, no, I’m a production company. And they contract it. It’s not good or bad, it’s just one way of doing it. I think as the client, it’s important that you’re able to know what’s going on when you hire someone. The one thing I will tell you is that producers have a need to make an income. And a lot of times they’re making an income on all of the different elements that they are bringing in.
So then the second type of production company that I’ve noticed is out there is kind of your lower smaller event production companies, companies that they’re really tooled to say, do you know, 800 people and below the equipment that they own is less expensive equipment. It’s not really your industrial grade equipment. It’s something you could order through guitar center if you wanted to. It’s something that you could go online and just order straight from full compass or These organizations do a decent job doing smaller meetings. If you’re a corporation having a luncheon for a hundred people, you’re not going to hire a creative event company to come put together like a pitch and the whole thing, right? You just need a few speakers on sticks and maybe a stage wash. Well, in that instance, you’re in a good spot when you hire one of these smaller production companies. One thing I’ve noticed those that a lot of times the quality of equipment they have is not so good. I’m not saying always, but a lot of times the equipment’s older, it’s beat up, it’s been rented and used for all kinds of different things. Just make sure that when you’re vetting a production organization that you know the company is, is in line with the size and scale of work you’re doing. So if you’re a meeting planner and you’re just planning a lunch in for one to 200 people in a, you know, a small hotel ballroom and it’s not a big deal, one of these smaller groups might be really good for you. If you’re an organization putting on a large multi day conference for 3000 people, you’re not going to hire one of these smaller companies. They don’t own any of the things and they’re really not set up to even execute or do this. One thing I’ll warn you about, sometimes they will have had a small piece in a big show and then when they find you with your big show, they say, yeah, we did that show. When in reality they didn’t, I’m not saying they’re being shady, but they did do that show, right? Just they did a part of that show and a lot of organizations that are trying to grow will not necessarily turn down business that’s too big for them. So it’s really important for you as the client to be able to differentiate is this organization, is this the size of this production company, the right company for what we’re doing? If you’re doing 70,000 people in a stadium, you’re not going to hire the same group that every day is sending out two speakers on sticks to do meetings at a tiny little hotel luncheon. Two different types of organizations.
[14:29] So then I would say there’s the third, which is what we are. And that is a full service, full scale production company where you’re basically a place that we create the creative ideas and concepts for the staging, the look, the creative, right? And then you’ve got the execution arm. Then we go and we actually pull it off. One thing I’ll tell you is that when you get into these larger scale events, no one company has every single piece of equipment for a 70,000 person show or a 50,000 person show or a 20,000 person show. This industry is comprised of little pockets of experts. So no matter how big or small the production is, after a certain point, there’s multiple organizations. I’m very open about the fact that we have other suppliers that we lean on when we have a certain demand for a certain size and scope. But our internal team manages all of that, and so we ourselves own equipment. We then bring in outside partners to help us execute things that are just of a scale we’re not doing. And every single production company of this size is doing the very same thing. When you need crowd barricades. Like for a big concert, let’s say Kenny Chesney’s coming in town and you need crowd barricades. Well, I know of a couple places in town that own crowd barricades, but for me it would make no sense for me to create the design and then also own crowd barricades. It’s two totally different little pockets of need. Just like owning a stage in a trailer, the stages on wheels, those big like concert stages, that’s a very niche product. These are all different production tools that all of us larger companies, we rely on each other to execute. We all own our own equipment, but we’re all obviously working with each other.
What I will tell you is that people like to sit around and talk about their equipment. I warn you about this because you can have the best equipment in the world and I really believe we have some of the best equipment in the world. But what does that even matter? If you don’t have a great idea, a great concept, you’re not thinking about the audience, you’re not designing it to really look and feel the way the client needs it to look and feel. It doesn’t matter. You can have the best gear in the world. The other side of that coin is there’s a lot of organizations that have been around a long time and they’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of old equipment. So it is important to know how good and how new the equipment is, but at the same time, that is not the whole game. As the client I’m talking to you, I would, I would remind you not to get tied up in the equipment, but to talk more along the creative lines. The equipment can be changed out. The budget is a crucial component.
When you move into talking about budget, here’s what I’ll tell you. You can buy a car for $500 and you can buy a car for $2 million.They’re both cars. But what’s the difference? Well, I guess if you made a list of things you could clearly and easily understand that there’s a major difference between a Bugatti and a Geo Metro. There’s a total difference.The same goes with production. There’s a huge difference between organizations that spend a lot of time hand holding with a creative and have very nice equipment to organizations that have been around. It’s beat up old equipment and it’s coming off of concerts that are you know, they’d been on the road for a long time. There’s a total difference. And here’s what I’ll tell you. Your budget will drive that. So oftentimes when we buy things, and this is a counter intuitive thing, this is like one of the most important things. I’m going to drive home in this segment today.
Naturally, when you buy something, this coffee Mug, if I buy one coffee mug and I want my logo on it, they’re going to charge me say $30. For this one, if I buy a dozen of them, it might come down to say $10 a Mug, but if I buy 10,000 of these mugs, they may be a dollar a mug or less. As you buy more of something in the natural world, the costs go down.
In the production world, it’s actually the opposite. And I know this sounds crazy to you guys, but it’s the opposite. When you get to a certain point and your moving your event into an arena or into a stadium, the cost of audio, visual production per person starts to exponentially grow. And the reason is, if you could imagine the amount of, um, you’re going to a convention center, it’s flat, right? It’s very easy to rig from the ceiling and serve audio and video to the floor. You move into an arena or a stadium and now you’re getting into unusual structures, unusual rigging, unusual shape of audience and delay. The technology has to be much bigger. And to do a stadium or an arena properly, I would say that great bright projection is great, but really I recommend LED wall when you get to those sizes, like for example here at us bank stadium, US Bank stadium, you can’t even really do projection in there because the ceiling, the roof is like a clear roof and light is bleeding in at all hours of the day. Well LED wall is significantly more expensive and when you get into those massive sizes, I mean you’re talking about truck loads of LED wall just to serve the audience. So as you go up in size of audience, there’s a point in which it shifts and starts to exponentially increase the cost to you per person for the audio visual and, and possibly the venue as well. So that’s a really crucial point I want to make and a lot of customers there going well if I have more people it should be less money per person at a certain point that actually changes. So that’s a really crucial thing for you to know. Again, traditional flat spaces, ballrooms, convention centers, you know, it’s a little different, but when you get into those really big venues, there’s a serious difference in how to do it, including the equipment needed to pull it off.
Okay. So another big thing to talk about, people talk about the inhouse A?V Versus bringing a production company with you. And people go, well, why don’t I just use the in house a v right? And here’s what I want to speak to. If you’re putting it up against, say, one of those smaller production companies, the tier two, the inhouse may be a great fit, right? It doesn’t maybe make sense to bring in an outside partner for 200 people or a hundred people for a lunch. It might make sense to let the inhouse A/V Do it. But if you’re traveling from city to city or even going to the same city each year and you want a consistent product for your audience, you cannot go with inhouse A/V. The inhouse is there, in my opinion, to serve as a liaison to their rigging, their power, their internet, things like that. But when you really get into say 700 or more people for more than one day, you do not want to rely on the inhouse. A/V, the inhouse, A/V is an inconsistent product at best. And I hate saying that, but every time I see them it’s different. The people are different and you’d go to the same venue. It’s different people.
I was at a gala the other night and it was done by the inhouse A/V. We weren’t producing it. And I looked back at the tech desk and I saw the people running the program. It was, it was 1300 people in the room. Mind you and I was astonished. These guys were wearing hoodies and sweatshirts. It looked like we pulled them out of like between dumpsters in the back of the hotel alleyway. And that to me, especially at a black tie gala, fully unacceptable. You should never ever show up in a Hoodie or a sweatshirt if you’re working on the team for a black tie gala. Sure when everyone’s gone and you’re tearing down, fine put your hoodie on. But during the show you better be wearing a suit jacket. It’s stuff like that customer service stuff. It’s the quality of the people in the consistency of the people. And then of course you look up in the ceiling, the inhouse, and they’re still using conventional lighting fixtures from 1994 trying to squeeze every last dollar cause they’re a publicly traded company and they’re trying to squeeze every last dollar out of that equipment. From a business perspective, I get it right. Those guys, they do what they have to do. But at the end of the day, if you want a really quality experience for your audience, that is not the way to go. The other thing is when you’re traveling city to city, we have a couple of clients that they change cities every year. What I’ve learned is that having a consistent team and product from city to city allows the organization to worry less about the variable of production and worry more about the things that you know should be worried about when you’re at a new site. But really your production team, if you’ve been working with them for years and they come from city to city or they go to the same city with the every year, that should be the last of your concerns.
Now when you hire a new company, I’m just going to warn you there’s going to be some pain. It doesn’t matter how good they are or how great and organized you are the more disorganized you are, the worst the first year will be. But I will tell you, and I’ve said this to customers over and over again, I believe in loyalty and I would never want my customers to put my work that we do for them out to bid. There’s a level of trust. There’s a level of respect, there’s a level of loyalty. I say the same thing about you and your production company. If you feel like you trust them and you want to stay loyal to them, don’t put them through putting it out to bid every year. It is a painful, expensive process that nobody ever really wins on. So if you find a great company and you’ve been working with them, stick with them. I’m telling you, you’re going to save time. You’re going to save money, you’re gonna save headaches. And honestly, with something as important as the run of your show, do you really want them to feel like you don’t trust them? I would debate that you want to have a very intimate level of trust with your production company. And if you don’t have a talk with them, give them an opportunity to fix it. I have a couple of great clients and honestly like any great relationship, they’ve come to me and they’ve said, hey, I need to talk to you about some things that are just not quite the way I want them to be or are causing problems.If your company that you’re maybe struggling with to have, you know, conversations with are open to the feedback and then they do something about it, keep them. I’m telling you what, in our industry it is very uncommon to have a high level of customer service and then an adaptability.
So that brings me to the next thing, which is a little more for the planners, working with vendors and working with not just production but in general. I believe that in order to have a healthy relationship today, think about your relationships today. If you look through your phone, you have probably been texting with them, right? I would recommend that the veil be moved away and you get on a texting basis with your vendors and your customer.
We all have vendors and we all have customers. Get on a text messaging basis with them, make them feel comfortable enough that they can have an open line of communication with you about things.It’s an important part of life. I mean I’m on a texting basis with all of my clients. If it’s not a client I manage, my sales team is definitely on a texting basis with them.
So those are the types of things to keep an open dialogue. I think texting is key. Also with your clients, send a birthday card to them, show them that you give a crap, send thank you notes. This is one of those things I always like, I’m blown away by because we all get mail every day and we all go to the mailbox and when we see a handwritten note, you know you open that thing first, right? Come on. Getting handwritten mail is special. Well, so if you know that it’s so special and you get it and you like it, my question to you is why don’t you ever send it? So, I mean we have a very, very serious like protocol here that when we meet with somebody, we send them a thank you card. They took their time to meet with us. It’s little stuff like that that your competitors or the people that you’re kind of up against, whether you’re an independent or you’re inside a company even like let’s say you’re a planner and your work inside of a large organization and you met with your executive leadership team and they gave you some idea into their vision. Why wouldn’t you write that leader a thank you note saying, thank you so much for spending time with me today. Even if they’re in your own company. Like thank you so much for spending time with me today to share with me the vision. Now obviously if you’re like a company, that’d be kind of weird cause they’re like down the hall. But like let’s say you’re in a large organization and you meet with them and they’d come in and you have this big meeting. Why wouldn’t you send them a thank you note for spending time sharing with you their vision. It also would give you more visibility and probably opportunity to bring ideas to the table because now you have a voice, a voice that’s on handwritten paper.
So these are just a few of the things that I like to do. Obviously you don’t want to cross that line where people feel like you’re bothering them. You want to show people that you actually care. It’s funny because I really believe if everybody did what they say they would do, nobody would ever be out of a job. Think about that. But the reality is like most people say one thing and they either don’t do it or they do something else. And I would recommend in this industry, especially when you say you’re going to do something, you darn well better do it. Because if you don’t, I’m telling you what, you’ve got a reputation and that reputation can be ruined very quickly. And I think that’s why we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve really taken to heart doing what we say and saying what we do.