Wanting to know tips and tricks straight from a partner in production? This week Lisa and Charles sit down and go over traps event organizers can fall into. They use their experience in the industry to create a “cheat sheet” for you.
Charles: So glad you joined us on this special edition. This is the first time Lisa and I have sat down the two of us to share what’s in our brains.
Lisa: I think this will be great cause we can finally share with you who we are, what we do, and how you can get better without anyone here to interfere.
Charles: Here’s the deal, Lisa and I work in the production side of events. I don’t know if you know that. The company I started back in 2003 is EideCom. It’s basically a full service audio visual creative organization. Lisa has been with me about a year and a half. It’s been great, a lot of fun.
Today what we’re going to do, we’re going to talk about what Lisa and I run into, every mistake and scenario organizations do on accident that end up hurting and screwing up their process, costing them more money. I said to LIsa the other day, we need to an episode that helps people understand some of the stuff so they don’t make these mistakes.
Lisa: We just talked to Kris Lindahl about leadership in our last podcast. He talked a lot about how event organizers typically dont see through the lens of an attendee. We take a different approach where we sometimes come to the conference or event to just view it and see it and help make notes. We’ve seen a lot of things.
Charles: We have. If you start as an attendee in your mind, you’re going to always put the visible things right on paper. In fact often times I say if I’m not doing someone’s show, “Hey how about I come check it out.” I’ll sit in the audience and make notes. It’s not just all negative, I make positive notes too, like what went well. I think one that I really want to kick off with, choosing the venue before you understand your production. How often do we have people that have chosen the venue, it’s a new one, and wants to know how much it will cost to produce the show.
Lisa: And it sometimes isn’t a great venue to do production in. Sometimes it’s already set in stone and we think, do we tell them it’s really bad? Or do we think, great we will work with this? From unions to the in house internet fees, things like that, you have to take into consideration what comes with the venue.
Charles: I’ve always been blown away by some of the internet fees that have been charged to some organizations, it’s been $75,000 to $100,000 to provide internet to their attendees. Wait for internet for attendees for their whole life forever? No just for three days. You mean in the ballroom? It’s just crazy to me!
The other big pitfall with your venue is understanding what type of requirements they have. Like the in house – PSAV is a large organization and is in house in a lot of places. But there are other organizations that are in house at some places as well. They have their own set of rules. Some places will require you to use them for any rigging, anything that’s going to hang from the ceiling. That rigging often times, we’re allowed to bring in our own motors and trussing, but we are required to let them rig it because it’s their building. There are other scenarios where they require us to use their motors, truss, and rigging. We literally have to have contract to them. A lot of people when you book a venue don’t think of these things. You sign the deal and it says rigging power internet to be assessed. We come to help you with your show and they say $100,000 for rigging. There are other venues that wouldn’t cost that much.
Lisa: It’s kind of a double edged sword because for a lot of our clients that aren’t doing rigging, we recommend they move into that rigging scenario because it adds a lot to their show. But it adds a lot of expense so you have to realize what the investment actually costs.
Charles: To those of you who don’t know what rigging is, it’s the stuff that hangs lighting and projection and other elements over your head. You can make better use of the space because you are not using the floor to support things. It’s safer actually, you don’t have things hanging in the air ground supported that can topple over. Not that they usually do but, nothing usually topples over. The possibility is lower.
The next one I want to come up with is underestimating what it takes to do a good production. A lot of people they don’t realize how much staff and equipment it takes.
Lisa: Or even just the lead time to set the room up. We usually ask for a whole day prior to the show for our medium to large shows. Our clients are like we only have the room the day of. That puts strain on your people and doesn’t make for the best environment and you don’t have time to run through the show.
Charles: We have some really large shows that take up to four or five days to just load them in. To your point, I think it’s important to note, if you have a four day load in and you are trying to do it in 2 days, you’re not really saying anything.
Lisa: You’re stressing everyone out and to go back to our episode of sleep, you’re team is going to be running at two percent.
Charles: Basically human working hours to put it up, if it was going to be 10 people for 4 days now its 20-30 people for 2 days, if it’s even possible. Don’t underestimate the cost involved in bringing in the right stuff and give yourself enough load in time to strike the show, AND load out show. We did an event recently very large in a new stadium, we had 2 hours to strike a show that took 2-3 days to set. How are you supposed to do that? This stuff takes time. Don’t underestimate the cost or loading/out time. That’s really important.
Choose a venue before you choose your production company. A lot of people say I use the inhouse team wherever we go. That is ok up unto a point, until you want a cohesive ongoing consistent look and feel year to year, show to show, city to city.
Lisa: When your brand is a high level expensive beautiful brand, you want it to be consistent wherever you go. If you are working with a new team, it’s hard to keep the brand on point.
Charles: The relationship you have it’s not the same. The people that are doing your production arn’t as invested.
Putting your budget into the wrong things. #1 most important thing in my opinion is that everyone can hear when it comes to production. Don’t sacrifice the quality of the audio. There’s science to back this up. If people can’t hear or there’s an echo or slap back that’s really annoying. SLap back is where the audio is hitting the back of the room and then hitting you again, what you’re doing is you are exhausting your aducience quicker. WHen the human brain has to hear something and decipher and decode it, it requires a lot more energy for someone’s mind. Take 5000 in an audience not every person is having to listen closer and try and decipher what’s being said.
LIsa: Just think about someone where english is their second language, another level of decoding.
Charles: If you don’t have good audio that is strong and clear the problem you are going to run into is audience exhaustion and you don’t want that. Have you ever been in an experience that is 2-3 minutes long and you’re tired? There’s other times where you could sit there for hours. Even in restaurants and other places, think of places you can be there for a long time. It’s requiring less brain power for you to be you and sit there. That is a real thing.
The next thing is understanding unions. Unions are a part of what we do. They are apart of the events world. Some people have their opinions some hate and love them. It doesn’t matter what matters is that they are apart of it. For those of you that are anti-union, don’t go into a union situation and be a jerk. It doesn’t help you. Don’t try to go to the negotiations mat without respect from the people in charge. This is their livelihood and the way of doing business. You chose a venue that has a union and you’re going to change it. You;re not going to put up and fight and they are going to give in.
LIsa: If you’re willing to talk to your production company ahead of time, we have a good handle of this, certain towns have unions, others have less. Just have that conversation in the beginning. Get some advice on that before you choose the prettiest coolest place.
Charles: Totally, Chicago is notorious for having lots and lots of union. It is what it is. They also have fabulous venues, centrally located, and a hub. There’s lots of reason’s to have a Chicago meeting, but know that when you work in chicago it’s going to be a part of life.
I have a client who did an event in Chicago and they were not aware of the cost the union would occur on the event. I don’t need to speak numbers or names but it was a huge shock. They had already signed the deal, we were basically stuck there. know the union situation. That has a huge impact on budget. The fees can be as large as the production fees.
Lisa: Let’s talk about equipment. Most event planners don’t know the difference in brands, but it matters.
Charles: I don’t need to go into specific brands. Each production company boasts they have the best brand. Let’s look at vehicles: you have your regular american brands – Ford, Chevy, then you have your higher lines – Mercedes Benz, BMW, then you go even higher – Maserati, Aston Martin, then you have Lamborghini. You don’t want to be using a go cart. A lot of companies they realize the meeting planner doesn’t really know so they show up with a go cart they bought from guitar center. Or they underestimated and rented the cheapest equipment.
My perspective is there’s maybe 3-4 players in production
- High level creative companies that are full service production
- Mid level production company that own junkier equipment. They take on small to medium shows but charge full service rates on junkier equipment
- Producer then who calls on different companies that specialize on things. The producer knows the really good players and you don’t care because you trust them.
- Then there’s another kind of producer. They are someone who pretends to be a production company and source out all of the production to one or many companies. Which is to usually the 2nd company. They are trying to make as much margin as they possibly can on the show. They sell it for a market rate but bring in a second rate production group that does lower end stuff. It’s so the lower end producer can make more money.
If you want us to take a look at who you are hiring reach out. That stuff does matter. If you are tiny conference with a small budget, you’re not going to hire a group like us because we are way out of your budget. If you are a large multi day conference and you are looking for people that can manage all the high level details that you probably would. We run into horror stories where people don’t realize what they are hiring.
Lisa: If I went out on my own as a producer, I wouldn’t want to hire crappy people, even if it cost more I would hire a better production company because it will be a better experience.
Charles: The other thing is being extremely picky with making sure that the crew is well trained. For example I don’t mean just trained in the skill that the person should know already. Don’t be afraid to see some of the work that they have done. The other thing is training in customer service. We spend so much time talking about customer service and communication. Unfortunately the production world is not focused on that. The production world is generally focused on gear and knowledge and logistics. We built our business to be about the customer service experience. For those of you that are my competitors, listen up. Read the book the Customer Rules by Lee Cockerell. I’m giving my secrets away.
Lisa: I think instead of keeping the competition down get them to do better, it keeps us accountable to work on ourselves.
Charles: Let’s talk about not doing enough pre planning.
Lisa: I just met with a client yesterday that said they rushed through rehearsal then during the show had issues with a video. You need to make sure you save time to rehearse the show and that comes with making sure you have enough time in advance.
Charles: That leads back to the first point we were making which is don’t be hasty when you choose your venue. These are things you need to negotiate. Enough time. Before you sign the contract you can negotiate these things. If you have to pay you have to pay. Budget enough time to load in/out and also to rehearse. Your executive team and leaders who are going to be apart of your event are not only going to feel special you invited them to a rehearsal but will also feel relieved when they walk on stage for the show. It will be you who says it’s going to cost you a day in venue but if we’re not rehearsed what’s the point in general?
Lisa: If the show does’t flow your money is in vain.
Charles: Not having accurate drawings. Lisa and I are sticklers about making sure the drawings are extremely accurate so when we show it to the customer and they show up on site there’s zero surprises. Remember, this is a big one. Surprises are bad. I know when you were a kid you loved surprises but surprises when the client shows up are not good they are bad. A good way to fix that is to have good drawings that are accurate. Even if they are not photo real have them accurate.
Lisa: Also if you have the budget for it, do an onsite meeting. Even if your shows in california and your production is in Chicago. Take a day to fly out there and see the spaces. Sometimes there are hidden things you didn’t know about that day of could ruin things.
Charles: Don’t be afraid to ask your production company to do the drawings for you that include other elements. “Can you do a drawing with chairs in it?” Don’t be afraid to ask because they will help you to see and not show up surprised.
Not requiring uniforms: As the meeting planner organizer, make sure that everybody on the production crew are dressed professionally. Ask your production provider how their people will look on site. That is huge. Last thing you want is your executive team saying “hey what’s with the guy in the hoodie holding the camera. We’re at an executive summit, no hoodies allowed.”
Lisa: The branding aspect of it, especially if you’re in a venue with union, you want to know what crew you are talking to. If they don’t have an identifying mark how do you know who is on the team.
Charles: Some people will hire an independent security company going around making sure everyone is following the rules. On certain shows I do that. I have an independent security consultant and make sure everyone is dressed properly and identified properly. When you are dealing with audiences and crowds you want to make sure everyone is safe. I know I veered off on the safety issue but that comes back to a sharp looking crew.
Lisa: On thing we’ve been really talking about as a team is, a lot of people go to their production company and share what they did last year and it was fine and want us to do the same thing. We take a different approach, we ask how can we create a better experience. Everyone that comes to these yearly events already expects something new and exciting. If you’re production can’t come to you and help you to make it more engaging, it’s same old same old.
Charles: People always ask what I do for work, people come to us to change their event game. I think it’s important as a meeting organizer that you’re expecting out of your vendors and partners, we consider ourselves a partner, that they are bringing you new ideas. You have to match that with a healthy budget. If you are expecting your production company or designer to bring you new ideas but you are a cheap-wad, they may not because they know you don’t have the money for it. Make sure your appetite and budget are close to each other. I know they will not be the same, just make sure they are close to each other. Put the budget in the creative. We didn’t use to charge for the creative services, we’d come up with ideas, but I realized that is where the values.
Lisa: We could be the nicest people and that’s how we won our customers, but if you don’t have any new ideas or anything different, why would people keep paying their friend if they don’t have anything new.
Charles: Don’t take this the wrong way, you don’t want to get into the flavor of the month club where you are taking the wheel and trying to reinvent it. Certain things like audio, if it’s working well don’t change it. When it comes to giving your audience a fresh new feel and look every year, it’s worth it. You want to remember everyone who attends your event, you are competing with other things. Not only are those other things entertainment or discretionary income or family functions that could interfere with the need to go to the conference you’re putting on, remember you’re competing. If every year they know it’s a treat to go, that makes a huge difference.
Lisa: I’ve signed up for things and didn’t go back because it was boring, hopefully your conference doesn’t fall into that.
Charles: We were just in our new presentation theatre and it’s funny to think about how many different ways you can put on an event, it’s unlimited. We were watching the Adobe Max conference, the opening sequence was inspiring. We were like “oh my gosh it is possible!” Make sure you’re gathering inspiration from other things.
Lisa: If you’re an event organizer look at things for inspiration. See what other people are doing. If they are doing something cooler than you on the same week as yours…. Just saying.
Charles: Lisa and I are not involved in the operations side of the business. That’s for good reason. It allows us to think about the customer and what they need and allows us to come up with new ideas. The production and operations side of the business, they love when we hand them a new idea because they can draw it up and it’s cool. They didn’t have time to think up things because they were busy at shows. Make sure as you’re working with your production company that you are being fed new ideas and they are staying up on the trends. But do not sacrifice things that work. What else do you have?
Lisa: Familiar team. If you have a team you know and trust, can bring to any venue, and know what you’re getting that’s invaluable.
Also, a lot of people nowadays are looking at multi-year multi-event contracts and how can that help your business have a more consistent budget, product, and relationship with your production team.
Charles: There are economies of scale and they are cost saving. There is a cost of going out and finding new business. It costs something. If we have a multi-year agreement with someone, you’re removing the need to replace that business every year. We are willing to give special perks and discounts so we are not worried about winning the business next year. It works fantastically for you as the client because then you can ask them to add value and save cost if you are guaranteeing them business.
Lisa: DOn’t do that right away, just because you don’t know how you will work with a new company. Do a trial event or a couple and if you like what we are doing, then let’s talk about it. You’re not going to get married on the first date.
Charles: Some of our great wins have come that way, from starting out something small and realizing it works really well!
Follow Charles on Instagram Charlesevaneide
Find Lisa on Linkedin or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meeting Minds by EideCom