Setting the AV Stage, Part 1

Midori Connolly of Pulse Events and Staging in San Diego, Calif. 7/26/2011 9:26 AM Eastern

Setting the AV Stage, Part 1

Jul 26, 2011 1:26 PM, with Bennett Liles

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The AV staging business is high stakes, very competitive, and it’s changing fast with new technology and social media working into event formats. Midori Connolly of Pulse Staging and Events is going to give us an inside look at the event staging industry, coming up next on the SVC podcast.
Midori Connolly with me from Pulse Staging and Events in San Diego. AV staging is a very dynamic business now the way the technology is going, so what do you do there and for whom do you do it?

Yeah hi, thanks for having me. As you said I am Midori Connolly, and I’m the co-founder and “Chief AV Girl” at Pulse Staging and Events. Essentially we truly are a traditional company in the sense that we own audio/visual inventory. We provide gear for live events. Our particular focus is on corporate association government medical meetings—conferences, conventions, seminars but some of our colleagues are more on what we call the “Rock and Roll side” so we tend to focus on business meetings. And we bring in the gear, we bring in the labor, we bring in expertise to operate our equipment so in that sense we are truly a traditional staging company. [Timestamp: 1:48]

That can be a very tight business with a lot of deadlines—a lot of gear to transport and keep up and running and I would think dealing with a lot of clients who sometimes know exactly what they want and others who may rely on you to fill in some of the details.
Yes very true. So what happens is we have a division in many ways for a lot of these smaller groups that are out there, in small associations they may not have the budget to hire a sort of a creative team or a production team so in some cases we have to put our little creative hats on and come up with a look/feel sort of concept for events but usually in most cases we work for a producer or creative production team. We don’t really design any content for events so in between the client and us we usually have producer who is doing a lot of the script writing…the true creative design for events but as I said, in some cases that just doesn’t happen so…but it’s definitely, as you mentioned, a high-stress type of situation not for the faint of heart. [Timestamp: 3:03]

And dealing with all that tech gear you can always count on there being some surprises.

…just at the worst time for it to happen.
Yes it’s amazing how once everything’s up and running you think, “Oh well what was ever the problem,” but getting there is always a bit of a…you just don’t sleep at night sometimes and one of the things I love is all of our friends on the built environment. I think that probably 80 percent of them said, “Oh yeah I did staging for a while but that was just way too crazy. [Timestamp: 3:36]

Well, there’s certainly no mystery in why that is with all the things you have to do. I know that the staging business has changed and is still very much in the technology revolution if you want to call it that. So I’m curious as to what you see as the biggest challenges in that field with new media and other elements being worked into it now.
Right so…and this is…I think we’re still in transition. I mean just like every part of this world, the economy really had an impact on the meetings industry and because of those changes you had people who were not able to travel to events. They just…logistically they could not afford it. They still wanted to be there, they wanted educational content, they wanted networking, they still wanted to be connected to the events and in many cases companies just couldn’t afford to travel their entire workforce to an annual meeting so in our case what we really found was that we had to step into the realm of doing what we call “hybrid meetings” or hybridizing these meetings so…just kind of blending audiences so…still having maybe a smaller, reduced size face to face event but using some kind of technological platform to incorporate and distribute the content to remote audiences around…sometimes the world. [Timestamp: 5]

Setting the AV Stage, Part 1

Jul 26, 2011 1:26 PM, with Bennett Liles

And I noticed on your website some still shots of things you’ve done, and of course they really bring out the lighting situation and using great lighting effects. Some of these things look very complex. They’re not just standing up a PA and swinging a few lights around. It appears that there are a lot of elements at work and in one of them I noticed that it looks like you have a live Twitter feed coming in. I was wondering about which clients would require that and how you work things like that into staging some of these events.
And again this is where the lines have really become blurred in the last couple of years. Even though we are traditionally an audio/visual company, we are in the business of helping messages get communicated so audiences are able to…now instead of it just being—the speaker needs to be heard in the room, we now have to have communication between attendees so we’re working on ways of helping that happen and then also the bi-directional communication between attendees and speakers, attendees and event organizers, sponsors, and attendees and so what we really have shifted into is looking at how everybody can stay engaged and communicating, and one way we do that is through new media so using the new social technology tools such as Twitter, and having visual Twitter streams in a room, I’m not a big fan of having a visual stream up behind a speaker, and in case there’s anybody listening who isn’t familiar with what that means—a Twitter stream, it’s basically the communication that’s happening between participants on Twitter in relationship to that event and in some cases we’ve even used some white labeled tools so we set up almost private streams that aren’t on Twitter because not all of these events want to be publicized…the conversation doesn’t need to be publicized so one way to do that is to use a different type of, as I said, a white labeled platform and this is…this term is also called “back channel conversation.” It’s a hot term in the meetings industry as well but we look at how we can facilitate that communication sometimes it’s through audience response systems or ARS devices such as IML or Turning Technologies and that’s another way to facilitate conversation…capture those conversations and see what people are talking about. It’s really that key of getting inside the head of your meeting attendees or again, if you can help sponsors connect to attendees and then also with the hybrid meeting set up we’re looking at ways of being able to connect remote attendees with on-site attendees. How can we facilitate conversation and keep them engaged with the content that’s being presented whether it be educational or entertaining we still want to keep that person or that group of people who isn’t in the room connected to what’s happening so they feel like they’re a part of the event as well. And again, using the social technology tools has been one way to do that. [Timestamp: 8:12]

Well, that’s a big challenge in itself and that’s more tech stuff that’s got to work right.

You can look great like the big hero or you can look the big villain depending on how things work.
Yes, this is true.

We were talking about what a high-pressured job this can be and when the timeline’s very tight there has to be ways of speeding things up without compromising safety or quality. What sort of challenges does that present to you on your project?
The greatest challenges for us tend to be making sure we have the right equipment in the right place with the right people so for any other staging company out there I think would probably agree that having a really strong network is just fundamental for success. When you operate around the United States and North America really, it really is so important to go in and find the right partners in local markets. There’s an organization called “The Rental and Staging Network,” but it’s a group of independent staging companies and we are not members but we do refer to the network for trusted partners so if we have an event in Atlanta—which happened just recently—there were a couple of pieces of equipment that we needed to supplement and you realize this, again like you said, under these tight time frames, we can’t run back to San Diego quickly to grab an extra switcher, so we just turned to those trusted partners and we know that we can rely on them for the right quality. I really think it comes down to having great contacts and for us…we’re set up a little bit differently than a lot of staging companies…you also haven’t really mentioned this but we have a focus on sustainability, so a big piece of sustainable meetings and green meetings and green practices is trying to hire locally so you’re not traveling an entire team of techs and labor. So we do also partner with…the perma-lancer type of business model where we have teams of people throughout the United States that we go to when we’re in certain regions and again, we trust them—we know the quality. We work with them frequently. Our goal is to always to hire at least 25 percent of our labor locally for every event and in many cases we can get away with just hiring general labor that way but again, having those people in the right places is another great way to work around those tight timeframes. [Timestamp: 10:45]

And that might not always be even the first thing that comes to mind when people are thinking, “OK you don’t just throw away good batteries and obviously you’re going to be using gear that saves good power,” –whatever the latest thing is on that and avoiding as much printed material as you can get away with.
Right, right. Yeah, that’s another thing too is our business truly…I feel like…we’ve really focused on that concept of what they call “people, planet and profit.” So for every project we look at we look at, “Well, what’s the profitability and how will this impact the people that we’re working for, the people in the community, the people working for us?” And then we also look at the planet factor so we really try to balance it for every project and see…we still obviously have to be a profitable company—we are a business and so in many cases though what we’ve found is that by hiring locally we can save money on travel, it saves money for our clients, we’re not flying our poor technicians back and forth across the country so it saves on their wear and tear, I guess, as people. So it’s really looking at balancing all of these elements and making sure that it works for everybody involved. [Timestamp: 12:01]

All right, a good strong network of good freelance people and the experience of working in the traditional formats with the new things but it sounds like you’ve pretty well got it down and I sure appreciate your being here—Midori Connolly from Pulse Staging and Events in San Diego and in Part 2 we’ll get into some more things on hybrid gear events and IMAG and what you do to get people for that, but thanks so much for being here for Part 1.

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