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April 16, 2008

HIGH TECH:The make or break partnership for any event

Imagine the scene, it’s your annual sales conference, and this year you’ve employed a top-notch brand experience agency to really strengthen the engagement with your delegates. It’s been months in the planning, and no small amount of budget has been allocated to it. It’s the big moment, the CEO walks on stage for his keynote speech. Everything’s going according to plan… until… uh oh… the carefully prepared PowerPoint presentation is just not happening. Cue awkward silence. Beads of sweat break from your forehead as your mind is filled with pictures of stampeding, over-sized P45s. Where’s your technology supplier when you need them?

A so-called 'technical glitch' can quickly transform what was a slick and impressive, state-of-the-art presentation into fiasco. So, it stands to reason that as technology becomes an increasingly important part of meetings and events, so too does finding the right technology supplier. One that has the ability to not just deliver and install all the high-end techy gizmos on which we are becoming increasingly reliant, but also has the nouse to back you up in a crisis.


System critical: DB Systems provides technology
and back up for the AXA Conference


The technical dimension
“Events are a fleeting moment in time. You get one chance to get them right and everything and everyone's actions have to be perfectly coordinated to achieve the end result. This includes all suppliers. It is especially true of technology suppliers where there is also the extra dimension of a technical glitch beyond anyone's control,” says John Robson, managing director of Aztec Event Services.

“This is where using a good technology supplier will make a difference. In the same way as an event manager will carry out a health and safety assessment for your event, a good technology supplier will asses the risk of technological failure and have a contingency plan for this. You can't cater for every eventuality, but you can work out the most likely failures and have a back-up plan ready for when the failure occurs.”

It’s fair to say these days that the success or failure of critical technology can make or break an event, and this is not something that is going to go away. We have got ourselves into a situation where our delegates expect to be wowed. So a good technology contractor is becoming a prerequisite of a successful event.

Twenty-first century event production

“Every conference, exhibition or event of any kind will live or die by the quality of the contractors involved,” says Oliver Richardson, sales director of DB Systems. “But, where the audience may never see what goes on in the kitchen they’ll definitely notice if the PA is ringing or the screens are not focused or the autocue is too fast. In 21st century event production, technology is right up there in the critical category of ‘don’t get this wrong’.”

This means your choice of partner is critical. So how do you go about making sure you're “in bed” with the right one? “There are many technology suppliers that do work at events, but there are not many event suppliers that provide technology for events,” says Robson. “Mainstream technology suppliers are simply not geared up to provide technology for events, because they do not understand the critical nature of the medium. For example, if a piece of equipment fails or your internet connection goes down, the last thing you want to hear about is the eight hour call-out delay.

“However, it's not just about technology failure. Good technology suppliers will have a creative flair as well as the ability to deliver fantastic events. The technology is merely a means to an end and the good technology supplier will be able to demonstrate how they have used technology to achieve results.”

Creative edge

Carina Bauer, marketing and operations manager for IMEX, agrees: “I would strongly recommend looking for a supplier that understands the events business including the need to work towards and achieve unmovable deadlines. At IMEX we have used the same supplier since launching the show and have found them to be excellent technology partners due to their background in the meetings industry. They have proved to us that they understand our business and, as well as working towards deadlines, have been able to suggest improvements and updates to our systems.”

Of course, building a relationship that works takes time and investment, and companies need to get up close and personal to ensure that any prospective technology partner can deliver what they say they can.

“This has always been a relationship business, so get on the phone, don’t email [email protected] or [email protected] The best companies out there will want to help you out and will be proactive in this area,” says Richardson. “Some companies offer full service (video, audio, lighting, staging and IT) and some specialise, so think about what you need and above all don’t be afraid to ask questions – after all, this is a communications business.”

Standards and bodies

While there are no official industry standards for technology suppliers to the events industry, there are a number of associations for the supply of services to the event and exhibitions industry that have codes of conduct and minimum standards. At the forefront of these associations is the Association of Exhibition Contractors, but there are also the PSA (Production Services Association) and The HAE (Hire Association Europe), all of which are valuable resources.

But however you find your potential supplier, there are four simple stages to checking them out, and while they may sound obvious, they are none the less critical to making the right choice. First, visit their website – if it looks like it was made in a bedroom, it probably was. Second, run a credit check on them – after all they’ll probably do the same on you. Third, get two or three recent references and follow them up. And, finally, pay them a visit. They should treat it as an interview and you can tell a great deal from a busy warehouse and a busy projects office.

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