Creating the Wow FactorJuly 1, 2015

Custom Builds and Productions Are the Next Frontier By
July 1, 2015

Creating the Wow Factor

Custom Builds and Productions Are the Next Frontier
This behind-the-scenes photograph shows the metroConnections team bringing a client’s custom production to life. Credit: metroConnections

This behind-the-scenes photograph shows the metroConnections team bringing a client’s custom production to life. Credit: metroConnections

Portela,Rachel-Column-110x140Rachel Portela began her career at metroConnections within the Event Services division in 2009. In 2011, she transitioned to the fast-growing division of Production Services with the title of show producer.  In 2014, she was promoted to director of production services, co-directing and overseeing the division with Sr. Technical Director Bill Sather. Rachel utilizes her industry experience and leadership position to guide and encourage her team, develop and apply processes, and instill the core values of service and quality in all aspects of the division. Contact the metroConnections production team at

Sometimes an event calls for something truly “outside the box.” A great brainstorming session leads to a big idea, yet you’re stumped as to how you’re going to pull it off. Whether it’s transforming an exhibit hall entrance into a ship or creating a 10-foot 3-D prop in the shape of an event logo, it is key to approach a custom production using best practices in order to have the best possible outcome.

Understanding the Need

Custom builds and productions are when a design team can interpret a client’s brand, theme and event goals to create an end product to amaze, inspire and establish a connection between event attendees and organizers. For example, one metroConnections client’s theme, “Shifting into High Gear,” was brought to life with the creation of a working gear structure, tabletops with gear designs and a walkway of gears inspired by the yellow brick road from “Over the Rainbow.” Another conference had the metroConnections creative team building floating dragonflies, designing garden-inspired table décor and creating a stunning light display. Depending on time line and scale, picking an existing cookie-cutter stage, set or prop design sometimes seems like the only cost-effective use of your team’s budget. But is it truly cost-effective if the event, props and branding are subpar? The goal is to “wow” and win at your events, so research ALL your options. There certainly are companies with in-house artists, craftsmen and production assistants who can interpret your budget, your theme, your site and your needs and can provide a unique attendee experience. Including metroConnections, specialized production companies are able to adapt to one-of-a-kind builds and designs, big or small, so never fret that your event isn’t big enough to warrant a custom production. Beyond designs, production companies are trained experts in AV or they have excellent connections in the AV world; a production company can help you navigate the world of the unknown. It’s their job to get you the best gear and best deal while also creating an amazing visual experience for attendees. If meeting planners go straight to an AV supplier, they run the risk of possibly not getting what they want, simply because they don’t know the whole story or what it is they’re looking for.

Getting Started

Once you’ve decided to do a custom build for your next event — where should you start? The first step is to look at a list of production companies and study their past work and previous clients. This will help you easily weed out the new or less experienced companies from the established and experienced ones. Once you’ve got a list of contenders, arrange meetings with each of them so you can learn about their company and better understand their workflow process. A good company will show their potential clients examples of the planning tools they will provide, such as renderings, diagrams, onsite schedules, content list, show calls and more. At this initial meeting, event planners should come with a budget and a list of questions to ask each company that focus on areas of importance for your program. In return, a good company will come prepared with solid answers and examples to support what they are proposing. In addition, a good company will respect your budget, suggesting ideas that are both impactful and manageable within the parameters given. If they keep trying to sell more than you are comfortable spending, move on to the next company. Once you’ve settled on a production company and have shared your ideas, the process ought to begin with them providing renderings, pictures and storyboards to make sure their interpretation of your vision is accurate. Be sure that the budget is clear to them, and provide them with all the information they might need, such as what you’ve done for previous programs, what has worked in the past and what can be improved, the event agenda, any overall theme or identity they want to convey, and the main executives and their presentation style.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

To keep the production process as smooth as possible, there are particular pitfalls to avoid. Once initial creative documents such as stage-set renderings are provided, it’s crucial to share them with all levels that need to give their approval before signing off with the production company. You don’t want to get the stamp of approval from a meeting manager, then months into the design and build send an emergency email to the production company asking them to stop because one of the C-levels wants to adjust something with the set. This costs money and can easily set the production planning process behind schedule. Another mistake often made is not rehearsing after putting a lot of money into a beautiful production. Your production company provides you with all the tools you need to make your show a success, but they can go to waste if rehearsing is ignored. Production teams often discover new information from speakers during rehearsals, allowing them to adjust things accordingly. For example, they might find out that a speaker wants her notes displayed in one of the confidence monitors, and the extra time they have allows them to provide the proper equipment for her presentation rather than having to scramble the day of the event. In a particular instance, we had 19 speakers as part of a singular event, and by working with the production team on content, rehearsals and props, all 19 presentations went off without a hitch. Lastly, you want to avoid cutting the budget on your own without input from the production company. If you need to hit a budget number (such as cutting $5,000 from the total), discuss with the production team the most advantageous way to do so. They may be able to suggest the best areas to cut with the least impact on the show.

Share Information

For the best success, be sure to share with the production team all you can about your company’s identity. What is the corporate culture and demographic? Are employees tech-savvy, or more old-fashioned? Information like this is priceless for a production team and will guide them in their design process. Discuss content use — a big center screen or multiple screens are a great and dynamic look, but they also come with an additional level of content work. The production company can work with you to develop content for screens if desired, but if your company plans on using only PowerPoint presentations with little focus on content, a modular set may be the better option.

For the best success, be sure to share with the production team all you can about your company’s identity.

If you have any items that already have been created for the program, such as signage, conference identities or websites, be sure to share them with the production team, as they can weave their design into the final product. The best sets and productions are the ones that flow with the program as a whole. By following these best practices in hiring and working with a production company, you can offer an amazing and engaging event for your customers or employees, making it an experience they’ll never forget! C&IT

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