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On This Road Together

On This Road Together

HOW Clients Seek Long-Term Partnerships and Prompt Responses from AV Partners


A successful renovation of Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church saw its broadcast plant replacing a 1972-era analog TV system with five BU-50H remote-control pan-tilt-zoom 16:9 aspect ratio HD cameras.

When the venue is a house of Worship (HOW), the message that AV communicates carries extra weight. Whether integrators are upgrading their audio, projection, lighting, or broadcast/ webcast capabilities, the HOW sector in 2011 comes with its own distinct set of challenges and opportunities.

Spread across five campuses in the Twin Cities area, Eagle Brook is a church that exemplifies the integral role of AV in an HOW’s ongoing growth. Campus production manager Alan Marshall spent 16 years as an AV contractor before joining Eagle Brook full-time, and oversees a cutting-edge program incorporating extensive projections and moving lights, along with cross-campus communication via broadcast from its flagship Lino Lakes campus to its other sites.

“The idea is, ‘Let’s have an excellent service that sounds good, feels good, and is comfortable.’ AV is part of that package,” he explained. “Our philosophy is that at every location, it feels like Eagle Brook. So across the board the rooms feel a certain way, the lighting feels a certain way, the sound quality is good, and the video is presented in the same manner, with the same camera shots. For consistency, we try to stay with similar product lines in each location.

“As far as the contractor is concerned,” Marshall continued, “we try and make our work with our contractor/vendor folks a relationship. The ability to say, ‘Let’s partner together, and move toward a common goal,’— that’s important.”

Owing to Marshall’s deep AV experience, Eagle Brook looks for a contractor that can first and foremost provide them with the best possible hardware/software solutions for their needs. “We aren’t a client that’s going to need a whole lot of hand-holding,” he said. “We’re more focused on what product lines the integrator can bring to the table to make us better, because we consistently are building up our video rooms, buying gear, and installing it ourselves.

“Larger churches are becoming more sophisticated,” Marshall noted. “But the smaller church will probably need someone to completely partner with them in terms of providing service, the install, and all the design work up front. If you can be a full-service contractor, that opens a lot of doors.”

At Gordon College in Wenham, MA, the only nondenominational Christian College in New England, the primary venue for spiritual services is the 1,600-seat AJ Memorial Chapel. For Chris Imming, Gordon College’s director of media services, well-implemented AV should be subtle but effective in its ability to deliver life-changing messages. “You should barely recognize the AV is there,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like you’re standing in a parking lot listening to a bullhorn—it should sound like the pastor is talking directly to you, in an intelligible, consistent sound level throughout the space.”

When it comes to the integrator that he’ll select on Gordon College projects, Imming’s number one priority is a partnered approach. “First, I look for an integrator that is willing to work with me on a design as opposed to sell me a product,” stated Imming. “When I put a project to bid or bring in a consultant I’m looking for a partnering relationship. If I’m installing the equipment myself, I’ll likely go to the internet to purchase product as a box sale. Too often I feel that AV integrators miss opportunities when they don’t reduce their markup, when traditional customers seek box sale prices for certain items. Honestly, I’d much rather give my business to a local AV integrator even if it meant paying a few points on equipment—the challenge comes when those points add several hundred dollars per item on a large order.”

In addition to looking for InfoComm Certifications—specifically integrators with CT S-D certified designers and CT S-I certified installers—Imming puts a big emphasis on prompt communication and quick response time when it comes to ongoing support. “If I as a client reach out to an AV integrator with a question or a bid request, I expect my questions to be addressed promptly,” he noted. “In the case of equipment failure or troubleshooting, I also look for integrators that have staff support systems which can be reached outside of normal business hours. For houses of worship, Saturdays and Sundays are frequently essential days.”

With multiple volunteers for the HOW to supervise, and fast accelerations into entirely new technology platforms sometimes part of the program, there may be no substitute for the confidence that comes with a long-standing relationship. At Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church (TOTH) in Augusta, GA, a successful renovation of the church saw its broadcast plant replacing a 1972-era analog TV system with five Canon BU-50H remote-control PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) 16:9 aspect ratio HD cameras.

For TOTH director of television ministries Tom Greene, his decades-long association with the principals of Norcross, GA-based Blue Hat Design proved invaluable to completing the transition. “We were a known quantity to each other,” Greene said, “and what that led to was trust and clear communication that was essential for the change from NT SC, which I totally understood, to HD 16:9, which I didn’t understand as well. We jumped from 0-100 MPH in a couple of weeks. Being able to go to people I’d known all these years for support was amazing.”

David Weiss (www.dwords.com) writes extensively about AV, audio, and broadcast technology.

What are the Top Five Purchasing Priorities for Houses of Worship?

1 Can it be installed on time? A successful integrator in the HOW market understands that project managers need to be on the top of their game if they expect to earn repeat business. Communication with suppliers concerning unforeseen changes in product availability and real-time evaluation of site conditions are essential to successful project management.

2 Return on Investment Will the congregation directly benefit from the purchase and installation of new equipment? For example, will the upgraded projector image be easier for congregants to read, or allow the pastoral staff to integrate new forms of content as part of the worship experience?

3 Ease of Use Will the equipment be easy for volunteers to operate? Does the purchase solve an issue or create new ones?

4 Built to Last When it comes to product lifespan, it is important for HOW clients to understand if this investment is a one-time purchase or something expendable that is going to require adjustments to the annual budget. Will the new $20K audio console still meet our needs in five years, and how much will my new projector cost in replacement bulbs each year?

5 Does it come in white? It is important for integrators to help the client understand how the new purchase will impact the overall aesthetic design of the worship space. While some congregations are more open to visible technology, others would rather compromise AV system performance to maintain appearances.

—Chris Imming, director of media services, Gordon College