The Stager as Producer

When I got into this business, I resented the show planning process. I attended meeting after meeting pre-show, often listening to the pickle chip committee discussing their "sweet or dill" options. But in those days, the planning meeting seemed to require everybody's attendance for all sessions. That way, nothing got missed. We all compiled volumes of notes, and then the planner or producer compiled them into a show book that had all the info and plans.

As I've mentioned in previous columns, today I find it a lot different. Today, email and instant messaging often substitute for face to face discussions. When there is a planning meeting, participants are encouraged to "take that offline" when discussions of details come up. We compile our own show notes, usually with folders full of email and miscellaneous notes. Often, these emails become tangled threads with multiple people issuing multiple changes to us without consulting each other. The question "didn't you get my email this morning?" is often heard on show site.

And I'm tired of it.

So I've started to take the bull by the horns and compile my own overall show plans without waiting for everybody else. Often, I ask the client to sign off on MY understanding of the show's functions and order. Most clients appreciate this and are impressed by it. But I get some surprising resistance to the process. It seems that having a defined plan is sometimes thought of by clients as "limiting their options". As an industry, we've trained many clients to understand that we can change shows on the fly. And as a result many have made this the norm rather than the exception.

So a great group of people got together at my last Roadshow class, to look at what I've been doing in creating an electronic, distributed version of the "show book", in an attempt to capture all the information in one place like we used to, without the complex effort of compiling a physical book. Most of us seemed to tackle the job using some kind of computer-based system. Some did it locally, others using a web-based system like a Wiki. I showed the group mine, which is based on an online project management system called Basecamp.

But regardless, there were a list of common things we felt show folders needed to have, regardless of how they were compiled:

EMAIL - by far the most important item of substance in the show folder, emails now contain many of our agreements and instructions. For me, this needs to not just be a folder full of emails, it needs to be threaded, showing who said what when, and to who. One of the reasons my team chose our particular software for show planning was that it is really flexible with email, automatically creating a protected web site where all members of the team can see all emails in a single thread, no matter which team member sent or received them.

DOCUMENTS - My clients like to send me documents in many formats, text files, word documents, clippings, spreadsheets. Keeping them posted in our planning system not only means I have them all in one convenient place, but if I were hit by the proverbial bus the other team members would have them all too.

DRAWINGS - We do a lot of drawings, and have a lot of them sent to us. The ability to view them online, without having to open all their associated software, is the key to referring to these files onsite.

PRESENTATIONS - For the first time, by doing it electronically, the show folder can contain the compiled library of all the electronic presentations, video clips and graphics. I found that establishing the online planning system saved me a lot of time here. By giving clients read-only accounts to the project's web site, I could enable them to check each other's latest revisions without calling me to ask "could you take a look at Ted's last version of slide 37 and tell me if he's updated 3rd quarter sales?"

VENDOR AND ORDER INFO - Often, site work on a show means lots of orders for house and subcontractor labor and gear. Having all the vendor's contact and delivery info instantly available without hunting through emails and documents for it is invaluable.

FACILITY INFO - Suspect as to accuracy though they are, the facility drawings often come in handy when talking with a client, so I want them handy. On top of that, the facility notes contain contact info for facility staff, and a list of outside contractors who commonly work there.

OUR ORDER AND SHIP LISTS - Goes without saying. The most current version of the orders are posted as PDF before each show, showing how the show was packed and who packed it.

Those are most of the basics we agreed were necessary. In our next issue, we'll talk about how to use them, and who should have access and when. My working groups have disagreed much more about this issue than the contents, so next issue we begin with "Client Access to Information - Threat or Menace?"