Signage Of the Times

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We talk about the "Rental and Staging" market, but I've always found the term a little too broad. "Rental" and "Staging" are two areas of the market that both involve gear coming and going, but in my opinion they are very different disciplines. I've run a national rental company (with a staging group) and a pure Staging company. While both have gear in roadcases, the focus is different.

As an example: when I was national staging manager at the Southam Audio Visual Group in Canada, my closest co-worker was our national conventions manager, Mike Schilz (now at AVW/Telav). Mike is one of the most organized and competent people I've ever worked with in the rental business. One day, we were working on a national convention in Toronto where my team was handling the main tent and Mike's was dealing with literally hundreds of breakout rooms scattered all over the city. During a lull, I visited Mike's "war room" where he was running his team with one of the largest collections of radios I've ever seen. When we talked about it, we realized that the bills we were sending the client were for roughly the same amount. I told him I thought my job was a lot easier, because at least it all happened in one room.
In a nutshell, that's what I think the difference is -- a "the show must go on", high-focus attitude for staging, but a big picture world view for rentals. Personally, I prefer the staging outlook, where I can keep a single show focused.

So when a technological area comes along that is a hybrid between the two focuses, I'm naturally suspicious of it. And there is now a new one that spans the disciplines, requiring a lot of individual pieces of gear set up in various places (like Rentals) and yet requires the staging eye for total system integration and operation. And yet my clients want it and see it as a natural part of a staged event.

It's Digital Signage.

Conventions and large staged events are a natural for digital signage. That's not the issue. The issue is a broader one: where does the stage end? It's not just that clients want to use digital signage. It's that they want it as an extension of the show.

Here are some examples of where it causes me focus issues:
1. Clients seem to want to produce the digital signage and the show all together. In fact, a recent show compromised on graphics and layouts so that the signage and speaker support could use the same templates. This produced a show that was too visually busy and signage that looked like Power Point.

2. Clients seem to want to bring the signage into the room. They say things like, "Let's move a few of the flat panels into the room to flank the stage. Wouldn't that look cool? Plus, everybody will know where the breaks are." The problem with this is that it adds a distracting element -- people look away from the speaker when transitions happen on the panels.

3. It seems to bring visually complex production ideas (like multi-level text crawls) into my main-tent visuals.

So we have a large, multi-room setup being added to a staging show where I'd vastly prefer that people stay focused on the show.

Now, as to the reverse of my argument (which I'm also capable of making):

1. Keeping the signage integrated with the show has some appeal - it allows us to control crowd movement in and out of the room as if by remote control if it's done right.

2. It's a nice chunk of money on top of a show.

3. The graphics should have some level of integration to the show theme, although not from the same template please.

So I don't have an answer as to whether this technology really belongs in the rental or staging departments. In fact, if I asked them about it the two groups would probably point fingers at each other. Like the "should we be in Production?" question, it's one each company answers for itself. I know what my preferences are (see above), but the answer lies with each individual organization. I just feel that it's important to recognize the differences and prepare for them.

Those that want it to lay with the rental department, please line up at the back of the ballroom.
Just follow the signs.




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