Building Brand-On Stage

Advertising copywriter and ad agency founder David Ogilvy defined a brand as "the intangible sum of a product's attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it's advertised." Ogilvy added, "Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image."

So in May 2005, when Hewitt Associates, a provider of human resources outsourcing and consulting services, was looking for a different approach to staging for its two-day client and associates conference, Dodd Technologies took a page out of the Ogilvy book.

Hewitt Associates ( is a major provider of human resources outsourcing and consulting services. The firm consults with more than 2,300 companies and administers human resources, health care, payroll and retirement programs on behalf of more than 300 companies to millions of employees and retirees worldwide. Located in 35 countries, Hewitt employs over 19,000 associates.

Michael Melcher, producer for Hewitt's Video Communication Services Team, was looking for a staging and production partner to come up with something innovativea breath of fresh air, if you will. There were few rulesthe production cost of the event had to be within an established budget, the venue was the JW Marriott/Orlando-Grande Lakes ballroom, and the theme was already determined.

Having never worked with Hewitt before, the DTI team knew that to win the business, it had to develop a strategic and effective business theatre look that was worthy of Hewitt's leadership position in the world's HR marketplace. "We appreciate it when companies the stature of Hewitt Associates allow us the freedom to develop custom stage/scenic concepts," said DTI President and owner Mark Dodd. "And while we knew Hewitt had experience staging hundreds of events with other suppliers all over the world, it was obvious that they wanted someone to come to the table with fresh ideas. So off we went to create something different and something that would contribute to Hewitt's brand image."

The Learning Curve
To learn as much as possible about Hewitt, its communications, and its event componentsin addition to information shared by the Hewitt teamDTI went to Hewitt's website. The DTI team immediately saw that most of the graphics and pictures on the site were "housed" in a rectangle with a unique curved top. And since DTI knew that Hewitt's tremendous website traffic of prospects, clients and associates was exposed to this unique graphic during each and every online visit, it decided to base its staging concept on it.

The DTI team knew that Hewitt had used myriad stage/scenic looks in the past, mostly relatively traditional such as props, soft goods, fabric looks, etc. However, they felt strongly that incorporating fabric or set pieces shaped as rectangles with curved tops would simply not make the grade. Instead, DTI pitched a concept with two major "wow" factors, a 12 x 42 foot projected widescreen and a custom screen fascia to match the curved-top, rectangle graphics shape on the website. DTI felt that the widescreen, something Hewitt had discussed but never experienced, gave Hewitt an opportunity to execute bigger-than-life scenery and graphics, a nod toward Hewitt's global leadership and big-time thinking. And the "curve" would contribute to branded theater. DTI also built a custom lectern, complete with the "curve," to accentuate the look.

"Our team was impressed with the fact that a staging and production company would think in such a strategic way," said Melcher. "We knew by the roster of clients DTI has that the production side would be first class, but with a business theatre approach like the one they developed for Hewitt, we knew we had found a production partner with something extra."

With its staging, scenic, and AV services all in house, as well as the fact that it owns Tyler Truss Systems (Tyler, TX), a truss design and manufacturing company, DTI has the unique ability to fabricate nearly anything in nearly any material. Therefore, engineering the curved screen fascia to the exact proportion of the graphic shape on Hewitt's website wasn't an obstacle. However, sizing the fascia and widescreen to ensure that it worked well (i.e. fit) in the ballroom, complementing the widescreen with on stage scenic elements, and giving Hewitt the ability to effectively deliver video, graphics, and PowerPoint presentations via a widescreen were significant challenges.

Another critical challenge was to create an event environment that would incorporate high tech gear and thinking while permitting clear and effective communication. "As a leader in the HR and consulting world, Hewitt is known and respected for its ability to communicate effectively when it comes to its various solutions in HR, healthcare, retirement and financial management, and talent and organizational change," said Melcher. "So, for our associates, clients, and prospects, it's imperative that we carry over what we do everyday to the approach and execution of our events and meetings. DTI understood that."

Throughout the months leading up to the event, DTI consulted with Hewitt's graphics and video production teams on a regular basis with regard to creating video and multimedia content in 16:9. The key was to create content that took advantage of the widescreen real estate, while making sure the Hewitt content team could achieve its objectives, and do so with a relatively painless learning curve.

The Setup
To project and manage the images on the widescreen, DTI used four Analog Way GSII scaler-switchers with Analog Way's edge-blending hardware/software system and six Sanyo XF 45 LCD projectors. Rory Denham, the widescreen engineer and projectionist explained, "The GSII is a very flexible device and allows a variety of picture-in-picture options, and excellent reliability. Our 10K (lumen) Sanyos are quick to set up and really hold their tweakspretty important when double-stacking and edge-blending six machines."

Feeding the GSII's were Sony 2600 beta playback decks and a wide range of graphics computerssome for scenic and some for content. Flanking the stage were two 12 x 16 RP Screenworks screens for IMAG, with double-stacked Sanyo XF-20 (5000 lumen) projectors getting the line-cut from an Echolab 5000 Series switcher controlling Sony D-35 cameras.

In addition to DTI's involvement, Hewitt enlisted the services of its trusted team of event suppliers including show director Dick Hammond (Big Prairie Communications, LTD), teleprompter Meri Pachuilo, (Impromptu Teleprompting), and graphics expert Tom Callahan (Digital Media, Inc.).

So after the event, did the audience react to the strategic "brand" stage/scenic concept? Several attendees recognized the shape of the widescreen. However, neither DTI nor Hewitt was worried about direct comments as such. As David Ogilvy said, "A brand is the intangible sum of a product's attributes.'" And those of us in show business know it's the intangibles that make a live show, right? Okay, so the projectors and lights need to work, too...