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[SHOWNOTES] Ajay Patil, Co-Founder + Partner, Showcall Inc.: Why Technical Production is Critical for Engaging Audiences – ECEO014

[SHOWNOTES] Ajay Patil, Co-Founder + Partner, Showcall Inc.: Why Technical Production is Critical for Engaging Audiences – ECEO014

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While you have a very diverse portfolio of services, your core seems to be technical production and strategy. Can you elaborate a little bit on what that means?

My business partner and I, we used to work for an audio/visual company for years, so when we started our own firm, it was very much steeped in audio/visual, and as our company has grown, we offer more and different services. We very much are rooted in audio/visual and technical production.

In terms of how that relates to strategy is as our company has matured and grown, and we’ve had opportunities to do a larger role on events, we are able to bring a more 30,000-foot perspective to an event with that technical expertise. While a lot of folks are very silo-oriented in how they view an event, though we may only be handling the audio and visual, we can look at the event from a larger perspective.

How do you work with clients at the outset of projects to establish not only what the overall strategy is but also the metrics you can measure success against at the end of the event?

Well, given the opportunity, which isn’t always presented to us, as we were discussing before, we would like to come in at the beginning, at the front end of the process. And to us, the front end of the process is defined as when the client is truly trying to establish what their objectives are, because I think once they can establish that, then we can really look at what the metrics of success are, be it audience participation or be it a lasting impression(s) from the event. Given the opportunity, we like to be involved that early on, where we can then provide advice and kind of help guide the client or the planner as to how to best utilize and leverage us to ensure that their metrics are met.

What do you want the clients thinking about at the outset? Because I agree—coming in at the beginning is always best, but what do you want them thinking about when they’re at that front end?

I mean, in its most basic form, when I walk away from this event, what do I want my audience, whoever that may be—customers or salespeople or what-have-you—what is the lasting objective here? Is it to launch a product? Is it because I want to increase sales? Really thinking of it from a broad sense, and then we can help kind of narrow that down.

What should CEOs be thinking about as they’re communicating messages from the stage, for instance? I mean, how are they most effective? How do you work with them to make them really shine in those moments?

So, one of our biggest challenges that I’m sure you’ve come across as well is that presenters are often very dynamic, and many times they’re leaders, but often their basis or their foundation is in being policy or data oriented, and as a result, they’re very knowledgeable about their particular topic, so they want to put a lot of data up on the screen. They want to get a lot of data across.

In today’s world, what we’ve found—and what I know you’ve found—is the attention span of people is very, very small.

Right. Mine included!

I mean, all of us, I think. Even when you watch the news, there’s 15 different types of vehicles of information coming at you all at once, so we try to work with CEOs or presenters to understand that you’ve got to be dynamic. You’ve got to think more in terms of bullet points. Speak to your bullet points. Don’t deliver the content on your screen, but really try to get it across in an interesting and meaningful way, because you’ll just lose folks otherwise. 8 AM general sessions in Las Vegas tend to be especially challenging.

Talk to me about that comparison between the news cycle that you would see with 15 different things happening. Are you recommending that in that environment as well?

We are, to varying levels, and that really speaks to what the client is trying to accomplish. If there’s a branding component to the event or that’s one of the objectives that we have put a small rotating bug of the logo in the bottom right corner—unobtrusive, not distracting, but it’s that reminder of who is presenting that particular event… We have, from a social media perspective, engaged people in terms of having a stream across the bottom, the lower thirds, that has a Facebook or Instagram stream or a Twitter feed that’s real-time feedback from the event that’s taking place, which is another way to keep people engaged and that kind of thing.

And it’s not distracting?

It really depends on the event. One that comes to mind, we did the Star-Spangled 200th Anniversary in Baltimore, and that was multiple days of events with big screens that were projecting everything from air shows to festivals, so it wasn’t like people were locked on the screen. That was a good example of where the Twitter feeds and all that made sense, because your attention on the screen was pretty short durations.

What are sponsors looking for these days to get their maximum ROI at events, and how are you using technology with your clients to activate sponsors differently and more successfully from what was done in the past?

To use the same example, the Star-Spangled is actually a great example, because the screens were active for multiple days. Big festival and so forth. There were big sponsors—AT&T, Papa John’s, Constellation Energy. They were very, very focused on how much air time they were getting, so they provided commercials to us. We also put their logos up on the screen, and we had to provide actual air schedules to give them ROI, because they had contributed whatever it was—millions of dollars. They wanted to know the metrics of it. How many millions of people saw our logo, saw our commercial? How many times did our commercial air? So, that is one example of how we provided ROI. In those instances, video is a great way to provide some kind of branding and sponsorship, again, be it a commercial or showing a logo and that kind of thing, and you can quantify it for people, which I think is important.

And are you finding that people are asking for those sort of quantitative metrics…?

They don’t know to ask necessarily for them, but once you broach that subject, then they’re very interested in how long is that up there, how many media impressions were there, and that kind of thing.

Event folks, listen to what he’s saying. Proactively approach your sponsors around that opportunity to share those kind of metrics, because you can actually provide them.

We can, and it’s a great way, when you create your sponsorship packages, to show what their money is going to do for them, right? All these people get asked for money all the time. I think it’s a great tool to get more money out of them, honestly.

You work internationally as well as nationally. What are the big differences between working nationally versus internationally? What should people be thinking about?

There’s the obvious: everything from language to culture barriers. I’ll tell a little story. We’ve done a few events in Africa. Put aside the fact that it’s tough to get there. You can’t ship equipment. I mean, you can, but it’s cost prohibitive to shift heavy equipment, so you have to leverage local resources, but here in the United States, putting up pipe and drape and a stage, literally one or two people can do that for a small setup, right? It’s easy. A little van pulls up, and it’s done. Their idea of pipe and drape is taking plywood and constructing permanent walls that they paint. The concept of temporary staging or temporary pipe and drape is completely foreign to them.

As event people from the U.S., it’s hard to get your mind around that, but it’s been several instances, not just to pick on Africa. We were in the Republic of Georgia, and it was the same kind of thing. A stage had to be built, and they welded it together. I mean, it was piece-by-piece custom built. Because the mentality of a temporary structure just didn’t exist there. What that means to us is just that it can often mean everything takes a lot longer than anticipated. We Americans have a different kind of a crazy work ethic, where we work around the clock. We want everything done quickly, and it just doesn’t work in other places. Quitting time is quitting time.

So a longer lead time in terms of getting set up and all of that?

Depending upon where you are. But I will say even in Europe, which is obviously very advanced and sophisticated… Even there, it’s just different.

Experiential events—big buzzword in our industry. Big buzz word out in the marketplace. How are they distinct from normal events in your mind, and how is technology being leveraged with experiential events?

Of course, I can only speak from my experience. The experiential marketing, our events that we’ve done have been very product related, which I think many of them are, and I think it’s a way to get across a product or have a potential buyer experience your product without it being just a straight-out sales pitch.

For example, HTC was releasing their new phones. We did a mobile campaign with them, where we custom-wrapped a vehicle, and the idea was that you could come on board this vehicle and play a game. HTC does have the best speaker in cellphone technology. The idea was this app let you play drum beats, so you could play around with drum beats, and we leveraged technology in that we had a whole LED setup with different LED lights inside the bus. The idea was the experience of using technology. It was very cool. There were screens everywhere. You could play this fun game, and the game you would not experience with any other phone, of course.

It was neat to see, when we were putting this together, how it wasn’t just an in-your-face sales campaign. It was “Come on the bus, have fun, and play this!” Again, utilizing LED technology and screens and lighting to create this environment that people walked away and said, “I’ve got to have that phone. That was amazing.”

Did you just do it locally?

No, it was all around the country.

Were you driving the bus?

I was not. I was trying not to get run over by the bus.

Fair. How do you guys stay abreast with what is happening in the tech sector, and how do you have that penetrate the entire company and cascade?

Technology, as we all know, is constantly evolving and changing, and because of our business, we have to stay on top and ahead of it through a variety of methods. Publications. There are conventions, like the National Association of Broadcasters, which is a great opportunity to see what’s the latest and greatest out there. Attending those kinds of events and exhibits, and then reading publications is a great way. We’ve got manufacturing partners that, in terms of getting the word out to our team, will host our team and show the latest toys that they have and how they work and how we can help our clients utilize those elements. That’s really been the way that we’ve stayed on top of them.

And what are the newest tech trends that will have a place in events coming up?

Many of them are areas that clients wouldn’t even necessarily see.

Virtual reality we’re seeing a little bit of.

Virtual reality is certainly coming on. Mapping, not so new but is advancing tremendously, which you’ve used, and cost is coming down. That’s a big thing. I think technology across the board is, one (1), becoming more green—less power consumption. Two (2), it’s getting smaller, and three (3), it’s getting more affordable, as we’ve shown here. There are things that used to be completely cost prohibitive for many companies to even get into. The broadcast world, for example, the TV world, always had the biggest and best equipment systems that as events people, we didn’t really get into that level of it, but now those systems have become affordable to use on events, and you can get the same kind of level of advanced technology that you see on TV now.

I’ll give you an example. We had a client that had us do virtual reality. It was an all-hands staff meeting at the Warner Theater. ESPN had done this, and most of the big networks have this now… It was virtual reality in that the host was referring to something that was not, in fact, on stage, but we laid it in with our systems, and it was a great way to engage the audience beyond just the people in the physical audience who could see on the screen what we were doing.

You mentioned the ‘greening’ of technology, also. A little bit about that, and can you report on those metrics too? That’s a question I know we’re getting a little bit of—LEDs versus…?

Everybody is very conscious about power consumption for a number of reasons. One (1), I think we’re all trying to be more responsible when it comes to the environment. Two (2), the cost associated with it. Not to ding on hotels, but many venues have a power charge that can get up there very quickly. I think we’ve seen, as a result, a lower of powering consumption across the board. Carbon footprint is another big thing, so we have a generator firm, and we’re being asked to use biodiesel fuel. We’re often times being mandated to use a certain percentage of biodiesel fuel. We have to take extra steps to park properties, to put trays underneath the generators, so we’re not leaking fuel into the ground. There’s just a general sense of environmental responsibility that I think is good for everybody.

We’re finding more and more people are asking us to report out on those metrics and, in some cases, do carbon offsets to make them more carbon neutral. What should people be thinking about from a technical perspective when selecting an event, as you just brought up? The venues are their own animal.

A number of things that are too often not thought about when a venue is selected.

And can have a cost that people aren’t aware of.

Very much can drive the cost. Our best clients, like yourself, bring us in in the very beginning, during the selection, because we can help steer them. That’s not to say that our concerns will be addressed every time, but at least they know and make an educated decision.

For example, one of the biggest things for us is access. Having enough time to do what we need to do and rehearse it and have, as much as possible, not a hectic environment only makes for a better event, and I think that’s one of the questions too often that’s not asked, because the venue is going to book revenue generating events there as much as they can, which often will limit the installation time. Really identifying the size and scope of the events and saying, “Hey, we really need two days or three days or a half a day,” or whatever it is, getting that across…

Rigging points is another big one, any time we can avoid ground supporting. We prefer to get things in the air, out of the way aesthetically. I mean, I would say those are probably the two biggest points that we try to…

What about bandwidth and power and all those elements? Do those come into play in your world?

They do. They certainly do, but those are things that we can certainly circumvent, or if the power is insufficient, we can bring in temporary power. If the bandwidth is an issue… You know, these days, there’s a lot of streaming going on in broadcast, and bandwidth is very important, but even in those cases, it can be brought in if, in fact, the building is not equipped.

Talk about live broadcast. When and why should people consider a live broadcast? Demystify what it is and how it’s done a bit for us.

A lot of what we do is earned media, so it’s live broadcast. Earned media means the press is attending the event. There’s a number of things that make the event different as a result of it being earned live broadcast, so we have to think about it from not just the audience that’s in the room’s perspective, but who’s watching at home, be it on their screen or what have you. Live broadcast used to mean television. The first debate, I think—and I don’t know the exact metrics, but—almost as many people streamed the debate as did on TV, which is staggering. I mean, millions. So, that just goes to say live broadcast really means streaming now, be it podcast or live streaming or YouTube or now Facebook Live.

Most events have a video component to them. Most events have a few cameras, some screens. To add a broadcast element to that is not dramatically different. You have to determine how the signal will get out, and there’s a variety of different ways of doing that. It used to be satellite was one of the only ways, but now with Fiber connectivity, you can get your signal out over Fiber. You can get it out over the internet. It really is not a cost-prohibitive activity anymore.

There are two big things to think about. One is you don’t want to stream just to say you’ve streamed your event. You want to identify your audience. And it’s like my partner said the other day, “If a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody to hear it, did it really fall?” Well, if you stream and you haven’t promoted the fact that you’re streaming, what was the point? You might as well have just recorded. So (1), I would urge anyone that wants to stream to identify your audience, promote the fact that you’re going to stream. Two (2), bear in mind that you do have to add some elements to make it a good show. Many of the events we do, you have to think about the folks in the room, but with the folks at home, it’s different. They too easily can click over to Facebook and move on to something else, so we cut the show differently. Much of it is the same equipment, but, for example, if we were using this level of equipment for just an in-room show, if we were going to stream and have the show cut to the room, we’ll have a different piece of equipment that allows us to cut it differently, and that way, the viewer at home stays more engaged. We get back to that issue about attention span. You’ve got the people captured in the room.

So, you’re curating live for the online audience, essentially?

We are, we are.

OK, and do you ever suggest actually having any kind of commentary, like a commentator? Some engagement platform?

We have, again, based upon the scope of the event. There can be interactive components. People can be on Twitter and responding to their thoughts of what’s being presented. Again, anything to keep them engaged. We have to work a little harder with the stream to keep people engaged. The cuts are quicker.

And when there’s a break, what happens?

That’s a great time for sponsorship ads and that kind of thing, and it depends upon the vehicle. YouTube and a few other live stream vehicles you can stream for free. It’s going to be their ads on the screen versus your ads.

It’s a great cost-effective way to reach a broader audience. People aren’t going to magically know to watch it, so you have to promote it.

That makes sense, and that’s whether it’s an internal event or external. It doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s just: identify that audience. Because that ties also into hybrid events, which is that combination of people in audience as well as people who aren’t able to attend it live, but you can have them interact that way.

One thing we’ve done very successfully is having someone who in between, in those down moments, is actually having a conversation with someone maybe off the stage and doing some kind of an interview for the online audience and then taking questions directly from that audience in order to bridge the gap between the downtime on the main stage.


Social media. How is that supported at events? Best case example?

You know, I think the social media aspect of it is great. I think there are two different goals in my mind that it can accomplish. One (1) keep current engagement going on, because it gives you a way to see your response in live time. Three things, actually. (2) It’s a great way to promote the event as it’s happening. But I think also the biggest benefit is (3) there’s a lasting event after the fact. If you create your own hashtag, and you promoted it at the event, and now that’s getting some life after the event.

I think one of the most successful opportunities we had to use it was an outdoor event, where, again, there were multiple screens, and there was a constant feed of Instagram and Snapchat and hashtag, and it was a younger persons’ event, which spoke to the Millennials. I think that’s what they understand best.

The suggestion is that we’re older persons now.

Yeah, we can edit that out. For the longest time, I was resistant to social media, because it just seemed like a waste of time, but it’s very much a part of today’s business world. As an example, Merrill Lynch cut their print advertising by a third, and they’re focusing on social media, because that’s the way to reach the new generation. So, I think that using it on video screens… Of course, that’s how we best use it. It’s probably the best example I can come up with.


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ajay-patilGUEST: Ajay Patil

Co-founder and partner of Showcall Inc. began his careers in the event production business over 25 years ago. Patil has a varied skill set that he has developed over the years working as a talent buyer; booking national acts, as a promoter; producing his own concerts, serving as a tour manager and lighting director on a number of rock and roll tours and finally by entering the special event industry as a sales executive/technical producer.

Patil co-founded Showcall with A. Blayne Candy and has spent the last several years growing the company and producing a variety of high profile, large format events such as Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass for 47,000 at Nationals Stadium, the G20 Summit in Washington DC, the Annapolis Mideast Peace Conference and the George W. Bush Library Dedication. Most recently Patil led the charge on the launch of Showcall’s newest division that focuses on event security related needs by supporting the federal law enforcement agencies in their efforts to secure high threat, large format events including the 56th Presidential Inauguration, International Summits and Political Conventions.

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