Aztec account manager and EN 30 Under Thirty member Chloe Retter on the trials and triumphs of working in AV.
Like many people who work in the event industry, I sort of fell into it. I certainly never envisaged working with AV, but as one of very few women who do what I do I have quite a unique insight into the world of all things technical in events.
I joined Aztec in 2011 as an industry novice with no real understanding of what a live event entailed, having previously just visited the occasional exhibition as a punter. I really had no idea of what was expected from the relationship between supplier and organiser, organiser and exhibitor, exhibitor and visitor.
As time has passed over the last seven years, I have watched and learned from a great team of people here at Aztec. Many clients and other suppliers that have helped shape me into the person many of you now see on your show floor, week in week out, and quite often with “that bloke with the haircut”.
So, what do I do? My job title at Aztec is account manager, which to some might sound a bit dull. I describe my role as using technology to help my clients look great in front of their clients. Some of what I do is quite basic, for example providing a PA and screen for a seminar theatre in an exhibition, but increasingly organisers are looking towards companies like Aztec to provide new and interesting ways to improve the visitor experience.
Organisers we work with are always on the lookout for new and interesting technology. My experience is that what is new and exciting is invariably new, exciting and expensive, so it’s often difficult to justify until the price point drops and the new technology becomes more ubiquitous.
However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be innovative with technology.
At Aztec we have become very adept at identifying well-trodden technologies used in other sectors and adapting them to the live event market. For example, these days it is quite commonplace to see visitors to exhibitions wearing wireless headsets whilst listening to seminars on the exhibition floor. Did you know that Aztec came up with this idea back in 2011 and coined the phrase ‘Silent Seminar’? I guess it’s flattering that lots of other companies have copied us since then (and also a bit irritating!).
Other examples include new, cost effective ways that we can stream exhibition theatres, time sensitive digital signage and interactive exhibition floor plans, to name but a few.
Being in such a creative environment has given me the freedom to have lots of input into projects and create some amazing solutions. Seeing my ideas come to life in an environment where organisers, delegates and attendees all benefit from what I do is what makes my job enjoyable and ensures that I really am making a difference.
There have been other changes over the last few years. The main one is that virtually every exhibition is using more technology to enhance visitor experience and, as a result, events are becoming significantly more complex.
This has some significant consequences. Generally speaking, most exhibitions have the same build-up and breakdown times that they have always had, and in some cases even less. For Aztec this means that we still have the same amount of time to get all the equipment into place and working, but these days we have a lot more work to do on the technical side. Any slight delay, such as walls not being built or power not working, has a massive knock-on effect to my team.
And it’s not just build-up where my technical teams and I have been feeling the squeeze. Breakdowns are becoming increasingly difficult for us, not for technical reasons, but for logistical reasons.
Obviously everyone wants to get away as quickly as possible at the end of an exhibition. This is especially important for a company like Aztec with lots of high-value equipment. We’ve always worked well with organisers and venues over the years but in recent times the relationship between organisers and venues seems to be more strained than ever, and this is having a negative impact on all stakeholders.
A good example of this relates to the storage of spare equipment and empty flight-cases within the exhibition halls. When we are the official AV supplier to an exhibition, we tend to provide equipment for all the seminar theatres, feature areas and a good number of exhibitors stands. In the past, we have stored our empty cases in a void area within the exhibition halls. This means that during the final show day, my on-site team can work in the background to identify which flight-cases need to go to each area at breakdown. This allows for a carefully planned and controlled de-rig that is above all safe, plus it allows us to secure our vulnerable equipment quickly and efficiently.
However, some venues are now charging organisers when their official contractors use these void areas and, of course, the organisers don’t feel they should have to pay for this, so they don’t! The impact of this is that my team have to move empties back to our warehouse then turn all the empties around again and get them back to the venue for the de-rig. To allow this to work, our trucks have to get in as soon as the show ends, then my team has to spend time sorting and shifting flight-cases to the right areas. More trucks, more congestion, slower and less efficient breakdown for everyone, and more (unnecessary) cost for us. Nobody wins!
Organisers are ultimately responsible onsite, but what are they are responsible for? They are responsible for the trusted suppliers they use to create a smooth running show floor, delivering months of hard work, to create a fantastic event, but when unnecessary obstacles are placed in the way, who ultimately pays? The organiser? The exhibitor? The visitor? How does that offer a great experience for anyone involved?
All I’m asking is that we get so more joined-up thinking from organisers, venues and contractors so I can spend more time doing what I really enjoy; helping my clients look great in front of their clients.