“Ladies and Gentlemen…”

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-By John Boley

If you have been involved in organising a conference – or any other kind of corporate presentation or exhibition – in the last couple of years, you will be aware of at least two trends. First, someone quite high up in your or your client’s company is going to suggest ‘we can do it all ourselves’ because nowadays with our Macs and fancy software everyone can be a recording engineer, video director and all-round clever-dick. Secondly, especially but not only in the case of an international convention where some people will be travelling a long distance, someone will suggest, ‘we should stop doing this because of the carbon footprint. It can all be done on the internet.’

It will be no surprise at all to find that Tony Chamberlain disagrees strongly with both sentiments, but he can back up his view with plenty of convincing reasons and case studies. He is Managing Director of Staging Connections Group, a company with a 25 year history of organising professionally promoted events, from meetings and conferences to product launches, cocktail functions and gala sit down dinners. Staging Connections has a string of awards to its name, a lengthy list of blue-chip clients and the expertise to make every aspect of an event work well, from audiovisual, styling and theming through to set design and screen content.

His answer to the would-be DIY enthusiast is simple. It’s about getting it right, and there is no second chance “when you get to show day and you have, say, 20 video clips and speakers, and you have to time it all and get it right. A five-second blank screen is a really ugly sight for 500 people sitting in the audience, so there is a real knack to making it look professional.” A corporate event is an important function for any company and cutting corners and doing too much in-house with staff who are not properly versed in the details is simply a false economy.

As air fares rise faster than a rocket and the developed world mutters about curbing unnecessary travel, the concept of sitting in one’s office and taking part in a conference over the internet might have its attractions – in theory. But in practice, says Tony, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. “You can ask questions over the web but there is no substitute for meeting people and talking through what is going on.” Staging Connections manages a host of trade exhibitions around Australia and Tony says many tradesmen attend those shows to do serious buying in one room, rather than having to travel to a number of places over many days. So rather than wasting resources, a trade show or convention can be a very effective use of time and energy.

That’s not to say that nothing changes. Staging Connections stays ahead of trends and new technology and is able to offer clients an optimum mix of opportunities. “Every event is different so there is no ‘cookie cutter’ approach. Our staff are trained to sit with a client and really understand what it is that they require.” For example, what are the things that they want to bring out in the event? How do they and the event work together? Are there people who for budgetary or other reasons will not be able to attend the event?

Should the event use webcasting? This can actually enhance a ‘live’ event, says Tony, rather than replace it. A client might still invite 500 people, “but there might be a thousand people who need to see certain elements of the events so we can webcast it and people can sit at their desk and see keynote presentations.” They can be a part of the event without leaving their office. “We are always looking at how we can do it smarter,” as technology changes.

The company is about to launch an app for smart phones to enable people attending an event to see in advance who are the key speakers and other attendees with whom they need to network. “We are attempting to provide people with the most efficient possible use of their time, which is where the world is going.” A decade ago, says Tony, many big corporations stopped their staff travelling for reasons surrounding safely when travelling. In response, some big conventions adopted a practice of enabling delegates to ‘virtually’ attend events online. In many cases they found that attendance increased at the event the following year because people had effectively been able to ‘try before they buy’ and liked what they had seen online.

Staging Connections established itself over 25 years ago as an in-house event services provider, having started in a five-star hotel. We put our own staff into the hotel and provided support with audio visual equipment.” Back then, audio visual equipment – things that today already seem old-fashioned such as overhead projectors or 35mm slide projectors – was “cutting edge. Everybody was afraid to touch it but people wanted to use it. From a single venue, the company grew to four in its first year, seven in its second, “and just got bigger and bigger. Today we have more than 75 five-star venues where we can provide event services support for anyone who is holding an event. We are still basically doing the exact same thing as when we started, although the technology has changed a lot.”

The venues are for the large part in the main big-name hotels in 14 locations across Australia, plus two towns in New Zealand and an increasing number of locations offshore – China, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji and Dubai so far. Tony prefers not to call the service ‘outsourcing’ but “more of a partnership [with the hotel] where we work together with their event staff to create a quite unique experience for the hotel’s clients.”

For a hotel, the advantages include convenience. “We also deliver a very high standard of service and because we are ‘in house’ we have a lot of equipment already installed in the venue.” Many hotels try to provide the services themselves but it can be highly technical and it is expensive to keep such staff on the payroll. Tony says that “when they have been doing it themselves and then decide to use our services, the customer experience and quality improves, and the conversion rate improves dramatically for the venue.”

For Staging Connections, there is an important balance to be struck between marketing its services to a client – and there are many clients who come direct to the company’s head office in Rozelle, NSW – and nurturing the relationship with the venue. It is also important to note that the Staging Connections service does not have to be expensive or limited to ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ extravaganzas. “We can provide AV equipment and digital projectors for a boardroom meeting of six people, right through to events involving 8,000 people, so there is a huge span and you would be surprised at the number of small events that we do. There is no ‘threshold’; we can organise tiny meetings right up to the very largest events.”

Naturally, there is a massive amount of equipment in the Staging Connections inventory – another bonus for both the client and the venue. “We spend in the region of 10 million dollars a year upgrading equipment and making sure we always have the best. One of the benefits of our scale is we can buy those pieces of equipment and move them around. We have done a lot of work looking at the logistics and the number of movements – there is quite a science in making sure that we minimise the number of movements of equipment.”

While there has been a trend towards more ‘sober’ and less extravagant events in the wake of the GFC, with corporations taking note of changing social attitudes to spending on lavish conventions, Staging Connections has kept on growing, partly by offering “exceptional value for money,” partly though a policy of acquisition of suitable companies in the events business outside Australia and partly through continuing word of mouth. Typically, a hotel manager will move on after two or three years as his or her career progresses. “Australia is a great training ground and people are moving from here into Asia as they get promoted. Then they come back to us, having experienced local services, and we will then work with them to deliver what they want.

“We are also very proud to have a strong track record and reputation in successfully recruiting, training and retaining people with a high level of skills required to successfully deliver exceptional events. We in fact recently won an industry award for best Technical & Creative Production through Meetings & Events Australia (MEA) to reflect this,” says Tony.

Staging Connections’ growth remains steady even after a period of tightened corporate belts, while the good news (for those of us who enjoy a good time!) is that Tony now sees an upturn in the way the events are organised. “In some places we are starting to see the special effects and pizzazz come back.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:22 AM AEDT