Live Event Design Trends, Challenges & What Happens When Microsoft Acquires Your Client Right Before An Event

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Recently the Xamarin Evolve 16 corporate event took place — the largest cross-platform mobile event in the world, where over 1,500 developers, industry leaders and Xamarin experts converged to advance the state of the art, discuss mobile strategy and define the future app design. And leading live event designer/producer Riverview Systems Group, Milpitas, CA, was there too, in a big way. Riverview’s on site crew of 26 production staff and 60 local technicians ran the show at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, Fla. 

It’s not surprising that the show was a huge success; what was surprising for Riverview was how 45 days before the event, things changed dramatically: Xamarin was acquired by Microsoft, requiring what Riverview CEO Evan Williams called, “an elevation of the entire event profile.”

Partnering with Trademark Events, Riverview raised their game, providing production design and execution for the keynote room, 5 breakouts sessions, 16 training rooms and all ancillary lobby and event spaces. In addition, they designed the digital signage seen throughout, supported the all-new

Microsoft/Xamarin trade show booth, created theatrical lighting of all lobby and pre-function areas and handled the full conference recordings and live webcast of the keynote sessions via satellite uplink. ProductionHUB spoke with Williams about the project and the unique challenges it presented the 30-year- old company.

Q. Broadly speaking, we’re about mid-way through 2016, what are you seeing trend-wise so far, either from a creative perspective or technical one? For example, any interesting stage design trends? LED use? More demand for streaming/mobile, virtual attendance?

Williams: There are a couple of trends worth mentioning. The costs of LED video tile technology are dropping quickly and there is a lot of inventory available in the rental and staging market. Due to that glut, the prices have come down on the wholesale market, which translates to better pricing on the retail side. Production designs are making greater use of higher resolution LED tile displays to create dynamic scenery, rather than designing hard scenery in to projects. There will come a time when it’s less expensive to rent LED tiles than it is to fabricate scenic elements. Soon.

The other trend involves capturing sessions on camera and with graphics, so that they can be uploaded to client’s sites almost immediately after they are finished. It is now a necessity to have a careful plan in place to manage dozens of hard drive modules at a time, which translates to many terabytes of content that has to be checked, compressed and managed in real time.

Q. Your recent project for Xamarin took a surprising turn. In general how does Riverview prepare for “worst case scenarios”?  

Williams: We always have worst-case scenarios in mind when planning the execution of events. For example, we ship redundant primary gear in case of failure, and never do events involving generators without back-ups in place.

There is more demand than ever before to move a show in in less time than we are comfortable with and in venues that often do not have basic infrastructure. In cases where the venue is only available a couple of days before the event downbeat, or the venue is unwilling to commit the space for a 3 – 4 day move-in, we will often work around the clock to get a program set and ready for show.

Careful planning is key, both to ensure a successful event, and to avoid burning out your crews before you even open the show. Due to the availability in a lot of cities of venues for 3000+ attendees or more, producers are getting very creative when it comes to finding event spaces. In fact, we are advancing a conference now that will be held in a previously condemned warehouse space that has no power infrastructure, water services or plumbing. All of those necessities have to be brought in and accounted for over a 10-day period.

Q. Microsoft acquired Xamaran while you were already working on the project just before the event. Specifically, how did the acquisition affect your work?

Williams: We had actually been working on the project for 4 months when the announcement was made. The news of the acquisition was about 45 days out from the show. There were components added, such as the 40 x 50 trade show exhibit that was designed and constructed to be introduced at the show; and the need to plan for as many as half a million remote viewers of the live streaming component.

Q. Did you and the team feel an extra sense of pressure because the spotlight on the event became that much bigger?

Williams: Actually, we didn’t feel any more pressure than we normally do. We pride ourselves on really good advanced planning and are known for perfect execution. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, regardless of the pre-production mayhem.

Q. What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you over come them? Likewise, how did you prepare your team to shift gears quickly with so little lead time before the event?

Williams: The biggest challenges were the unknowns and the decisions yet to be made when we arrived on site. You can only send so much extra stuff to solve problems. Good advance planning means that you can focus on these sorts of things when they come up. If you know that your primary responsibilities are handled, you should have time to effectively handle what comes up. Experience dealing with all kinds of random asks over the years has armed our team with an enormous breadth of knowledge to solve challenges that pop-up. The combined number of years of experience that our Xamarin event staff has working together at Riverview is well over 200. Many of the on-site management team has been here for more than 20 years.

Q. Looking back, any lessons learned? Things you would do differently?

Williams: Don’t back down when the demands increase, and the budget isn’t there to travel more staff. The client didn’t want to add headcount to handle new areas, but we convinced them that it would prove to pay for itself, in terms of timely installation and success all around. In the end we had just the right number of folks, and we were thanked repeatedly for making it all happen.

In terms of doing things differently in the future, I would say that increasing labor budgets a bit when the demands begin to change would help the reality of final budgets when it’s all over. We have daily meetings onsite about where labor is increasing, etc., though you never really know where you will end up when work is added beyond the confirmed scope of work.

Q. Any advice you can give to others on how to stay focused and successful when directives change at the last minute?

Williams: Never allow yourself or your team to be complacent. Even when you think you’re ahead of schedule and/or the process seems easy. You are never ahead of schedule until the event is a complete success in your rear view mirror, and your staff is safely back home. Memorize your scope of work, the production schedule, and the names of all the people that work in the venue where you are living for the week.

Q, Anyone at Riverview and/or Trademark should we single out for special mention?

Williams: Elle Chan, Executive Producer and Wendy Cook, Producer at Trademark, were essential to the success of the program. Without them to translate the ever-changing client expectations to us and help us to solve the challenges it would not have been the success that it was.

Internally, our management staff came up with great solutions on the fly when faced with the aforementioned challenges. Whether is was 30 additional 42” displays needed immediately on a Saturday evening or the sudden need to build and cover a ballroom-sized drone course the night before the conference began, they all came up with sensible solutions so the client could succeed. The Riverview team included Michael Lee, Mark Johnson, Scott Robinette, Tim Healy, and Jon Haworth.

About Riverview Systems Group

Since 1987, Silicon Valley-based Riverview Systems Group, Inc., has been providing the world’s leading brands with the technical and production design expertise to successfully produce engaging and innovative live events. The award-winning, full-service provider of audio-visual resources specializes in the rental, sale, design, installation and implementation of lighting, sound and video systems for corporate, retail, museum and educational markets.

Recognizing that creative delivery of digital media is the new frontier of event staging today, Riverview offers a comprehensive array of technical and creative services, as well as an extensive inventory of state-of- the-art, well-maintained equipment including cutting-edge wide-screen projection, media server delivery, and LED display technology. Riverview works hand-in- hand with clients to share their expertise and accommodate any sized production to deliver extraordinary brand experiences.

About Evan Williams – CEO, Riverview Systems Group

Riverview CEO, Evan Williams, is an award winning event-staging producer. For nearly thirty years companies like Google, Facebook, Adobe, Cisco and numerous others have relied on Riverview for live corporate events, and more. Says Williams, “Clients today think in terms of their overall brand being consistent regardless of the medium, including corporate events. They want to partner with a company that can help deliver creative content across all mediums and has the technical expertise to bring the brand to life in a live event setting.”

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