WE’RE JUST LIKE YOU
In the Spring of 2020, we faced the same uncertainties as the rest of the world. We resigned to working from home without knowing how it might play out for us in the live events space.
WHERE WE LEFT OFF — EVENT PRODUCTION COMPANY
Whatever reaction, each of us had the same thought in the back of our minds. We are an event company. How long will this last? If everything we do is off-limits, how are we going to survive as a company? What would our client’s high-profile meetings and conferences look like when gathering was not safe or feasible? We had just come off a robust 2019, where we produced one epic event after the other. But this new reality posed direct challenges to our business. For just the year prior, we had activated outside-the-box events like Datassential’s Foodscape Conference. Hundreds of guests had gathered to engage one another and dine together, face-to-face. How could we even think of doing something similar during a full-on quarantine? And even if the attendees could somehow safely gather in the coming months, would our team be able to work shoulder-to-shoulder to install the production equipment needed?
WHAT DOES THE PATH FORWARD LOOK LIKE FOR EVENT PRODUCTION?
As the days (and soon the weeks) began to pass, the reality of the pandemic became apparent. The event industry would not be returning to in-person events any time soon. We would not be moving forward with any of the significant event productions our clients had lined up for the coming months. How was this going to work?
From VR events in virtual spaces to a UV sterilization tent for our shop, our ideas of replicating the past year’s work were halted. Conversations turned from, How are we going to pivot back to the business of last year? To our core focus: our client’s needs. We began to ask ourselves what our clients would need to manage their business as they navigated these unknown challenges. We began to assess the various client activations we had done in the past. We challenged ourselves to develop actionable and practical workarounds that would proactively deliver what kept our clients up at night. Our experience with leading innovation in the traditional event space served us well. We were used to working through setbacks and last-minute changes in plans. With each project, success or failure — new skills were developed. Discovering what did not work helped guide us in the direction of what would be more fruitful.
We began to reach out to our existing clients to find out what was critical to stay afloat. Which events would need to be somehow still executed? We soon found ourselves exploring virtual events and remote production. Thankfully, the client was thrilled. We produced our first large-scale virtual event in early June — a graduation ceremony for the seniors at a Chicago Public High School. They were able to service their key constituents — students and parents — with the virtual activation. Students found it meaningful, and the families could ‘gather’ safely, celebrating their children’s achievements.
GETTING BACK ON OUR FEET
As Spring faded into Summer, we worked diligently to improve our technical skills and invest in the best tools for our new event types. We were intent on providing best-in-class execution on any client activation we committed to. While the team worked primarily from home, our building sat empty. As for our family of brands, KEHOE DESIGNS, the fabric department made masks, and other PPE, the graphics department-built plexiglass barriers, and Floral Exhibits opened Green Market Garden pop-ups around the city. But The Geraghty, our 25,000 square foot event space, was empty. How could we put our existing space and equipment to use?
As the strictest ‘stay-at-home’ orders were lifted and our clients were looking for higher production values, it was time to expand our production capabilities. We played to our strengths, working with KEHOE DESIGNS and our family of brands to craft a pair of celebratory hybrid weddings. First, an internal project. For preparation and a proof of concept. Our own Craig Kidwell had been married the previous year. Craig and his bride busted out their wedding attire and stood in as ‘clients’ while the team worked out the kinks of filming and broadcasting a hybrid event and the safety protocols to ensure safety for the crew. During this challenging time, we wanted to give back to the community. Our family of brands donated a hybrid wedding to a first responder and his fiancé. The result? It was a celebration that was everything we hoped it would be — marvelous, interactive, and most of all — full of love for the couple and their family.
WHERE WE FOUND OURSELVES
We were thrilled to put our new system to the test. But many couples decided to reschedule their weddings to the following year to enjoy a traditional marriage celebration instead of a virtual gathering. Despite the lack of wedding interest, there was an influx of inquiries for galas and fundraising events. Once again, we shifted direction, putting our freshly-honed talents to productive use for our non-profit partners. One memorable event found our team transporting much of our equipment to a college campus. We set up a virtual streaming studio on campus to broadcast their annual fundraising gala in a single day. We worked out ways for the crew and on-site talent to stay socially distant and COVID-compliant throughout the process with consistent success.
BECOMING EXPERTS — BUILDING THE BLACKOAK STUDIO
The pieces were coming together. But how could we put the new skills and equipment together? An idea sparked. Within The Geraghty’s vast open space, we built a fully functional digital streaming studio. Designs were drawn and re-sketched, and the plan took shape. The BlackOak Studio was devised with a massive LED wall backdrop, intelligent lighting, a sophisticated audio system, professional-grade video equipment, and the ability to stream live and reliably to an audience.
Over the next several months, many events would come in and out of the space. From a high-end fashion runway show to a morning talk show and choir performance — our team helped organizations raise funds and spirits. Each event transformed the BlackOak Studio with personalized technical production.
Fast-forward, vaccinations have become available, and the community is moving into the next pandemic stage, which means the demand for in-person events increases. As for the BlackOak Studio, The Geraghty has returned to an infinitely configurable, open space venue to accommodate in-person events.
With the return to in-person events, the ability to seamlessly produce state-of-the-art remote productions remains in our wheelhouse. Clients realized that there were particular efficiencies gained by virtual vs. in-person, and for those instances, we’ll be more than ready to deliver effective solutions.
What have you been thinking about with your event?
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Tags: BlackOak Technical Productions, Events, Hybrid Events, live events, Pandemic Pivot, Technical Production, virtual events