Episode 14: Handling More Shows With Less Crew feat. Susan Conner & Aaron Merkin

This episode unpacks the relationship between the event companies and the suppliers they rely on. Angela Alea leads our conversation with Susan Conner, Touring Labor Coordinator at Fuse and Aaron Merkin, Founding Partner and Director of Operations at Groundwork Operations.


Here's What We're Talking About 💬

  • The importance of industry relationships now more than ever.
  • A pattern of crews not showing up to the job.
  • Why too much lead time can actually be a bad thing.
  • Companies giving little to no lead time in a high demand low supply market.
  • Crew personnel being treated poorly at the show site due to high levels of stress.

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Watch The Episode 📺


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Read The Transcript 📚

Angela Alea: Hello everyone and welcome back to Corralling the Chaos. Today I wanna dig into a really relevant topic that all of us are probably dealing with in some form or fashion, and that is the relationship [00:00:44] Between the event companies and the suppliers that they rely on and today we have two great people to help us unpack this.

First, we have Susan Conner, who spent the last several years as a labor coordinator at Fuse Technical Group, which is a technical partner for live event production shows. Prior to Fuse, Susan spent nine years doing the same thing at, which is now PRG.

[00:01:10] Angela Alea: She very quickly learned the life of a crew because she was married to a freelance tech for 11 years, which has helped her in her current position really understand that perspective. It's no surprise that she likes puzzles and mysteries as that's exactly what she does every day. Making sure the right people with the right skills show up for her shows day in and day out.

[00:01:34] Angela Alea: We also have with us Aaron Merkin, founding partner and director of operations for Groundwork Operations up in New York City, who specializes in event operations by providing onsite production crews. Certainly a need for that with 20 years of experience in event production. Aaron has a big-picture, vision, and an eye for detail.

[00:01:56] Angela Alea: He is a multi-instrumentalist and visual artist who is [00:02:00] born and raised in Manhattan's Upper West Side. He currently resides with his wife Sharon, their son Max, and their dog Taco (love the name!) in Fairmont Philadelphia. Welcome to the show, Susan and Erin.

I am thrilled to have you both here today to really learn more about what you're seeing. [00:02:19] In crazy times, I don't think our industry has ever experienced some of the demand with the restraints that we're asked to deal with more than we have now. But first things first. Aaron, what kind of dog is Taco?

[00:02:34] Aaron Merkin: He's a shitzu with the heart of a pit. He's the mayor of the neighborhood.

Angela Alea: Oh, I love it. We just put on our website, our LASSO pets. We are a huge animal company, so I absolutely love that. Had to ask first, what kind of dog is taco? Important information. So I wanted to address this topic today because it really speaks to [00:03:00] the importance of having solid relationships. 

[00:03:03] in the industry, especially because of the heavy reliance on each other. That we really have now more than ever before. Um, and given the ask to put great crews together, it's often last minute. It really does require complete trust and cooperation between both the company and the labor agencies. For both parties to pull off these epic shows under these circumstances that exist today.

[00:03:30] Angela Alea: And I really wanna talk about some of the conditions that we're seeing. And so here are a few observations I've had just within the last couple weeks. I'm reading LinkedIn posts, I'm talking to customers, um, people are reaching out to us asking what, what we're seeing. And these are just a few of the observations.

[00:03:47] Angela Alea: So I would love to get your insight on. I read a LinkedIn post that said they had a crew of 40 people scheduled. Only half, 50% showed up, so that meant [00:04:00] everyone worked through the night. Everyone was exhausted, but only half showed up. Another one, they had a crew of eight. No one showed up. Imagine that you're expecting eight people to help you set and no one shows.

[00:04:13] Angela Alea: Another one had a crew of 12, none of which had ever even worked an event. Never even set foot on an event site. That's a disaster waiting to happen. We also heard crew agreeing to work shows and then they canceled last minute because something better came up. Also had one where a company was sharing that their customer sent over a request for 38 additional people the day before.

[00:04:39] Angela Alea: In a high-demand, low-supply market. Again, that talk about pulling a rabbit out of a hat! Hey, last minute I need you to find me 38 more people. And these were skilled positions. And then the last one is crew not being treated well at show site due to the stress levels. So when I hear those things, I just think, Gosh, what has happened to our [00:05:00] industry?

[00:05:00] Angela Alea: What in the world is going on? And so I guess I would love to hear from each of you. What you're seeing from your vantage points. 

[00:05:11] Susan Conner: I can't believe how different it is right now. I used to send 10 emails and get the three guys that I needed, and now I'm sending 30 to 50 and maybe getting one or two people.

[00:05:25] Susan Conner: It's been extremely overwhelming because it seems like there are more shows at the same time. Mm-hmm. and. It's very difficult and I've never relied on, um, labor companies as much as I have recently. It's been a very, very big change for us. We've always handled it as in-house as possible. Um, and that was always fun and pretty easy.

[00:05:56] Susan Conner: We built a really amazing list of [00:06:00] freelancers, just absolutely amazing. We've lost a lot of them. A lot of them committed to things, um, towards the, um, beginning of this year that they've never done before because they didn't know what there was going to be. And that's, you know, messed up schedules for us.

[00:06:21] Susan Conner: Um, but it's, as much as it's changed, we still do everything all day, every day. We haven't failed. The show still goes on.

[00:06:29] Angela Alea: Absolutely. Yep. What about you, Aaron? What are you seeing?

[00:06:34] Aaron Merkin: First, I'd like to say that none of, none of those challenges that, uh, you articulated with crews not showing up or half of them showing up, none of our clients will ever experience that, working with Groundwork because, we take our role very seriously and we understand that setting up an event is like a table and if there's one of the legs isn't there, um, the thing can collapse and so, [00:07:00] Value our role enough to know that that is unacceptable.

[00:07:04] Aaron Merkin: We've seen the same thing of, you know, there's a, an abundance of work. The gap in work in our industry from the pandemic did lead people some in some instances to other industries or into more individualized full-time roles that are not crew oriented. 

[00:07:29] Aaron Merkin: I think that the, the way that we approach things is we take accountability for our relationship with our crew, and then our relationship with our client is a separate thing as well. If I tell a crew member, they're gonna show up. They're gonna get paid for something regardless of, you know, if a client is complaining or, or treating us a certain way or treating them a certain way on site, we're not gonna let that sway how we deal with our crew because our commitment to [00:08:00] them, is not dependent on the commitment that our clients made to us because, You know, they didn't, our crew didn't review the contract or meet our point of contact at, at, on the client side.

[00:08:11] Aaron Merkin: So, and then vice versa, you know, if, half of a crew cancels last minute, you know, that's, we can say, Hey, you know, these guys canceled last minute. But, um, we're the ones who vetted that crew member. And so, yeah, ultimately, you know, the, the way we, we started the business. Sometimes you have to go into this, you know, survival mode.

[00:08:32] Aaron Merkin: Now when you have those, I need 38 people Tomorrow was, you know, call friends, call cousins, call friends, and have them call friends and call cousins. And you know, I, I've had. Personal conversations on cell phones with, with friends of friends of relatives that I never met before and had this person show up at two in the morning in Times Square to operate a camera or a forklift.

[00:08:55] Aaron Merkin: All of that happened between the hours of 2:00 AM and 6:00 AM [00:09:00] because the need came in the next day. Trying to not personalize those things or be swayed by the emotions of the stress. Just put one foot in front of the other. You know, there's a, in our crew training, we differentiate between practical skills and emotional skills.

[00:09:20] Aaron Merkin: And I think in this industry, the emotional skills take. Have a higher, um, realm of importance than in most other occupations in other industries because it is such a rollercoaster ride and can be so unpredictable. And so the metaphor that we use is, you know, if, if you've ever been stuck in traffic in a car full of people, there's always one person who has road rage or can't deal with it, is cursing, honking the horn.

[00:09:47] Aaron Merkin: And then there might be another person. Enjoying the music, looking out the window, um, having a good time. And both the people in that vehicle get to the same destination at the same time. So it's in our power [00:10:00] to choose our experience in, in the face of the stressors and, and triggers that we're, being presented with.

[00:10:06] Aaron Merkin: And so I think in this industry, more than any other, we have to try to stay poised and just, you know, put one foot in front of the other. We're, we're all gonna get to that destination. And, as Susan said, Everything, when everything goes well in the very end, people often don't then unpack what went wrong.

[00:10:23] Aaron Merkin: So the same things can, can go wrong because you say, right, it all, it all worked out, you know?  I think we all know what we signed up for. We know what we're likely going to face, and so the best thing you can do is try to stay on your square and, and, um, be ready for what comes.

[00:10:38] Susan Conner: I have learned recently to not take rejection personally.

[00:10:44] Susan Conner: because people that I've worked with for 10, 12 years, when they tell me no , I'm like, What do you mean ? What do you mean you're working for someone else? ? So I've had to, to learn how to not take that personally and just be happy everyone's [00:11:00] working.

[00:11:01] Aaron Merkin: and I think, you know, being outcome-oriented as well, because I think a lot of times, you know, emotions are very reactive and irrational.

[00:11:09] Aaron Merkin: And that can be a client on site who at the beginning of a load in prioritizes signage and the, you know, we, we talk about. Bones, muscles, skin, where you might wanna unload and set up the infrastructure of the layout. And then you want, and that's the bones, the skeleton. And then you add, you know, distribute product into the tents.

[00:11:28] Aaron Merkin: And then lastly, you wanna skin the event. But oftentimes you might have a client who then has their own end client and their biggest concern is the optics. And so, They're digging through a signage pallet and wanting to prioritize that, but you don't have barricades to put those signs up on yet. And that's an, you know, it's an emotional reaction because they're, they're picturing their client walkthrough and they're not necessarily picturing the like A to Z outcome.

[00:11:54] Aaron Merkin: And I think, you know, everybody just tuning back in. Okay. You. This person rejected me. [00:12:00] This person is yelling at me. Ultimately, if you're a crew member on a job site, you want to keep your job, you wanna work,  generate income to provide for your family, you want your client to look good so that they can have, you know, they, their client can.

[00:12:17] Aaron Merkin: Continue to hire them and then they can continue to hire you and, um, those are the outcomes that we're looking for. And being reactive or taking things personally, while they feel like an appropriate response, sometimes they don't generate the outcome that, that we're all looking for. I

[00:12:33] Angela Alea: Love all of that. You guys just unpack so much. You talked about accountability, commitment, choosing your experience, being outcome focused. There's, there's a lot of good nuggets. In there that I hope all of us caught. Cause I think there's a lot in there. So, Susan, when you, I know it's new for you to now have to rely on suppliers, um, I know that's very different than in the past for you, but what do you look for in [00:13:00] a talent supplier?

[00:13:01] Angela Alea: Like, describe your ideal supplier. What does that engagement or relationship look like? 

[00:13:07] Susan Conner:  I mean, that's always, if. You're not gonna find what you're looking for with a Google search. It's gonna be a reference from someone else. That's always the first place we start. And then responsiveness and honesty.

[00:13:27] Susan Conner: If you can do it, great. If you can't, let, let us know as quickly as possible so that we can move on and find someone who. Um, and if someone's honest about those kind of things and responsive about what we are asking, it generally trickles down to how they're treating their people and how they treat their people is important to us because it brings that attitude that Erin was talking about.

[00:13:53] Susan Conner: You know, it bring, brings that to us. So you wanna find someone who's, [00:14:00] um, who cares about the industry and understand. Um, I think one of the most important things is asking questions and. I know with LASSO, you guys ask me questions. Um, you just have a few little questions that you'll always ask, and I hate how often I don't have those answers, , and how much I have to track those answers down.

[00:14:25] Susan Conner: Because I don't deal directly with the client, I'm dealing with my project manager or sales person to get that information. And like Erin was saying, sometimes they don't think about those. Um, that it's really important. Yes, we have the person, we know the location and we know the time. But there are a lot of other little details that we need to get, and you guys asking those questions helps me prepare for the next thing.

[00:14:54] Susan Conner: It helps me know what thing to be aware of because prior to using, [00:15:00] um, , uh, labor suppliers, I would just turn them over to the PM directly and they would always have, you know, we had a few different layers of management of a event that we don't really have right now. We usually have one person, and generally we would have, you know, an AE on site as well as the project manager and then a crew chief.

[00:15:22] Susan Conner: And we're lucky to have a lead right now.

[00:15:25] Angela Alea: Yeah, times are different.

[00:15:28] Susan Conner: I'm, I'm. Needing more input than I ever did before because you know, like I said, I'm usually, I'm a step closer now than I was before to dealing with things and you know, when things come in quickly, that's when we need the, the most information.

[00:15:47] Susan Conner: And that's generally we don't get it. But those are the kind of things like if someone just says, Yeah, sure, I can take care of. I hesitate a little bit if [00:16:00] someone says, Okay, give me all of the this information and then I will let you know if we can handle it. That makes me feel a little more comfortable.

[00:16:08] Angela Alea: They're being more intentional with it. 

[00:16:12] Susan Conner: It shows a level of, of detail-oriented work that I wish we could still provide, but we are missing that person. They're stepping into that role. A new person is stepping into that role with our, Within our experience. Yeah. And it takes a long time to trust someone, but those initial questions, the initial interest in what we're doing and things like that is something that makes a difference to me.

[00:16:41] Angela Alea: Makes good sense. Aaron, same question for you. What's your ideal customer that you and your team love to work with and what makes them ideal?

[00:16:48] Aaron Merkin: I just wanna jump in on something Susan said, quickly about the honesty and the transparency because that, it's great to hear you echo something that we at Groundwork have spoken about for years.

[00:16:58] Aaron Merkin: When we first started the company, we were in our twenties. Um, and I think everybody in general deals with some degree of imposter syndrome. And then, you know, when you're dealing in a, in the event world, which often is experiential marketing, there's, it is about the perception and the aesthetics.

[00:17:17] Aaron Merkin: And so everybody wants to be able to say yes and. You're serving clients up the chain and, and you wanna appeal to them. And when we, when we had that kind of young imposter syndrome, almost lack of entitlement, um, about, about our professionalism, we said yes to everything. And it took maturing as a business.

[00:17:36] Aaron Merkin:  To recognize that saying no and being clear about your limitations actually speaks to your confidence in your capabilities. Because when you know where your capabilities end, you're really owning your capabilities. And when somebody says yes to everything, you start to question, you know, whether they really can handle all of that.

[00:17:56] Aaron Merkin: You know, it's like go going to a restaurant that has too many things on the menu as [00:18:00] opposed to a restaurant that's very limited and you know, Prepare those dishes, um, excellently. And so it's great to hear you, Susan, from the, from the client side. Echo that because that's a, has, has had been an evolving conversation.

[00:18:12] Aaron Merkin: And where we have landed in general is, um, you know, we lean towards transparency, whether we're having. Trouble staffing something or if, um, we're gonna send somebody who's greener. We wanna be transparent about that and, and manage expectations so everybody can, um, understand what they're working with.

[00:18:29] Aaron Merkin: And then we know our, our limitations, you know, of course in the beginning we said yes to everything because, and then hung up the phone, you know, had minor heart attacks and then called cousins and friends of friends and, and figured out, you know, what is, what is a v3? You know, I, I came from the general, uh, very general crew world where we were truck driving.

[00:18:46] Aaron Merkin: I started the company from, from the back of a lift gate or, you know, on a forklift and then we transitioned to a more skilled stage hand area. So when we got our first order, you know, I had to call friends and even [00:19:00] unpack what the terminology meant. Um, but now we really own what we can do and we own, um, the point at which what we can do ends, um, I would say for us, in terms of an ideal client, um, we have, we have two kind of different client structures.

[00:19:17] Aaron Merkin: We have one type of client that has a number of that that tend to serve, um, A number of their own clients with a variety of services in experiential marketing or event production. And they often form, um, an account team around each client and sometimes they'll allocate a person on that team to be the.

[00:19:38] Aaron Merkin: Person in charge of crewing and that might be a different person every time, even though you're dealing with the same client. And that lack of consistency can create a real learning curve on the client side. And then just in terms of the relationship and the dynamic between us as the vendor and them as the client, we often end up, um, almost training and educating newer employees of our long [00:20:00] term clients about how things work.

[00:20:01] Aaron Merkin: Even saying, Hey, This is where you have your truck rental accounts. You know, I would suggest starting here and doing this, um, we find that clients that have a more centralized, um, logistics operation team, that we can have like one point of contact and they're handling the crewing and the operations, and the logistics for all of the account teams on, on the various programs.

[00:20:25] Aaron Merkin: That's very helpful. Clients who have a real understanding of logistics,  not just their ability to sell and manage their own clients, but to understand the A to Z execution of how things happen. You know, it can be very easy to say, Hey. I need a guy with a truck to make a bunch of pickups in Manhattan tomorrow.

[00:20:46] Aaron Merkin: But then the questions that seems very simple, but then if you've never gone through that experience yourself, where does the truck come from? Um, you know, are there ratchet straps and dollies and shrink wrap? So [00:21:00] a client who understands that or who can be receptive to that feedback. And I think, you know, again, taking the emotions and the ego out of it and being able to recognize the value of ideas.

[00:21:11] Aaron Merkin: Independent from their source because oftentimes, um, we have clients who may, um, perceive us as like a labor vendor. And sometimes even the word labor can feel like dirty or, or diminutive. And, and we actually, um, use, try to use the word crew as much as possible because, um, so many of our crew members.

[00:21:30] Aaron Merkin: Especially coming from an an arts background, you know, they may be, um, working in a blue collar industry. They may come from a, a lower income background. Um, but they're brilliant and they have amazing strategic logistic minds. And just because they're on a forklift or on the back of the truck doesn't mean they may not have a, a better understanding of the way a task executed.

[00:21:53] Aaron Merkin:  And so I think again, just dropping ego, dropping emotion and being receptive of ideas [00:22:00] regardless of the source and, and willing to collaborate. Cause I think that collaboration, um, going in both directions is, is where we all end up with the outcome that we're going for. Cause we, we are all on the same team.

[00:22:11] Aaron Merkin: And, and as you mentioned the beginning, Angela, there can be a lot of kind of competition and like, Pissing contest, parting my, my language on job sites. And ultimately I think that competition does come from the insecurity and the blame game comes from feeling the pressure of serving clients and ultimately, um, we all share the same goal.

[00:22:32] Aaron Merkin: So I, I think collaborative clients, um, are the best.

[00:22:36] Angela Alea: Could not agree more. There are two things there I want to address. First you talked about, the desire to get rid of the, rid of the word labor. Could not agree more. We, we did a big blog post on it and you say crew, which I think is awesome.

[00:22:55] Angela Alea: I think that's, that's a great replacement. We say talent because you're right, these [00:23:00] are talented people who come up. With their own ability to think strategically, to think logistically, they're, everyone is tasked with being a problem solver. The second you get at show site, right, the second you show up, you're there to solve problems because that's all it is.

[00:23:16] Angela Alea: It's one thing after another, right? One wrench is thrown in. And so I love that aspect of it. And I also think if we could get the rest of our industry thinking less labor. More talent and crew. I think it allows us to raise the level of the perception and the value of what you as companies are offering to the end client.

[00:23:37] Angela Alea: You're not providing labor, you're providing talent to give them an epic show. That doesn't happen with just labor or hands, which I hate that word, Despise that word. And, um, you know, if, if I'm receiving a proposal from a company that's pitching me and they're pitching me labor, I'm thinking commodity. If you're pitching talent [00:24:00] or crew.

[00:24:02] Angela Alea: Has a different connotation, right? Like, I expect to make, pay more for talent or crew than I would labor. And I think we're doing ourselves an injustice by how we talk about things, um, even with how we sell shows. So that's one thing I wanted to talk about. The other is you talked about, you know, giving the example of, of the truck in Manhattan.

[00:24:20] Angela Alea: Well, the devil's in the detail. And having people who are communicating with the client and helping the client think through those expectations, right? Is the client asking for something that anything's possible, right? Just depends if you have the budget and time to do it. And I think so many times our industry is so used to get the deal, get the deal, get the deal.

[00:24:42] Angela Alea: That they lose sight of selling the show the right way. And I think there's something to that when it comes to selling the show. And you know what I mean by that is are you asking me to do a show in Timbuktu where. There is no talent. There's not, you know, a, [00:25:00] a plethora of talent there, so we're gonna need to travel budget included.

[00:25:03] Angela Alea: And a lot of companies are afraid to pitch that because it makes their price higher. Are you selling it at the right margin? Um, are you getting enough notice? Are you managing the client to say, Hey, if we're gonna pull off this amazing show, that we are gonna give you a great outcome for you. Have a part you play in that.

[00:25:21] Angela Alea: And one thing is you need to give us enough notice. You need to give us the green light and enough time, because now we have to go plan logistically, we have to get with our suppliers to plan logistically. And then I also think about when it comes to selling the show, is it organized appropriately? Is communication from the end client fragmented?

[00:25:39] Angela Alea: Are, are we as companies doing enough to lead our clients to set our companies up to have a successful show? With minimal stress because we've done all the right things along the way and I just feel like that tipping point, the spirit of it, is how that show is sold and asking the right questions. Cuz that's a great point, [00:26:00] Erin.

[00:26:00] Angela Alea: The devil is in the details and saying yes to some deliveries is great on surface until you dig into the details and really understand what exactly that is and that's where things can kind of go awry. So I think each of you make such great points with that. So thank you for that. Curious, are either of you seeing any patterns or trends, good or bad, that are emerging?

[00:26:25] Susan Conner: Last minute's. Fun .

[00:26:28] Angela Alea: So you said last minute, so curious, Susan, what, what's the average lead time you are getting? And then Aaron, I'm gonna come to you because you sometimes are maybe one step removed and sometimes not. But what kind of lead time are you getting, Susan? I handle

[00:26:40] Susan Conner: a lot of different. Um, corporate shows tend to have way more lead time, um, but they also want names quickly so that they can do hotel blocks and credentials and things like that.

[00:26:53] Susan Conner: You know, I have a job in November. That wants crew names now, [00:27:00] and I'm really struggling to get through the actual week. Um, you know, we've, we've had a lot of things come up this week and I haven't even thought about that job. I've got it laid out. It's in LASSO. I can hit a couple of buttons and maybe get an idea of what's available, but a long lead time is not always perfect.

[00:27:18] Susan Conner: Yeah but I just got an email a minute ago for a little popup this weekend, um, in a market that I know I'm not gonna be able to fulfill . Yeah. So I'm ignoring it right now. Um, but it's, it's a lot of. affect that. Like there's a job that we do every year that's always very l e d heavy.

[00:27:49] Susan Conner: We have an LED crew that expects to do it every year. They, they plan on it, not only in their budget for their own life and their income, but um, [00:28:00] being with the same crew. They've always been, They all get excited about seeing each other. It's a job that they love doing. I just found out. Extremely projection heavy this year and don't know what I'm gonna do about that. 

[00:28:12] Susan Conner: So, and you know, it's months and months away, but now I really do have to consider what am I gonna do with about, you know, where am I gonna put those guys that are used to doing this show for me because I don't wanna lose them for the next year. Yeah. Um, and how many of them can I keep together and where in the heck am I gonna find that many projectionists at that time of the year when I know that I'm not used to finding them?

[00:28:35] Susan Conner: Yeah, lead times are tricky and, you know, I do love getting dates for a job that don't include the travel, that don't include the prep. And then when we get closer, they're like, Oh, but wait, we need them for prep. Okay. That was a really important detail that I needed. And now I ask every single time.

[00:28:58] Susan Conner: Yeah, because some [00:29:00] Right. Especially right now, people are going from show to show to show. So if I ask someone for the 15th to the. It may fit perfectly. They're come traveling from a show on the 15th and to another one on the 20th. I can't mess that up or I'm not gonna have that person. So lead times, I don't know that I've ever seen a perfect one.

[00:29:24] Angela Alea: there's no such a thing.

[00:29:27] Susan Conner: is, and, and even, you know, even shows that, um, . We get, you know, they'd say, Okay, we, we are anticipating this being a projection gig. Something happens with, um, budgets and they say, All right, let's just do this all l e d, but all the projectionists that we have held for three weeks because we had great lead time and we got great projectionists.

[00:29:50] Susan Conner: Five of them don't do l e d also, so now we have no lead time. Mm-hmm. , we've got two weeks to figure out a, an entirely different crew, and now [00:30:00] we have to figure out something to do with the people that we've held for all of this time, because I'm not just going to tell them no, especially in this kind of situation, you know, they're not gonna pay a cancellation fee because it isn't canceled.

[00:30:10] Susan Conner: It's just changed. But to them it doesn't impact. Their budget or what they've done to us. It's a huge impact. And I can't, I'm not gonna just tell my guys, Oh, way this, this went away, or something like that when I've held them for that long because I had a great lead time. Yeah. So , I don't know, I don't know where the perfect lead time is, but I have seldom encountered it.

[00:30:33] Angela Alea: Yes. I, I think that is the sentiment of many, for sure. Aaron, what are, what are you.

[00:30:40] Aaron Merkin: Yeah, I mean, I think the, the lead time thing is, is not having a perfect lead time is, um, something we deal with even with crewing as well, because the, you know, sometimes you can book people too far in advance and they may lose track of that, or, um, they might be reluctant to book it because they're waiting for the best opportunity and they know some, you know, it's the best time of the year.

Aaron Merkin:  [00:31:00] I think, you know, to me what it, the kind of overarching thing that Susan was speaking to is fluidity, right? And I think that, especially in the post pandemic market, where we're going from no events to people wanting, making sure they spend their budgets so that they don't lose them.

[00:31:18] Aaron Merkin: Because you know when, when you're dealing with like a corporate structure and there's something allocated for marketing or allocated. Conference or experiential. Um, if that doesn't get used, it, it can get removed from the bottom line for the next year. And so because things have been so fluid, even with covid restrictions, um, there's a lot of last minute, All right.

[00:31:39] Aaron Merkin: You know. Let's just pull the trigger on this. We're gonna, we want to use the budget. And so we have found that there's a lot more fluidity, which can create more challenges in, in terms of the last minute or being properly, you know, given the tools to really execute properly. But, um, in, in our experience, there has also been more flexibility on the client side, um, and [00:32:00] more understanding of the need to.

[00:32:03] Aaron Merkin: Increase an hourly rate to, to get something done or, um, to pay a crash fee or whatever, whatever the case may be. So we, we've actually, um, had a good experience with the, with, with that kind of increased fluidity that we're seeing in the industry, um, but also have chosen and need and want to be proactive about seizing that opportunity to, to be assertive.

[00:32:27] Aaron Merkin: Boundaries and clear about what our needs are in terms of how we are given the tools to take care of our crew, to be able to execute. You know, And I, and I think, um, uh, especially coming outta the pandemic, I feel like there has been more understanding about that. And then also I think more willingness, uh, on our part and everybody's part to have that transparency.

[00:32:50] Aaron Merkin: I mean, even the fact, even the culturally, how we've shifted to Zoom meetings or. Zoom podcast as opposed to meeting in person. Um, I think there's something [00:33:00] about the, um, humanizing of everyone through this shared, um, like just traumatic experience that, um, I, I personally feel like there's a little more human understanding, um, in the, in the face of that fluidity at, at the moment.

[00:33:14] Angela Alea: I love that because, You, I'm gonna ask you both this question just a minute, cuz I wrap up every podcast with one question, which is, what do you hope for the future of our industry? So while you're thinking on how to answer that, I think what you just said is so important because if you would've asked me what I hoped for our industry two to three years ago, it would've been to make it more human.

[00:33:44] Angela Alea: and humane because there was so much skepticism. There was so much, you know, just in fighting and awful competition there. There is such a thing as friendly and productive competition, right? Like and coming together as a team for a [00:34:00] common good to produce an amazing show. It takes teams and companies who are sometimes competing, working together at the show site and when there's less.

[00:34:11] Angela Alea: in fighting, back, biting, backstabbing, and more just fluidity as you put it. It really does make for a better industry and as an industry, we've gotta figure out what to do to entice more people to join it, right to, to build a career here. And for those of you that are listening, that are newcomers to the industry and are still trying to figure it out, there is never a better time to join a cooler industry that is growing by leaps and bounds.

[00:34:39] Angela Alea: That it's continuing to push the limits. You know, when I'm at different show sites, I am blown away by some of the technical capabilities that we didn't even have two years ago, and it just continues to evolve and evolve and all the creatives in our industry, and it is a privilege to get to be a part.

[00:34:57] Angela Alea: Of what our industry is doing. And [00:35:00] so I am thrilled to see that our industry is becoming more fluid. They are more humane, there is more humanity in it. There's kindness, there's teamwork, there's accountability, which is one of the things each of you spoke about too, right? If someone is relying on you, if your client is relying on you, , you each have a sense of accountability and commitment.

[00:35:21] Angela Alea: You are not taking lightly the ask that is made of you. And I just love that. And I think the more people do that, the more crew realize. We're counting on you to show up with a good attitude. Be professional. Bring your best self. So those of you that are thinking about entering this industry, if you can do those things, you are gonna make a fortune and have the time of your life doing it.

[00:35:47] Angela Alea: And so my question for each of you as we wrap up is what do you each hope for the future of our industry?

[00:35:56] Susan Conner: I learned something. about 12 years [00:36:00] ago that changed the way I work, especially in this job. Every job is personal to some, to everyone. Um, an artist has an idea that they wanna express. It's usually comes from a feeling that they have, and then they take it to a, uh, a designer.

[00:36:26] Susan Conner: Who has their own expression that they wanna get out in that, their own reputation that they wanna build on. It comes to us. We, everything we do is for the next job. For, um, me getting a new client every time we go to a show site, every time we do a job, when I have people that I have going. Out on the show site.

[00:36:54] Susan Conner: It's personal to them. They're away from their family. They're working to support [00:37:00] their family. It's important to them. They also have a reputation stake in everything they do while they're there. I think that if everyone thinks about the personalization of every aspect of it and treats each other that way, just like you're saying, humane and human.

[00:37:21] Susan Conner: That makes better shows, that makes better jobs, it makes everything, um, go easier as well as more productive. Enjoy that

[00:37:32] Angela Alea: part of it. Great thoughts. What about you, Aaron? What do you hope for the

[00:37:35] Aaron Merkin: future? You know, more fluidity, more collaboration and, and mutual understanding? I think, you know, what I've learned over years of business partnership in, in various areas, not just this area alone, is that, um, no, no two people are ever gonna be 100% aligned.

[00:37:51] Aaron Merkin: It's all about, um, you know, it's all Venn diagram and we have to focus on what our shared goals are and where we can work together to achieve that [00:38:00] goal. And I think, you know, in terms of. , Um, it's, it's all a vehicle, right? Going back to the car metaphor, um, Spark plug might be a tiny thing, but if you don't have the spark plug in the car, the entire car doesn't work.

[00:38:12] Aaron Merkin: When you pay for your vehicle, that's not the end of you investing in your vehicle. If you want it to run the right way, you need to, um, change your fluids. You, you know, you need to put the right gasoline in it. And so when crews come to a job site, look at the human being as a, as a resource and as an investment.

[00:38:29] Aaron Merkin: And if they don't, Coffee or the right breaks, um, or, you know, travel or hotel, you are actually devaluing, uh, your investment the way that you would devalue your vehicle if you didn't have regular inspections and, and tuneups. My hope for the future of the industry and something that we are definitely focused on at at groundwork is.

[00:38:49] Aaron Merkin: More of that humanization, uh, more diversity in the industry as well, you know, um, because of my personal background in New York City, just being a super diverse and integrated place, and [00:39:00] then my experience in the music industry being, uh, a big piece of the, um, social network that has allowed me to assemble a crew.

[00:39:08] Aaron Merkin: We have a lot of black and brown, um, people of color, diverse, um, socioeconomic backgrounds on our crew, and there are a lot of. Areas where we run into, you know, a, a historically white blue collar union, um, type crewing. And, um, then also the perception of a crew that may look different. That, um, we are working actively to change.

[00:39:31] Aaron Merkin: And, you know, we work with the parole office in New York City to provide employment for people coming home from jail. We. Our training have emotional skills as one of the main focuses, not just practical skills and all of these kind of like outcome oriented things, depersonalizing, um, helping people understand that code switching is actually, uh, not like, Fake or a, a sellout thing.

[00:39:57] Aaron Merkin: But it's a, an incredible resource in being able to [00:40:00] communicate in multiple cultural languages, to turn and deal with a client, and then to turn around and, and deal with, um, individuals from a different background and be able to treat everybody with respect. Um, you know, that's, that's our, our hope for the future and continuing to empower people for upward mobility from being.

[00:40:19] Aaron Merkin: Being labor, And I'm using that deliberately now because a lot of our crew enters with no skills and we focus on elevating them. We only hire internally for our leadership and even on our administrative side. Um, you know, the, the full-timers that we have on our crew now who are in lasso staffing, creating quotes are people who come from sitting on a forklift and having no skills, who then were given the opportunity, um, to learn.

[00:40:47] Aaron Merkin: And, you know, I'm a parent myself. A lot of times we use baby talk when we speak to children and we're robbing them of the opportunity to, to learn adult language because we're assuming a [00:41:00] limitation and imposing that limitation. And so we just, um, teach everybody everything we can. If they retain it, then that's great.

[00:41:07] Aaron Merkin: If they don't, then it's no energy wasted. And so, um, yeah. I agree with, with both of you totally. The humanization more, um, cross-cultural, cross uh, skill set conversations from account teams to people who are physically executing. That's my, um, hope for the future and something that we at groundwork are certainly, um, working for.

[00:41:30] Aaron Merkin: And I also wanna echo your statement about the value of this industry for people looking to find a trade or a profession because, you know, um, no one's going to be able to automate. Street from the execution standpoint, you know, tools like Lasso have made our lives much easier. They are, they are still supporting the allocation of human resources and there are not gonna be robots that can replace, you know, experiential [00:42:00] marketing or event production.

[00:42:01] Aaron Merkin: So this is definitely isn't going anywhere and it is such a, a roller coaster ride of emotions and requirements to be able to execute these events. The range of skill sets that you will pick up from, you know, whether it's, you know, how to use a drill or how to operate a forklift, or how to, you know, set up and, and calibrate a projector to how to manage a team and how to deal with a client.

[00:42:23] Aaron Merkin: And, um, how to manage your own emotions at two in the morning, in the rain, after a 15 hour shift.

[00:42:30] Angela Alea: I cannot thank you both enough just for your leadership, just for being good people. Um, seriously, you guys are both great. Your companies are great to work for. Um, our team loves working with each of your companies, but you all have such great perspectives and opinions and it's why I asked you both to be here cuz you've seen.

[00:42:52] Angela Alea: You're doing good things and you're doing good things in spite of sometimes bad circumstances. And you value the most [00:43:00] important thing in all of this, which is the people. That's why we say it all the time. Every event experience is only as good as the people who make it happen. It's not the gear, it's not the trucks, it's the people.

[00:43:10] Angela Alea: And so you get that and, and I love that our industry is really beginning to, to hone in on that. So I think that's fantastic. So thank you both. For joining today and for helping us unpack this, uh, for you companies out there be be kind to your suppliers. Be cognizant of the position you're putting them in, suppliers.

[00:43:31] Angela Alea: Be respectful of what you're being asked to do. Don't let that be lost on you. They trust you. Um, and I love Erin, that you said there's an accountability and a commitment. No one to say no. And I think that's really important. And Susan, you said that's one of the things you look for is the reliability and transparency.

[00:43:48] Angela Alea: And the more honest we are with each other, the more we can do together. And so thank you both for helping us unpack this topic. For those of you who like what you hear, don't forget to subscribe. If you have any questions, [00:44:00] comments, or feedback. Please reach out to us podcast@lasso.io and that is it for today.

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