In this episode, Angela Alea talks with Eric Newkirk, President of EPN, about his 36 years in the live events industry. Eric shares how he got his...
Episode 46: Educating the Events Industry From the Inside Out Feat. Zack Grant
Zack Grant, CEO of SEAS Productions, joins us to share his insights on the immense value of events industry education for transforming businesses and elevating live events.
1️⃣ Understanding the Industry
The events industry is often misunderstood by those outside of it. Exploring intricate event details and challenges, emphasizing the need to educate and inform outsiders about the industry's inner workings.
2️⃣ Sharing Knowledge
SEAS Productions believes in the power of education. They host quarterly AV industry speaking events to share insights and demystify AV production. Additionally, SEAS is starting a podcast to further educate and guide event planners and industry newcomers.
3️⃣ Value Beyond Gear
AV production goes beyond just the equipment used. It's important to build partnerships with AV companies that provide value and assistance in creating exceptional events. By involving an AV partner early in the planning process, you can tap into their expertise and elevate the overall event experience.
Guest Information 🎙️
SEAS Backstage Podcast
Read the Transcript 📚
[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to Corralling the Chaos podcast, where we talk publicly about the things you're worried about privately. My name is Angela Alea, and I'm your host. This is the event industry podcast for companies and crew, where we're going to go deep and nothing is off limits.
[00:00:19] Angela Alea: Welcome back to another episode of Corralling the Chaos. Today we are going to talk about educating the industry from the inside out we often talk about here on this podcast about Nobody from outside of the industry really understands all that it takes To make these epic experiences happen.
[00:00:42] And so today we're going to kind of dive deeper into that from the inside out as we said and To help us do that, we have Zack Grant with us. He is the CEO of SEAS Productions, which is a San Diego based full service AV company. He has been in the industry [00:01:00] for over 20 years and started his career by pushing cases for his dad, who founded SEAS, and was an audio engineer for nearly 40 years.
[00:01:09] I just want to say that's a very common story that I always love to hear you kind of start that way and now look at you, you're running your own business, but Zack enjoys the fact that every day is full of new challenges. He likes an ever evolving puzzle that has to be continually solved and forces him to keep growing and evolving, which again.
[00:01:28] For all of you AV Production Company owners out there, probably sounds very familiar. So, welcome Zack to the show. Thanks for having you. I've known you for a few years now and it's been really fun to watch your organization grow and change and explore different areas, which we're going to talk about today.
[00:01:48] But first, tell us about SEAS Productions and your career. From warehouse to CEO there.
[00:01:55] Zack Grant: Yeah, so I started [00:02:00] like I said, pushing cases for my dad, like, through high school, skipping, basically the weekends where my friends were out partying and stuff, and I would go help him push the cases and set up sound systems and whatnot.
[00:02:12] I was basically his A2 systems guy for, a long time. Truthfully, I never thought it was going to be more than that. I was like in a band after high school. I moved to Texas and I thought I was going to do that, but things changed and went to school for business. And I saw an opportunity when I basically, I applied for this mentorship program within our college.
[00:02:36] And I, actually won. A few people were chosen out of the the, whole. Whatever, all the can't think of word, but all of the people that went to college. And so I was lucky enough to get chosen. And the premise of that was to basically take a something and apply like real time experience from a [00:03:00] mentor and what you're learning in college to like anything you want.
[00:03:03] And so I was like, all right, my, my dad's been doing this and he's an audio engineer, but he's not like a great business guy. So I'm going to take some of what I'm learning. And so that started to turn the business from more of like a just a sound company that was he's a great engineer, but I always felt like it was a little bit more of a hobby for him that he just really loved to do.
[00:03:28] And so I took that and, applied that, turning into a business. We had some success, started hiring people. I, worked my way from driving trucks and work in the warehouse to running operations and eventually replace myself enough times that then I was the one leading the company and setting out direction and implementing software and process and all those things, just continually take it to the next level.
[00:03:53] Angela Alea: I love it. I love it. So I want to talk a little bit about I [00:04:00] feel like you guys do things a little bit differently at SEAS as far as educating. Our industry, which I wish we did a better job of, not just for those in it, right? Like whether it's running from an op moving from an operator to business owner.
[00:04:17] I think Tom Stempson has coined the, phrase accidental entrepreneurs, which I think there's a lot of those in our industry. But talk to us a little bit about what SEAS is doing to educate our industry, because I feel like you guys are doing things a little bit differently. For example, I know you host a quarterly AV industry speaking event called SEAS Shop Talk, and then you're also starting a podcast to help demystify AV production.
[00:04:42] So how do you see some of these activities contributing to both the industry and to your business? Thank
[00:04:49] Zack Grant: Well, I mean, first off, we're not out there trying to be the biggest company, right? There's a lot of people that can fill that space, and that was never really our goal. From the start, we were always trying to do things a little bit different, be more [00:05:00] of kind of a boutique AV company and that kind of stuff.
[00:05:03] So the idea for starting the podcast and doing the shop talks and all these things really came from Stems from some of our clients kind of being afraid to go after a beat because it just seemed like this really difficult thing to comprehend for them. And I was like, man, like if, they knew a little bit more about what we do maybe they would be full, feel more comfortable selling right to their clients, right?
[00:05:31] Cause they better understand that. Cause I know for myself, I'm much more comfortable. So I'm, basically out there with that idea of going, Hey, I'm running this huge AV company. I mean, not huge, but I'm running this AV company and I can't even run the consoles that all of our techs use myself.
[00:05:53] So if I can do it, you guys can all do that. So yeah, through some of this education we started doing [00:06:00] kind of realized that I, enjoy that part of the business. And, just kind of doing that. And we're not like a company that's like we're really open. That's just kind of who I am. I'm really open person in general.
[00:06:14] So that's part of our culture to be open and share, if you will, our secret sauce with people. And especially now after COVID, there's so many new people in our industry, new event planners, and they're a lot of them just getting started. So we want to be a resource for them to learn more about what we do and.
[00:06:35] And also be more educate them that like AV is a lot more than just the gear, right? There's value beyond that, right? We're, a company that does all kinds of events, hundreds of years, or sorry, hundreds hundreds per year of all different kinds of things. And so we've seen a lot of the things that work really well, the things that don't, so we can go to some of these meetings and, [00:07:00] Way before maybe typically you would, or they would think they would involve an AB partner and help guide them to maybe a better resolution than they would come up with on their own. Right. And, not everybody realizes that there is that value in the partnership with an AB company. And so I guess I would say to, to the people out there who maybe aren't getting that value maybe.
[00:07:21] Maybe, it's time to look for a company too that is giving you that value to help make your events as good as they can be.
[00:07:29] Angela Alea: Yeah, you shouldn't have to dig, to your point, right? You shouldn't have to dig for what the value is, right? If you're working with somebody where you're constantly having to dig and ask questions to kind of get to the meat of it versus somebody who knows who they are, what they want to be, right, and can articulate that in the right way, I think that's really important.
[00:07:46] And then you said something really interesting. That, when I joined the industry, it was probably 10 years ago when I joined it directly. And I felt like things were very different then. I felt like [00:08:00] everyone was skeptical of everybody. There's still some skepticism, for sure that would be my wish that would go away because I think our industry is full of that.
[00:08:08] But I feel like that, that has shifted, and you're talking about being an open person, right? And teaching, and educating, and sharing, and I felt like in the past everyone was like no, It's my secret sauce. I'm not sharing or telling anybody anything. And so I feel like that's changed a little bit.
[00:08:24] Do you?
[00:08:25] Zack Grant: A little bit, for sure. When we're working with people, there has to be like a high degree of trust between client and the AV company, right? Because they're trusting us basically with their baby, right? They're, trying to host an event for maybe thousands of people and they're trying to get a message across to those people.
[00:08:44] So if the AV falls short it ends up being distracting from that message. So trust is major in, in what we do for sure. And yeah, I mean, that's, that is, like I said I've been like probably [00:09:00] too open at times, but it's just part of who we are as a company. And I, much prefer to be that way.
[00:09:05] Yeah, it is. Yeah, I'm confident. I mean, intentional or not yeah, trust is, a huge piece of what we do.
[00:09:14] Angela Alea: Absolutely. Well, what's your biggest frustration?
[00:09:23] Zack Grant: In general, pretty happy with most things I do really enjoy the day to day challenges if you will cause every day is different.
[00:09:33] I'm, definitely not the kind of person that likes to sit in front of the computer and just do the same thing every single day. So I do enjoy that. Some might view that as a something that they don't like. But for me, I feel like I do get sometimes frustrated with, you AV being viewed, sorry.
[00:09:53] Being viewed as just a commodity. And a lot of times you can see that through [00:10:00] things like the, R F P process where, you know, and this isn't everybody, but a lot RFPs, a lot of 'em will come through and say, okay, send us all of every piece of gear line item. We want to see your labor rate sheet.
[00:10:12] We wanna see every, little piece right. For me, it's like, I feel like that conversation for one should be more like you're hiring an employee, right? You got to build that relationships. I want to know Well, I guess what I'm trying to say is through that RFP process It's hard to convey the intangibles and the other value things like, experience creativity trust Authenticity like I can't put that on a piece of paper when you're just looking at a list of gear
[00:10:40] Angela Alea: And do you think our industry has done that to itself?
[00:10:43] Like, why do people view it as a commodity?
[00:10:46] Zack Grant: Well, I think it comes from 40 years of doing things the same way, right?
[00:10:51] Angela Alea: And sell, yeah, and maybe like selling it as a commodity, right? It is. I think our industry's gotten a lot better over the last few years, to your point, right? Selling the creativity, [00:11:00] the people, the reliability, the confidence versus selling
[00:11:04] Zack Grant: here.
[00:11:05] It is definitely getting better for sure. Even still, there's only a few like for instance, like you guys are in software, there's only a few like AV quoting softwares, which essentially all look kind of the same. So it's hard to kind of like spill that creativity into that and convey all those things.
[00:11:26] So, in general, yeah, it is getting better but, yeah, it comes down to trust and it's a relationship between client, and partner and, so. Yeah,
[00:11:39] Angela Alea: and how, and it's, the companies who can master telling their story, right? It's not selling their gear. Right. It's telling a story, because that's what these events are anyway, right?
[00:11:53] Right. It's, telling a story to your audience, getting them to... Feel emotion. So if you can do that through the sales process, that's very [00:12:00] different. Then here's a 10 page document of all the line items. I'm not sure that really evokes emotion. It's yeah, you're going to be spread. You didn't compare it apples to apples.
[00:12:07] So I think that nuance is people who know how to tell a good story. Yeah. And that, and you're being hired, tell a good
[00:12:13] Zack Grant: story. Right. And that's, a good point. Like again, the RP is where you're looking at those lists of gear. Like that is what it's attempting to do is make everything apples to apples, but like a full service company.
[00:12:24] That is maybe specializing in corporate work might be completely different than a different one. And so it's not really capturing the value. I mean, we all know that like those bids are not ever apples to apples they never are. And how do I say this, labor rate, though, it maybe is a little bit higher.
[00:12:40] You're going to get superstar guy versus this person from another company who maybe their mindset is a little bit different. So, yeah,
[00:12:48] Angela Alea: that's right. Yeah, definitely a challenge. I don't think our industry is quite solved yet. But I think. They're trying and they're starting to and I think that's going to allow for higher bill [00:13:00] rates better margins Better outcomes when you can sell your story that matches the price point that you're charging Oh, yeah, I think we're on our way.
[00:13:10] Well, a lot of people throw around the word experience so I want to talk about that word specifically because I know your company in particular is Has invested in headcount around that word experience and content with your podcast being centered around that theme of experiences and what does that mean?
[00:13:29] But what does that word mean to you? And how do you think your clients have felt the benefit of, your focus on experience?
[00:13:40] Zack Grant: So I think that for a long time there's been a tendency to kind of just do the same thing over and over, right? If it's not broke, don't fix it. And sometimes we fall short of going back after an event and looking at, okay, what really worked well and what didn't did we [00:14:00] accomplish what we set out as an event to accomplish or not?
[00:14:03] And how do we improve? So when we're partnering with a client we're, trying to get in at the ground level and be like, okay, what is the point of this event? Right? Like what's the message? Who's going to be there? What are we trying to say? And so we tried to design. A full system not just gear that is going to basically convey that message and create an immersive experience where people, when they when they walk in, they're not thinking about anything else.
[00:14:31] Their focus is on that message and they're not being distracted by technical issues, right? Because we all know we've sat in, events where all of a sudden the mic cuts out or video goes out or something like that. Right. Which detracts. We're very focused on building an experience.
[00:14:52] Starting with creative design and all this stuff, just something that is going to really like I said, immerse the [00:15:00] attendees, not distract from the message you're trying to get and really serve the purpose and the intention that people are setting out to accomplish in the first place.
[00:15:11] Angela Alea: that North Star is the experience, not the price point, not the how, it's the outcome, it's the experience, right? Right
[00:15:18] Zack Grant: That's, what a full service AV company should be delivering. Like if you're a corporate producer and you know what you need, it's fine. There's a ton of great gear houses out there that you can get gear from.
[00:15:28] But if, you are not, if you don't know exactly what you need there's, great companies out there that offer full service that can deliver exactly that. Yeah.
[00:15:40] Angela Alea: Exactly. Well, I want to go back to the RFP process for a minute. So when we were prepping for this episode, you brought this up and, said you felt like that's something that maybe needs to be re evaluated is the RFP process.
[00:15:55] So how do you think that process needs to change? [00:16:00]
[00:16:01] Zack Grant: Yeah. So it's not to say that every RFP functions this way, right? There are some that are better than others,
[00:16:06] Angela Alea: but I bet there's a lot of,
[00:16:12] Zack Grant: I mean, again, a lot of them, I feel like the point of the RFP is to try to, make all bids, apples to apples, level the playing field. And, especially when you're working on like government or university con contracts. It's, almost impossible to convey all of those things. Like I said, that don't show up as a piece of gear or a person.
[00:16:31] And, often they just go with whoever is the lowest bidder. Right. And and that, that's just kind of, I feel like a losing strategy. So to me, I suppose if I'm on the other end of this, would be more like I'm hiring an employee, right? I want to get to know them. Take them to lunch and find out if like do we jive, right?
[00:16:53] Is this going to be a good working relationship? And, to me Gary, yeah, of course, like we're going to be [00:17:00] conscious of budget and all that stuff. And but when it gets into line item stuff, again, we're going back to trust. Like if you're hiring me to do the job from the beginning, like, do you.
[00:17:10] You should trust that I'm going to put the gear that I need and the people I need on that thing. And we can have a discussion about budget as a whole, that's fine. I'm happy to do that. But sometimes it can be frustrating when it's like, Oh we, don't need this one little thing here and this little thing here.
[00:17:25] And it's like, just let's just talk about it as a whole. What are we, where are we trying to get to? What do we want to accomplish here? And yeah.
[00:17:34] Angela Alea: So is that a sales function? Like, do you think like, like typically great salespeople don't allow themselves To be put in a box, right? They're going to not push back.
[00:17:49] That's the wrong word, but they're going to challenge and say, well, great. The RFP, sure. I'll fill that out, but can we have a different conversation first? Right. So I feel like the best salespeople are the ones that do that, [00:18:00] but also the companies as a whole, right? I feel like so many times the RFP comes and we just.
[00:18:05] They just kind of fill it out and send it back. So like, how do we, as an industry, make that happen to change the conversation to where it's not just you're going to be dropped into a spreadsheet and comparing columns, if you will. So how do we, as an industry, educate the end client so we're not constantly put in that corner?
[00:18:22] Zack Grant: Well I, think like you said, it's kind of starting to happen. I think for me, the big realization happened in the beginning of COVID when we had everything cancel. And we realized, oh, all of our proposals are just like gear and labor. And we weren't even charging like pre production or any of this stuff.
[00:18:39] We realized, oh, this cancels. And all of the tens or hundreds of hours worked on these events, like we're not going to get paid anything for this, right? Yeah. And, what's the difference between my gear versus somebody else's gear? Everybody has gear, right? Maybe not the same gear, but everybody has gear and you can get it anywhere.
[00:18:55] So like, what is the true value of my company versus somebody else? [00:19:00] That was just, I feel like the wake up call that we had to, as a company, start doing a better job of like conveying that value and, being more of a partner to clients and, just making them aware that there's so much more that could be gained from, The relationship and working together, then well, send me what lights do you have?
[00:19:27] How many of those lights do you want? And how many speakers? And what size screen is just like, yeah, I mean. Yeah, that's
[00:19:33] Angela Alea: secondary. You met at that point. You might as well just send 'em your entire rate card. Here's the list of everything we have. Here's the price. You put it together and Right.
[00:19:39] Like otherwise it takes why, bother? Right? Yeah. There's, just put your catalog
[00:19:42] Zack Grant: online and be done. There's plenty of companies that'll do that and, that have way bigger inventories than we do. But that's, yeah, that's not what we do, so, yeah.
[00:19:51] Angela Alea: No, I love that. I think that's yeah. I mean, my takeaway from that is Selling the experience, talked about selling [00:20:00] value, talked about being a good storyteller, right?
[00:20:02] So I think there's a number of things, just minor shifts, right? Rather than just being reactive and RFP came in, fill it out, send it back. Like, let's pause for a minute. Does this warrant a conversation? Because I feel like if I'm a company, I'm putting that out. I'm going to appreciate somebody who's going to make me think about something differently than I'm thinking about it now, right?
[00:20:22] Anybody that gets me to think about something. They have my attention versus just responding to exactly what I'm, asking for. So I think that's definitely an opportunity that our industry has to just make your client think about it. Challenge them in the
[00:20:36] Zack Grant: right way. Yeah. Yeah. And, also one of the things we strive to do is like we try and make our, client's life easy because usually they've got AV to worry about, food, hotels, travel, the program guest speakers and all this stuff. And it's like, if they're worrying about how many speakers and is this the right format of this? And like, what about the [00:21:00] loading times? And do I have enough, like, it's just, it's distracting from the things that they should be focused on.
[00:21:05] So, so our goal really as a company is to make our clients life as easy as possible by partnering with them and taking as much of a load off as possible. Yep,
[00:21:16] Angela Alea: that's the name of the game. Well, one final question that we like to ask every guest at the end is what do you hope for our
[00:21:24] Zack Grant: industry?
[00:21:26] Yeah, so it's funny I was listening to your podcast, another episode you did with a buddy of mine, J Ocana, over at Reaction AV. And yeah and, so you guys were talking about, Recognition of the people in this industry. And I, think that is the top takeaway. I mean, if anything, COVID taught us that we are still like invisible, right.
[00:21:51] Despite the fact that our industry is like a trillion dollar industry, which people still don't know we exist. [00:22:00] And so it's so weird. People don't realize. All the movies that they watch in theaters, the events they go to, concerts, corporate, sports Superbowl. People don't realize all of the people behind the scenes there and especially something like the Superbowl I mean, they have a commercial break to stage it from a football stadium into for like the biggest act in the world, it's incredible.
[00:22:27] The amount of the work that goes into that. So I think we have to do a better job of, having a voice. And Michael Strickland did a lot to try and change that through COVID but, even his best attempt wasn't enough. So I feel like we all need to come together and stand up and have some representation.
[00:22:51] More than we have right now, because I can't think of any other trillion dollar industry that goes unnoticed like we do you hear [00:23:00] about all the airline bailouts and the bank bailouts and all this stuff, but there's, nothing those of us that were lucky enough to get EIDL loans are paying them back with interest there's no bailouts for us.
[00:23:12] Angela Alea: yeah, we're going to we're, going to do something with that topic. I don't know what yet, but it is. It's such an important topic that has really negative consequences for our industry and I think it's an opportunity where it can have such positive consequences if it's played right.
[00:23:33] We had an organization, for those of you that don't know, called the Live Events Coalition on our podcast. I highly recommend checking them out. They, work tirelessly for our industry. They have lobbyists. They are trying to. And I think the more we come together and kind of shine a spotlight on all these people, like I was even sitting in a movie [00:24:00] this last weekend and my family asked me to sit through the credits. So I did, which I normally don't do that, but I did and it was fascinating. I mean it's, even the person who's in charge of catering like there's so much It's not just the stars of the show, right?
[00:24:17] That's not who makes it happen. There's this whole other team and travel, like you said, and all these things that happen that the movies, kudos for them, at least they, even though it's at the end, and again, I'm guilty. Most people are never going to see who did the catering. I happened to see it that day, but, right, but at least there's something there.
[00:24:34] And in our industry there's, nothing. So how do we shine a spotlight on number one, just educating them on everything that goes into it. I've said this before and I'm going to keep saying it until someone does it. I would love for somebody to do a documentary on our industry because I think it would be fascinating because everyone in the world consumes.
[00:24:56] Entertainment and events again, whether it's a TV show, [00:25:00] movie, sporting event, concert, festival, all the things you just mentioned, right? We all know what that is, but until somebody really educates on all the things that go into that, we're always going to take it for granted. And so I don't know. I think there's a huge opportunity to.
[00:25:15] For as an industry, we want the spotlight shine, and I think we've got to figure out what, exactly does that look like?
[00:25:21] Zack Grant: Yeah, I mean, well, I don't know the exact formula for it, but, I mean, doing things like what you guys are doing right now with this podcast and, what we're trying to do with ours, I mean, it's just, it's about putting the message out there as much as you can, right?
[00:25:34] Being that voice and not waiting around for somebody else to do it, so, I mean, that is what it is. Well, I
[00:25:42] Angela Alea: think there's a lot that we can all kind of take from this episode. I know we talked about... The RFP process and the opportunity companies have to not just be responsive and just respond and react, but instead be proactive and really engage your client on a different level so you're not kind of stuck in the corner.
[00:25:59] We [00:26:00] also talked about the importance of the word experience. And what that means in that you're not just executing, the outcome is to create an experience for your client, an experience for the attendees. And I know Zack, you all have a podcast that you are launching where you talk about those things and so much more, really anything and everything.
[00:26:21] Event industry related and the name of that podcast is called Seize Backstage and it's launching on September 7th. Correct me if I'm wrong. You're doing it the first and third Thursday of every month. Is that right? That's the idea. Awesome. And then for those of you that enjoy podcasts, I would highly recommend it.
[00:26:45] I know Zack and his team very well. They do great things, great content. Definitely some of the thought leaders that are out there. So I think you will enjoy that. You can find that at their website, which is seaspro.com, as well as [00:27:00] their social handles. So I would encourage you mark the date, September 7th, that's a Thursday, where they're going to drop their first episode.
[00:27:06] So congrats on that. I know that's no small feat and I will look forward to listening in on that. Yeah, thank you.
[00:27:11] Zack Grant: We're we're really excited.
[00:27:14] Angela Alea: That's awesome. Well, thanks everybody for tuning in. If you like what you hear, don't forget to hit subscribe. And if you have any questions, comments, or feedback, reach out to us at email@example.com.