Production Technicians Are a Key Part of the Product
Updated: Mar 21
We could pull down billions of dollars in sales a month and we could fill a warehouse with the latest and greatest gear to meet the demands of our sales. But our business is a production company and gear is not the end product our clients are paying for. They are paying for moments.
Gear by itself does not make moments. It does not transport itself, it does not set itself up and it does not build and trigger its own cues at an event. So what bridges the gap between the gear and the moment?
Production staff. Humans.
They have many titles. Some of them wear several hats all at once. You may hear terms like Technical Director, Lighting Tech, Stagehand, Audio Engineer, A2, LD, Switcher, Video Director, Production Manager, Stage Manager - just name a few. All of those individuals are running around long before the clients and patrons show up and long after they are gone.
Many accountants see them as overhead, as liabilities. I assure you they are not. At Interstate Sound we view them as necessary. They are more important to the uniqueness and quality of our brand than any piece of gear. They interpret the elements to make the moment memorable – good or bad. Sales staff generally have an easier time validating their value to a company. They can track their sales and the business they bring in – or lose – with invoices and spread sheets. But what about technicians?
How does one track their value or effect on a business? They are the last point of contact that our clients have before their event kicks off. In the end, they represent us, our quality and they ARE our product. It is often said in the entertainment industry, you are only as good as your last show. It does not matter how good our marketing material or portfolio are. Reputation and word of mouth will always trump. We recognize that a technician’s training and attitude can have a profound effect on a client’s willingness to come back and can affect future sales in ways that cannot be tracked on a spread sheet. It is very easy to forget that technicians are an important part of the sales process. Production company owners AND technicians alike often seem to lose sight of this.
Here are a few key factors that can affect a clients’ comfort on an event:
Training – We en-devour to make sure our technicians are comfortable with our gear. Since no one comes out of a pod knowing everything, it sometimes may mean giving them time either offsite or in our shop to go through the equipment. We also make sure they have someone they can call if they run into trouble or have a question. Nothing damages a client's confidence than when a tech says “I don’t know how to do that” or worse yet “It can’t do what you’re asking” when they’ve already been assured that the equipment can.
Knowledge – not only are we committed to our technicians being knowledgeable about our gear, we make sure that they are aware of the venue logistics, comfortable with the production flow and informed of the schedule of events. We believe that showing up with a truck full of gear and figuring it out as you go along presents a disorganized front that is both expensive in labor and reputation, and can give the impression that our company is ill prepared to face the challenges of the day.
Attitude –This can be a huge issue that can be difficult to get a handle on. While it can be very tempting to simply lay this at the feet of the individual technicians, there are several key factors that can affect a technician’s attitude that we as the employer can directly influence:
We build crews, not just teams
To clarify what I mean, teams are task oriented groups. Crews which can be built on teamwork, go beyond the task. Technicians as a group come with a broad spectrum of personalities and skill level. Building a good crew of people who can work cohesively all the time can be a monumental task but it is an important one. Job sites where crews are back biting and working independently rather than supporting and building each other up can leave an adverse impression on a client and any local help you may have.
I hate to say it but sometimes the customer is not right
It’s important for our technicians to know that we have their back, especially when it comes to health and safety. This is not just in regards to major issues such as rigging safety or enforcing fire or electrical code. The little battles can be meaningful as well, if chosen wisely. If we look at a schedule and it seems that there is no time allotted for the crew to take a break at all, we'll say something. It’s better for us to have those conversations in advance than for an angry, hungry technician to do it.
We communicate with our clients
When it comes to information flow, sometimes we have to be persistent. That may mean politely pestering them or setting deadlines for major decisions. Some account managers are more skillful than others at it and some clients are more responsive to it than others. However, our technicians appreciate it. Major last minutes changes can either add up to more time onsite or in the shop changing or prepping gear last minute. As much as technicians like making money on overtime they also like to see their loved ones from time to time and occasionally the inside of their eyelids.
Time to decompress
This is one that hard working crews struggle with. There’s a trap that many owners of production gear seem to fall into in that they start to view technicians like they view equipment sitting on a shop shelf. If they aren’t out working, they are just costing the company money. But consider this. Even gear gets the occasional down time for maintenance. Technicians need down time to decompress, too. They need days off during the week. They also need breaks during the gig itself. Meal breaks aren’t always just about food, it’s also walking away and taking a mental break as well. Running with a skeleton crew may look good on paper, but in the long run, we risk upping our churn or turnover rate. That feeds into our reputation and the quality of our end product - the client's show.
Technicians are only human
That being said, we make sure their basic needs are taken care of. Our site leads are aware of the conditions of the job site that can compromise basic safety. We always make sure there is water onsite and available, even if we have to run to the corner market to get it. In some states, reliable access to water is required by law. If it’s an outdoor job on a hot day, we make sure there is more than just water to replace the electrolytes lost during work. If our meal break falls in the middle of the night, we plan in advance to make sure our crew isn’t working into the nth hour without food or refreshment. If working in rain or snow, we set up some shelter for our crew to escape for a few minutes. As inconvenient as some of these things may seem, those gestures can go a long way in boosting morale and subsequently, efficiency.
We give our crew something to advocate
If the expectation is for our staff to represent and sell our company’s services, then we need give them something to advocate. If an employee feels that they are not being paid or treated fairly it will show. And no matter how well they may or may not try to hide it, if they feel their concerns over gear quality, maintenance or policies are not being considered, that will show as well. Most technicians take pride in their work. We can't expect them to fall on their sword for us if we have not addressed underlying maintenance or logistical issues as a result of internal policies. If we treat them with dignity and show we are working to provide them with the tools to succeed, we believe they will talk our company up because they believe in what we stand for.
We pay attention to our company culture
It is amazing how introducing one person into a group can affect the overall dynamic of a group. As someone pointed out to me recently, gear and skills will get you to the table. After that it’s all about the relationships. A lot of companies hire new employees on a three month probation period for a reason. A new hire may have all the skill sets our company needs but their personality may not fit within our existing company culture. It is not reasonable or fair to expect the new hire to contort themselves into the mold we or their coworkers may expect them to fit in. We've found that an otherwise happy individual may become increasingly hostile in such an environment and can be mentally toxic to the other employees and clients that are asked to work with them. Anytime we or a new hire feels they are being bullied in anyway, we address it immediately. If some basic boundaries cannot be agreed upon and reasonably enforced, there is no shame for either party in terminating the relationship – and the sooner the better. There is no sense in demanding a commitment from an employee who is unhappy and won’t represent our company in the best light. It’s okay to admit when there's been a hiring mistake.
Everyone is working for the next gig
Our techs are involved in the sales process. Cross training between departments helps build sensitivity and understanding of other employees’ process and needs. It can also have the added benefit of cutting down on job site bickering, promote camaraderie and it can encourage everyone to jump in and help when they might otherwise have stood by because they didn’t know what to do. Making sure that technicians understand that their behavior is something that everyone in the company has to wear.
Whether technicians come to through our doors as a rock stars or a diamonds in the rough, the burden is on us as their employer to make sure that they have the tools to succeed – so our business can succeed. Technicians that work for owners that see them as liabilities tend to become liabilities. Technicians that work for companies that are willing to make even the smallest investment in them tend to become assets to their employers. While there has long been a view in Western Culture that it is up to the individual to be accountable for their attitudes and their willingness to overcome negativity, you will find that most mental health professionals, career specialists and human resource departments these days acknowledge that external factors play a huge role in maintaining a positive attitude. When we starting to hear grumbling from our otherwise jovial crew, we have to consider how our own attitude might start to slip after we’ve worked for 31 days straight and still have two weeks of work to go, or how your temper might flare when you haven’t eaten in 12 hours. We take care of our technicians. We invest in them. In turn, we trust that our technicians will take care of us.