In the age of selfies and constant connectedness, it’s more important than ever to create events that are visually sumptuous.
No one knows that better than Jeremy Watson, vice president of relationship development at Walter Productions, an ultra-niche company that uses a fleet of fantastical vehicles to enliven events as big as Burning Man and Bonnaroo.
“Our primary objective is to take an audience on the adventure of a lifetime,” Watson says. “If we’re doing our job, people will want to put their phones away and be present in the moment.”
Walter Productions, which is based in Phoenix, also does corporate events, and Visit Phoenix turned to them in June when HelmsBriscoe brought its 2016 Annual Business Conference to downtown Phoenix. HelmsBriscoe is the highest-volume purchaser in the meetings and event industry, and Greater Phoenix is one of the top three destinations booked by HelmsBriscoe clients.
“HelmsBriscoe is one of our most-valued industry partners, and they had held their previous annual conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas,” says Lorne Edwards, director of sales at Visit Phoenix. “We didn’t want their opening-night event in Phoenix to just live up to their Vegas experience—we wanted to surpass it. Lucky for us, we have Walter Productions in our backyard.”
For HelmsBriscoe’s street party in downtown Phoenix, Walter Productions brought a few of its oversized “art cars”—a fire-breathing truck called “Heathen,” a retrofitted World War II communications trailer known as “Peace Train,” and a mobile DJ soundstage—to the CityScape entertainment complex in downtown Phoenix.
“The Walter Productions show and crew were not only the principal feature of our opening-night outdoor street party, they were the highlight of the evening,” says Peter Shelly, HelmsBriscoe Executive Vice President and 2016 Annual Business Conference Chair . “Their involvement in our offsite event resulted in attendee engagement that went above and beyond what we thought possible.”
Watson, who has witnessed the Walter Show boost engagement at events of all sizes, offers these four tips for elevating an offsite event into the realm of extraordinary:
1. Put the audience first.
It’s difficult and time consuming to pull off a special event, and planners can fall into the trap of thinking the whole process is about them. It’s not. The audience matters most, and it’s imperative to understand who that audience is and what it wants.
“The same principles apply in how we approach any event, be it Bonnaroo or a corporate event,” Watson says. “First, we consider the audience, and then we ask ourselves: What is the culture of the event? What’s the purpose of the event? Why will we be there? We always challenge ourselves to create the best possible experience for the attendees. It’s not about us—it’s about them.”
2. Trust creative people to be creative.
There’s nothing harder to let go of than a good idea. And the “good” part? Well, that’s subjective. If you entrust your event to a production company, communication is crucial, but suppress dictatorial impulses. Let the pros do their thing.
“Event producers want to depart from the norm—they want to make the event extraordinary within the parameters they are working within,” Watson says. “We get that. What we provide them is a turnkey and reliable solution. They don’t need to worry about the entertainment because it will be fabulous.”
Walter Productions’ fleet of oversized “art cars” includes Kalliope—a three-story mobile dance-party machine equipped with high-fidelity audio, lasers and flame effects. Jeremy Watson, the vice president of relationship development at Walters Productions, says installations as photogenic as Kalliope create authentic social-media engagement: “We don’t specifically build our shows around social media, but we know, if we do our job, the social becomes organic.”
CREDIT: Walter Productions
3. Think social—but don’t overthink social.
Social-savvy attendees can be a tough audience. If they sense you’re trying a little too hard to get them to take out their smart phones and snap a photo, they are liable to be turned off.
The trick is to inspire social engagement without overtly steering it. A rule of thumb: Don’t settle for something literal (a photo booth) when something fanciful (a fire-breathing truck) is an option.
“If people are having a good time, they’re going to want to capture moments and share them on social media—and that’s fantastic,” Watson says. “We don’t specifically build our shows around social media, but we know, if we do our job, the social becomes organic. It just happens.”
Visit Phoenix turned to Walter Production to help the organizers of HelmsBricose’s 2016 Annual Business Conference create an opening-night event that wowed the company’s sales associates. The resulting street party featured a fire-breathing truck, a retrofitted World War II communications trailer, and a mobile DJ soundstage.
CREDIT: Walter Productions
4. Utilize CVBs.
A destination’s convention and visitors bureau is an invaluable resource when it comes to connecting event planners to vendors that can introduce a locally distinct cultural or entertainment element to an offsite event. In Phoenix, such an element might be a charreada performance, a hoop-dancing exhibition … or a fleet of super-sized art cars.
“Together we have a pulse on the community,” Watson says of his company’s relationship with Visit Phoenix. “We’re not treated as a vendor but as a partner, with the shared understanding that we can create amazing events together. Visit Phoenix opens doors to completely unique opportunities for us, and in turn we meet new customers who otherwise wouldn’t have known we existed.”
A city’s CVB is an invaluable resource when it comes to connecting event planners to vendors that can imbue an offsite event with a locally distinct cultural or entertainment element. In Phoenix, such an element might be a Native American hoop-dancing exhibition.
CREDIT: Madison Kirkman
A city’s CVB is an invaluable resource when it comes to connecting event planners to vendors that can imbue an offsite event with a locally distinct cultural or entertainment element. In Phoenix, such an element might be a Mexican rodeo, or charreada.
CREDIT: Eric Lindberg