When Convene spoke with Tra Jones in December, he had to squeeze the interview in before a long day of calls with clients wanting to learn more about “Long Beach Live.” The collaboration between the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center (LBCEC) has transformed the center into a multi-camera broadcast facility. In his newly created role as director of creative initiatives, Jones oversees the space, acting as an executive producer for live and broadcasted events.
Jones started his new position this past October after serving as food and beverage operations director for LBCEC’s venue-management company ASM Global — but that familiarity with the center is only one factor that contributed to Long Beach CVB’s hiring decision, he said.
“One of the other reasons why I think they actually did choose me for this position is because, after I got furloughed in May, I started my own YouTube channel with my wife. We have a cooking show called “Seoul Food Kitchen” — my wife is Korean, so it’s a play on words. We don’t have a lot of followers, but we do it because it’s a lot of fun. We’re doing it with just an iPhone and two Canon [cameras]. It’s great, learning [how to produce for YouTube] and then being at Long Beach, seeing so many elements that we can bring to our cooking show.”
He’s brought some of those elements to life during his brief time in the new role at the center, overseeing such events as virtual happy hours, the Long Beach Virtual Economic Forum, and the Long Beach Virtual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Long Beach Live is “an answer to COVID-19,” Jones said, a way to continue holding meetings and events. “Hybrid meetings have been around for a while, but there’s just never been a huge response to it. When social distancing came into play, it really put a spotlight on it, where you have meeting planners who are now looking into resources to continue their conferences.”
The position was developed as part of a strategy to reopen the center — “they wanted a solution to try and get people back in here,” he said.
What makes Long Beach’s approach different? It goes beyond platforms. “The typical virtual meeting in any other world would be just an audio-visual team and a platform,” Jones said. “But the platforms right now, if you look at the market, it’s completely oversaturated. It’s like when the first smartphone came out, then everybody started making their own smartphone. … It’s very hard to be exclusive to any platform, just because everyone offers its own different elements. I feel like you have to be versatile in learning when new [platforms] come out, but there are so many to keep up with.”
Jones has found in speaking with clients that many “already have a platform they’re working with, like Zoom,” he said. “But it’s actually just about adding that production level to the Zoom call — that’s what we offer. Anyone can have an audiovisual team where they’re just recording and they’re just pushing out content, but we have professional producers, stagehands, and an audio-visual team that’ll make it look like a television broadcast.”
Thinking of an event as a television broadcast takes a different mindset, which is likely why Jones is fielding all those calls from planners. In this new environment, Jones said, “meeting planners should think of all possibilities. Definitely take the virtual and the hybrid experience and embrace it. Don’t be afraid of it. Ask around. Ask questions.”
Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.