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A Cohnversation with Steve Wildemann

Steve Wildemann: President, Advanced Staging Productions

Hi, Steve. Always great seeing you out at industry networking events! You have been doing this for a while now. How long has Advanced Staging been around? What got you started in the events industry?

Thanks, Jim. I know I can always count on seeing you at events and appreciate what you do for our industry here in the region. Believe or not, Advanced turned 34-years-old on July 1st and I have been here for 31 of those years, but actually got my start at a small mom-and-pop operation back in 1984 called American Video Company. I had a Communications degree and a recruiter asked me what I knew about AV. I joked “enough to be dangerous” and, one minimum wage offer later, the rest was history.

What “thoughts or interactions” do you take back to the office with you after attending industry networking events?

I always appreciate the relationships I have made over the years in the industry. Whether it’s folks I have known since the beginning - such as you and your cohorts - or people I have met recently, it reinforces the fact that relationships are what makes this world go ‘round. And it’s not about trying to get business all the time. The friendships I’ve made when I don’t expect a business relationship are the ones that end up being the most valuable in terms of introductions and referrals. It’s especially evident at events like the PHL CVB Luncheon, which becomes like “old home week,” where I meet people from all points in my career. And the unique part is that it extends to competitors, too.

Audio-visual production can really make - or really break - a conference or an event. What advice do you have to the novice planner who has been tasked the job of producing a company event for the first time?

I would say find a partner you can trust and let them guide you. If they don’t know someone they can trust, they can just ask you, Jim! Seriously, it is best to let a trusted partner give you the right advice and then follow it. You can tell if someone has your best interests in mind, and instead of trying to tell them what you want - because you are likely not an expert - be open and honest with your goals, your client’s goals and your budget, so that they can give you the best bang for your buck. If you are worried that they will overspend when you’ve already told them your budget, then they likely aren’t trustworthy and you should find someone else.

What are some new or improved AV technologies that you might recommend for planners who handle event and conference planning as a full-time position?

If you have been doing this for a long time and find yourself in a rut, I would say look to LED. I know it has been around for a while now, but some of the innovations and cost reductions recently have created new possibilities. Whether it is curved screens or odd shapes to bring your stage look alive, or flexible panels or LED tape for a variety of scenic looks, or even vertical signage for your public areas as sponsorship, agenda or wayfinding, the creative options are endless and the prices are making it more attainable.

What has been the most unique project with which Advanced Staging Productions has been involved?

I have two most memorable events; their level of uniqueness can be debated. One was the kickoff we did back in 2008 for the University of Pennsylvania Capital Campaign Kickoff. For us, at the time, it was unique in its size, scope and complexity. It entailed three large temporary structures… I hesitate to call them tents… that alternately provided a reception, a dinner and a dessert venue for 1,500 guests - including one with a clear top for viewing fireworks over the city skyline. It also took place when true HD video and widescreen were first being introduced, and we provided a variety of video display options that hadn’t really been done before. The other event was earlier in 2019 when we did one of the first events at the Gaylord Rockies Resort outside of Denver, Colorado. It included an LED tunnel into one of the ballrooms and a “Back to the Future” effect built from LED that mimicked the DeLorean returning from the future amid flames and smoke. It was certainly one of the more creative and memorable jobs we’ve ever done.

Speaking of the future, what do you see happening in the years ahead? And what do you wish would happen?

Boy, that’s hard to say. The easy answer is to cite the new technology - LED, super bright projectors, smaller and more powerful sound systems, any number of new moving lights - and to talk about what creative and cost-saving possibilities they will provide. The harder one is to see into the crystal ball and figure out what is going to happen with events in the next few years. Our indications are that companies are willing to spend more on the new technology and are interested in creating new and different types of events. That has been reflected in some of the different things we have done in the past year or two. Counting on that to continue in this topsy-turvy, election year environment is another thing all together. So, my wish is that everyone ignores the rhetoric, keeps their eyes on the ball (in terms of growing their businesses and doing what they need to do to keep engaging clients, employees, benefactors, etc.) and to keep producing amazing, effective events!

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