Feature: Shining a spotlight on comms
Feature: Shining a spotlight on comms
An often underappricated sector is getting new love from Creative Technology’s Middle East office, discovers Simon Luckhurst
What grabs the most attention is not always what makes the show. Pro AVL MEA regularly talks about how good audio can easily get drowned out in a person's consciousness when some flashy lights are placed in front of them as a distraction. And yet, if a speaker was to go down, expect to see lots of flustered techs darting frantically behind the stage. The loss of a cabinet would be tragic but, if the comms go down, the entire event is ruined.
Handheld radios aren't the sexiest tool in a production company's inventory, but they are one of the most valuable. The lack of visibility often makes these systems very underappreciated by potential clients, and this is something that greatly irks Creative Technology Middle East's integrated networks technical manager, Rob Turner. Event communications have been a passion of his since he first entered the industry. Having joined the Creative Technology team in mid-2019, Turner saw a clear opportunity to take the conversation about comms in a serious direction. This has led to the establishment of CTME's new communications and networking division.
"There were a lot of chats with Andy Reardon, who runs our Middle East office, over the summer," recalls Turner. "I put together ideas of how I wanted the department to flow, with specific detail to the products and brands we wanted to purchase."
Turner has amassed over a decade of comms experience from his time with the now PRG-owned Delta Sound. "This gave a me a great grounding of how I wanted to run things at CT and led me towards the choices I made,” he explains, “from the equipment to the type of individuals we wanted on the team."
A decade-long working relationship is no easy thing to replace either, and so Turner was thrilled when many of his ex-colleagues expressed their desire to join this new division. "There's four of us in total that have moved from Delta, but three solely handling communications. Sherin Dsouza will be focused on managing day-to-day operations for the communications solutions, everything from licensing to the chasing of smaller radio jobs, while Jentry Sierra, who I’ve worked closely with over the years, is familiar with all of the venues and known by all the staff and stage management teams. It's a big help if the show teams know and are familiar with the technical teams."
This is a serious shift away from the popular practice of bundling comms infrastructure up alongside the rest of the audio gear. Creative Technology is well-known for its speciality in the video world globally, but not many know it also offers full turnkey solutions. “This new division will help to further our growth,” says Turner. “Increasing our presence in communications is another example of a bolt-on service that we can supply.
"Up until now, we've had a minimal Clear-Com wired inventory and, like many companies do in this part of the world, everything would get rolled into the audio,” he adds. “It often gets specced out and then forgotten about until everyone gets to site. It does the job, but that's it. CT has an impressive inventory of world-class AV equipment and I wanted to be sure we were giving the comms side of things just as much love – to add that layer of professionalism that the company's reputation rightly deserves."
Turner's desire for CT to become the go-to company for comms and technical staff in the region has led to the team gradually augmenting its inventory with the addition of new two-way radios, event networks, signal distribution and more. The company now houses a variety of leading communication brands such as Riedel, Clear-Com, Luminex, GlenSound and Motorola. “We wanted to ensure we invested in the best technology available in the market, while also ensuring the equipment would work within the infrastructure of venues and event spaces around the MENA region,” explains Turner.
With a solid team of professionals manning the department and a fleet of new equipment, for Turner, half the battle has already been won. But how do you persuade a client that may not have an awareness of the complexity of the systems they are using, that they should care about them and perhaps invest more in the future?
"It’s a slow process,” he admits. “When the team go out for client meetings, I insist that one of us is present and that comms are considered right from the ground up. Often in this part of the world, it’s swept under the carpet until the last minute and then an ‘it will do’ system gets put in. This second-class mentality is in part why no one cares much about comms in the first place.”
This aspect is being placed front and centre in the messaging now. “CT has a great team of project managers who are all fully invested and can see the benefits this will add to our clients and the overall event. Certainly, with a number of production companies doing hire-in jobs, we’ve reached a point where they will submit individual RFPs just for comms – it’s slowly getting thought about more.”
Ironically, the recent shift to online and virtual events has only highlighted this importance. And as physical events start back up, the need to carefully manage people’s movements has now entered public consciousness. “The lessons learned from the past few months and social distancing are going to play a part in the next year or so of live events, and I think that's going to elevate everyone's thought and requirements for comms” concludes Turner. “Comms will no longer be a last-minute thought.”