Skip to main content

CN Forum Blitzes the AV question at Manchester Central

CN convened a roundtable hosted by Manchester Central and sponsored by Blitz, which tackled the question: ‘How venue selection can impact technical production/event technology and how venues can help event planners to embrace event tech’. A select band of organisers shared their insights and we reflect here on the first part of that discussion.

A CN poll recently put AV third only to location and price in the ranking of most important issues for eventprofs, ahead of catering and CSR. So how did our roundtable rate the importance of AV and production in their venue search process?

Sarah Payling, event director housing at Ocean Media, runs Europe’s largest housing conference and and says  that her exhibitors demand more Wi-Fi than ever and this influenced a move of the event to Manchester Central. “When it comes to AV and connectivity, we just expect it, to log on to free Wi-Fi. It is something that varies from venue to venue,” she says.

Therese Dolan, events senior manager for Diabetes UK brought her conference to Manchester Central in March and introduced an app for the first time. The attraction of an in-house team to help in the process was a big factor, she says. “We go with in-house suppliers because, as a charity, we don’t have our own team. We like the confidence in-house suppliers give us. Your AV is your entire conference. If it doesn’t work or speakers can’t be heard, that’s it. You have to have trust in a partnership with your venue.”

The main Diabetes UK conference rotates around the country and, Dolan says basic venue packages can vary tremendously.

“We have to make our limited budget work. It’s all about being able to talk to venues, and they have to understand their clients.” 

MCI sales & client and development manager, Charlee Gough, echoed the idea that the trend was towards partnerships. “We have an in-house production team but don’t carry equipment. Our association has bigger expectations now for what they get for their money, so a big factor in choosing a venue is what’s in the package. Value for money is more important that the location. We don’t use specific tools to venue source, it’s more about relationships with venues and destinations and finding the best fit for our clients.”

Graham Pope, group commercial director of event staging and AV provider Blitz, a GES company, is at the sharp end of production delivery at Manchester Central and says some clients need persuading of where effective priorities lie.

“One big financial institution spent more on their coffee stand than production. But AV is critical. Our business has changed dramatically. Partnership is exactly what is required today. The earlier we can get involved in the process, the more value we can add. There is the expectation to get more out of an event, and technology plays a big part in that.” Pope says his team now acts as technical lead to pull together a whole range of elements, “a significant change” in working practice, he says.

Jason Grant, director of Redactive Media Group, organises 30 events a year, including the 3,500-delegate Royal College of Midwives conference at Manchester Central. “Production is the unsung hero,” he says. “AV will not be mentioned on 100 feedback forms. But if it goes wrong everyone suddenly notices. When production goes well it’s simpily not on the delegate’s mind.”

So, when should clients look to involve their production partner in the event process? Grant says many are guilty of picking a venue before talking to the production partner. “That’s the wrong way round. I don’t come to Manchester to check out an event that is not one of mine, so I do rely on the likes of Blitz to tell me what is possible.”


Manchester Central CEO Shaun Hinds believes there is no real appreciation between good AV and excellent AV.

“We had a screen the full width of Central Hall here. It was equivalent to an HD experience from one side of the hall to another. If more budget holders valued the impact of such visual presentation, you could refocus priorities; lose a couple of canapés and get a better screen.”

Marketing director at Govnet, Saul Leese, urges clients to get creative types and marketing involved early when looking at venues and AV/production, “because you need to deliver experience”.

“At Media 10 we could spend up to £500,000 on the visual experience. You have to avoid disappointment from a visitor perspective at your events.” Leese shared experiences of producing events in China where huge attendee numbers and social media activity had to be anticipated to avoid connectivity problems.

Leese cautions that organisers need to be careful how they share data, although smart use of big data could only add to the success of events. “We can monitor show flow and know what people are doing on site and, therefore, where to push the flow of traffic,” he says.

A medical conference specialist PCO Jacinta Scannell, MD of Conference Collective, planned to bring a live feed from a dissection lab to her conference in Manchester. The challenge was to get the feed out of the university laboratory, rather than into Manchester Central because the university’s IT department was stretched.

“We should call our events shows rather than a conferences and bring West End ‘show’ quality production values into them, she argues.”

The EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2016 was a huge event for Manchester and Sarah Fitzpatrick, conference director at Conference Partners, worked closely with Blitz on its delivery. She stresses the paramount importance of understanding what you and your client want from a layman’s perspective. “We needed to explain to our client clearly the experience that the AV/production spend would deliver. A £150k spend on AV is a complete no-no. Associations simply don’t understand. They need you to paint a picture about the benefits.”

She also has some advice for venues: “It could be weeks before you get the production contact,” she adds. “They should be the first to talk to because we need to work together to sell the experience to the clients.”

“We want a consultative proposal for client with modules rather than take it or leave it approach.”


Fitzpatrick also gave an example of the challenge of linking the ESOF scientists into satellites, saying: “The scientists needed confidence the modern technology would work and I could only give them that assurance if I understood it.” Working with the venue team meant a considerable saving, but it was predicated on establishing that trust.

Hinds says that the whole question of technology in his venue chimes in well with the citywide strategy focused on specific sectors, that includes science and digital. “As a venue we have gravitated to those kinds of events,” he notes.

Technology, of course, is moving at pace. “What may have cost £30k and a dedicated connection last year could be done on an iPhone and a 3G connection this year! Nothing stands still,” says Hinds.