PRG’s Customer Relationships And Product Innovation Continue To Drive Live Event Market
PRG’s ability to cater for the most prominent artists of the moment through to up-and-coming acts isn’t just down to its extensive resources, global locations or cutting edge technology. It’s also a result of its small experienced specialist teams focusing on each individual market.
TPi’s Zoe Mutter visited the company’s UK headquarters in Birmingham to receive a guided tour from CEO, UK Operations, Martin Locket, the concert touring team’s Yvonne Donnelly Smith, Scottie Sanderson, Roy Hunt and PRG Nocturne’s Stefaan Michels.
“What makes PRG really stand out is that the founders and many key figures in the global senior management have come from our industry,” explained CEO of PRG UK, Martin Locket, as we sat in the boardroom at PRG’s UK headquarters in Longbridge, Birmingham. “It may be a large organisation, but it’s not purely run by financiers. We’re show people running a company rather than business people happening to be running a technology supplier.”
To allow TPi to gain an insight into all areas of the business, we were joined by the concert touring team, including Head of Concert Touring, Yvonne Donnelly Smith, Senior Account Manager, Scottie Sanderson, Account Manager, Roy Hunt, and Stefaan Michels from PRG Nocturne. As the team pointed out, all members of the company have a wealth of industry experience. Stefaan Michels has developed a wealth of knowledge over the decades he has spent working for Nocturne while Donnelly Smith honed her skills after being trained as an Account Manager by industry expert, Mickey Curbishley.
Sanderson has worked in various roles, from Crew Chief to Production Manager during his 20 year career. Hunt, who has recently taken on the role of Account Manager at the company, has also enjoyed a varied career, which has seen him progress through the ranks as Crew Chief and Stage Manager on a large number of productions, ultimately as a Project Manager with PRG. He enthused: “Concert touring is an amazing job and it changes your attitude to life. When the position of Project Manager at PRG came up I had to take it because working in a company like this is a fantastic experience. The move into account management earlier this year is now a great progression for me.”
BUILT FROM EXPERIENCE
PRG has evolved into a major player in the industry due to the experience of each and every member of the team, from the Account Managers through to the Chief Executives. Prior to founding PRG in 1982, New York based Jeremiah ‘Jere’ Harris gained valuable skills in the early days of his career as a carpenter on Broadway before working within the scenic automation industry. In the late ‘90s the business he set up grew rapidly in North America through acquisitions to become a formidable force in the market, particularly in theatre and concert touring lighting supply.
“The story here in the UK also started in the late ‘90s with the acquisition of LSD [Light and Sound Design], followed by Midnight Design and The Spot Co.” said Locket. “LSD was a long established business predominantly focused on concert touring and was the first foothold for PRG in the UK and also Europe. The next big step from a UK point of view came in 2005 with the acquisition of Philips Vari-Lite Production Services, adding extra weight to the concert touring, TV and theatre side.”
Following the acquisition of LSD, one of the company’s directors, Mickey Curbishley, was promoted to Director of Sales for the Concert Touring division. Now working out of PRG’s offices in London and Los Angeles, he has progressed to his current position of President, Concert Touring, a role that Donnelly Smith believes is crucial to the business. “Mickey grew up in the industry and that is part of the reason we became so well known in the concert touring market,” explained Donnelly Smith, who - along with her UK colleagues - supports many international artists within Curbishley’s global concert touring team.
The business developed further when Essential Lighting - a company primarily servicing the corporate and events market that was co-founded and run by Locket - joined PRG in 2008. “This was the missing piece of the jigsaw and PRG then had a foothold in each market sector,” he added. “Shortly after, rigging business Summit Steel joined the group, bolstering the rigging offering. Today our company operates equally across the four markets - concert touring, TV, corporate events and theatre, providing lighting, rigging and video. To bring the strengths of these brands together, a couple of years ago we decided to drop the different names we operated under and call the whole business Production Resource Group.”
A SUCCESSFUL STRUCTURE
PRG’s strength is a direct result of the team of specialists behind it. In order to maximise the appeal to existing and potential future employees it is based across four locations in the UK, enabling the 200 full-time members of staff currently employed in the UK to be located at any one of the offices.
“If we were just at one location it would limit the top talent available to be part of our teams,” added Locket. “We believe it is important to have a strong presence in London and the South East so although our Longbridge location is the heart of the business and the main operating centre, we’ve recently taken on a new office in central London, right in the heart of Covent Garden, to predominantly act as a space for clients and our customer facing teams.”
These offices are supported by a further base in Maidstone, Kent, and a South West London operation in East Molesey, featuring a warehouse and equipment to support local jobs. The East Molesey location also boasts a WYSIWYG Studio and pre-programming space, which has been used by productions including the Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies through to smaller shows out on the club circuit. Continued Locket: “The pre-production space has developed over the past four years as various entities have joined the group and introduced something additional to the overall offering.
“Choosing Longbridge as the UK headquarters was a no-brainer for PRG, due to its central location and spacious warehouse, enabling the preparation and pre-building of tours. It’s a superb 17-acre site with 165,000 sq ft of warehouse and prep space and we’re very proud of this,” Locket confirmed.
A SEAMLESS INTERNATIONAL TEAM
Throughout the company’s history, the close working relationship between PRG’s global offices - spread across North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia - has been key in its continuing success. “For example, I’m working on Nicki Minaj’s tour at the moment and rehearsals started in the US but the tour is in the UK and Australia,” explained Donnelly Smith. “So the team in America duplicate the information for the show over there and send it back to the UK office. When the production team arrive in the UK, it’s an absolute copy of the original show design. This is when the global side of our business works well because this effective communication ensures we’re all on the same page wherever we are in the world.”
In addition to the close communication between staff members, PRG has great pride in the relationships that have been built with clients. “This is a personable business and you work with so many members of production teams, from the Production Manager through to the LD. You spend a lot of time on the phone so it’s important they like you, what you deliver and the company,” continued Donnelly Smith. “Many clients become friends and it’s about maintaining that communication and becoming a part of the team they build out on the road.”
KEEPING UP WITH THE TIMES
While some companies may have struggled when the industry faced tough times, the team at PRG believes it thrived due to its diversity and ability to cope as individual markets ebb and flow on a cyclical basis. “Theatre tends to work in phases and in the corporate market, spending can be affected by the feeling of economic well-being. Our diversity and ability to work across multiple markets has provided a resilience to those cyclical trends,” explained Locket.
As a technology supplier, keeping up with the times is vital too. This has become increasingly important with the development of video technology and advances in the fields of lighting and automation. “We need to make sure we have the technology people want to hire,” continued Locket. “Our strategy is to combine the different services we offer where appropriate rather than be a one-stop shop, a term we loathe. If the client needs to take lighting, rigging and video because they are closely integrated in the design then that is a combination of services we can offer for better value for money. We’re equally at home if a client wants us to just look at the lighting for example. It’s important to be able to offer our technical disciplines as a combination but we don’t sell ourselves as an entire production service.”
One development that helped PRG enhance its service for clients in a variety of markets was the acquisition of Nocturne last year, adding a video element to the business.
“When PRG Nocturne joined the group they brought their wealth of knowledge, products and staff such as Stefaan Michels [Account Director of PRG Nocturne]. Now we can bring a specialist into the conversation and get an overall solution that works for the production in terms of cost effectiveness and loading in and out quickly. PRG Nocturne are always bringing new ideas to the table, such as in terms of the packaging, and we are taking those on board too,” said Sanderson.
PRG Nocturne was founded in 1982 by Herbie Herbert, former Manager of rock band, Journey. Herbert pioneered and was the first to use video screens for image magnification in stadiums and arenas. “The goal was to ensure everyone had the opportunity to see the show from the first 10 rows no matter where they were seated,” explained Michels. “Over the years Nocturne grew to be a big player in the market and we even developed our own LED screens, especially designed for concert touring.”
So who are the main players at PRG Nocturne? “There are of course many important people, but if I was to name just five, then in the US there is Bob Brigham, President, and Todd Lepere as his right hand man. Here in the UK there is myself as Account Director and recently I was joined by Mark O’Herlihy as Head of LED Operations. We both know the ins and outs of the industry and what a production expects.
“Last but definitely not least, in the US we also have Ron Proesel who designs and develops our LED screens. He constantly re-thinks and implements improvements to our existing LED stock to keep the high standards everybody is used to. He is also happy to custom design if requested for certain shows.”
PRG’s commitment to product innovation and combining services to deliver multiple disciplines in a coordinated way has created many opportunities for companies that have joined them. “Video is an integral part to that multidiscipline approach, both globally and in the UK, particularly as video, LED and lighting have become more integrated over the past few years,” said Michels.
According to the Account Director, Nocturne joining PRG allowed both entities to offer an enhanced service to the industry: “PRG Nocturne is still very much the high standard video company everybody knows it to be, with the same quality equipment and great staff productions the artists are used to. The difference now is that because we are part of a much larger company, we have the support and infrastructure to offer our services to existing and new clients worldwide.”
Operationally, PRG Nocturne US is still based at its original location at Dekalb, Illinois, which acts as a video warehouse. The UK office was launched at the beginning of the year and immediately became part of the overall PRG UK operation. “When we started we could instantly use the existing infrastructure and knowledge. There was no need to start from scratch or to look for warehouse space or staff. We had at our disposal a Service Department, Operations and Project Management team and we got tremendous support and help from everybody at PRG UK,” said Michels. “Of course, being part of such a versatile company also allows us to work together in other markets PRG is very active in such as corporate, TV and theatre.”
PRG aims to maintain a balance between its own proprietary products and the most innovative products developed by mainstream manufacturers. “We need to match what’s on the market with some twists that are only available to our clients,” said Locket. “Customers that choose PRG benefit from a product with high quality optics, superior movement and enhanced features.”
Based at the company’s Dallas office, a team of optical scientists and electronics engineers - headed by Chief Technology Officer, Ian Clarke, focus solely on R&D based activities to evolve proprietary products for the live sector and also for the film and TV studio markets. However, proprietary products from PRG are not just the preserve of large stadium shows, and the company is finding an increase in the use of them as a floor package on shows across the board. Continued Locket: “On the proprietary product side there are two current fixtures - the Bad Boy and the Best Boy and then our V676 and V476 lighting consoles. We also have our MBOX Extreme media server, which has great capabilities particularly appropriate when we supply a combination of video and lighting.”
Added Sanderson: “The other advantage of proprietary products is if we want something changed then we have access to the team that can do it overnight and have an updated product in the morning, which couldn’t happen with a third party.”
THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
PRG’s festival projects have developed with the industry. The company used to work on a small number of festival events such as Monsters of Rock in Donnington, but over the past 15 years the festival circuit has become busier and a more complicated form of production. “Back then you could create a design all acts would be happy with, but now everyone brings their own video set and lighting rigs,” said Donnelly Smith, who predominantly works on large events and festivals.
“A lot of the acts performing on festival stages are PRG acts anyway so we have input into what they want. Production Managers like using us because we’re knowledgeable of the artist’s production and know the challenges of a festival. We can therefore handle massive changeovers and the pre-programming too.”
Processing a festival is carried out in a similar way to a concert touring job at PRG, with the packaging of both being incredibly important. The company has also welcomed the challenge as festivals have consistently grown in size and pushed the technical boundaries. “This year was also more of a challenge due to the weather - I’ve been working on festivals for 10 years and never seen anything like it. We do a lot of prep work in-house for each event though, and I’ve already developed pre-production for two of my festivals next year,” added Donnelly-Smith.
GROWING WITH THE COMPANY
Although PRG has supplied equipment for some of the major players, it has also worked with new acts, continuing to support them as they’ve grown to become international success stories. Sanderson, who specialises in account managing new and emerging talent, elaborated: “A lot of people we work with start with a trailer on a van and there is a real sense of pride when what were the smaller acts such as Florence + The Machine, Gotye and The xx stick with you and become a significant player. We try to specifically target emerging talent, not just the artists, but the younger designers, Production Managers, crew and those with less experience.”
Donnelly Smith added: “The previously smaller acts that are now international artists can use PRG in a global sense because we have people on both sides of the pond looking after them. Roy and Scottie can help younger clients doing a European theatre run that have never been out in the clubs and tell them what the venue limitations are. They’ve put so many rigs in that they can guide and assist. From those small shows to the big arenas, there is somebody in the PRG team who has done it and knows how to help.”
THE TALENT OF TOMORROW
This enthusiasm to develop talent extends to the institutions PRG has aligned itself with locally and nationally, with the team investing time to develop skills in the industry. Over the past four years Locket has supported emerging talent and built strong educational links.
He explained: “We actively support four courses including two BTEC courses - one at The BRIT School and one at the Birmingham Ormiston Academy. We also support two BA Degree courses - at the Central School of Speech and Drama and Rose Bruford College.
“It’s more than getting passively involved - we are very hands-on and I spend a lot of time with students speaking about the industry, the opportunities and the technology. It’s also about identifying students with a relevant interest in what we do as a rental company. We want the professionals of tomorrow to have an insight into what PRG is, whether they’re going to be direct customers or active professionals in the industry. Scottie works closely with me on these initiatives and we work hard to present the personality and approachability of PRG.”
From a recruitment point of view, PRG is keen to make contact with students as they start their career and bring new talent into the company. “We recognise that starting within the preparation departments of a rental company can be a fantastic foundation to being indispensible out on tour because you’ve a real understanding of the equipment in a service and prep environment,” added Sanderson. “Over a couple of years people starting in our warehouse environment at PRG can prove their worth and apply to start going out as crew on site.”
This was Locket’s own background, who started in a rental warehouse and moved around the departments before spending a period on a hire desk, and then out on site designing and operating shows. He added: “My path then moved more towards the operation and management of a business. Progression and evolution is important at PRG and deep within the ethos of the company is a focus on individual development. It’s all about putting a face on the business and forging a relationship with the talent of tomorrow.”