In this month's “Tech Tips,” event producers weigh in on the software programs they use to present their design ideas to clients — and the programs that keep them organized once they're on the job.
TIP: Harness the potential of three-dimensional imaging to create eye-catching proposals.
“Most people in this business understand ideas best by seeing them, and that's done with a picture or a floor plan rendering,” says Heather Keenan, president of Key Events in San Francisco, where the team uses the Vivien Virtual Event Designer program from Cast Software. The program integrates features such as realistic room renderings with report and order generation and a built-in database for inventory tracking.
“Not only can we do something simple with a venue floor plan — such as see how many tables can fit in a room and see what that is going to look like — but we can also get more sophisticated and design a backdrop for a stage, then make it 3-D so that when we show it to the client, they can see exactly what we're talking about,” Keenan says. “We also love it because we can import and export CAD files, so if we've asked a lighting designer to do a lighting plot, we can import that into Vivien and actually input it into the floor plan or design,” she notes. “It allows us to be very communicative with all of our vendors.”
While Keenan loves the results she can achieve with Vivien, she cautions that the program takes some time to learn. “Don't think you're going to install it and start producing proposals with it the next day,” she warns. “It takes a good three or four months for users to get a handle on it because it has so many features, and it's such a sophisticated program.”
TIP: Keep proposals and client records organized with a detailed database.
At Redwood City, Calif.-based Rick Herns Productions, senior event producer Annette Kevranian uses Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign programs to create proposals. “These programs provide us with the ability to manage our digital photo library, to produce renderings, illustrations and room layouts for our proposals, and to design invitations, signage and other graphic projects,” Kevranian says. The company used these programs to create illustrations of custom props and costuming ideas for the 2005 Gala-nominated “Aqua” themed event.
Just as important to her, though, is the software necessary to keep information organized once she has wowed clients with creative ideas. For that, Kevranian turns to Filemaker Pro, which her company uses as its main database manager.
“The beauty of Filemaker Pro is that it links our information together,” she says. “We manage all of our client information, vendor information and site information in it; we also write our job costs, manage all event information and write our client and vendor contracts.” The program can also easily create Adobe PDF and Microsoft Excel files using information from the database.
Filemaker Pro's job cost program keeps an automatic running total when users input numbers while budgeting jobs; it also determines profit margins. “We can also select a group of jobs within any period of time, and it will present these totals,” Kevranian says. “These features save a good deal of time while working on job budgets and writing contracts.”
TIP: Use to-scale renderings that will wow clients and satisfy city permit requirements.
At Los Angeles-based An Original Occasion, the CorelDraw Graphics Suite allows the company to easily create one- and two-dimensional renderings. “Everyone who comes into our office is required to learn it, and they pick it up really quickly,” notes company president David Merrell.
“It allows even amateurs to create some really great one- and two- dimensional drawings,” he explains. “Usually, the way that you get renderings is to go to someone with an artistic eye and have them create them. This program allows someone who is not an artist to create high-quality renderings that land jobs.”
One thing his company does a little differently with CorelDraw is “use it for our to-scale drawings, which replaces CAD,” Merrell says. “Once you learn how to scale things properly, you'll get the same accurate, to-scale drawing as you could get with CAD.” The benefit is that users can create more two-dimensional, to-scale renderings, which his team uses to receive the green light for events from fire marshals and cities that require those approvals for permits, Merrell says. “And we do it all in color, which makes a bigger impression than just a simple CAD drawing.”
Merrell also cites the non-drawing features included with CorelDraw as a boon. “For example, Corel Photo-Paint allows you to alter scanned photographs and JPEGs — and they all work hand in hand. So not only do we have complete control of our JPEGs and photographs, but we can manipulate them within a drawing we're creating. These programs allow you to do anything you could possibly need.”
TIP: When just one won't do, use a range of programs to keep track of multiple event elements.
Tony Conway, CMP, president of Atlanta-based A Legendary Event, juggles the demands of his company's catering and event planning divisions with software programs tailored to each one. “We use a CAD program for proposals and Caterware catering software for our off-premise catering division, and then we've created our own internal program for inventories, scheduling and staffing because we couldn't find one that really met our needs,” he explains.
The company uses a three-dimensional CAD program to create staging and table set-up diagrams, primarily for indoor venues and tenting. Conway names ease of use and adaptability as two of the program's benefits. “CAD allows us to move things around easily, because there are so many different components to events that may change after the initial design — a stage set-up may change from round to rectangular, or we might need to do multiple buffets in multiple areas on different levels,” he says. “It's easy to use, and it really shows clients what we can do.”
Meanwhile, the catering division benefits from Caterware, which “allows us to create menus that give us standardized food costing across the company,” Conway says. “It helps us with standardization in billing clients, and also is useful within the company for our 50 managers so they're reading the same [type of] documents for the over 1,200 events we do in a year.”