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Dramatic tents for product launches

Event Production, Features, Markets | October 1, 2012 | By:

Tent suppliers boost awareness for their clients’ product launches.

Maybe you’re not going to wander into the showroom of your local exotic car dealership. But let’s say you’re at a festival and you see an attractive tent bearing the name and logo of Ferrari, Bugatti or Porsche. Are you just going to walk by?

With so much competition on the road, car manufacturers annually spend billions to market their latest models. They run two-page spreads in glossy magazines and film commercials showing their vehicle speeding down the planet’s twistiest roads. But what about tempting consumers with the real thing?

Alain Perez, president of Eventstar Structures in Miami, Fla., has provided custom structures for numerous product launches, among them Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen. His synopsis of what sets these projects apart from other tent events is this: “They’re more elaborate and often include a reveal that may even call for special effects and spaces that can allow for full productions with intricate lighting, sound, video and graphics to engage all of your senses.”

For one automobile launch, Perez consulted a production company with kinetic design experience. Eventstar hid an automobile behind a curtain encircling a hydraulic-lift platform. While the platform rose two feet, the fabric skirt around it was lowered, creating an illusion that the car rose twice as high. To top it off, the platform then spun around to showcase every shiny angle of the car.

Another special request was for automated roll-up doors. “However, unlike the standard roll-up doors on a house or building, we had to guarantee the doors would travel five feet per second; that’s a very fast door with specialized mechanisms,” Perez says. “In this case, there was a lot of rehearsal and fine-tuning in order to achieve and guarantee the speed.”

Landing the branding

Perhaps the most distinctive—and critical—detail in product launches is branding.

“You always have to keep in mind the integrity of the brand—always,” says Andy Madura, senior account manager of Classic Tents, which operates in Tucson, Ariz., Hollywood, Fla., and Torrance, Calif. “Everything from the artistic image to the font used to the overall scale is important.”

“Very often there is a signature look or the client wants a custom look and, depending on the budget, that could be a small change from a standard tent to a whole custom-made temporary building,” Perez says. “More and more, we have been providing interior hard-wall systems, which provides an opportunity to use graphics inside.”

Eventstar outsources printing on tent exteriors and lets design agencies involved in a product launch handle interior graphics on hard walls and glass. “I have seen graphics with quality that is as good as or better than what you see in a conventional store,” Perez notes.

“Logos and color schemes provided by the company should be used to enhance the branding of the event,” says Dan Hooks, president of Party Reflections Inc. in Charlotte, N.C. “The color scheme can easily be enhanced with sophisticated and elegant decor to further the branding. The product dictates the decor, which may be rustic or sports oriented or elegant, depending on the market being targeted. Tents allow for any type of branding. The style of tent can also help convey the message of the product, whether a more nostalgic look is needed or a more modern appeal.”

Although US Event Structures of Frederick, Md., leaves graphics to the marketing company involved in a product launch, it provides its clients with computer-aided drawings to help them visualize branding opportunities. “We make drawings showing the concept and size of the tent in 3-D,” says George Poston, operations manager and partner. “We supply them with CAD drawings that almost look like a snapshot of the event.”

Branding could mean a small logo on a kiosk in front of an A-frame tent or a large logo and graphic splashed across a flat tent front 30 feet high. “We try to select the best tent structure for what their branding needs are,” Madura says. And the key for a reveal, he suggests, is to ensure the space is clean and lighting-directed so the focus goes to the product.

Many of the reveals Party Reflections has done have involved lighting effects or curtains. “Timing and coordination is critical for these effects,” Hooks says. “The structure must work with the program, such as clear tops or sides to witness the spectacle.

“There have also been many projections on the fabric on the inside of the tent,” he adds. “With the technology in the A/V market, it is possible to create Hollywood-quality graphics and other media techniques inside and outside the tent. It is basically a blank canvas.”

Perez notes that multinational clients have begun asking for turnkey, custom temporary structures with interior finishes and furniture that stay true to their corporate identity and guidelines. “They want us to follow the same strict guidelines they use in their permanent boutiques or dealerships for our temporary and semi-permanent solutions,” he says. “We have had to negotiate materials that have the look and feel of a permanent installation but are durable and flexible enough to be installed, removed and transported from location to location in the United States and abroad.”

Worth the weight

When new-model cars debut in tent structures, they’re often presented on a stage or raised platform.

“Weight is definitely a factor because all of the stage material needs to be strong enough to support a car,” Madura says. “We’ve been involved in launches for Maybach cars, which are extremely heavy. The stages had to be reinforced with a tighter grid using a scaffolding system.”

Party Reflections maintains several types of staging that can support vehicles. “We have mainly used either Bil-Jax® or granite-style flooring with supports every four feet,” Hooks says. “We distribute the weight even further by covering the floor with another layer of plywood for strength.”

US Event Structures uses a cassette-system floor. “We have to find where heavy displays are going to be set and put extra supports under there,” Poston says.

Product launches often involve substantial lighting and audiovisual equipment, which brings another dimension to the projects.

“We let them hang a lighting structure and then put the floor in so nothing is going heavy over the carpeting,” Poston says. “It’s just a lot of coordinating on timelines.”

“You need to know what kind of weight they’re rigging on your structure,” Perez says. “It’s important to sell the team; this is not three vendors working on one job. Everybody has to be on the same page with engineering and verifying anything that is going to hang or be on the floor.”

Have tent, will travel

To reach scalable numbers that justify the expense of a product launch in a tent structure means it’s likely an unveiling will take place in multiple cities—a factor that creates its own challenges. Multiple-city launches—especially if they’re tied to other scheduled events—may not leave time for the usual setup and striking of tent structures. Or weather could hamper transportation. In addition to just getting the structure from one place to the next, there’s the challenge of ensuring it looks good each time it goes up.

“If transportation allows, we offer a second set of skins and other components,” Perez says. “The crews that are touring to set up and dismantle the structures can clean them up to a certain degree. You may have as many as 10 stops so you have to handle the product carefully and have the ability to replace or repair on the road.”

“It really comes down to being organized—from the second that you get to a jobsite to the moment that you leave,” Madura says. “The logistics as to how the trucks are loaded, load-in times, equipment arrival times, execution of the installation, the strike of each element and on-site expertise are crucial to success.”

One critical factor in a multicity tour is ensuring the same structure meets codes in varying jurisdictions.

“It’s very important that you submit for building permits with enough time to be able to deal with any requirements by local building officials and fire officials that you didn’t have in the last seven stops,” Perez says. “For example, there are many counties and building departments that won’t allow you to set up unless you include fire sprinklers. We have an in-house permit expediter whose job is to pull permits.”

Eventstar has worked on product launches on several Caribbean Islands and in Central and South America for the telecom, sports apparel and automotive industries and is working on a launch that will end its tour in Europe. “When we go abroad, we send our project managers, crew leads and assistants and hire as much local labor as possible,” Perez says. “Usually, permitting is handled by our contacts at the destinations. However, we provide them with all necessary documentation, engineering and support required.”

From conception, to branding, to engineering, to logistics—creating a product launch venue showcases not only the client’s product, but also the structure the product is under and the finesse of the team that designed and installed it.

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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