Many companies are creating their own presentations, so is outsourcing losing its appeal?

Live events have more of a business focus than they did a decade ago. Buyers of live event services know more about the services and technology available and tend to shop directly for their equipment from suppliers.

The electronic presentation is gaining ground, and many companies are creating their own, ready-made versions with in-house computer equipment. As a result, the presentation provider’s client base includes end-users as well as production agencies.

Paul Braybrooke, general sales manager at Show Presentation Services, says dramatic changes have taken place in the market during the past two years. “For the first four years of SPS’s existence, we targeted mainly conference production companies and other strategic/creative agencies. However, the balance of our customer base between end-users and production agencies has fallen from 90/10 in 1994 to 60/40 in 1997. This trend is consistent throughout the events industry, as corporations have become adept at managing and designing their events in-house.”

Neil Mirchandani, sales and marketing manager of IML, believes the size of a job is an important factor in determining the means of production. “A lot of business meetings are moving in-house, and technology is much simpler to use, so people are able to deliver smaller events in a much more interactive way. But I don’t think business is moving away from the typical production company for the larger scale meeting. Although events are now much easier to deliver and you can set up projectors and bits and pieces for a meeting of 500, putting together all the contents and graphics is still very much the domain of production companies.”

New technology comes into its own in routine meetings and presentations to clients, according to Mirchandani.

“When it comes to the typical boardroom meeting or presenting to perhaps 20 or 30 clients, then a lot of that is being pulled in-house. The easy use of things like PowerPoint to put slides together has made this type of meeting much easier for an individual to cope with. PowerPoint is the most popular tool for people sitting down at their desk and creating presentations themselves.”

However, he stresses that larger scale presentations still tend to be given out to production companies – about 90 per cent of SPS’s work still comes via production companies.

A major stumbling block to in-house production, says Mirchandani, is the cost of equipment. “For a bigger application, you’re looking at the more powerful graphics packages and specialist equipment. Yes, technology is moving on, but not to the extent that would allow an in-house person to take on all the aspects of a large scale meeting. Once you look at the overall skill sets required to put together a meeting, it’s not just a case of what you can create on screen and what you can plug in.”

Philip Redding, deputy managing director of The Presentation Company, also believes high quality in-house production is best done within a professional framework.

“A number of blue-chip companies are changing the way in which they communicate face-to-face. In one project, high-end laptops with unprecedented tailoring facilities are being used by brand managers of a worldwide packaged goods company. Users have the power to build and deliver individual multimedia presentations, for example editing parts of their TV ads into a presentation within seconds.”

What particular skills are needed to do this kind of work? Skilled labour makes the difference, explains Redding, between just making a presentation and creating a presentation which achieves objectives. “We have looked very carefully at the potential threat of in-house departments making us redundant. Our business is built to create something that in-house departments cannot create.

“Any communications exercise, whether it is a simple electronic presentation, a multimedia programme or a complete communications programme, needs three core disciplines – consultancy, creativity and technology. Consultancy is about the content, the structure, the arguments, the duration, how you should put your point across. The creativity is really the design side of things. Does it look compelling, professional, better than a lot of the other presentations they see? It’s the combination of those three factors that should provide the edge over any in-house department.”

In-house facilities, says Redding, are usually briefed to turn something from sheets of paper into something electronic, or something hand-written into a document. “They’re much more involved in the fairly mechanical challenge of transferring something from one medium to the other, without adding much value.”

Redding shares Mirchandani’s opinion that costs can prohibit the range and flexibility of in-house presentations.

“As technology moves on, you want to be able to use the latest software. You also want the ability to create new screens while sitting on a plane. That demand wasn’t there three years ago – it was a bit of a pipe dream, but it’s now quite practical. To create those sorts of things has been a huge growth area for us.

“One of the things that keeps us ahead of in-house departments is the fact that a typical multimedia programme might require somewhere between six and eight totally different skills. So you need six to eight people to deliver a single programme. An in-house department would struggle to justify, for example, employing a 3D animator because the demand isn’t there to employ them up to five days a week. It’s also very dangerous to invest in it because the technology changes so quickly. If you combine that with the fact that the demand may fluctuate quite rapidly then it really doesn’t make sense for companies to invest in-house.”

Sales promotion agency ZGC, which has just developed its own computer-based credentials presentation, disagrees.

Director Mark Zimmer admits the production of the presentation was time-consuming and that it would have been easier to use an outside resource. “We looked at a number of outside possibilities but most people wanted to sell us something that was all-singing, all-dancing. This industry is still at a relatively early stage and I think people want to develop presentations that they can put in their portfolio.

“We felt that in many cases the medium was overtaking the message.”

Zimmer also believes that, particularly in the case of a credentials presentation, “It has to communicate the personality of the agency”.

Another option is to buy in technical expertise in a re-usable form. Nicky Havelaar, director of Crown Business Communications, says: “In the early Eighties, everyone created their own in-house department and rapidly pulled back from that. The more intelligent way to look at corporate ID and presentation style is to outsource it. You ask a company which has both communication and creative skills, to create templates within which people can work and that they can pull down on their own PC. That gives you a consistent branding of your company.”

Crown has done just that for the Department of Health. “We have created a presentation which is like a digital library, where the statistics are agreed and the presentation itself is interactive. It’s completely idiot-proof. Behind each agenda item, there are about 150 slides that you can choose from. Although the initial investment is more than if you did it yourself, the value of it lies in the fact that you get consistent, accurate information, and still retain the flexibility of delivering a presentation that is adaptable.”

This is all a long way from the excesses of a decade ago when everyone seemed to be trying to outdo the rest in terms of extravagant visual effects. Havelaar says: “The dancing girls of the last decade seem to have finally vanished, but there is a more significant shift in communication which is not so much doing away with the theatrical but doing away with the principle of a stage and an audience.

“In order to facilitate communication, I believe you need to have daylight. We’ve pioneered a new projection system which produces a crisp image that people can view in relative daylight. If you light the stage you’re creating a voyeuristic environment in which you are being passive. I never want to lose the theatrical side of presentations, but you’re talking about a business proposition where you want to have communication results.”

Given the way electronic communications are going, the very idea of delivering a presentation may soon seem a little old-fashioned. An Internet-attuned generation is likely to want access to company information at the touch of a button, with the potential to order and prioritise for themselves. It will be interesting to see how much further the in-house presentation revolution can push the boundaries of tradition.

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