In its special advertising feature this month, Production Resource Group outlines the rebranding of its lighting division. In early August, PRG chairman and CEO Jere Harris met with the editors of Lighting Dimensions and Entertainment Design to discuss the change, and other company matters.
First, the new name. A play on three phase, Fourth Phase refers to the four steps of the firm's evolution, from Harris Production Services, to the revolutionary development of the StageCommand automation system for Phantom of the Opera, the acquisition of numerous lighting firms under the PRG umbrella, and now the rebranding and refocusing of them under the one name. The PRG name and the integration it implies, he says, resonates mostly with top-level executives; the new division name is a brand name that designers looking for lighting only can identify with.
"The market has been confused," Harris says. "They want to know how this helps this industry. We are now at the point where we can deliver the best products and services at a competitive price, and, rather than let corporate initiatives from the East Coast drive the business, we can let the regions drive it themselves. And we are out of the mergers and acquisitions phase," he states.
"Plus, our Lighting Group employees wanted to know that we're all working on one team, though we will preserve company names like Vanco and Cinema Services in some way as they are part of our heritage." [Because the concert touring market is so international in scope, Light & Sound Design and Fourth Phase will co-brand for approximately one year to allow the market to adjust to the new identity.]
With the change, which should facilitate service among locations, comes some staff repositioning, at LSD in particular. Bob Looney has become director of inventory management, with Jeff Bridges replacing him as general manager in Atlanta. Valerie Hovenden has departed LSD Nashville; Jeff Mateer, previously GM of Newbury Park, CA, replaces her and has also assumed the new position of GM of all LSD North American operations. Val Dauksts becomes GM of Newbury Park. [Its Icon M, brightened over last year, has reemerged for fall shows and goes into production next spring.]
Harris spoke of the lighting business beyond this strategic announcement. "Contrary to popular belief, this industry will never go back to the sole entrepreneur operation; the capital required makes a smaller operation impossible, as do the needs of the market. Trade shows, for example, used to be all PAR cans - now they want High End or Coemar lights. The cost to put a show out is considerably more today than it was just five years ago, when we were a conventional lights supplier with some automated fixtures; now, we're just the opposite, and you need employees with those skills."
Regarding his own role, "For the last few years I raised money and bought companies. Now I'm focusing on how to make the companies better, and what our products and services mean to our customers. I still run the company - despite the impression that there are `suits in the boardroom,' there really aren't any."
As to what perspective he's gained since embarking upon PRG, he jokes, "Maybe I'll apply this to the health care industry." Seriously, he adds, "Starting out, I would have had a better operating partner by my side for the integration and consolidation, someone who had more experience with larger companies than I had. And we tried putting people in roles that didn't really suit them - now they're back to doing what they do best."