A successful technician is one who can consistently earn a good living at his craft and work on the kinds of jobs he prefers. For more and more techs, that means corporate gigs, which offer better money, nicer working conditions, and a generally slower pace when compared to the entertainment industry. The downside is conforming to business decorum while working in an environment that has no tolerance for mistakes. If you are trying to win corporate work but not making any headway, then maybe you aren't aware of some of the qualifications.
On corporate events, the real customers are the end client executives and their staff, most of whom don't know the first thing about how shows are put on. For this reason, communicating at an executive level is critical for most department heads. If the sound feeds back, it is definitely not because the executive refused a soundcheck and then moved his lavalier mic after it was placed correctly on him. Folks new to corporate events are amazed that many long-held jobs are lost because of a small error or perceived mistake made by one individual. That's a lot of pressure in an industry where rehearsals are sometimes a luxury.
Breaking into corporate work requires talent, connections, and, most importantly, the right appearance. If you are the top designer in your field, you can afford to have an interesting persona and an eccentric fashion sense. When choosing techs for a corporate gig, no one ever says, “Book the person with the most prominent piercings.” Most people won't tell you that you weren't hired because of your tattoos, hairstyle, or taste in clothes, but it happens all the time. Bottom line, if your appearance is a means to draw attention to yourself, you are telling employers (and their clients) that your lifestyle is more important than their business. Style is your choice, but so is eating ramen noodles. You do not have to appear like an executive, but you do have to look like someone they can take seriously.
Producers and equipment contractors expect freelancers to behave like any other professionals. A frequent complaint about self-employed technicians is lack of respect toward bookings — they cancel or renege on one gig to take a better one. And freelancers are sometimes inflexible when the employer loses a confirmed job and needs to cancel or reschedule the tech. It may not seem fair to you, but being easy to do business with is an important factor in hiring freelancers. Another big complaint is — and I can't believe I have to say this — bad-mouthing the company that hired you in front of clients. You may think that it shows off your knowledge, but your first obligation is to the company that booked you. Violating that trust will cause you to lose the respect of those you work with. Make your bosses look good, and in the long run, it will reflect well on you, too.
Technicians are also judged beyond their work on the show site. Production management, clients, and venue employees see how you behave in and around the venue, hotel, and airport. When you are traveling, it's not unusual to dine in the same restaurant or drink in the same bar as your customers or to be invited to join them. A thoughtless remark, indiscreet behavior, or being rude to a service person will be counted as part of your contribution to the overall job. Behave like a guest wherever you go, and treat everyone the way you would want your grandmother to be treated. You never know who's watching.
Some seemingly small things matter more than you think, and the effects are cumulative. For instance, talking on a cell phone has become a major distraction and even a safety hazard. Use breaks and downtime to return calls. Folks will respect your need to occasionally conduct business, but only when you put the job at hand ahead of the job to come. Get invoices and expense reports in quickly. Employers need this information to close out jobs, and they find it unprofessional to have to hunt down the freelancer for information. Passing out a business card to the producer or otherwise soliciting work on site is considered very bad form. The correct protocol if the client asks for the technician's card is to refer them to the contractor that hired the tech in the first place. I can't tell you how many freelancers I have known who sabotaged their careers just by passing out one card. Oh, and nothing is more unprofessional than being late, even by a few minutes. Tardiness sets a bad tone for the day and will kill trust faster than anything.
If earning a big income or working a few less days to reach your financial goals is important to you, then a career in corporate events may be what you need. If so, be prepared to sacrifice some individuality and polish your communication and business skills. Pay attention to the details, demonstrate how important a good job is to you, and behave like a pro. Only then will your skills as a technician get the respect they deserve, and the rewards will make it worth your while. Besides, you don't want to end up as the person “who's a great technician, but…”
Thomas Stimson, MBA, CTS is president of Dallas-based consulting firm The Stimson Group. He is the current chairman of InfoComm's Rental & Staging Council and a member of the ETCP Certification Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.