What would you do if Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg called you up and asked if you would help resurrect their deceased rapper friend, Tupac Shakur? Nick Smith, Owner and President of AV Concepts, is the man behind the team that helped bring Tupac back to life at Coachella (also called The Coachella Music and Arts Annual Festival). Working in partnership with Hollywood heavyweight Digital Domain, AV concepts used customized technology to create, produce and project a holographic image which gave the illusion that a real person (Tupac) was performing on stage.
“We do projects similar to this at live events all the time,” says Smith, who has been a Vistage member since 2009. AV Concepts has seen success at other entertainment-industry events like the Grammys, notably creating the stage effects for Chris Brown’s live performance, and they also frequently provide audio, video, creative and immersive technologies—design, creation and production—for high-level meetings of Fortune 500 companies. But the environment at Coachella, including the wind, the heat of the desert, the possibility of rain, coupled with the sensitivity of the equipment and the high profile nature of the event, made it more difficult to pull off. “You can’t fight daylight. It’s not a controlled environment, and there are some outdoor conditions and ambient light that just aren’t conducive to something like this.”
While it wasn’t a surprise that the fans at Coachella were impressed by the hologram, the ensuing reaction on the internet and around the world was unexpected. “We weren’t prepared for it, the record companies weren’t…no one was,” says Smith, “Tupac record sales shot up…and our website traffic went from averaging 30 to 40 hits a day up to 17,000—in one day.” He and his crew have done more than 500 demonstrations of the technology over the last few years and didn’t expect this event to be the breakthrough.
Nick credits Vistage for informing his approach to “balancing the management of our clients expectations and the communication involved to make sure that the product delivered exceeded what the vision was—that’s something that we focus on as a good business practice.” He is proud of his crews at AV Concepts, but says it is always a team effort and their client relationships are important. “If you go into it one-sided, it will never work.”
After hearing about Vistage from a friend, Nick joined because of the accountability a peer group provides. He explains that, “it’s easy to get complacent [as a CEO]…when you’re successful for 25 years, you think you’ve got it figured out and you know what you’re doing, but you need to take a step back…I had a company for a long time, but I didn’t have a peer group to talk to, no one to bounce ideas off of or be accountable to – I welcome that. I’m a big believer in being accountable.”
With the down economy over the last few years, Nick knew AV Concepts needed to differentiate. “I had to look at the business, understand what being different means, what that means for the company, for profitability…I listened to my Vistage colleagues talk about need to be different and more attractive – that thinking really helped me with looking at my own business. You kind of get caught up when times are bad, you think about how to stay alive rather than how to grow – Vistage has helped us keep a focus on both.”
“Since [the day after the Coachella event], we’ve been getting calls nonstop…everyone from high-level government officials to people wanting to bring performers to their kids’ birthday parties.” Nick says that next time he will ask his Vistage colleagues how to handle this kind of public attention before an event happens, so that he is better prepared. He also said he plans to “pay more attention during the marketing sessions.” Although, he did listen to their advice afterward in hiring a public relations agency, which has “already proven to be invaluable,” says Nick.