Event Innovators 2014: Nick Smith

The co-founder and president of AV Concepts is the creative force behind the company's attention-grabbing audiovisual effects for live events.

By Anna Sekula June 17, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

Nick Smith, co-founder and president, AV Concepts

Photo: Courtesy of AV Concepts

Tupac Shakur’s holographic appearance at Coachella in 2012 was one of that year’s most-talked about events, and as more marketers try to replicate it, the performance remains a point of reference. But for AV Concepts, the company that helped execute it, the visual illusion of the late rapper wasn’t its first foray into the field of innovative audiovisual effects—and certainly not its last.

Indeed, the convergence of creative ideas and high production values at live experiences is at the core of the business Nick Smith, 55, co-founded with Fred Mandrick in his garage in Arizona 26 years ago. Smith drives the creative vision of the company, which now boasts more than 100 employees, has offices in Tempe, Arizona, and San Diego, and works on some 300 events a year. “Our innovation stems from understanding our client’s needs, so we can constantly develop new solutions and technologies that essentially make their jobs easier,” Smith says. A big part of that is fostering long-term, trusting relationships and continuing to adapt techniques to better captivate event and meeting attendees.

In the past year, some of the most innovative event work Smith and the team have executed include Dell World 2013, where, according to Smith, “the stage was converted from a business presentation to a rock ‘n’ roll show at the push of a button;” lifelike virtual performances for the Rock the Bells festival series; and the immersive Jordan Flight Lab that let fans virtually train with professional basketball players. And although Smith’s not chasing one-off ideas, he does believe holographic illusions are more than just a fad. “We don’t see it as a flash in the pan, because it’s really just an extension of audiovisual basics—projections, lighting, sophisticated server systems, and dynamic content creation.”

However, Smith argues that such technological innovations only stay relevant if they are produced in a way that genuinely engages the target audience. “The biggest challenge [for the industry] is picking and choosing what’s right for your event. Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean you need to use it,” he says. “We always approach each project/solution with the client’s end goals in mind—what you want your audience to experience and walk away with—and we design around that, using technology to enhance the audience’s experience and keep the focus on the message.”

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