Fourteen years of Showing Support
On the 1st of February 2005, the corporate event market welcomed the advent of Show Support. Fourteen years on and the company has evolved into the largest and most professional recruitment service in the Australian entertainment industry. We recently approached the Managing Director, Dave Neil, at his Sydney office for an interview.
The back story began some years earlier when, one morning, after a night out playing guitar for Newtown band Unclean, Dave’s flatmate Mick burst in and asked, “Hey mate, ya wanna job?” Dave scratched his head and said, ‘Yeah righto’. Two hours later he was scrubbing glass displays at the Sydney Motor Show.
“The crew were actually pretty good in those days,” Dave recalls, stroking his chin. “Some great industry legends came through in that batch. Every touring company used to tell us we smashed the record on this bump in or that bump out of their show. It was always a race between us and a crewing company from Melbourne. Occasionally we would hear they were faster, but the load in was easier, or some excuse like that. We were motivated to prove we were the best crew in the world. Production companies told us we were. Maybe thats what they tell everyone …”
In a few short years, Dave got as many tickets as he could and built up his skill base to work as an industry all-rounder. Soon enough he was out freelancing, saying yes to everything, figuring out new challenges as they came along. By 2004 he’d scored enough contacts and skills to snatch a gig managing an audio installation at the Olympics.
Dave Neil in Athens 2004
“I was tipped into Athens by some mates who were already booked to go over. There was something like 55 positions available. Luckily I had experience as an audio operator for SOCOG on the Sydney games. My manager later mentioned he’d hired me due to my experience with Instant Replay machines because he needed someone to program them in Greece. So I got stuck in the warehouse out in the boondocks for a week and a half recording 14 minute traditional folk songs into the IR from a domestic grade CD player, until I had the sense to request a CDJ. If the song clipped or the CD jumped after 10 minutes or so, I’d have to start loading the content all over again.” The seasoned purveyor of fine workers reflects, “I quite like Greek music these days.’
After his Hellenic adventures, Dave worked for a London Agency called The AV Team.
“That was an awesome experience, seeing so many impressive new venues in a town even busier than Sydney. In fact, it was hectic over there. On my first day in the UK a company called Metro AV got me to drive their van around London all day. The first time I saw Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square was behind the wheel of a ‘truck’ dropping off cross hires. Funny times! I’d encourage anyone to work over there, the skills we learn here are in demand.”
Yet, when Dave returned to Sydney he couldn’t believe the dismal state of crewing affairs.
“I was working as a freelancer for most of the reputable AV companies and they just couldn’t seem to book reliable crew. You’d be lucky to get three guys out of ten on a midnight call. And if you called the hotline there was never any answer. People don’t appreciate how good it is these days. But that was 15 years ago and a lot has happened since then.”
It was around this time that Dave Neil felt it was his duty to open a professional agency to service audio visual companies. “It all really started one day when production manager Uncle Revs called me demanding four crew down to Martin Place ASAP. I told him Show Support was just an idea I’d been toying with and I didn’t even know how he’d found out about it. Revs replied, ‘Just get four guys down here pronto!’ Which I did.”
Needless to say, the job got done and Show Support had hit the scene. Many phone calls soon followed and before the brand was even launched, our trusty MD was running a company with enquiries flooding in. “Show Support was the first agency to really specialise in corporate bookings. The others all chased the big rock and roll gigs. The problem was, they’d be completely booked out for anything else.”
By 2005, the industry was large enough to accommodate a dedicated group of corporate-savvy techs who treated the job more like a career than a hobby. Professional Crew became Show Support’s foundation for success, both then and now.
“We’d all worked for years on rock bump ins and outs but were looking for real dollars. Those tour shirts don’t pay the rent.”
Dave, a qualified and experienced rigger by this stage, would often find himself in a scissor lift (maybe stealing the keys before anyone else) hanging lighting, audio and projectors and wiring them up simultaneously and neatly at a rate of knots. He never considered any aspect of the job beneath him. Whether he was loading or unloading trucks, pushing equipment into the room, setting up drapes or gaffing down leads, Dave Neil was keen to hook in and get it done as fast and as perfectly as possible. For example, many techs avoided the task of hanging client’s banners. “But I loved it!” Dave enthuses. “You could rack up the hours and it’s just great to be able to make a difference on a gig.”
A lot of the early Showies were mates and contacts of Dave who also freelanced for AV companies, meaning Show Support began to build a reputation for supplying experienced crew from the outset.
“For some reason they enjoyed the return to the crewing environment,” Dave recalls. “For starters the rates were good. And I guess the camaraderie, working with a great team, being able to take time off work with no repercussions and getting paid weekly without the need to invoice or chase up accounts were all motivating factors.”
Show Support’s strict uniform policy has been firmly in place since the beginning. As the MD puts it, “We all wore the uniform with pride. The polos were actually charcoal grey in those days. A couple of years later we changed them to black because, although they looked smart when new, they faded to a brown colour after some time. All the guys wore the Show Support waist packs, at all times, brimming with tools. They knew what they were doing, they were motivated and they loved working together.”
Those early days set the scene for Show Support to establish a culture which survives to this day and has seen the company expand from a local operation in Sydney to servicing all major states and territories across the nation.
Show Support’s expansion has been largely driven by successive generations of Crew Chiefs who are pivotal in fostering a great working environment. Once asked the secret of how to be a good Crew Chief by the GM of a prominent AV company, Dave’s answer was, “You’ve gotta have a sense of humour. If your clients and crew can laugh with you, there’s a good chance they’ll follow you. And if someone is being obstructive, you can cast that humour in their direction and they might back off. Everyone does it differently, but in my experience, the Crew Chief who gets a laugh out of the crew is always a good one to work for.’ As an afterthought, Dave Neil adds, “And I guess it also helps if they know what they’re doing.”
One of Show Support’s greatest achievements has been to make the whole crewing experience more professional. With more and more Showies earning six-figure incomes each year, Dave believes that rates and standards overall for crew have risen as a result of the competition his company has provided.
“The best thing is going onsite and seeing new Crew Members treated with respect by their fellow workers and clients. Our industry is a lot nicer these days and if Show Support has somehow played a part in that process, I’d be stoked,” the mild mannered MD freely admits. “To take part in fostering such talent and witnessing so many great crew out there doing a top job, past and present, is a real privilege.”
So after a 14 year journey, paved with the outstanding efforts of thousands of proud Showies, SHS now dominates the corporate market, providing steady, year-round work for its employees and experienced crew for its clients who range from individuals starting out to some of the biggest names in the industry.
“Some of the gigs we’ve worked on have been unforgettable: from massive circuses, concerts and promotions to global sporting events. Working on the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last year was fantastic. Also we were proud to assist on every leg of the Centenary of the Anzacs tour. There’s too many great gigs to mention, it’s a top industry to be a part of.”
Although challenges sprinkle on the office each and every day of the year, thanks to the dedicated National Ops Team happily answering phones all day and night, providing true follow-the-sun support, along with the numerous State, Section and Field Managers onsite, most problems tend to trickle away like water off a duck’s back.
Some things hit hard, though. Dave sighs, “Our crew are like family. When they pass on it hurts. It still does to think about them. Tony Cawsey was a tragic loss, for example. We have a page on the website dedicated to these Showies to ensure they live on in the memories of their fellow crew.”
Fourteen years down the line, Show Support continues to stay ahead of the game in terms of technology, recruitment, training, HR and constantly adapting to the environment. The importance of Work Health and Safety can not be understated and is drummed in at all levels of the organisation. “The safety of every Crew Member, or anyone onsite, is paramount for SHS. We continually consult with staff and update our Safety Management System to identify risks and implement the best control measures to deal with them.”
The long journey has seen many faces come and go over the past 14 years, yet many Showies have been with the company for just as long, having found a home away from home with their SHS family, proudly leading future generations down the road to success.
SHS looks to the future with great enthusiasm. When asked about his short and long term goals, Dave Neil is visibly excited: “We have some great technical advancements, enhanced recruitment processes and a few other promising developments on the horizon to improve the service we deliver to our clients over the coming centuries.” With a smile, he concludes, “I may be biased, but I think the 1st of February would be an excellent date for Australia Day. It’s close enough to the current date and happens to be the founding day of a company that harnesses the best characteristics of this great nation: integrity, mateship, hard work and moving with the times.”