Lessons by the Lake: Geneva Convention focuses on safety and showmanship


At this year’s Geneva Convention (www.genevaconvention.com), attendees will be bringing home more than a goody bag stuffed with movie paraphernalia. A strong educational lineup focusing on marketing and promotion as well as safety and security will give visitors plenty of ideas to take home with them. “We want to challenge everyone to go back and utilize this information to the best of their ability,” explains John Scaletta, VP of F&F Management and co-chairman of the convention, which will bring 600 delegates from Midwestern movie theatres together, as well as representatives for the 100-booth trade show.

After last year’s shooting in a movie theatre, the industry has been proactive in making sure cinemas are prepared for what was once the unthinkable. Two separate seminars under the heading “Partnership with Public Safety” will provide solutions on “how to handle difficult customers in any way, shape or form,” explains George Rouman, VP of Rouman Amusement Company, Inc. and co-chair of the convention. Members of law enforcement will talk about their own experiences dealing with emergency situations. A second seminar will go into different kinds of financial and security breaches that can happen, including stolen credit card information, counterfeiting, and various types of fraud. The seminars come with homework: a call to action for theatre owners to start conversations with their own law enforcement. “The participants should take the information that they’re learning, and go back and meet with the chief of police in their community to develop a customized plan for their theatre” that will address the specifics of their location, Scaletta encourages.

A second pair of seminars on marketing and promotions is designed to inspire theatre owners to embrace showmanship, which Rouman feels has become a “lost art,” especially as exhibitors have been forced to shift their energies to deal with digital conversion. “In the past, you used to see all this showmanship, these extravagant promotions. Over the years, a lot of that has started to fall away.” One seminar, “Attracting New Audiences with Creative Programming,” will offer ideas that may jump-start operators’ creative juices. Brad LaDouceur, Cineplex Entertainment’s VP of alternative programming, will offer an exhibitor perspective on developing a content slate. The Canadian chain has researched how to best program and support alternative content, and they’ll offer a case study about what they’ve learned and their plans for the future. A second marketing and showmanship discussion will touch on the exhibitor’s role in the movie promotion process, like “at what point do theatres get involved at the local level, and when is it important to put up teaser posters ad standees,” Rouman elaborates.

Movie theatres, as a walk-up, often cash-dominated business, haven’t been well-positioned to use “big data,” but loyalty cards and point-of-sale systems can now provide opportunities for cinemas to track their customers and target messaging based on a guest’s movie interests. At the BoxOffice conference “Engaging Your Audience with Analytics,” Rouman is excited to offer a peek at what is “just a fascinating industry right now. If there’s a way to harness this information, it could be really valuable.” The panelists on the discussion will include representatives from Pepsi, senior VP Timothy Dodd from Movio, which leverages a customer’s loyalty card information to give them customized offers, and Dr. David Bohnsack, the VP of insights and analytics at GMR Marketing.

Another hot topic, interactivity and engagement, will be explored in the demonstration of “Disney’s Second Screen Live!” (disneysecondscreenlive.com), which will feature a 20-minute segment from The Little Mermaid. Using iPads, audience members divide into two teams and help guide the progression of the story. To encourage flexibility and creativity, Disney is allowing exhibitors “to figure out how to best use the platform,” Rouman says, encouraging theatre managers to check out the demo and then design special events that will “market it the best to their core audience.”

Sandwiched between the seminars will be plenty of social opportunities for attendees, though veteran delegates may notice a change of scenery at some of the standard events. The Grand Geneva Resort in Geneva, Wisconsin, the longtime venue, is a huge complex, and “we want to make sure we’re utilizing the entire property,” Scaletta says. To that end, the opening-night party will take place at the Grand Chalet, which in winter is at the foot of the resort’s ski hill. The indoor-outdoor event will allow guests to enjoy the area’s fall colors while cozying up to an outdoor fire pit. Participants in the “Geneva Idol” competition will have a more intimate venue to show off their pipes, in the lounge “Evolve.” The kickoff golf tournament will use a different 18 holes for the first time—yes, the resort has two golf courses. Last year, the Geneva Convention nabbed an early screening of Argo, which went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. This year will also feature two screenings, depending on which of the many highly anticipated end-of-year releases makes it out of the editing bay first.

The Geneva Convention also recognizes leaders and exceptional people in the industry. This year’s show will honor the retiring head of Marcus Theatres, Bruce Olson, with the Ben Marcus award. The recipient of the Larry D. Hanson Showmanship Award will be Byron Berkley, who owns Texas-based Foothills Entertainment. Berkley is a member of the independent theatre owners committee of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). The committee, of which Hanson was a member, worked to create what is now known as the Cinema Buying Group (CBG). “Byron has been a tireless advocate for independent theatre owners and embodies all the criteria for the Larry Hanson Award,” Scaletta declares. The outgoing president of NATO, Carmike Cinemas president and CEO David Passman III, will be honored with the Excellence in Service Award for his leadership.
After three days seeing the industry’s pillars honored, mingling with other exhibitors, and learning how to make theatres havens of safety and dazzling with showmanship, Rouman and Scaletta feel that delegates will leave with enough information to tide them over until next year. Rouman sums up their mission: “We want to get managers, owners and operators thinking creatively again about the many ways you can make the moviegoing experience special within each of our theatres.”