Name: Reggio Hearn

Position Director of Registration

Years 2.5 years

A self-described ‘very early adopter’ (he had his first computer at the age of seven!), Reggio Hearn is at the helm of Ellen Michaels Presents expanding tech domination in the corporate event space. The first in a series on new technology and improving advancements, he walks us through the user and client experience firsthand. First up, Reggio explains the emergence and benefits of airport badge printing on-demand.


How is traditional airport registration done now versus the new system?

Traditionally, badges have been pre-printed in advance and then they are usually laid out in foam holders with slits and put in like a Rolodex, A to Z. Then we put little stickers on them if they have a balance due, or put the appropriate VIP, speaker or sponsor sticker.

It’s a very manual process, in that there are a lot of hours put in in advance to stuff the badge, to keep on checking them and then we do a run of the badges. Then people are still registering after you’ve done the print and so we have to do a second run and then we have to alphabetize those into the group as well. Then you get the invariable request, “Oh, can I have this sub-group labeled?”, so then we have to pull those people and sub-in those requests. So it can be a lot of work.

Do you find this new system is what clients are asking for?

So initially for big events over 2,000 we said, we gotta start looking into this new technology. But then we had a client that had 1,000 people and said “I want this system.” Then as we started using it more, we said we are going to set the threshold at 500, because it is really slick. It looks nice, it looks expensive.

What size event would benefit the most from this?

For small shows, 100-300 people, the traditional model should still be the norm for the most part. When it’s that small it’s easy to do. It’s cost effective for the client. The problem is when you get into events with 400, 500 people or more and a) it’s a lot of badges back there, b) invariably a badge or two falls out moving the trays back and forth each night and c) you have a lot of badges to flip through and all that pre-show labor on-site.

So what we are doing is not only improving the attendee experience but also better utilizing the on-site labor that is standing right there at the counter. Instead of spending their time looking for a badge, they spend it grabbing the badge out of a printer automatically, putting it into the appropriate holder with the ribbon.

How user friendly is this approach for the client?

The new airport badge experience is self-service. You walk up and you have a beautiful touch screen computer in front of you. You either put in your email and last name onto the screen or we send in the morning an email with a barcode right on top, a QR code and from their mobile phone they literally just put it (the code) up it to the scanner, just like you would at self-checkout at the supermarket. And it says for example, ‘Welcome Reggio. Click here to print your badge.’ And with that, your badge pops out.

And with that new technology, like the airlines have leveraged -“Do you have a bag?” Would you like to purchase more miles? Would you like an economy plus seat?” – we can do stuff like that. We can ask additional questions. We can put legal disclaimers. For example- ‘I consent to the Wi-Fi usage policy.’ ‘I consent to knowing my presentation will be put on the website.’ Depending upon the subclass of attendee you are, we can do that.

Just like we put the special codes on their badge, we do notifications for people. If they have a special meal request we can have a K on the badge, so we know this person has a kosher meal. They will have accompanying instructions, such as, ‘Please talk to the maître d when you walk into the food area.’

This new approach really makes each attendee feel special, doesn’t it?

It’s that extra customer service level that we always do, but it makes it more seamless. So we’re still able to offer a really white glove experience. We’re able to give them all the pertinent information to show them we really know about this attendee while giving them this really clean, modern, elegant technological forward experience. Just like when the airlines starting putting their VIPs printed on the ticket, or even when you’re at the supermarket and they check the name on the credit card and hand you your receipt and say “Thank you, Mr. Smith” – it’s that same aspect. It’s putting the data in the hands of the customer service representative so that they then can make the customer feel welcome and special.

Does it cost more?

Depends on the option. Because when you don’t pre-print badges you are really reliant on the internet connection. With this on-demand set-up if the internet goes down, no badges are being printed. So we offer two levels. We have a second internet connection on a separate provider that the hotel provides us we can switch over to or we bring a server which mirrors the web experience, basically mirrors the live website.

Do you have to hire more IT staff to bring with you?

Yes, we have to bring a systems admin. It is an expensive ticket item. It is the most expensive non-production person onsite. We only bring that person when there is a server. When there is not a server, we can easily do with a registration technology manager. The network administrator is specifically there to set-up and run the web server, application server and print server. They are all laptop based, very mobile.

People are trained with touch screen technology in their daily lives, from iPads to Kindles to even the grocery store, so it’s probably less intimidating for the general public?

It’s much less intimidating. We use big screens. A lot of companies who just provide this tech stand alone have to look out only for their bottom line. So they buy in bulk. They get iPad based. The problem is the iPad is a 10 inch screen and it’s flimsy with a camera as a scanner. If cameras were the best then Home Depot or Safeway checkouts would all use cameras. Laser scanners are superior. No matter the lighting condition or the condition of the barcode, it can scan it. So we have a large format screen, at minimum 15 inches, but we prefer 17-19 inches and have gone as big as 23 inches.

That larger screen space must be an added benefit, another place for the client to brand.

This visual registration is now part of the visual branding. You have a huge panorama of space. New branding opportunities to put the event name and/or logo up there. There is an entire graphical element now, it’s not just boring tech. One of our clients had a really fancy website and utilized their Las Vegas sunset background as part of the screen. So we were able to leverage that cool, sexy Vegas backdrop on all the screens, plus the check-in content in the middle. It was really aesthetically pleasing.

Since you are potentially using so much office stock and paper etc., do you get requests to try to be ‘Green Friendly’?

We support multiple badge formats for on-demand. Whether it’s a credit card badge, thermal roll badge, not just paper. Multiple sizes and eco-technology. For example thermal roll badges require no ink. No consumables in that model. A lot of our clients have eco-mandates.

Is it hard to keep up with technological advancements?

There’s always new technology. It’s always a little challenging to keep up with the latest and greatest. We try to be cutting edge not bleeding edge. Lots of this technology has been around for 15-20 years. It’s just the cost of implementing some of this has come down greatly. So being able to put together the components is much easier.