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20 Years of Winkler: "Digital event services are what are required"

Founded by a number of friends 20 years ago, Winkler is now the leading Swiss event service provider for multimedia live communication. Serafino Melloni has been with Winkler right from the start. He takes a look back at the initial years, reveals Winkler's recipe for success, speaks about digital innovations and the event of the future.

Serafino, you were one of the founders of Winkler 20 years ago. What was it like back then?

The whole thing started in 1996 with discos and parties. As young people, we bought basic equipment and hired it out in the local venues in Wohlen and the surrounding area. When I had to choose between studying electrical engineering or pursuing event technology, I looked for a suitable solution with my colleagues and, together, we decided to set up a limited liability company. The name Winkler came from our founding member, Patrick Winkler, who made the biggest contribution.

We then soon switched to the corporate and exhibition field. We always reinvested our profits – something which also explains our enormous growth. Our innovative drive has always been reflected by new technologies, from lighting and sound engineering right through to video and special-effect technologies. For an exhibition project in Geneva, we once bought a 50-inch plasma display, which was one of the first plasma displays on the market, and cost us 20,000 Swiss francs(!).

To ensure that we could still pursue our growth strategy, we took the decision, in 2006, to cooperate with Swiss Exhibition, now the MCH Group, and became part of the current Live Marketing Solutions.

Today, Winkler has around 100 employees and provides the appropriate multimedia technology at events like the Basel Tattoo or the Rock The Ring Festival. How does a company manage to remain successful over a matter of decades?

It's essential to be present for the client and on the market. You have to be innovative and bold and, above all, not be afraid of making mistakes. You need to move outside your own comfort zone and expand your horizons; only in that way can you continuously further develop and improve your company.

With regard to further development: you are head of the new Business Innovation department. The aim here is to integrate digitisation options for the clients at an early stage. What does this actually entail?

The event of the future will be a combination of analogue and digital. Put in simple terms, we want to supplement the event technology business with digital solutions, content and information via mobile and static end devices. My job is to establish what, precisely, we need to focus on. Does a technology hold potential, or is it just a gadget, an interesting plaything? It could, however, happen that something that is just a plaything could turn into an innovative event solution.

At the moment, we have a number of projects in the wifi-spot field which are ready for a decision to be taken. You get straight into the internet without any difficulty at an event – no need to download an app – and receive information on the event and adverts at one and the same time. To set up this straightforward connection to the internet, we create base installations that serve as the foundation stone for the different event applications, such as livestreaming, voting or presentation applications for after-event consumption.

What are the current challenges in the event technology field, and in which direction is the sector moving?

It's a matter of applying optimised processes and efficiency in existing business, and working innovatively on the right business fields to ensure that we remain competitive in future too.

Classic event technology has already undergone its process of change, however. Mixing consoles have been digitised, spotlights fitted with LEDs, and the end components have been made even more compact, offering an even higher performance. The big changes have already taken place. What we will still be developing, however, is communication, networking and digital services at events. This is not just a matter of the applications, but also takes in the basic equipment required to make this possible at all. Whatever happens, things are set to remain exciting in our sector.

Let's take a look back again. How have the projects and technology changed over the years?

Earlier on, it was possible to achieve a great deal as a generalist. The products were easy to operate and could be set up with the necessary know-how. Now, though, it is specialists that are required, because the options have increased greatly with digitisation. Everything has become more complex, but also more interesting because of this.

What were your highlights of the past 20 years?

One of my personal highlights was the assignment for Sulzer Medica in Barcelona, our first interdisciplinary project abroad. That took us beyond our limits and opened completely new doors for us, since a project on such a huge scale enabled us to expand both our technical and our organisational know-how. A further highlight was the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, where we were able to implement the technical side of the Samsung pavilion for the Schmidhuber architects office My "Swiss highlight" was the opening of the PC 21. That's a jet trainer that simulates an F/A 18. We put on an enormous laser show to accompany the opening event. And, as a token of thanks, the client offered us a sightseeing flight above the Alps.

And, over a period of 20 years, you've doubtlessly experienced quite a few strange things?

Yes, there are always surprises, that's part of our everyday business. Once, Roni Huber, Reto Engler and I missed the petrol station on our journey to a business event for IBM in Paris. This petrol station was unfortunately the last one for many kilometres. We decided to look for another petrol station off the motorway, but the car then came to a standstill in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, there was a bus stop close by, so we were able to buy some canisters of petrol in the next village. And then, because there were no more buses in the evening, the police kindly drove us back to our car. We finally arrived four hours late and had an amusing tale to tell over after-work drinks.




by Christoph Spangenberg MCH Blog