“BlackSheep” – not “the black sheep”

[blak sheep] – noun

A person who deviates from the accepted standards of his or her group.


“Wow… BlackSheep Productions.   That sure is an interesting name for a company.   How did you choose it?”

It’s probably the #1 question asked when we meet someone and we tell them the name of our company.

To tell the truth, when the name BlackSheep Productions was chosen by Lisa (Montgomery) Bowling in 1998, the intention was never to be a full service event production company.  The unique name was chosen because Lisa felt she had taken several paths that were different from others close to her.  She was one of a few females in her high school shop class.  She was one of a few females in the Industrial Design school at the University of Cincinnati.  She was one of the few female Exhibit Design Directors in the industry.  And instead of embracing the relative security of employment with a large production company in 1998, she decided to become an independent producer.  It wasn’t until Mark Bowling joined the BlackSheep team in 2005 that we actually gave thought to building a brand around the name.

At BlackSheep Productions, each event begins with strategic planning through research and a custom approach.  Every company that we work with is unique and we believe their unique character, goals, and objectives should be woven into the DNA of every event we produce.

Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, is quoted as saying “you cannot step twice into the same stream.”  At BlackSheep Productions we recognize that your company or association is not the same as it was six months ago and certainly not the same as it was a year ago.   That is why – whether starting with a new client partner or planning a new project with an existing client partner – our goal is (as much as it makes sense) to start from scratch and make the event as unique as the situation that surrounds it.

While the tendency is to use past success as a template for the future, we feel that our approach is just one way that we “deviate from the accepted standards of our group.”

We look forward to using this blog in the upcoming months to explore other ways that we feel that we deviate from the accepted standards of our peers.

BlackSheep Vision: Changing The World Through The Production of Exceptional Events

We always enjoy explaining how we break down our vision.  We would be honored to discuss with you in person!

We are “changing the world through”…
1) Those we serve (our clients) – understanding what they are looking to achieve and developing a customized solution to fit their specific needs.
2) Those that serve us (our “vision partners”) – focusing on our employees and vendor partners to help them become all they can be, both personally and professionally.
3) Our industry – seeking ways to challenge our industry to create even greater value and unlock the potential of others
4) Stewardship of our blessings – maximizing our assets, relationships, opportunities and potential for investing in other world changing organizations.

“Through the production”…
At our heart we are a production company. In his book “The E-Myth Revisited”, Michael Gerber notes that companies (and especially small companies) need to develop a system for “how they do what they do.” Over the past year, we have worked to codify the way we produce events. While it will continue to mature as we continually refine our process, it provides us with a foundation of consistency that we can use as we grow.

“Of exceptional events”…
We know that when our vision partners, people and organizations that we have selected (NOT hired – see http://goo.gl/ZHg7R), and match them with our production process that exceptional events will be the result.

Laughter, a few tears, and lots of SPIRIT! – Primrose YOUniversity 2014

It’s been 18 months since the last Primrose Schools 2014 franchise conference. During that time, the brand has revitalized it’s market message and sharpened it’s business strategy for growth. Already a leader in early education and care, Primrose Schools is on a journey towards preeminence in education as a whole.

Since 2009, BlackSheep has been the production partner of choice for Primrose. The conference program has evolved in size, substance and complexity with each passing year. For 2014, BlackSheep provided site selection and hotel contract negotiation, online registration, conference app implementation, content development, creative direction, speechwriting, video production, graphic design and signage, speaker selection and management, AV production management, ground transportation, photography and entertainment for the entire program.

We began our efforts to develop the conference theme in the fall of 2013. As a partner and consultant, BlackSheep attended meetings with Primrose and their agency to learn about the newly developed brand identity, and to incorporate key elements into the creative design of this event. Influences such as the event location (American southwest) and key words like “empowerment” and “learning” were central to our strategy. The chosen theme was “Empowering the Spirit of Learning” – a phrase that uniquely expresses what they offer to students and families alike. We designed a logo that captured the sun rising over the southwestern desert landscape for the event registration website and collateral.

We partnered with DoubleDutch to craft and deploy a custom event app for all attendees that provided speaker bios, agenda information, venue and meeting space maps, a closed network social media platform, and a special gaming element that allowed attendees to compete with one another to accumulate points for special prizes.

We proposed a panoramic screen with interlaced HD projectors for the stage set, and produced video assets that filled the screen from edge to edge. We dispensed with the normal roster of breakout sessions, choosing instead to conduct round-table discussions in the General Session.

To bring the Spirit of Learning to life and awaken the senses of our audience, we opened the conference with a captivating performance by Native Spirit. They performed traditional Native American dances in vibrant costumes against a backdrop of Southwestern sunrise images. This was followed by an inspiring keynote speech by Primrose CEO Jo Kirchner, who shared her passion and enthusiasm for the company’s recent success. As a metaphor for the brave breakthrough strategy of Primrose, she referenced Chuck Yeager and his historic 1947 achievement of breaking the sound barrier. She also revealed a startling coincidence; in partnership with Save the Children, she recently sponsored a child through Save the Children. When she agreed to visit him in his West Virginia hometown, she did not realize that she would be visiting Chuck Yeager’s birthplace! A powerful coincidence.

A keynote presentation by renowned author and business consultant Dr. Randy Ross really got the audience thinking about the importance of culture and hiring strategies for success. Blitz, the agency responsible for crafting Primrose Schools’ new brand identity, presented their work to a very enthusiastic reception of applause and tears of joy. And many other educational experts delivered cutting-edge content that ensured the value of the conference was higher than ever.

To close the event, a live Karaoke band empowered the spirit of the audience for a memorable final night celebration that none will soon forget!

Snow – January 28 through ???, 2014

Here are some fun videos my sons and I created using our new GoPro Hero3+ and quadcopter from DJI Technologies.

How do these videos relate to event production you ask?  Well, honestly, the videos don’t.  But I did use the same configuration last week during the Awards Night for a National Sales Meeting with over 1,700 people.  We streamed the video from the Hero3+ to my iPad and then took that video to screen.  Noise wasn’t an issue with this group and the video was a HUGE hit.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4


If you have used a similar setup for events (or just having fun), please post links to your videos in the comments below.

What can we learn from Walter White (from Breaking Bad) about who/what we serve?

In the final episode of Breaking Bad, Walter White admitted that he “did it all for himself.”  In the last season of his life, Walt lived to serve… himself.

We will all serve someone or something.  What we serve is our “god” – whether you believe in a spiritual deity or not.

    • We live to serve ourselves and our personal desires
    • We live to serve our family
    • We live to serve our ambitions

The possible list goes on and on.

This morning, a verse from the Hebrew scriptures came to my mind.  In the book of Joshua, chapter 24 finds the profit talking to the people of Israel and the part that came to mind was the part of verse 15 that was on a magnet that hung on our refrigerator when I was a little boy – “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

I went back to look up that verse this morning and was reminded that there is a part that comes before.  The verse starts with, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. ”

Joshua realized that the Israelites had a choice of who or what they would serve.  And we too have a choice – as individuals, leaders and organizations – who/what we will serve.

We just need to realize that the result of that choice will have repercussions that resonate through all that we do – as well as the lives of those that come in contact with us.

Have you made a conscious choice of who/what you will serve? If so, what has been the result?

What can Event Producers (and others) learn from Walter White?


For years I had friends telling me I needed to start watching Breaking Bad.  I ignored them.  However, several months ago, my wife Lisa started watching it and she was hooked.  Several nights a week, I would go to bed and she would stay up watching past seasons on Netflix.  In the morning, she would tell me part of the plot line and each time I was more intrigued.  Then, about 6 weeks ago, I couldn’t sleep and I watched about 10 minutes of Episode 11 of the 4th season.  (Fans will remember this as the episode that ends with Walt in the crawl space after he finds out that Skyler gave Ted the money.)  I pulled the trigger and jumped in with both feet.  I even started a new Netflix account so that I could watch without messing up Lisa’s order.  Through true binge watching, I was able to catch up to her and we watched the last 6 episodes together – including the series finale last night.

Immediately I was hooked.  As a husband to Lisa and father of two boys I love dearly, the story immediately intrigued me.  A father dying of cancer realizes that he has little to leave financially to his wife, teen-age son and soon-to-be-born baby girl.  He comes to understand how much money is involved with the production of Crystal Meth.  He starts to make more money than he ever imagined but as his empire grows, he starts to lose himself.  Throughout the series, he keeps saying over and over, “I am doing this for my family.”

At the ultimate climax of the series in the last episode, Walt has a few final minutes with his wife Skyler.  He starts to say it again. “I did it all for…” Skyler interrupts him.   To paraphrase, she says “I don’t want to hear you say how you did it for the family.”  Walt pauses and then says, “I did it all for myself.”  Walt has come to realize that all of his pursuits and ambitions have grown from his own insecurities and from the bitterness he felt towards two old friends that became a huge success from a company Walt helped form.

How many times do Event Producers (or any other company or individual for that matter) start out with the best of intentions only to have other influences lead to a self-serving actions that ultimately undermine the initial intentions?  Maybe it’s a company that is helping with a site selection but allows a certain reward program by a certain hotel chain influence the final decision of the venue to be selected.  Or maybe a vendor is selected because of perks received by the company’s decision maker.  Or maybe it’s as simple as a father that is just trying to make an honest living but ultimately gets too tied up in linking his job to his identity, spends too many hours (or days, weeks or months) away from his family and those he was initially seeking to provide for.

What other warning signs or pitfalls can Event Producer (and others) look for to help ensure they don’t stray from their initial good intentions?  Or better yet, what safeguards can we put into our lives to make sure we stay true to our core values? 


Many people and leaders of companies and organizations believe that as long as they change, they can stay one step ahead of their competition.  But while change is necessary for any person, company or organization to grow, change in-as-of-itself does not guarantee success.

In his book Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim writes that “change without innovation results in companies stuck in the trap of competitive improvements.”  As I write this in 2013, it is clear that the personal computer industry is in serious decline.  Year over year sales have seen double digit decline.  Profit margins are being squeezed.  For the last several years, companies have tried to gain any market share by focusing on competitive improvements of their products.  So why is it that the majority of profits in the personal computer industry seemed to rest with a few select companies, and one in particular – Apple?

For years, Apple would come out with a new product – the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, the iPad, the MacBook Air, AppleTV (still a “hobby”) and other companies tried to change to mimic Apple’s success.  The difference is that while most companies changed their product offerings, Apple made innovations.

I may be splitting hairs here, but as I have thought about this topic for the last few years, I have enjoyed thinking of a difference between “change” and “innovation” that is as stark as the difference between “hiring” and “selecting”.  (See Pillar #3)  The definitions I have used are:

  • Change – transform or convert, to become different, to become altered or modified, to become transformed or converted
  • Innovation – newly introduced, related to invention

When considering these definitions, there seems to be a spirit of difference:

  • Change – Stressful, anything different, evolutionary, clear future direction, forced upon you
  • Innovation – Inspiring, market changing, revolutionary, future is assumed or imagined, your own design

When looking at Apple as an innovator:

  • Apple innovated with the iPod and iTunes and forced those in the music and associated hardware industries to change.
  • Apple innovated with the iPad and has forced those in the computer industry to  change.
  • Apple innovated with the Mac Book Air and forced those in the laptop industry to change.
  • Apple innovated with the iPhone and forced those in the cellular phone industry to change.

QUESTION:  What are examples of innovation that you have seen?  What change was forced on others because of that innovation?

SUGGESTED READING:   Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim
Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson