Cue the lights, camera and action. Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of the the iconic New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square? I had the pleasure of talking with Liz Hart, supervising producer of the New Year’s Eve in Times Square Official Live Stream Show with Live X. Hart shared how the show operates and her take on staying organized and prepared for a global tradition that spans over 100 years.
When does the planning start for New Year’s Eve in Times Square?
Staff begin planning at different times throughout the year. We always joke that the executive producer of the whole event restarts the countdown clock on Jan. 1 every year, but it’s not far from true. In late fall, the details come together for example the hiring teams create the schedules and write the scripts around our performances and hosts. The day after Christmas, the webcast team finalizes logistics for our move from production offices to Times Square. Working in the middle of Times Square during a peak tourism season leaves us with only three or four days to sync the broadcast trucks and do rehearsals before we go live on Dec. 31.
Is there a strategy for staying organized and prepared for the next year?
We always over-prepare for New Year’s Eve and even then, there are surprises. I write script questions for every possible celebrity guest we may have a chance of seeing, so if our hosts encounter them they can get relevant and informed content to air. Last year, we didn’t think Demi Lovato’s timing was going to work with an interview after her performance but lo and behold, we look up on the screens and see her standing there ready to go live. You just never know, so we always plan realistically but optimistically. I fully believe professionals who are most successful are always the ones who are ready, just in case.
The team is fearless when it comes to re-watching any mistakes to ensure we don’t repeat them. It’s important to acknowledge them, make better plans and try again. It’s very much in line with the spirit of New Year’s Eve. The progress that has been made over the years is because that mentality has transformed the live stream show from an idea that was floated years ago by our executive producer to one of the most watched live event webcast shows in the world.
How do you prioritize tasks and avoid chaos on New Year’s Eve?
The magic of live event broadcasting is that what program viewers see is pieced together in real time behind the scenes. The majority of elements are impossible to pre-plan. For New Year’s Eve, we have a structure but it always gets rearranged because the content is so genuine. We never know when we’re going to get a surprise proposal on the street or an impromptu celebrity appearance. I spend time thinking through as many possibilities as I can, so when I see them with only seconds to respond, I recognize them and can react faster. Timing is crucial and those few seconds spared make the difference between being able to make a cue or not and when it works it’s like we’ve sunk a three point shot— but the game is still going.
What is your best organizational tip for public relations professionals?
Sometimes, no list, schedule or physical item will allow you to solve a challenge like your team and network can. Always be professional because even people you’ve only met for a moment may come back into play, and being able to rely on those relationships or bridges you’ve created when you need them is one of my favorite parts of our industry. And when others are in need, answer the phone in return and keep building on the relationship. It all comes back around.
Do you have a funny story to share?
Corey Behnke of LiveX, the executive producer of the official web show, is a huge Green Bay Packers fan who also does Cheesehead TV. A few years ago I bought him one of those NFL gnomes dressed like a Packer Fan and glued New Year’s Eve hats and party horns on him. Corey tapes him up to the top of the truck for good luck each year. It’s a ritual now.
How do you stay organized?
It’s definitely a balancing act. I’m a dedicated list maker and I’ve just started bullet journaling. I’m always inspired to try something new for my new year’s resolution. Good luck to all of you trying new things this year and Happy New Year from all of us in Times Square!
Reflect on this past year. What can you improve on this year to be a better public relations professional? I challenge you to make a list of all the things you want to work on, short- term and long-term goals that can be accomplished in 2017.
Erica Hammett earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Virginia Tech. Currently, she is a public relations account executive at a digital and advertising agency in Virginia, providing public relations support to Caribbean boutique hotels and resorts. Erica is a PRSA and Travel and Tourism section member.