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Transforming Events in the Wake of a Pandemic: The Move from In-Person to Video


How RSM Marketing and Hydraulic Studios adapted an annual awards gala and fundraiser into an hour long awards show for television.


Services: Video Production | Video Editing   

Annual live events have been a staple for many companies and nonprofits to connect with their staff and the community, create buzz around their mission, and bolster relationships with new and long time donors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, in-person events were largely reduced or shut down entirely across the country, and businesses had to adapt with the new regulations. 

At RSM, we remain proactive when it comes time to pivot your business in order to adapt in the ever changing business landscape, and recently our team at Hydraulic Studios did just that. Working alongside a local nonprofit, Hydraulic Studio seamlessly transformed their annual awards gala into a full length awards program for television.


Located in the heart of downtown Wichita, the Kansas African American Museum seeks to educate and connect the African American experience with every Kansan. First constructed in 1917, the museum quickly became a cornerstone of the black community, embodying both human endurance and dignity. 

As the premier home of Kansas African American history and artifacts, the museum hosts their annual Trailblazers Gala, celebrating the early pioneers’ perseverance in shaping Kansas’ African American experience. During the Trailblazers Gala, the museum introduces their newest class of honorees and inducts them into the Trailblazer’s Hall of Fame, an esteemed group recognized for their major contributions and accomplishments in the African American community and history of Kansas. 

The Trailblazers exhibit and gala, like many live events, was restricted as the COVID-19 pandemic continued. Directors at the museum see year after year how the Trailblazers event empowers the local African American community, and with 2020 being a stressful time for many in the community, they couldn’t cancel it. “People needed something to celebrate,” says Peter Espinosa, Director at Hydraulic Studios, “and we have the skill, vision, and resources to take their vision and create something powerful for them, even if it can’t be live.” 


Like with any live event, behind the scenes coordination can take months to make sure everything is accounted for: catering, entertainment, hosts, and even the venue itself. With the Kansas African American Museum shifting their efforts from a live event to video for the first time, they relied heavily on the Hydraulic Studio team to ensure it was a great success. “It was honestly quite a tall task,” said Espinosa. “We had three months to plan and get over 20 people on camera, gather all of the historical pieces, like photos, videos and historical documents.” 

The Trailblazers exhibit and gala had 5 honorees for 2020 who all impacted Kansas and pushed the African American experience forward in varying industries: 

  • Hattie McDaniel: a Kansas-born, Oscar winning actress for her performance in Gone with the Wind. She received her Oscar Award in 1940 and was inducted into the Trailblazers Hall of Fame posthumously this year. 
  • Carla Eckels: the Director of Cultural Diversity for KMUW, Eckles was honored as a Trailblazer in Broadcast/Journalism. 
  • Junetta Everett: Honored as a Trailblazer in Health and Business, Junetta serves as Vice President of Professional Relations at Delta Dental.
  • Sam Ford: Another Trailblazer in Broadcast/Journalism, Ford currently resides in Washington D.C. as the Bureau Chief of ABC7 News. 
  • Dr. Sharla Smith: Acting as an assistant professor for the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Smith received the Doris Kerr Larkins, Rising Star Award. 

With each honoree, the team at Hydraulic Studio needed more elements to tell their story and show their impact and successes from a community-wide standpoint, rather than just a personal one. “We needed to tell the full story in a creative, entertaining way,” says Ashley Lundblade, the lead editor on this project. “Their impact is huge, and we wanted everyone who watched to connect with it on a deeply personal level.” 

After gathering historical assets and finishing all of the interviews with the honorees, hosts, and families, post-production started: “The review process for this project was pretty unorthodox compared to other projects,” said Espinosa. “Normally, we have a brand video or virtual tour that’s maybe 5 minutes long that we can quickly watch, review, tweak, and send. But with a full length production like this with almost a full hour run time, that’s not the case.” 

The Premiere

Keeping budget and the competition for TV spots during this time in mind, the Trailblazers broadcast aired at 7pm on November 14 one two local news stations: KWCH in Wichita, KS and on WIBW in Topeka, KS. “With the [2020 presidential] election going on at the same time, available inventory for a TV broadcast was much more competitive and much more expensive than normal,” said Espinosa. 

As the broadcast aired on the two networks, the Hydraulic Team also pushed the broadcast live across all social media networks. “This was another first for us,” said Lundblade. “There we were, about to stream one of our biggest projects we’ve ever done, across 7 different platforms simultaneously, and none of us had ever done it before. There really wasn’t any room for mistakes, and it went off without a hitch!”   

Following the first and second airings, the video received over 25,000 views over traditional broadcast. “We were really not expecting that many views from traditional broadcasts. It was on a Saturday night following an election, and still we had great viewership. To us, that shows how impactful these people are to their local community,” says Espinosa. 

A third broadcast is scheduled for Independence, KS later this year. 

Watch the full broadcast here: 


Final Remarks

The Kansas African American Museum’s first broadcasted Trailblazer awards attracted much more viewership and engagement than originally anticipated, and prompted a more permanent shift in their plans for their next events. “They had the bones of what they needed done, and it was up to us to evolve it into what it became,” said Espinosa. “I’m very proud of the final product and my team and our execution of this project, and we can’t wait to do it again next year.”

For any business or organization struggling to attract people to their stores or events, or to engage and connect with their audience, video marketing is a proven, dynamic option to any marketing strategy. “We see it largely with the younger generation,” said Espinosa. “Businesses haven’t been as successful at connecting with a younger workforce or audience as they were in the past.” 

Video is prevalent in every marketing platform and channel, and has proven itself successful in filling many holes in marketing strategies for businesses willing to embrace it. For the Kansas African American Museum, video production was the ideal solution to taking their Trailblazers gala virtual. 

“In any situation where you’re illustrating your business, whether it be for an event, recruiting new talent, selling to a younger audience, or wanting people to act, video is an excellent solution,” said Espinosa. “I promise, if you put the effort into making a video library, even a small one, you’ll very quickly find so many uses for it in your marketing mix.”

Scott has a passion for growing companies using marketing and consulting with businesses to make their processes better. As a speaker and author, Scott loves to share knowledge and ideas. Scott is the President of RSM Marketing.

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