In this section, we're going to look at a real experiential marketing job description—as described by a professional; Marie Davidheiser, Managing Director, iris New York, and former Senior Vice President, Director of Operations, Jack Morton Worldwide.
Now let's hear a first-hand account of an experiential marketing job description from a professional experiential producer:
Marie Davidheiser is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Operations for Jack Morton Worldwide.
Based in their New York office, she has worked on experiential campaigns and brand experience events throughout North America for clients including Bank of America, Samsung, Kimberly-Clark, American Airlines, Verizon, LEGO, and Walmart.
Having originally worked for Jack Morton as a freelance production coordinator, Marie then spent several years working for creative agency C2 Creative (now GO! Experience Design) on events for Bank of America, National Geographic and TV Guide, before returning to Jack Morton as a senior producer.
In 2016, Marie left Jack Morton and is now Managing Director of iris New York.
“A client either comes to us with a brief, or we go to them with an idea. Everything we do is ideas-led, so we would never pitch a piece of business without a creative concept that we wanted to bring to life through an experience.
If a client comes to us with a brief saying we need you to do x, y, z, the first part of our process is to pull out the problem that they’re trying to figure out, and apply our Jack Morton point of view to it.
We’re in the business of solving problems. We’re not going to come back to them with a response around ‘let’s put up some pipe-and-drape’ or ‘you need a beautiful stage’. We want to spend some time applying our strategic thinking, which will provide a springboard for a creative idea.
The idea is more about ‘where do the brand and the people we’re trying to communicate with, come together and create a brand experience?’
What’s nice is that because it’s ideas-led, we really try to bring that forward to our clients and explain how everything should anchor around one idea that you base your expression on. So if you think of it like the hub of a wheel, the idea would be at the center and all of the spokes coming out of that wheel are how you express that concept—with the idea being throughout the experience; from the first communication to the very last thing they leave with.
If it’s an event, you’re going to bring in everything from the scenic and digital elements, to the staff credentials, to the signage, so that everything has the same look and feel and it’s all driving back to that unifying core idea."
“We then start to assemble the team, initially led by account and strategy, then into creative and production.
What’s unique about a brand experience agency is that we’re all working together at the same time. So, when I was a producer, I wasn’t just brought in at the end. It’s not a case of ‘so we want a big flash mob in Times Square—go make it happen’. I’m involved at the very beginning so that I can help bring that experience to life through the expression of the event.
The creative team might come up with a big idea, but it’s the producer’s job to think through the touch points and develop the experience on the ground—whether it’s in the digital space or the live space. So we have more creative involvement.
When a brief comes in, it will go out to a lead on the account, strategy, creative, and production team. The account team is responsible for picking apart the problem the client has; they know the client’s business, they understand what they’re trying to achieve. Then the strategic and creative team are responsible for coming up with the insight—the ‘ah ha!’ moment; this is what we need to solve. Then it’s about turning that into an idea, the unifying core concept that’s going to hold everything together.
The production lead contributes to the experience and the execution. In some agencies, I, as the producer, would just be doing the execution. Whereas in an experiential agency, I get to help with that experience element of ‘how does that idea come to life?’ That’s my responsibility. It’s not the creative person’s sole responsibility to map out the whole experience for the consumer, whether on a tradeshow or a runway show, it’s my job. Because we’re set up to collaborate, the best ideas come out, and I get to apply an ideas lens to everything we produce.”
“Working in our business is 100% about solving problems. Throughout the process, we are developing ideas to enhance the experience and yet we must work within the budget and timeline perimeter realities. The teams work together to problem solve and bring those ideas to life in creative ways. It’s a constant challenge.
One way to think through the experience is that we develop what we call ‘the experience roadmap’, which details from start to finish what people are experiencing throughout all the touch points; whether that’s print, video, digital, or live—in order to show how we’re engaging them. Which is why, as a producer, I get to be more involved in the creative side."
"Being more involved in the content and the creation is one of the things I love. Whereas if I was problem solving at a traditional event agency, I would be much more limited. So, maybe I’d be looking at a ballroom venue and saying to myself ‘well I have x square footage and the ceiling height is y, but I don’t have any rigging points that would enable me to hang things……’ .
To me, that’s so much more limited and formulaic. It’s nowhere near as engaging as the kind of creative problem solving we do here. Often we’re trying to do things that no one has done before. Someone might ask me if we can create an experience with helicopters flying through Time Square—which you can’t do if you have that traditional formulaic approach to event planning with its rigid checklists of what constitutes an event."
"Experiential campaigns often involve more than just the event itself. We worked on an event for Cotton, which involved creating a 24-hour runway show showcasing the versatility of cotton—which had never been done before.
We created a pre-promotion campaign where we engaged with six or seven bloggers, each representing a different area of the United States, who pre-blogged on a website that we created to get people excited with a contest.
The whole event was then streamed live on MTV and mobile platforms, and it got a huge amount of social media play. This showcases the versatility of the work you get to do, versus traditional meeting or event planning."
"Often it’s quite scary because I’m constantly doing things that I haven’t done before, so the work takes you out of your comfort zone. You have to rely on the fundamentals of production: get the right experienced people on your team, have a detailed schedule and budget, and keep your clients happy. That will give you the solid base you need in order to work through things and explore what’s possible."
"For inspiration, I often say to my team, ‘we live in New York City; just open your eyes’. There are things I see when I’m walking down the street and I think ‘wow, we could apply that to one of our jobs’.
It might be an amazing window display in a retail store or a museum exhibit. Or it might be that something has been done before in another industry, but it’s never been applied to our business. Re-mixing something or re-applying it to a new concept can create something unique and different.
If you’re smart, you can pull things in. There are things that chefs are doing that you can apply, for example, when they make bagels taste like ice cream. I look at things like that and think ‘that’s cool’; we could build an experience around that and make it bigger and better.”
“Once we’ve been awarded the work, we assign the team. Often, the first phase of the active project involves re-shaping the initial ideas based on the client’s feedback. We also need to ensure we have weekly calls and meeting notes going out, a clear organizational chart with roles and responsibilities, a detailed timeline, and deliverables—all factored against your budget."
"Your deliverables on a project are what people are going to experience; they might include video graphics that are going to run across a 100ft screen, a big announcement that involves scripted speeches, or a floor plan for an event in Time Square that has to be approved for permitting."
"When we did the 24-hour runway show for Cotton, we needed one look per minute—1440 different outfits—so we had to think about how we were going to orchestrate all the models, stylists, and make-up artists.
It’s my responsibility as the producer to figure out the third-party suppliers or specialists that we’re going to need, then contract everything out, negotiate rates, and bring them on board as part of the team."
"It’s important that suppliers get to meet with the creative team so that they fully understand the idea, because as it trickles down, and the team gets larger, the idea can get weaker. That happens all the way down to the production assistant working on-site at the event, because if they don’t understand that the idea is to keep the room bright for example, and they dim the lights, then it’s wrong.
So you need everybody to get it, and get the ‘why’, so that when we do the ‘what’, it makes sense. It needs to be a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed."
"With event production, you’ve got to be super detailed and organized, but sometimes you have to take risks and do things you’re not sure of or that you’ve never done before. If that’s the case, you have to be sure you have a back-up plan—and a back-up plan for that back-up plan! There’s a lot of detailed thinking against an overall big concept."
"What I really like about my job is that I get to work on different types of projects. We do a fair bit of campaign work, so it’s not just a one-off experience—maybe there’s a lead up campaign that’s digital, or we’re communicating to an internal audience with print materials. I have done a lot of internal employee work, but it’s not just about throwing a party for employees, it might be communication via e-newsletters, magazines, or videos. There are a whole mix of communication materials that demand the same foundation of planning and production—it’s not always in the live space."
"I get that the live space events are more fun and sexy, but it’s good to do a mixture because it helps you understand the bigger picture. I worked at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with Samsung and created 60 minutes of 3D projection mapping content.
Again, it was my job to take a very complicated subject; the components—all the stuff that’s inside the phones and other electronics, like microchips—and try to make it sexy and engaging.
As a producer, I have to think about how to organize that information and put it together, as well as practical things like how to get the client to review 60 minutes of content; they’re not going to do it all in one go, so how do you break it up for them? It was very cool to work on something like that."
"We’ve also worked on the Walmart Shareholders meeting, which is the largest internal meeting in the United States with 15,000 people attending. One small piece of what we do for the event is to follow three employees, or associates as they call them, and create a documentary style ‘day in the life’ to capture their experience of the week in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Just problem solving that one element alone is a challenge. There are 400 different buses going to all the different activities and you have to figure out where they’re going to be, how you’re going to get your film crew there, and what bus they need to be on in order to link up to the next bus so that you’re actually capturing all the moments. It’s no small feat—but it’s those types of puzzles and challenges that are rewarding; where you get to the moment and think ‘yes! I did it, I figured it out!’”
“In the week leading up to the event—usually the point where you’re crying, or you look terrible because you haven’t slept for days!—that’s when the adrenaline starts kicking in. It’s actually the fun part. Your whole team is in place and you’re finishing final details, so we do something called a ‘run of show’ where you look, beat by beat, at what’s happening and who’s responsible for what."
"If you’re going onsite, you’re preparing for that and briefing all your last minute team members; who’s calling the show, who’s running the graphics, who’s training the brand ambassadors, etc. I like to call it my ‘check and balance week’ of ‘what did I promise?’ and ‘what am I delivering?’, because you have to be that detailed—especially when you’re not sleeping!"
"Throughout the whole process, I create a production schedule to work from and, every week when we have our status meetings, I mark off what’s completed, what’s in progress, and what’s been held up. That schedule is used as the agenda for the meeting so that everybody’s tracking it. Then, at the end of the meeting, we update it to say ‘ok, next week our goals are X, Y, Z, for the schedule’. Then, nearer to the date of the event, I create the onsite schedule; what’s happening almost second-by-second to make sure every little thing is accounted for."
"Once you get outside of the office and your comfort zone in front of your computer, that’s when game-time decisions happen. As a producer, you have to have a total understanding of where you’re at, such as with the budget for example. Then, if you need to make a decision, such as ‘oh crap, the car that we’re trying to load in for the event doesn’t fit so we need to crane it in’, you know whether you have the money to pay for that crane, or whether you are going to go over budget—and if you are, how you are going to communicate that to the client."
"There are always issues that come up onsite, so the producer is really there to problem solve. If you’re the executive producer, you’re in charge of the whole thing, so you’ll have a team in place that is activating the program onsite. You’re there overseeing and making sure that every little thing that you’ve done in pre-production is occurring on-site. Something unforeseen will always come up that you haven’t prepared for, so you need to be able to deal with that.
I worked on the American Airlines/US Airways merger and the whole thing was kept secret, so even I didn’t know exactly when it was going to happen. I got six days’ notice that it was going to be on a Thursday in Dallas. They wanted to do a press conference at the airport and stream the content to various satellite events around the country. Following the main press announcement, there was also going to be an event for approximately 1,000 of their employees.
Working at the airport, security was obviously very tight, and I needed to liaise with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to get equipment onto the tarmac, which made it difficult from a production standpoint.
While we were on-site during the night, one of the vehicles on the tarmac drove over and broke my broadcast line that was supposed to provide the uplink to the satellite events all over the country the next day.
It was 2 a.m., I couldn’t get into the airport because it was ‘closed’, so it was a case of ‘how do I problem solve this?’ (I did, incidentally, and everything worked out fine!).”
“Following the event there’s also a lot of organization. Typically, we like to do a publication of post-event metrics that measure what success looks like for the client. That can vary drastically, whether its engagement or attendance or tweets, whatever is relevant for the client."
"We also do a post-event debrief internally: what worked, what didn’t, what we would do differently next time. Then there’s a separate client debrief: what worked from a process, communication, and organizational standpoint, what they liked creatively, and what could be improved."
"Then finally, we do a financial reconciliation where we’ll show the client what we estimated the budget was going to come in at, what the actual costs were, and what the variances are.”