how to become an event planner

Becoming an Experiential Producer / Brand Event Manager

Now that we have a better understanding of Experiential Marketing, Experiential Events, and Brand Marketing Events, in this section we'll look at how to become an experiential producer or brand event manager. Learn which companies hire experiential producers/brand event managers, the different ways you can work as an experiential producer/brand event manager, and the pros of working in this sector of the events industry.

The Experiential/Brand Marketing Sector

Pretty much every brand will, at one time or another, organize some sort of marketing, publicity, or sales event.

These might be:

Small events, such as in-store customer events, stunts, or press days (where retailers invite the media to view new collections) for less than 150 people.

Medium events, such as press launches, product launches, premieres, and retail events/store openings, for a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand people.

Large events, often experiential marketing campaigns, product launches, road-shows, festivals, sponsored events, public events, promotions and sampling, for thousands if not tens of thousands of people.

Heineken Open Your City battersea power station
Photo: Heineken Open Your City by RPM

Experiential Marketing Agencies

For large events, the brand manager or marketing manager will often hire an experiential marketing agency to design and produce the campaign, which would include the live brand experience event.

Experiential agencies are still a relatively new thing. Some are traditional event management and production agencies, such as Jack Morton Worldwide and George P Johnson, who have re-branded to meet the changing needs of their brand clients since the rise of experiential marketing in the late 2000’s.

Other experiential agencies are traditional marketing and advertising agencies that have either re-positioned themselves to focus on experiential, opened sub-divisions, or created new ‘sister’ companies dedicated to experiential. Examples include, Ogilvy Action (now Geometry Global), Ignition, RPM, and AMP.




Nivea Dare to Dip swimmers in tank
Photo: Nivea Dare to Dip by Jack Morton Worldwide

Former Event Management & Production Companies

When an experiential agency has evolved from a traditional event management and production company, event planners are usually referred to as producers or project managers. Then there are specific support roles such as production managers, operations managers, and logistics managers.

People in these roles tend to be from an event planning and production background. They are then supported by creative directors and strategists to contribute the marketing expertise.


Former Marketing and Advertising Agencies

Where an agency has evolved from a marketing or advertising agency, they tend to adopt the traditional agency roles such as account executive, account manager, and account director.

While some of these staff might be from traditional event planning backgrounds, the majority will be marketing and advertising executives who come from a brand management or project management background. These agencies tend to hire people who come from an event planning and production background in project manager or producer roles, to work alongside the account managers.


Special Event Companies

For small and medium size brand events, that are perhaps not part of a wider experiential marketing campaign, the brand/ marketing / public relations manager will often hire a traditional event management and production company or special events agency to produce the event for them. These types of companies tend to use traditional job titles such as event planner, event manager, and event producer.

In situations like this, the brand is usually hiring the agency for their planning and production experience and their creative ideas, rather than looking to them to deliver marketing insights or strategy.

Alternatively, some brands will have their own in-house event managers who work as part of the marketing and publicity departments.

H&M Ultimate Summer Moments campaign in Times Square
Photo: H&M Ultimate Summer Moments, Times Square, by NA Collective
Being an Experiential Producer / Brand Event Manager

Why Work in Brand / Experiential Events?

Having personally worked on many different types of events including high-profile celebrity events, fundraisers, group travel, award ceremonies, parties, weddings, meetings, conferences, and corporate events, I can honestly say that the most stimulating and creatively challenging events I’ve worked on have been brand experience events.


Creative Challenges

Often, friends look at the lavish, over the top, showbiz parties I’ve organized for celebrities, such as Elton John, and assume those must be the most creative events to work on—when in fact they’re not.

Without wishing to sound flippant, those sorts of event are almost too easy to really be a creative challenge. You’re often given a healthy budget, you then pick a theme or design concept, and that then influences all the creative elements of the event.

Target Converse product launch
Photo: Target Converse product launch by AGENC

Other than the theme and budget, there are no real parameters you have to work within. The creative elements aren’t often required to communicate a deeper underlying message. Everything still has to look good and impress the guests, but it rarely has to go beyond a surface level of creativity. As a planner, once you know what you’re doing and can execute a theme or design concept well, you’re not really going to be stretched a great deal beyond that.



Samsung PowerFoam Challenge at Tough Mudder
Photo: Samsung PowerFoam Challenge with Tough Mudder via Strategy Online

Communicating a Message

Whereas with brand experience events, there is typically a very specific message that has to be communicated through the event—and it’s your job as event planner to find creative ways to do that. It’s not about just producing an event that looks good. Everything at the event has to have meaning and purpose; it’s there to communicate, inform, demonstrate, and engage. Therefore, the creative elements can’t only work on a superficial level; everything has to be backed up by theory, strategy, and measureable results.


Brand Values / Identity

You also have to accommodate the brand’s values and identity, which will inform your creative choices—and sometimes limit them. But all of this is what makes brand experience events so challenging to work on. When every creative choice has to be justified to show how it reflects the brand values or achieves the marketing objectives, you really do have to work a lot harder than just picking a theme and creating a stunning-looking event.


Variety

Another reason many people chose to work on brand experience events is that the work is so varied—both in terms of the clients you’ll work for and the types of events you’ll produce.If you’re working for an agency, you might go from working on a brand experience event for Reebok that involves creating a series of CrossFit challenge events, to a black-ops themed pop-up shop to launch the Call of Duty game, followed by a festival with bands, DJ’s and a fairground for Ben & Jerry’s.


Innovation

Often brand events, many of which target a younger market, are deliberately designed to be a little more provocative or attention-grabbing. Therefore, it gives event planners the opportunity to create more innovative, edgy, or experimental events—in comparison to other types of special events, which are usually fairly civilized or sophisticated.

This can mean incorporating current trends, such as flash mobs, or using the latest technology, such as virtual reality or 3D digital mapping.

Brand experience events almost always have a digital element nowadays too, so if you have an interest or skills in this area, then these type of events are a great way to apply them.

Godiva VIP truffle tasting
Photo: Godiva #TruffleTakeoff Tours, via Godiva
Pros of Being an Experiential Producer / Brand Event Manager

To summarize, some of the reasons people to choose to work as an experiential producer / brand event manager are:

  • Variety of different types of events
  • Opportunity to work for many different brands
  • Creative challenge of designing events to communicate specific brand values and messages
  • To incorporate the latest trends and technologies
  • To work on large-scale, national, or sometimes international events
  • To work on campaigns featuring multiple components/channels, not just the live event element
  • To work for large, sometimes global, agencies
What it Takes to Be an Experiential Producer

Strategic Thinking

More than any other sector of the events industry, brand experience events require you to have an awareness of where events sit in the broader marketing mix and their purpose as a tool for communications.

To work as an experiential producer / brand event manager you need to demonstrate a commercial awareness.

You need to be able to understand what a brand is trying to communicate or achieve—the objectives—and think strategically to devise and implement creative solutions that will achieve those objectives. All of which has to be backed up by measureable results in order to justify a return on investment.

Perrier Street Art campaign Brooklyn launch event
Photo: Perrier Street Art campaign, Brooklyn launch by Mirrorball

Interpretive Skills

Being an experiential producer / brand event manager also involves being able to interpret a brand’s values and identity and find ways to infuse these into the event in a creative way. Not only does the event need to achieve certain pre-defined marketing objectives, but it also needs to do so while reflecting the DNA of the brand; their image and the values they represent. Often, these are communicated through the style, tone, and content of the event—everything from the choice of venue to the catering, décor, and entertainment.

Therefore, an experiential producer / brand event manager often has to do a fair amount of research to really 'get under the skin' of the brand, before using those insights to source, propose, and justify their choice of suppliers/elements for the event.



Evian Eats photo op
Photo: Evian Eats at South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Miami, by Elizabeth Renfrow for Bizbash

Working Across Multiple Channels

As an experiential producer / brand event manager, you’ll often find yourself working on more than just the live event. The live event might be part of a wider campaign, and therefore you’ll need to be aware of how your contribution will work in conjunction with other channels of communication, such as digital, on-pack advertising, print/radio advertising, and social media.

Often, you’ll find that you’re not even working on an event in the traditional sense, but another form of live activity, such as a week-long pop-up restaurant, product sampling at a festival, or an interactive installation in a shopping mall.


Creativity

Brand marketing / experiential event planning requires you to have an open mind and be able to think outside the box to find the most original solutions to answer a brief. This means keeping up with current trends, new technologies, and generally having your ear to the ground about things that are about to enter the zeitgeist.

 

Flexibility

It also means being flexible. You’ll often be charged with doing things you’ve never done before or don’t know how to do, such as turning Times Square into a giant outdoor swimming pool, or creating a drive-through pop-up shopping experience—but that’s all part of the challenge. You’ve got to be the type of person that can turn their hand to anything and not panic or give up when you find yourself out of your comfort zone.

It’s usually the thrill of trying to do something new and original, maybe something that’s genuinely never been done before, which attracts event planners to this sector of the events industry. Why just organize a traditional dinner in a hotel ballroom, when you could be creating an edible forest in a secret underground car-park?

Ultimately, experiential marketing and brand experience is so much more than just traditional event planning.

Jack Daniels Motel No.7 pool party
Photo: Jack Daniels Motel No.7 by Mirrorball
How to Become an Experiential Producer / Brand Event Manager

For more information on how to become an experiential producer / brand event manager, check out this site's companion book Become an Event Planner: Secrets for Getting Hired from Employers, Recruiters, and Event Professionals. Topics covered in the book include:

  • The experience employers will be looking for on your resume
  • How to get that experience when starting from scratch
  • The core skills that employers are looking for you to demonstrate
  • How to present your experience on a resume in the right way—inc sample resume
  • How you should—and shouldn't—approach employers for work experience
  • The preparation you must do for an interview
  • What to say and do in interviews—and what not to
become an event planner book by matthew james



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Being an Experiential Producer

What does an experiential producer do? Read a real experiential producer job description by Marie Davidheiser, Managing Director, iris New York, and former Senior Vice President, Director of Operations, Jack Morton Worldwide.

marie davidheiser