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Agencies Everywhere See Experiential Marketing as the Next Big Thing, and Brands Want In

Clients invest more, and competition increases among creative shops

Salesforce built a tech village for its Dreamforce 2016 mega-event in San Francisco.

Advertisers haven’t had to look too far for negative news lately. But as broadcast spending dips and clients question the safety and effectiveness of digital buys, more and more agencies are turning toward a rare bright spot in the ad world: experiential marketing.

“Experiential work is where the rubber hits the road—where advertising meets the Amazon review, quote unquote,” says Denise Wong, president of George P. Johnson Experiential Marketing. “We can not only go out with a brand’s message and promise, but give consumers a chance to try it.”

“Two or three years ago, clients saw it as an incremental spend. Now they’re moving dollars previously slated for media or broadcast into experiential.”
-Denise Wong, president of George P. Johnson Experiential Marketing

This sort of work sells both products surrounded by experiences and experiences doubling as products. And brands want in on it.

“Yes, brands are definitely starting to invest more in experiential projects, and you’re seeing more competition from highly creative smaller agencies,” says Debbie Kaplan, evp of experiential marketing at WPP’s Geometry Global. “Ad and PR agencies are all jumping on the bandwagon.”

“Two or three years ago, clients saw it as an incremental spend,” Wong reveals. “Now they’re moving dollars previously slated for media or broadcast into experiential.”

One might attribute this change to basic human nature. Consumers can easily skip, mute or block TV and digital ads, but attending an event or absorbing an experience is a decision. In many cases, it also constitutes a purchase—even if the currency is time or the sort of behavioral and demographic data marketers crave.

“I’m not here to say that traditional channels are dead, but 89 percent of ad content is ignored by the consumer,” says AgencyEA co-founder Fergus Rooney, whose Chicago firm has seen clients increase their experiential spend by 10 to 14 percent year over year. In explaining the shift, Wong cites the “value of sharing an experience with somebody, which you can’t really do when you’re watching an ad,” as well as the wide range of content that springs from each event.

Giant Spoon project manager Patrick Jong puts things a bit more succinctly: “No one is tweeting or posting about a billboard.”

At Comic-Con in San Diego, the Blade Runner 2049 Experience presented by Johnnie Walker had fans chasing VR replicants.

In almost every case, that’s true—but MullenLowe Open global CEO Anthony Hopper also sees experiential complementing conventional creative rather than displacing it. “The line between traditional and experiential is becoming blurred,” he notes. “More often than not, our events can be turned into ads and broadcast through either digital platforms or TV.”

Rooney, who got his start in catering, now handles projects that range from planning the annual MillerCoors Distributor Convention to setting up a temporary tattoo booth for Clif Bar at the Pitchfork Music Festival. The integrated team at MullenLowe livestreamed a five-man Royal Caribbean cruise to Times Square tourists via Periscope. And for the past eight years, George P. Johnson has managed Dreamforce, a three-day tech spree in which 175,000 would-be thought leaders descend on San Francisco, bringing traffic to a halt while bonding over the not-so-dark arts of IT and email marketing. Past attractions have ranged from a Tesla raffle and a street covered in astroturf to a life-sized bust of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff made of Legos.

You’re invited to a VIP-only private party

The pivot from party planning to brand experience design didn’t happen overnight. Los Angeles-based lifestyle marketing agency Cashmere organizes star-studded activations for brands like Adidas, Universal Pictures and Uber Eats, along with promos for longtime client Snoop Dogg. But the group started with what evp and chief creative officer Ryan Ford calls “street teams” hired to design and distribute flyers promoting area hip-hop shows.

“It’s experiential marketing on a very small level,” Ford says. “You have to know where these people you’re trying to target are hanging out, and you can design the flyer in a way so that they will still look at it even when it’s on the sidewalk.” All marketers can relate to this endless search for impressions.

“I’m not here to say that traditional channels are dead, but 89 percent of ad content is ignored by the consumer.”
-AgencyEA co-founder Fergus Rooney

“For a long time it was seen as ‘we’re gonna set up a booth in the mall with a Toyota Camry and let people experience that,’” says Ford, who ties the rise of experiential marketing to festival culture and, of course, the internet as a great equalizer. Today, an agency like GPJ can drive a brand-new Dodge Demon from a flaming cage onto a drag strip in the middle of the Hudson River as Vin Diesel, Wiz Khalifa and 55,000 remote viewers look on.

“When I first worked on experiential, it was immersive brand events without the ability to connect to a broader audience,” says Hopper. Then Red Bull blazed a trail in sponsoring motocross and cliff-diving stunts rather than blanketing the airwaves with ads. “Now it has trickled down,” says Ford. “You’d better include an experiential element in your marketing or it won’t have that 360-degree effect.”

Jong compares this evolution to the music industry, where streaming has forced artists to double down on concerts and merchandise to make up for steep drops in record sales and paid downloads.

That looks great, but how much will it cost?

Experiences may draw more dedicated eyeballs than most TV spots or banner ads. But CMOs feeling the budget crunch want more proof that their millions are paying off.

The need for numbers is nothing new, and Rooney cites old-school offerings like AmEx points and hotel loyalty programs, saying, “A customer who spends $1 outside the loyalty program will usually spend $9 within the program. That is experiential at work—the measurement of that experience and the conviction of the customer saying, ‘I want more.’”

Measurement remains more art than science, but nothing speaks louder than statistics, and simply listing shares and hashtags or basic attendance totals isn’t going to cut it for a major brand.

Speed is also an issue. “The difficulty for us is in just how quickly the client expects the activity to pay back,” Hopper notes. “Now we have more agile or popup activations, because they deliver the numbers more quickly.”

55,000 people livestreamed the Dodge Demon’s fiery debut at the New York Auto Show.

George P. Johnson, which is part of the Project Worldwide network, recently went so far as to create its own data aggregation platform in collaboration with software company RainFocus. The goal was to draw a clearer line between the moment a person responds to that RSVP email and his or her eventual purchase. Data-driven experiential marketing, or DDEM, can also help personalize the experience. Would you rather see a promo for sports cars or diapers? Demographics make the difference, and attendees are surprisingly happy to provide their personal info as the price of admission.

At this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, Giant Spoon helped stage a 12,800-square-foot Blade Runner 2049 Experience. Every guest was required to wear a wristband that could be scanned to activate different experiences or win prizes. “At each touchpoint, we then knew who they were and the actions they were taking inside the space,” says co-founder Marc Simons.

The old-school method still works, too: Surveying fans that waited four hours to walk through a film-like environment can give clients a pretty good idea about whether they plan to buy tickets to the movie itself.

Rooney calls measurement “our next frontier,” adding, “In five years when we speak about this topic, everyone will be doing it.”

“The bigger, better activation agencies have seen that data is becoming more important,” ventures Simons. “I don’t think it will be a differentiator for long. It will be a requirement.”

And what about the smaller shops? “There is increasing competition. However, a rise in quantity does not equate to a rise in quality,” says Jack Morton Worldwide chairman and CEO Josh McCall. “People’s expectations are incredibly high and it takes expertise to link powerful ideas, design and technology to create an extraordinary experience that is moving and original.”

DIÁLOGO’s CEO to Serve On HPRA’s National Board

The Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) voted to elect the 2015 Board of Directors, which includes: Lucia Matthews of DIÁLOGO Public Relations in New York and San Diego, Evelyn Galarza of Time Warner Cable in New York, Maricela Cueva of VPE PR in Los Angeles, Mario Flores of Sportivo in Los Angeles, Melissa Castro of the Telemundo Station Group in Miami, Melissa Smith, PR Consultant in New York, Sarah Lora of Delta Air Lines in Atlanta, Sonia Diaz of Balsera PR in Miami, and Victoria Wales of GSA in Washington, DC.

Six Figures: Lucia Tovar-Matthews

Lucia Tovar-Matthews says she was born to communicate and connect people, and she’s doing  just that for a living. Using her innate skills, hard work and foresight, she became the founder of her own company, which grew at 100 percent its first three years — before she turned 30.

Her company, DIÁLOGO Public Relations, was born in 2006, and today it is an influential Hispanic public relations and social marketing firm, with offices in New York City, San Diego, and Mexico City. In 2011, she received the 40 Under 40 Award from San Diego Metro Magazine. She says her secret to developing such a successful company, her first time around, was being able to develop and maintain connections, being able to look way ahead, and being honest — to herself and her clients.

“It was something I always wanted to do,” says Tovar-Matthews, who only moved to San Diego from Mexico City 11 years ago. “Thankfully it’s been growing organically. I’ve been very lucky to find a niche in the Latino community that I know very well.”

Now in her mid-30’s, Tovar- Matthews is still as giggly and high-spirited as ever. She says she got all of the business experience she’s needed from working in the field. She got her first job when she was 18, right after she finished high school in Mexico City, where she was born and raised.

“I started working in the World Trade Center in Mexico doing office and commercial events,” she says. “I fell in love with the personal relationship…I love to be in front of the events, not behind the events, that’s my passion.

She says she remembers when she first moved to the U.S. and she was a homemaker, but she felt bored. She says she always wanted to help the Latino community, and she thought there was a necessity in the market for not just a one-way conversation, but a dialogue. That is what inspired the idea for her company — DIÁLOGO.

“I invested all my savings into the company,” says Tovar-Matthews, who also maxed out her credit cards for the start-up costs. “It was totally worth it. I was able to pay all my credit cards… The company has given me more than I expected. I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been able to connect so many people and grow the Latino market – which is my primary goal.”

She says some of her start-up costs included a really good, easy-to-navigate Web site to help people find the information they need, office space, and the company’s incorporation. She also recommends finding a good mentor to help you.

“There are a lot of sites out there that help a lot of Latinos and tell you how to create your company, and how much money you need to have,” says Tovar-Matthews.

Not only does Tovar-Matthews focus on helping Latino clients, she also serves on the advisory board for the California Diversity Council and the San Diego Community College District Board to promote diversity for Latinas. She additionally started a multi-cultural internship program through DIÁLOGO to help young Latinas starting out in their careers.

“We actually send them out there to work, which is what I did,” says Tovar-Matthews about her 3-month internships which have benefited four girls so far. “They work with real campaigns. I love to push for that, because that’s the way I learned.”

Since she says she’s always looking further ahead than the average person, Tovar-Matthews also recently established the 2012 Hispano Blogger Awards. Her team will choose the top 25 bilingual Latina bloggers in 20 categories, from art to food to weddings, based on the size of their following and the impact they’ve had in the community. The nomination process will end August 15 midnight EST and five nominees from each category will be announced August 16 via Facebook, Twitter and DIÁLOGO’s blog during the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Statewide Convention in San Diego.

“Everybody wants to be heard,” she says. “Blogging is the way a lot of people communicate now. It’s moving a large-scale of people now. You move thousands of them. Hispano Bloggers is one of my most recent babies.”

The next step in her projection plan, however, will be starting a family.

“I want to try to get pregnant,” says Tovar-Matthews who doesn’t see herself staying home for long after her two to three kids are born. “I still see another 30 years for DIÁLOGO – it’s not going away.”

DIÁLOGO’s CEO Named PR Professional of the Year

Lucia Matthews, CEO of DIÁLOGO, was named 2012 PR Professional of the Year by the Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) and was honored October 4 at the 28th Annual PRemio Awards & Scholarship Gala in Los Angeles. The HPRA recognized Matthews for her outstanding work and commitment to her clients and company.

Matthews founded DIÁLOGO in 2006, four years after arriving from Mexico, on the basis that organizations should collaborate and communicate with stakeholders to build positive impact, brand, and profits.

READ STORY IN PR WEEK

Latina of Influence | Lucía Tovar-Matthews

Founder and CEO of DIÁLOGO, Lucía Tovar-Matthews is one of Hispanic Lifestyle’s 2013 Latinas of Influence.

About our Latina of Influence – Lucía Tovar-Matthews

Lucía Tovar-Matthews is frequently recognized as a Hispanic PR industry leader, most recently by the Hispanic PR Association, which honored her as the 2012 national PR Practitioner of the Year during the 28th annual PRemio Gala October 4, 2012 for her service to clients, company and community.

 

Since its inception, DIÁLOGO has shown impressive growth, due in large part to Lucía’s results-driven work ethic, which has been infused into the company’s culture. This summer, Fox News Latino, NBC Latino, La Opinion, Hispanic Business Magazine and Voxxi Hispanic News featured Lucia’s groundbreaking, dialogue-driven public relations method within the Hispanic business and consumer community.

In 2011, Lucía opened a New York division to keep pace with client acquisition. Today DIÁLOGO is the fastest growing independently owned Hispanic PR agency in the US, boasting a talented team of more than 40 employees working with an impressive roster of brands including Aflac, Banamex USA, Capitol Latin Records, Sana Health, Sempra Energy, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Warner Music Latina and many others.

To achieve this rapid success, Mrs. Matthews launched HispanoBloggers, a break through online communication platform and DialogueOne™, a client extranet portal. HispanoBloggers.com enables top consumer brands to participate in cutting-edge research and promotion. The blogger program is now the largest Latina blogger community and the core of DIÁLOGO’s social media strategy, which helped our firm to win PR Agency of the Year Reaching Latinos in 2010 by Latinos in Social Media. For the effectiveness of DialogueOne™, our proprietary extranet resource for PR campaign analysis, Lucia was awarded PR Service Provider of the Year in 2011 by the United Latino Business Coalition.

Lucía and her company are widely recognized as a barometer of trends within the Hispanic business and consumer sectors.

Lucía is a fervent advocate of mentorship and has a special interest in nurturing the next great Latina communication professionals so in 2009, she created a mentorship curriculum with the University of California San Diego that provides students and junior account executives real life experience on campaigns. San Diego Metro Magazine recognized Lucia for the program as one of its 40 Under 40 Award winners in 2011.

Deeply committed to diversity and education, Lucía has been an active leader in numerous organizations that seek to improve Latina students’ and small business owners’ access to education and business resources. She serves on the Advisory Board of Directors at California Diversity Council and the Oversight Board at San Diego Community College District. Lucía’s work in the local business community was recognized by the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who awarded Lucía and her company its Business of the Year Award in 2010.

Lucía began her career at Urban Asociados, a Mexico City-based communications firm and just prior to launching DIÁLOGO, Lucia led grassroots communications initiatives for the World Trade Center, Mexico City. A native of Mexico City, Lucía studied communications from Instituto Internacional de Estudios Superiores. She is proficient in English, Spanish, French, and conversational Italian.