Last year AOL aimed to lead the programmatic movement by “disrupting” Advertising Week with a first-ever Programmatic Upfront, showcasing the future of digital ad-buying software for 700 guests. In September, AOL took a decidedly exclusive approach for its second-annual Programmatic Upfront, targeting 150 executive-level clients with an invite-only c-suite upfront event on Advertising Week’s opening night.
Hosted at Spring Studios in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, the event allowed AOL to focus on key decision makers in a high-touch environment, where industry execs could talk directly with AOL execs on developments surrounding this new advertising model (Barkley Kalpak Agency, New York City, handled).
“Last year was informational, it was a chance to tell everyone what we were doing in developing the technology and tools to enable the automation of advertising and buying, and helping clients through the transition,” says Stacy Lambatos, director of corporate events at AOL. “This year we wanted the entire process customized, and to not necessarily have a thousand people in the room, but have the right people in the room.”
To keep the guest list for the c-suite upfront event in line with this strategy, AOL streamlined the pre-event experience, making it easy to attend and setting it apart from all the parties and events execs were invited to that week and, well, every week.
Here, five highlights worthy of the corner office:
1. Personal Invites
The experience for executives began with a personal email invite from Bob Lord, ceo of AOL’s Platforms Group, and business leader of the Upfronts. AOL offered a complimentary car service. (Ease of travel to the event? Check. A friendly amount of pressure placed on execs to attend? And, check.) A phone number exclusive to the AOL Platforms Group event staff was made available to guests to access a concierge service in the weeks before the event for any special needs such as errands, dinner reservations, tailoring or travel issues.
2. On-Site Services
Personal greeters armed with iPads loaded with the invite list and each guest’s respective headshots met guests as they stepped out of their private town cars and into the event lobby. Guests could rent power cords for their devices if they forgot one and check their coat at a high-tech digital station, handled by CoatChex. The greeters then personally escorted guests on elevators to the event space on the sixth floor. Upstairs, the concierge desk was staffed for the evening.
3. Curated Design
The lofty, gallery-like space at Spring Studios had floor to ceiling glass windows. Walls were crisp white and accented by AOL branding and marketing messages for the Upfront, such as “Where Data, Digital And Linear TV Converge” and computer code in bright and muted tones. Presentations from AOL and its clients took place in a comfortable setting with stylish couches and chairs procured from seven different vendors—yet they all followed a sophisticated color palette. (A separate press event took place one floor up, before the evening began.)
4. Food and Beverage
After the presentations, guests enjoyed a reception headlined by Banda Magda, a jazz band with global folk influences. The food menu by caterer Creative Edge Parties included oysters with all the fixings, and a truffle and cheese station. The food was carefully plated, whether on its own or passed by staff, on appliqué food trays. At a champagne and whisky cocktail station, guests could choose from an array of ingredients from sage bitters to rose liqueur to citrus and lemongrass.
5. Executive Assistants
Key to the event formula was the attention AOL gave to executive assistants, or EAs, according to Lambatos. “I think this is something that is overlooked, the support system of executives,” she says. “A lot of the time, EAs are the ones giving feedback to their executive on what it was like to work with AOL, or to give them a feel for the event and what it was we were trying to accomplish.”
This began with the invite email and reg page, where AOL made it easy for EAs to take over and enter in their contact information for direct communication with event staff. EAs had access to the concierge service, as well.
Post event, AOL sent gifts to the EAs, thanking them for getting their executives to the event—a strategic final takeaway for their target client’s top influencer.
Photo courtesy: Phillip Angert