Live from Chicago: Inside the 19th Annual Experiential Marketing Summit – Event Marketer

Live from Chicago: Inside the 19th Annual Experiential Marketing Summit – Event Marketer

Live from Chicago: Inside the 19th Annual Experiential Marketing Summit

After nearly 18 months, the industry gathers in-person to gain insights into a new chapter of events

Cautious optimism. A new lease on data. Technology as an equalizer. Smaller and regional. These were among the key themes that emerged during the 19th annual Experiential Marketing Summit, Oct. 5-7, at McCormick Place in Chicago. The “family reunion,” in-person for the first time since the 2019 event, offered education, discussion forums, networking experiences, a Hall of Ideas featuring solutions providers and the 2021 combined Ex Awards + Experience Design & Technology Awards ceremony.

The show opened with a fireside chat between Soo Young Kim, head of global programs and experiences at YouTube, and Jessica Heasley, group editor and publisher at Event Marketer. The two discussed YouTube’s pivot into digital events and how hyper-personalization continues to guide strategy for 2022. Kim walked the audience through YouTube’s Brandcast Delivered virtual experience that included personalized content and a pizza-making kit—both unique to each attendee’s preferences.

“This was an opportunity to do something we’ve never done before. But what would be natural for the brand? That was the challenge,” Kim said. For the return to in-person, the organization plans to “get back to basics on what makes great marketing, and that is customer insights.”

Experiential Marketing Summit _Soo_Young_Kim

Soo Young Kim kicked off EMS with a fireside chat, discussing YouTube’s pivot to digital and its focus on hyper-personalization.

“Scarcity brings clarity.”

–Soo Young Kim, Head of Global Programs and Experiences, YouTube

“We got really good at scenario-planning, because there was hope we might be live again,” she said. “We developed scenario plans for all of our events, the risks and the impacts, the go and no-go date… having to take your teams through the heartache of planning something one way and having it not go as planned is exhausting. But scenario planning solves for that.”

Kim said the last two years have also been a test in leadership. She’s learned the importance of being an empathetic leader. “Your team makes magic happen and a team is made of real people with real lives.”

Looking to the future, Kim’s team will focus on the quality, not the quantity, of their events. “Scarcity brings clarity,” she said. “… That principle will stay with us.”

“We’re in a period of evolution, perhaps, revolution.”

–Alex Sapiz, VP-Global Events, Cisco


Alex Sapiz delivered the day two keynote, offering marketing lessons Cisco has learned from the pandemic.

Alex Sapiz, vp-global events at Cisco, opened the Experiential Marketing Summit on day two. Sapiz leads a global portfolio of both in-person and digital events for the brand, and in her keynote, she outlined the challenges and the opportunities brought on by the pandemic from the perspective of Cisco events as well as the implications on the entire event industry.

The body reacts to both fear and excitement in the same way, and marketers can mimic that by “reframing the stress and uncertainty into opportunity and discovery,” Sapiz said, and “approaching this time with excitement instead of fear.”

What has helped event marketers succeed at this time is the application of accessibility, creativity and sustainability in events. Financial and geographical barriers were no longer an obstacle in the virtual event world, providing attendees with unprecedented accessibility and “the business impact is real,” she said.

Sapiz also pointed to the fact that the “industry’s creativity has erupted into the fourth dimension,” as event marketers have used technologies to “completely rescale our work.” And she addressed sustainability by drawing connections between Cisco’s “Future Ready” messaging and its commitment to reducing environmental impact. The company transformed Cisco IMPACT 2020 into a net-positive event by neutralizing 100 percent of virtual attendance and event production impacts by planting one tree for each attendee via the Tentree Climate+ program. Cisco IMPACT 2021’s on-site production was powered by Cisco-generated renewable solar energy from its facility in Blythe, CA.

“Don’t rely on old blueprints. Start something new. Give them choice. The future of events is a future built on choice.”

–Alex Sapiz, VP-Global Events, Cisco

“The thing about a revolution is it is unpredictable,” Sapiz said as she turned to the future. Rather than make predictions, she shared top marketing lessons from the pandemic that can help organizations move forward. Among them: To impactfully leverage the new skills and tools acquired over the last two years.

“You’ve probably built virtual events from scratch and sent them to the bin and started over. You were asked to reach more people with less budget,” Sapiz said. “Because of this, you and your organization have developed incredible resilience and agility. This resilience is your most powerful tool in your new toolbelt. So, take risks.”

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The Experiential Marketing Summit agenda included an array of networking opportunities that catered to attendee comfort levels, from varied seating arrangements at general sessions to al fresco networking dinners to happy hours in the Hall of Ideas with a lounge area featuring roundtables and high-tops. Each day opened with optional wellness activities, including a 5K Run/Walk or in-room virtual yoga and meditation.

Greeting attendees at registration was Freeman’s “Sweet to see you” and “Here for it” candy shop activation that offered a 360-degree flying video moment, larger-than-life candy props, and a sweet station packed with free snacks ranging from local Garrett Popcorn to SweetTarts.


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A post shared by Freeman (@freemancompany)

Roving the floor at the show was the team from SpotMyPhotos, which captured paparazzi-style professional shots of attendees. By providing a phone number or email, attendees automatically received a text link to a gallery of images that were snapped in real time and captured over the course of the three-day show. Printing stations allowed attendees to snag hard-copy photos, too.

Evening happy hours in the Hall of Ideas featured pre-packaged appetizers, drinks and Innovation Tours sponsored by Highmark, TourGuide Solutions, LiveGauge, BeyondLiveX, Meshh Limited, Stimulated-Inc. and Moss, Inc.

This year, the industry’s longest-running recognition initiatives for the experiential industry became one supersized program at a luncheon gala open to all EMS attendees—the combined Ex Awards + Experience Design & Technology Awards by presenting sponsor Socio and host sponsor The Collection at McCormick Square. Led by Jessica Heasley, Event Marketer group editor and publisher, and Rachel Boucher, head of content, as well as DJ Matt Roan, attendees waved glow sticks, participated in dance challenges to score table drops and enjoyed sizzle reels from inspiring case studies across 50 categories.

The annual Sparks-powered Women in Events Workshop tackled the toxic trio of barriers that derail a woman’s career. And author and workplace strategist Joan Kuhl covered the five power moves to increase confidence, prioritize personal well-being and cultivate key relationships that every woman needs.

“Self-confidence is the ability to be and do all that you want in the world—and be yourself in the process. So often we feel like we have to conform or change ourselves. There are all these images about the traditional archetype of success,” Kuhl said. “You got a lot of messages growing up from your family, from the media, from your education, about what success looks like. And it shifted how you looked at yourself, or how authentic you felt you could show up as.”

On the evening of day two, attendees could sign up for the official Experiential Marketing Summit Afterparty presented by PRG, which included two timed group tours of the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit installation in Chicago. The experience offered attendees a first-hand look at how the atmospheric event was designed to handle social distancing, traffic flow and event safety since it successfully opened during the pandemic.

Attendees had one more chance to make new friends, trade war stories and gather ideas for the year ahead with a networking lunch sponsored by Allseated exVo.

EMS 2021_Van Gogh selfie

The Experiential Marketing Summit Afterparty gave attendees a chance to explore the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit.



Mornings and afternoons were action-packed with nearly 50 educational sessions, panels and workshops. Among soundbites of insights provided by the speaking faculty:

“We’ve learned to lean on partnerships and bonds that came together during the whole experience of COVID. It was hard and we leaned on each other hard… The biggest silver lining has been watching my team come together. We all had to sit together and learn how to do virtual events. Seeing everyone be cheerleaders for each other… it’s like we’ve been in the trenches together. I feel like this is something we’ll lean on moving forward. This thing was impossible and we did it.”
Erin Moore, Manager of Global Conventions at Alcon

“For us at Cisco, it starts with experience design. What’s important about that is that my technology team is deeply involved, so we know the desired outcome expected for an event.”
Sean Curtis, Director-Technology Experiences, Global Events, Cisco

“Now that we have this virtual component to a hybrid event, we can get that data and have hard facts to take back to our content providers… Data is really important to us, and I think it’s one of the most important components of a virtual event.”
Bryan Mizelle, Senior Director-Event Solutions, Walmart

“Content is king, and it will be for a long time. I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of that.”
Tim Berghoff, Senior Director-Event Marketing, Qualcomm 

Featured and Van Gogh photo credit: SpotMyPhotos

Mark your calendars for EMS 2022 at the MGM Grand Las Vegas, April 27-29.

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