Marketers sound off on why an altered event landscape requires harmonizing strategy, creative and technology to deliver more with less
Co-founded in 2021 by two industry vets with 50 years’ worth of experience, The Ev&Ex Agency serves as a new agency model that welcomes big ideas, but “lives and dies by results.” In this lively roundtable, five executives from the organization get candid about business growth, why strong partnerships pave the way for cost efficiencies, and how the right balance of strategy, digital tools and creative vision is essential to surviving, and thriving, in today’s climate.
EM: CAN YOU GIVE ME A FEW WORDS THAT DESCRIBE EV&EX?
JOHN CAPANO: I’d say, we’re brilliant inside the box.
EM: WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?
JOHN: That’s our motto, really. Our rallying cry. It’s in our logo. Our industry is beset by challenges. Tighter timelines, smaller budgets, shorter attention spans, more chaos everywhere. That’s the box we live in. We love those big ‘outside the box’ ideas, but we know we have to be brilliant inside the box. We create and execute ideas that move the needle despite all the challenges we face as a partner to our clients. We love big ideas, but we live and die by results.
EM: COMING OUT OF PERHAPS THE WORST 2-3 YEARS THE INDUSTRY HAS SEEN, WHAT MADE YOU THINK NOW WAS A GOOD TIME TO START A NEW EVENT AND EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING AGENCY?
RICK RATHE: Look around. Events are back and driving business growth. People are clamoring to get back together. We all missed each other and the face-to-face engagement that events and experiences offer. Whether B2B or B2C, this macro trend is what drove the pre-covid growth in the industry and it went into hyperdrive post-covid. It’s still driving business today.
Most importantly for us, we want to build something great. John and I have 50 years’ experience, and yet, we’ve adopted a fresh new agency model. We still see legacy agencies not making the most out of their business potential. We’re at the beginning of new ideas at Ev&Ev, and we’re on target to achieve what we set out to do with an early roster of fantastic clients.
EM: WHY DID YOU THINK A NEW AGENCY COULD SURVIVE AND THRIVE? WHAT ARE YOU BRINGING TO THE INDUSTRY THAT NO ONE ELSE IS?
RICK: Covid brought on major, long-term changes to the industry. Clients are understaffed, budgets are tighter, costs are up. Data-driven strategy is king. We use modern tools like AI and machine learning to create efficiency and effective results. We have an experienced team that is marketing focused and embrace the interplay of live and technology. This sets us apart from some of the larger agencies that are forced to do business as usual just because of their legacy processes.
EM: WHAT ARE THE EMERGING TRENDS YOU’VE SEEN COMING OUT OF COVID? HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED FOREVER?
JOHN: Facing the client side of the business, the key change has been leaning into marketing and data as a true creative agency. For many years, the events industry was very production focused. “Get everything done on time!” “Make sure it looks good before the boss shows up.” “Create buzz!” Those things remain important but what Covid forced all of us to do was to learn marketing, learn technology and empower data. Now, we operate in an environment where strategy, creative, and technology all work together to deliver more for the client with less. And the results better be measurable.
EM: HOW ARE THOSE CHANGES IMPACTING CLIENTS AND THEIR EVENTS?
JOHN: The need to do more with less. As the pricing structure of the industry changed and critical components have become more expensive, it has become really important to come up with creative ideas that scale. Our entire agency is structured as a platform for realizing client objectives in this new normal, and our team is better than anyone I’ve ever seen at delivering under these circumstances. It’s truly the future of the industry and we hope to lead the way there.
EM: ONE OF THE KEY IMPACTS OF COVID WAS THAT THE INDUSTRY LOST A LOT OF VERY EXPERIENCED PERSONNEL, HOW HAS THIS IMPACTED YOUR ABILITY TO FIND AND NURTURE TALENT?
NATE SIBLOCK: The experiential marketing industry, by its nature, thrives on adaptability. We’ve adapted by expanding our talent search to include a broader range of professionals from related fields who bring transferable skills. This diversity has broadened our creative horizons and helped us explore new avenues in experiential marketing. The pandemic also enabled and allowed us to expand our talent pool geographically; to tap into talent from diff erent regions and backgrounds. This diversity has enabled better ideas and new approaches to old problems.
EM: HOW HAS THAT IMPACTED YOUR ABILITY TO DELIVER FOR CLIENTS?
NATE: John mentioned being brilliant inside the box. We understand that budgets and timelines are the reality of our business. But we believe, strategic thinking, innovative creativity and technical expertise can overcome almost any challenge.
We’ve also found that eff ective communication with clients is even more critical. We are very transparent with them, so they better understand our processes and the evolving industry landscape. Because of this enhanced collaboration, we are brought into conversations earlier which leads to aligned expectations, increased innovation and more successful outcomes.
EM: WHAT DOES CREATIVITY IN SERVICE OF COMMERCE MEAN?
MEG GLEASON: Our agency principles are “Make it marketing, Make it memorable. Make it measurable.” Fun or innovative just isn’t enough!… it must align with what our clients want to achieve from a business standpoint and demonstrate how it impacts those goals. It’s easy to come up with a big, beautiful idea from a blank page. Any skilled creative can do that! Being brilliant inside the box of strategy, timelines, budgets and KPIs is where we all win. That’s what we mean by creativity in the service of commerce.
EM: HOW DO YOU BALANCE EVERYTHING?
MEG: Allow me this analogy: A musician alone can sound great but an orchestra playing together in sync really makes the moment bigger and engages all the senses. And how do you do that? A great composer…
Or in our industry, a beautifully orchestrated brief that hits all the right notes that listens to client’s needs with strategy, creative and production working in harmony. That’s what we’re going for.
We focus on producing work that is engaging, attractive, and fresh – and that delivers on defi ned business objectives. We love that “Aha” moment when the light bulb goes off for all stakeholders. When they all see what they need delivered in an idea and execution. Some of this is how we write the brief, some of it is how our team thinks, but the fi nal outcome derives from the hard work of making sure strategy, creative, account service and production all work together; all provide innovative ideas; all understand each other’s roles in the process.
EM: HOW CAN AN AGENCY OF YOUR SIZE OFFER THE SAME LEVEL OF SERVICE AND PRICING AS SOME OF THE LARGER AGENCIES IN THE SPACE?
DONNA CANCEL: We are a full-service agency. There is nothing we can’t achieve for a client. The special sauce is in how we achieve it.
Our process ensures that production specs and details are thoroughly developed. We’ve formed key partnerships with providers and suppliers in various regions that enable us to ensure cost eff ectiveness. Rick and John actually designed the entire business around this idea, and we can see it working well on every project we do for clients.
Many larger agencies are bogged down by past choices, resources and existing methodologies. They are limited in how they approach a client challenge or what they can recommend based on their existing cost and resource’s structure, or other internal factors.
EM: HOW DOES SUSTAINABILITY DRIVE YOUR THINKING IN THIS AREA?
DONNA: We believe there are two sides to sustainability. One is the standard in the industry which is to try to use more sustainable materials. This is very important but unfortunately often adds cost to a project. We are just not there yet in sustainable materials being less expensive than less sustainable materials. We work closely with our partners and clients to mitigate this but it’s the reality for now. Reusability of components for multiple uses overcomes some of this. The second way we look at sustainability is as a cost driver or saver.
First, are our processes and operations as effi cient as they can be? Are we selecting partners that care about and understand how to structure their businesses to be more effi cient? And where can we apply sustainable thinking to actually reduce costs. A simple example is around swag. Swag and giveaways can be hugely expensive and wasteful. We work with clients to be really thoughtful on whether swag even makes sense, does it drive business objectives or is it just something we’ve always done? And secondly, if we are going to give something away, let’s be really thoughtful about what the item is, how it will be used and reused, what it’s made of, etc. In thinking about sustainability this way, we can actually turn a potential negative in terms of costs and environmental impact into a positive for both.
EM: AS A FINAL QUESTION, WHAT DO YOU WANT POTENTIAL CLIENTS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU? WHY WOULD THEY PICK YOU AS THEIR EVENT AND EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING AGENCY?
JOHN: If you are experiential in nature, you understand the value of events and engagement, you are open to new ideas and you really want a partner that can help drive your business forward, I would say, give us a chance to show you what we can do. Jump in the box with us and let’s be brilliant together. We think you’ll be pretty happy with the results.