EMS 2024: 12 Top Takeaways from the 22nd Annual Experiential Marketing Summit

Events are impactful. Events are revenue-generating. Events are memorable. Indeed, events are everything, and it’s the mantra that guided the 2024 Experiential Marketing Summit in Las Vegas. From April 24-26 at the MGM Grand, the industry convened for a three-day discussion that explored every aspect of the event marketing discipline, including exhibit design, neurodiversity, harnessing creativity, measurement, digital + IRL, mobile tours, hospitality, and the list goes on.

Of course, this is EMS we’re talking about, so the compelling content was only part of the conference experience. Also on tap: a pickleball tournament, puppy breaks, a brick-building challenge, story slams, morning runs, poolside networking dinners and a festival-inspired gala celebrating the winners of the 22nd annual Ex Awards.

And across the whirlwind of activity during this year’s show, with a top-tier speaking faculty at the helm, a collection of key industry themes and insights surfaced. Here, we break down 12 top takeaways, straight from the floor at EMS 2024.


ems-2024-workshop-teaserMore from EMS 2024:


EMS launched with half-day masterclasses, including a deep-dive workshop on trade show exhibit strategy and activation, and how experiential tactics are increasing the performance of trade show investments. Among insights, Aaron Conk, senior merchandising and trade show manager at Delta Faucet, explained why marketers need to hone in on the handful of KPIs that make sense for their particular exhibit strategy.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” said Conk. “Sometimes it’s as simple as 100 people coming through and making some key contacts. You talk to one right person and you can generate millions of dollars’ worth of business. But it can also be a much more layered process, with social, lead generation, all the basics, demographics, age groups, and purchase power, when they’re looking to buy to determine whether the show was successful. We try to keep it down to a half-dozen key metrics.”



The first keynote to kick off the show was presented by Alyson Griffin, State Farm’s head of marketing, who drove home the value of playing the long game and creating cohesive touchpoints for every event campaign. Many brands make short-term marketing decisions that deliver ROI in the moment, she said, but the “secret” is to avoid silos, be consistent and move beyond “quarter-by-quarter” thinking.

“Eliminate random acts of marketing,” Griffin said. “It’s not enough just to get the activation right; you have to know: Did you move them, how did they feel, were they excited, did it match to your brand, are you adding value to your company over time? If you do it consistently, you can transport your customers beyond the activation footprint and into infinite spaces.”

Alyson Griffin of State Farm

Alyson Griffin, head of marketing at State Farm, delivered the first EMS 2024 keynote.



Marci Lane, senior director of marketing for Instax instant products at Fujifilm North America, challenged attendees in her session to cast a wide net with mobile tours and explore all event formats available within the area of focus. With this approach, it’s critical to remember that consumers have different mindsets depending on the event location or venue, she said.

For example, malls bring in a product discovery purchasing mindset, sports and entertainment arenas focus on memorable experiences, festivals and concerts attract a younger crowd passionate about music, and state and community fairs are communal events where attendees seek activities that promote bonding and interaction.



Former Disney Imagineer Duncan Wardle got attendees moving, improvising and even sketching in his dynamic afternoon keynote session. Wardle encouraged the audience to think outside the box, let loose, be silly and bring back some of that childlike creative energy that gets stifled in adulthood. He also demonstrated why replacing “No, because…” with “Yes, and…” in creative sessions will always yield better results.

“The more expertise and the more experience we have, the more reasons we know why the new idea won’t work. The most common phrases we hear are: That’s not the way we do it here, we tried that last year, that won’t hit our KPIs, we don’t have the resources,” Wardle said. “Just remind yourselves, we’re not greenlighting this idea for execution today. We’re merely greenhousing it together using ‘yes, and.’”

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Former Disney Imagineer Duncan Wardle delivered a dynamic, and interactive, session on harnessing creativity.



AI is the industry’s shiny new object, but the savviest marketers are using the technology intentionally, not for the sake of the hype. Hyper-personalization and knowledge assist, as well as data security, were top of mind among a panel of tech event pros at the show.

“We’re going to do some ‘crawl, walk, run’ type of betas this year around taking summaries, using copilot of some sessions, translations, obviously low-hanging fruit when it comes to AI,” said Dan Preiss, vp-experiential marketing at Dell. “We’re going to be really thoughtful and intentional and then learn from it and then come back and do it bigger next year.”



EM’s Women in Events program is now 10 years strong, and a powerhouse panel of past and present Women in Events honorees shared their perspectives on careers, what’s changing, what works and what doesn’t. The consensus? Leaning into gender stereotypes can be a superpower.

“With regards to gender-specific stereotypes, I’d use that label as your superpower,” said Karlene Palmer, senior experiential manager at Proximo Spirits. “If I need to be the mom that runs out at 5 on the dot, then so be it. That’s me!”

Katrina Kent, vp-meeting management and event strategy at Liberty Mutual Insurance, added: “When I’m talking to my team, especially with my younger team members, not just women, but also people of color, people with neurodiversity, all kinds of facets of us humans—I like the notion of superpower. It becomes an advantage, a nuance to the collective voices that are working together. It leads to better innovation and collaboration to have a diversity of people, perspectives and experiences. I want more of that. I look for that.”

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EMS 2024 topics ran the gamut, from employee incentive programs to exhibit design to mobile tour tactics.



Michael Barclay II, executive vp-experiential at Essence Ventures, pointed to the grand return of events post-COVID that has caused a rise in “funflation” and new organizations entering the experiential industry, creating market saturation. As a result, marketers are having to take on a new perspective on event ROI that goes beyond traditional measurement tactics (the old math), such as attendance, IRL engagement and social engagement.

“Unless you’re Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, it’s time to revolutionize your approach to crafting, overseeing and showcasing success in experiential marketing,” Barclay said, introducing the “new math” metrics:

  • IRL storytelling/content capture
  • Cultural/economic impact
  • Direct product sales and timing variations



During the morning keynote on day three of EMS 2024, a panel of brand experts from Shipt, Cisco, Peacock and Warner Bros. weighed in on Gen Z and how they’re working to engage the elusive demographic. Among key takeaways: Gen Z trusts content creators more than traditional media, and that’s where the demo does its research and gets information. The result? Influencers are forging a new kind of media faction that marketers should pay attention to.

“Give some space for these creators to come and get their content. What we’re constantly being asked by our finance people is what are we getting out of these in-person events, and the more we can show impressions and engagement from regular people attending [the better]—then these creators help us prove these in-person events work,” said Wendy Robino, svp-marketing events and global publicity at Warner Bros. Pictures. “Be proactive in saying, ‘we can set aside a night before [the event] for influencers and press.’ That’s what we’ve been doing.”



In her session on shifting budgets, Ashley Henry, former senior manager-omni experience and events at L’Oréal (now, director-events, North America, at Charlotte Tilbury Beauty), illustrated why having all event parties on the same page makes it easier to plan for, and stick to, the budget.

“When we do these events, it’s a lot of hands in the bucket; no one is doing these themselves… Time is money, so going back and forth is not the best use of time on the brand or vendor side,” Henry said. “Really understanding and having a vision helps alleviate those budget issues. Have that foresight and really own your project.”

ems24_day 2_puppies

In addition to the content, attendees could enjoy activities like pickle ball, puppy breaks and poolside networking dinners.



During the Gen Z keynote on day three, panelists pointed to the variety of characteristics that distinguish Gen Z from other demographics, and the need to evolve their marketing strategies to meet the demo where they are. Alex Sapiz, svp-corporate marketing at Cisco, shared how the company centers its b-to-b event strategies on what’s foundational to the brand, but also works to understand what Gen Z cares about, and how that can be implemented into the event program. Gen Zers, after all, represent the next generation of attendees—and decision-makers.

“Look at this transition as an evolutionary process,” suggested Sapiz. “What gives me peace of mind is that I’m thinking about it. [Gen Z] is on my radar. We’ve been doing things to bring them in and being formal about attracting them into the fold over the next several years… The biggest risk on any transition is to be too late. Carve time for ideation. Think long-term.”



Marketers at EMS agreed that events have become more valuable, post-pandemic—especially for sponsors.

“We’ve noticed that there’s just been a flood of more sponsors into areas like the ski industry or sports,” said Matt Barber, brand partnerships & experiential marketing manager at Subaru in a fireside chat on sponsorship deals. “And what’s happening now is you have so many brands sponsoring similar things that it’s becoming harder to stand out, which actually makes the experiential aspects of what you do way more important than it might have been pre-COVID, in my opinion.”



EMS 2024 finished strong with a closing keynote focused on what event marketers can learn from Broadway, particularly the groundbreaking musical “How to Dance In Ohio,” which centers on, and stars, a group of autistic young adults. The show’s lead producers, agency co-producers and even one of the stars of the show, Collin Hancock (did we mention he performed!?), all took the stage to discuss accessibility and offer actionable steps event marketers can take to make their events more inclusive.

Among the panel’s top accessibility tips:

  • Ask open-ended questions in advance, including on the event registration form.
  • Offer a sensory kit: “How to Dance In Ohio” forged a partnership with KultureCity, which makes sensory-inclusive bags for events that contain items like noise-cancelling headphones and fidget objects.
  • Provide cooldown spaces: The show also partnered with Nook Pods, a sensory booth-maker, to offer private sanctuaries.
  • Include detailed accessibility information on websites, emails and all other forms of event communication.


Get a Taste of “How to Dance In Ohio”:

Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
View all articles by Kait Shea →

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