EMS 2024 sign

EMS 2024: Inspiring Keynotes, Brand-led Panels and Creativity Take Center Stage on Day Two

Dj Aaron Smalls kept the energy up at breakfast.

Setting the tone for the second day of the Experiential Marketing Summit (EMS) during breakfast on April 25, dj Aaron Smalls played upbeat hits and quizzed attendees with pop culture trivia. Then, Jessica Heasley, group editor and publisher of Event Marketer, had the audience giggling at a funny, but relatable, AI-generated experiment, showing AI’s depiction of the perfect event marketer and her slow descent into a vortex of madness as the chatbot prompts kept adding more and more festival-related programming and logistical issues.

It was a timely reminder to the marketers, agency professionals, meeting planners and event strategists in the ballroom that their peers come up against the same kinds of event challenges and that they’re not alone in this industry that requires constant flexibility and rolling with the punches. This message of solidarity carried through the rest of the day’s sessions, as brand and agency leaders opened up about their experiential strategies, successes and even a few stumbles to get wheels turning and inspire future campaigns, activations and events. (Maybe we’ll see the results at the Ex Awards in the years to come?) Below are highlights from EMS 2024’s lineup of day-two sessions and networking events across the MGM Grand Las Vegas.

EMS 2024 exhibit panelMore from EMS 2024:


In the morning’s rousing keynote, Alyson Griffin, State Farm’s head of marketing, 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.

Alyson Griffin of State Farm

Alyson Griffin, State Farm’s head of marketing, spoke on the popularity of Jake from State Farm and his activation appearances.

“Eliminate random acts of marketing,” she 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.”

Griffin also shared three questions that her team has to answer before an event or activation is approved for deployment:

1. What does your brand stand for?

Tie your events back to your brand clearly and consistently. State Farm stands for being a good neighbor. Before planning an experience, the brand goes back to questions like “are we being a good neighbor,” “are we showing up,” “how are we showing up,” and “are we staying true to our brand?”

2. Who are you trying to target?

Think of which bucket of the sales funnel you’re targeting for your activations—are you collecting leads or driving brand affinity? Activate accordingly.

3. How do you want your target to feel?

Brand experiences should ignite attendees’ dopamine and spark memory receptors through their live experiences.



Duncan Wardle on stage at EMS 024

Duncan Wardle got attendees out of their seats to participate in improv exercises.

Former Disney Imagineer Duncan Wardle got attendees moving, improvising and drawing in his dynamic afternoon keynote session. Supplied with pads of paper and Sharpies, audience members didn’t know what to expect, and Wardle kept them on their toes. From improv-inspired “no, because” and “yes, and” partner scenarios to an arm-crossing bit that had participants questioning their behaviors, he 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.

“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.’”

Wardle defined creativity as “the habit of continually doing things in new ways to make a positive difference to our working lives” and likened it to a muscle that needs to be used to get stronger. And attendees certainly got artistic sketching Picasso-like portraits of their partner without looking down at the paper and drawing their own version of a house.

Wardle infused his Disney background and knowledge of the entertainment industry into his examples, calling out big brand and start-up success stories. Along the way, he dropped thought-provoking perspectives on diversity in the workplace, the gift of time, switching up routines and the value of hospitality and experiences.

At the beginning of the session, Wardle asked attendees if they would consider themselves a creative person, and by a show of hands, not many did. But by the end, he showed them that just by participating in the activities of the hour, they were capable of much more ingenuity than originally thought.

Duncan Wardle engaging with attendee

Duncan Wardle chose audience members to get creative with event ideas.



The Captain Morgan team pulled back the curtain on its multiyear and multi-touchpoint campaign that featured an interactive treasure hunt in partnership with the NFL. Through national and local activations—including the black jersey-themed Captain’s Section at NFL games, hidden varsity jackets in retail stores and Vic’s House Party in New York City hosted with former player Victor Cruz—the digital and in-person campaign engaged fans throughout the NFL season, ending with Super Bowl LVIII, all to build brand love.

Looking to “make history by inspiring adventure,” the monthslong event program showed Captain Morgan just how adventurous its fans are, as they were willing to study ads for clues and find QR codes to participate in the treasure hunt. By the end of the NFL season, the brand saw 672,000 consumers visit its website, 6,000 IRL event attendees and 6 billion impressions.



YouTube highlighted its Ex Award-winning “Try A Trend Live” event at Pier 57 in New York City, where the brand turned its 2023 top trends into an immersive experience that featured a secret lounge, an arcade of retro games, a prize wall and a you-had-to-be-there “Skibidi Toilet” flash mob with actors dressed up as toilets performing a custom dance routine.

Gina Shalavi, head of global top creator programs and events at YouTube, shared how the brand found the “COVID hangover” to still be lingering and wanted to give its creators the opportunity to meet and connect in person. YouTube brought forward a sense of community with visually unique exhibits that prompted tons of content gathering and offered guidance on staying relevant by keeping up with trends.

“Content creators are extreme introverts; it’s surprising because they’re in a public-facing space, but at the end of the day, it’s just one person with a camera or a small team,” Shalavi said. “So when you’re creating an experience for them, you want to keep that personality in mind. Cater to them and make them feel at home.”



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: IRL storytelling/content capture, cultural/economic impact, direct product sales and timing variations.



Marci Lane, senior director of marketing for Instax instant products at Fujifilm North America, challenged attendees to cast a wide net with mobile tours and explore all the events available within the area of focus. With this approach, it’s important 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, and festivals and concerts attract a younger crowd passionate about music. Location, location, location.



The official EMS Happy Hour kept the energy up through the evening, as attendees enjoyed booth-side cocktails and small bites. Exchanging of business cards, ideas and laughter could be heard up and down the Hall of Ideas’ aisles. Plus, the Highmark Hub invited attendees in once again for a fashion-themed contest, this time spotlighting sneakers. Sneakerheads showed off their best, and the winner came away with a $75 adidas gift card. Pickleball was also active on the floor, with tournament challengers popping in for a match.

pickleball court on EMS show floor

EMS attendees got competitive on the pickleball court right on the show floor.

Post-Happy Hour, participants split off for various dinner and entertainment plans around the hotel and the Strip, including the “Networking Dinner by the Pool” and “Women in Experiential at The Sphere: An Unforgettable Evening of Connections.”

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