When Event Marketer published its first issue 15 years ago, event organizations were just starting to understand their strategic value.
Oh, how things have changed.
Since that first issue, we have been honored to feature several hundred Fortune 1000 marketers on the cover of your favorite magazine. It’s been a thrilling ride, getting a front row seat to the evolution of the experiential marketing discipline through the perspectives of these intrepid cover subjects. As we commemorate our 15th anniversary, we wondered—what are these people up to today, and what have they learned about experiential since we featured them on the cover?
Once we started to dig in, we were excited to find that many of our cover alumni have gone on to bigger roles within their marketing organizations—a sure sign not only of their own special talents, but of the role and impact experiential has had across so many companies. We were struck by how many marketers are still with the same companies. Longevity and low turnover seem to be another unique phenomenon to the world of experiential. And we were intrigued by how many marketers, all these years later, were still using the same philosophies to guide their marketing initiatives. Indeed, sometimes it really does pay to find your true north and stick to it.
So what better way to take the temperature on where we’ve been and where we’re going than to circle back to some of the faces of the past and ask: what have you learned since we had you on the cover, where has experiential been and—looking ahead to the next 15 years—where is this industry going?
Buckle up and enjoy their perspectives.
Communications & Experiences American Express
"In 2005, we treated experiential more as an isolated experience. You bought a ticket, you went to an event. It has since become more integrated in an ongoing way."
In the 12 years since American Express took home the Grand Ex Award for transforming Rockefeller Center into a replica of the U.S. Open, experiential marketing has always been about providing unique and differentiating on-site experiences. The technology that supports those experiences no doubt has evolved to include augmented reality and other digital elements, but for Rich Lehrfeld, vp-global sponsorships at the time, the objectives remain the same. “We just put our customers at the center of everything we do. And while things around it have changed, we haven’t changed in our strategy,” he says.
Then and now, for Lehrfeld, experiential begins with one question: “What is the true value we can create? Hopefully, magic really happens if you can hit a benefit or an experience that is so incredible and so expansive that it makes sense for as many customers as possible.”
Here are more of Lehrfeld’s insights on the future of event marketing:
EM: What have you learned through American Express’s involvement in the U.S. Open?
RL: For us, it means constantly reinventing what we do, whether we’re building a small-scale premium customer experience or a mass level for all of our cardmembers. The U.S. Open has given us a great platform to do that at both levels.
EM: What about where experiential is today versus 2005?
RL: In 2005, we treated experiential more as an isolated experience. You bought a ticket, you went to an event. It has since become more integrated in an ongoing way as we use information to really help us see fans’ interests, whether it’s a ticket or access, and second, to deliver on that and bring them through the journey. It’s really about building a differentiated relationship with our customers through something we know they are passionate about.
EM: What do you know now that you wish you had known back then?
RL: I didn’t realize how powerful entertainment or experiential or sponsorship or whatever you want to call this is, and the value it can create for our company and for our brand, whether that is helping us launch new products or testing new services and benefits, activating local market promotions or business needs, to embedding entertainment and experiential benefits into our products, like what we do with the Platinum card.
EM: How has the role of events changed at American Express?
RL: It is critical for us to constantly evolve our strategies and experiences to what our customers really want. Now, more than ever, we have to fight for our customers’ loyalty, and deliver these experiences in an authentic way so we can build that enduring fandom and relationship.
EM: Do you have a favorite campaign?
RL: Small Business Saturday. It lives at a higher level than just executing something. It involves helping our customers, merchants and communities. Because when they thrive, we thrive. It’s not just about American Express. Anyone can participate in this. It has delivered great value for us, and great results.
The US Open continues to be a tentpole event for American Express, earning a second Grand Ex award in 2016.
SVP-Sales and Marketing
"It’s important to understand that what we do in experiential marketing is service imagination. We don’t sell the cold steel of a microwave oven or a kitchen, we sell by servicing your imagination."
Twelve years ago as senior vp-sales and marketing for consumer electronics and North American corporate marketing at Samsung, Peter Weedfald believed in the power of uniting sales and marketing. Now at Sharp, where he runs sales and marketing for the entire home appliance business, that strategy still holds true. “The advantage we can have in marketing is the fact that we connect sales and marketing as one tour de force,” he says, adding that in his mind, sales plus marketing equals “won.”
At Samsung, another of his marketing mantras was “use every channel,” which he believes also pertains today, whether marketers are activating on a street corner, at a trade show or on the internet. “It’s now truly omni, it’s everywhere, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You just have to know when and where to jump in,” he says.
Read on for more pearls of Weedfald’s wisdom:
EM: Besides “sales plus marketing equals w-o-n,” what else have you learned throughout your years in marketing?
PW: It’s important to understand that what we do in experiential marketing is service imagination. I don’t sell the cold steel of a microwave oven or a kitchen, I sell by servicing your imagination, so that you can have the most delicious meal you possibly can in our SuperSteam Oven. And to service imagination, you need to be highly relevant and highly creative.
EM: What do you wish you had known then that you know now?
PW: What I better understand now is what I’ll call the last three feet of the sale, which means it’s more important for me to give someone an experiential sales and marketing experience there than thousands of miles away at a trade show.
EM: What opportunities do you see in event marketing today?
PW: There is a huge opportunity, one that is lost among many retailers today, to do experiential marketing in the local community, and using the power of the cloud to administer to those local people. You should have all the priests and rabbis in your data base, all the school teachers, all the plumbers, all the people who work for Sharp within a five-mile radius of your store. That would be a huge advantage, and then they could do experiential marketing, because you know what CRM stands for, besides customer relationship management? Consumers really matter!
EM: Where do you see experiential marketing headed?
PW: I think it’s going to be bigger and more important than ever because experiential marketing is really about a social event that, as I define it, is highly relevant and highly relevant to you. It delivers knowledge and creates demand by creativity. And it is going to come in different forms, including across the screen. And it will be more targeted.
EM: Do you have a favorite marketing campaign?
PW: I believe Apple is the greatest, and what makes it great is that every touchpoint it has is designed to service your imagination—its stores, its products, its design.
Senior Manager Chevrolet Media, Experiential Marketing & Brand Partnerships
"Early on in our careers we were very focused on generating leads, and for us that’s not as important now. Not every event is like an auto show where people want to… shop for a vehicle tomorrow."
When Steve Haener appeared on the February 2011 cover of Event Marketer, things were on a roll at Cadillac, where he served as national sales promotions manager for the brand. Haener was charged with updating Caddy’s brand image from that of your granddaddy’s set of wheels to the striking design and sharp edges of the CTS-V Coupe, which he did through Cadillac Golf Innovation Clinics and the Culinary Challenge.
Today, at Chevy, another GM brand, Haener’s focus is less on luxury and more about cars for everyone, from trucks to SUVs, performance cars, passenger cars and electric vehicles. It’s still about conquesting and bringing new buyers into the brand, but also about catering to current owners as well with programs such as Chevy Gratitude that reward loyal owners with amenities such as seat upgrades at baseball games and concerts.
Here are a few other insights Haener has learned while driving these auto brands into the 21st century.
EM: How have you seen experiential marketing evolve over the past six or seven years?
SH: Technology is changing it very rapidly. Even just from peoples’ smartphones, we can tell a lot about them, how to reach and interact with them. Social is huge for us, and we work hard to connect the dots from a social standpoint at events.
EM: What do you wish you had known back then that you know now about marketing and events?
SH: Early on in our careers we were very focused on generating leads, and for us that’s not as important now. Not every event is like an auto show where people want to communicate or shop for a vehicle tomorrow. So it’s not always appropriate to get their information. It’s more about getting Chevrolet on their radar as a brand for them to consider on down the road.
EM: What about the role of event marketing at GM?
SH: Event marketing is a very relevant part of the marketing mix. For GM, and particularly Chevrolet, we’re making the best products ever, and the best way to show that is to get people in the vehicle, so we put a big emphasis on auto shows and test drives, then going to relevant places to introduce our brand and our vehicles to a target audience.
EM: Where do you see experiential headed?
SH: I think technology will allow us to be much more virtual. In the future, I don’t know that we will necessarily have to have a physical car. We may have a virtual showroom with a VR experience that people will be able to access from a different place, much like, instead of being live at a sporting event, it will be like you’re there, without having to physically buy a ticket.
EM: Looking back, are there any campaigns that you particularly enjoyed?
SH: I’ve been a part of many great campaigns at GM, but right now my favorite is our current campaign at Chevrolet with real people, not actors, because it’s a cohesive campaign that Chevrolet has never done before. It is one voice and really resonates because it is [comprised of] genuine, unscripted responses that people are having to our vehicles.
Senior Director , Global Events
"Personalization is huge in everything we’re doing now. We often say that it’s no longer b-to-b—it’s people-to-people."
In 2006 the buzzword at Cisco was “experience mapping,” a strategy to get more out of every live touchpoint as the networking solutions giant sought to deliver engagements built entirely around customers’ job profiles and their place in the purchase cycle. In a nutshell, the model required event marketers at Cisco to segment the audience and deliver against specific objectives based on what each type of attendee should know, think, feel and do as a result of the event.
And while that strategy to deliver on the company’s business objectives remains essential to every event at Cisco, the process to deliver relevant and high-value communication and programming to each attendee has evolved. “What’s new is the way we’ve deepened our focus, through audience segmentation, to create greater value for each attendee,” Neipp says. Here’s what else has changed along the way.
EM: What are your thoughts on where experiential is today versus where it was 15 years ago?
NN: Personalization is huge in everything that we’re doing now. We often say that it’s no longer b-to-b—it’s people-to-people. All of us expect brands, consumers and businesses to know who we are, what we care about and to be relevant. At Cisco, we’ve transformed the way we use events to engage and inspire our customers throughout their journey. We now focus on a persona-driven experience along with a fully integrated digital strategy across all marketing channels to bring these experiences to life.
EM: What do you wish you knew then about your community, or marketing and events in general?
NN: Across marketing and events, we’re seeing the tremendous power of data to inform our strategies. I wish we could have made that happen sooner. Over the last few years, we’ve onboarded a variety of tools to synthesize multiple sources of data, such as buying behaviors, registration, social and mobile. The resulting insights help us to make better, more strategic decisions.
EM: Has the role of events changed dramatically at Cisco?
NN: It has changed in the sense that events are no longer a standalone moment in time. They are deeply embedded into the customer journey we create for our different personas or target audiences. On a more personal level, the role of the portfolio manager has been the biggest single change for me. When I came into this role years ago, events was more of a service organization. In the last 10 years, we’ve transformed our team to play more of a strategic consulting role, shaping the investment and activation strategy globally. And it’s very much a data-driven process that is aligned to drive measurable business impact. The other major change is the role of technology and the impact it has had on event ROI. We can engage and measure more elements now, giving us enriched data to build stronger relationships with our customers and partners.
EM: Where do you see events headed in the next 15 years?
NN: I see more dynamic and personalized engagement fueled by digital technologies, more crowdsourced content and experiences, and more giving-back aspects woven into the events. We will also see an acceleration of human-to-machine technologies to build targeted experiences and the use of AR to create deeply immersive engagement.
"A lot people didn’t think that DEWmocracy made sense. For me, if it feels right, you’ve got to go with your gut, especially when it’s about empowering your consumer."
When it kicked off in 2010, the year-long DEWmocracy 2 campaign marked a pivotal moment in consumer-generated experiences. DEWmocracy 2 gave fans the opportunity to work collaboratively on every part of the campaign, from the flavor options, to their names to the advertising. Mountain Dew became the first brand to link such a large-scale grassroots program with consumer choice. In the seven years since, Dew remains a brand about choice. “When Dew loyalists pop open a can, they’re choosing to make a statement about themselves,” says Brett O’Brien, who was brand director at Mountain Dew at the time.
O’Brien is now svp and gm at Gatorade, where experiential plays an important role as the brand connects with athletes in a way that feels as authentic and genuine as DEWmocacy 2 did. Read on for his thoughts on how to foster those relationships and other insights.
EM: Do you feel like the whole concept of putting the consumer in control continues to make sense for Mountain Dew?
BO: It certainly does. It worked was because it wasn’t really about crowdsourcing. It was literally, let’s work hand-in-hand with the fans to create what’s next for Mountain Dew. Let’s lock arms and continue to get stronger.
EM: What did you learn from those programs you were doing seven or eight years ago?
BO: One is taking risks, putting yourself out there and not being afraid to be transparent, to be open, to give feedback, to take feedback. A lot of people didn’t think that DEWmocracy made sense. For me, if it feels right, you’ve got to go with your gut, especially when it’s about empowering your consumer. The other thing I learned is about making it personal and special, so people feel like the brand really understands them.
EM: How has the role of experiential changed in your organization?
BO: It is so much broader. It’s touchpoints every time you’re talking directly to a consumer, it’s getting out into the marketplace and allowing consumers to touch, feel and experience your brand.
EM: Where do you see experiential headed in the next five, 10, 15 years?
BO: It’s more experience, less marketing, at least the consumer perception. There are three key elements. First is education, driving awareness for your brand; second is empowering consumers to become brand advocates; and the third is that ongoing relationship that you now have.
EM: Do you have a favorite campaign?
BO: I loved DEWmocracy, and what we are doing at Gatorade with G Force, which is about folks out there in the marketplace who interact with and educate high school and college athletes. On its face, it doesn’t seem like experiential marketing, but for us, there is no better experience. Pokémon Go was interesting. And a program by Carhartt where people could come to work studios and learn how to work with leather, do woodworking while they are interacting with the brand—you’re engaged, working with your hands and feeling that Carhartt mentality.
The DEWmocracy 2 campaign invited consumers to participate in all areas of product development.
The Call of Duty: XP experience ultimately laid the foundation for the future of esports marketing.
"My approach has always been that our job is to delight the fans who play and enjoy our games. We’re fans and players as well so we can relate to them."
When Byron Beede appeared on the cover of Event Marketer in October 2011, esports was a mere flicker in what would become a scorching-hot industry by 2017. Worth nearly $1 billion today, the esports of six years ago was just beginning to hit its stride when Beede, then senior director of marketing at Activision, brought the brand’s multi-billion-dollar Call of Duty franchise to life through its two-day Call of Duty: XP event. Aimed at surprising and delighting the rabid gaming community, the groundbreaking experience ultimately laid the foundation for the future of esports marketing.
Flash forward to today and Beede, now serving as Activision’s senior vice president of marketing, is as passionate about delivering memorable fan experiences as ever. Surprise and delight is still the name of the game, while live streaming, which enables the brand to engage millions of digital fans, has become an integral part of Activision’s event strategy. Following is Beede’s take on how Activision—and experiential marketing—have evolved.
EM: When we talked to you in 2011, you said, “We obsess about how we can show appreciation to our fans and we needed an event that could show that on the correct scale.” Is the fan experience still the driving force behind your live event strategies?
BB: It’s definitely still the focus. My approach has always been that our job is to delight the fans who play and enjoy our games. We’re fans and players as well so we can relate to them. So for us, the objective continues to be, how to delight and surprise and engage the fan base. Obviously, it’s evolved since the original Call of Duty: XP in terms of social media, live streaming, globalization and so forth. But the goal remains the same.
EM: How have your priorities changed since the launch of the inaugural Call of Duty: XP?
BB: The events have evolved pretty dramatically, because at the original XP, live streaming and social media weren’t the major elements of it, where now it’s of paramount importance. [Now] we spend a lot of time thinking about the fans tuning in around the world as well as the fans there live.
EM: How has Activision’s approach to live events evolved?
BB: For me, it’s changed quite a bit. We didn’t have an experiential group at our company. It was all just us trying to figure out how to pull off the event and how to partner with different people to execute it at the highest level. Now, we actually have a dedicated experiential marketing team here. And I think Call of Duty XP was somewhat of a catalyst for that.
EM: Where do you see the event industry headed in the next five, 10, 15 years?
BB: I’m a big believer in live streaming. So, when we release content, one of the things we like to do is live-stream and talk the audience through what they can expect from the upcoming content. It’s been a really effective and fun way to connect with our influencers and our fans. Instead of doing one or two big events a year, it has a lot more frequency to it, and we get big, big audiences for those live streams. It’s just a great way to communicate.
Director, Sponsorships & Events
"Everyone having a seat at the table is, truly, what I believe makes our activations some of the best that there are—because we’re all in it together."
An 18-year industry (and Heineken) veteran at the time, Pattie Falch appeared on Event Marketer’s August 2014 cover as part of the magazine’s annual Women in Events feature. The lead subject among the 16 women profiled that year, Falch stressed the importance of building close relationships with agency partners, and underscored one of Heineken’s key objectives—elevating consumer experiences by tapping into passion points like music, art, food and technology.
Today, much of Falch’s outlook is the same (“Your agencies are your partners and… they need to have a seat at the table”), but the scope of Heineken’s live experiences has expanded. Here, we look at how Falch’s approach to events is evolving as digital continues to play a bigger role, attendees continue to expect the unexpected and experiential plays an increasingly important part in Heineken’s marketing mix.
EM: Heineken understood the value of experiential marketing early on. Are events still important to the brand?
PF: I think you’re right. We have always looked at, how do you speak to a consumer in a different way? And events and activations have always been very important to our marketing mix. I think they will always continue to evolve, but I think, when you’re a lifestyle brand, and you want people to be able to feel and touch and live your product, events have to be part of it.
EM: Is there anything you wish you had known about event marketing 10 years ago that would have been helpful in your career?
PF: I wish I knew what role your agencies play—that your agencies are your partners and that as you’re looking to go at these sponsorships, they need to have a seat at the table with you from day one to make sure everybody has the same picture in their head… Everyone having a seat at the table is, truly, what I believe makes our activations some of the best that there are—because we’re all in it together.
EM: Where do you see the industry heading?
PF: I think with events we’ll continue to see the evolution of the production and making sure that what is happening at these events is really what the consumer is looking for… With the world we live in, where consumers have a voice 24/7, you want to really make sure that what you’re giving them is something they’re looking for. I think over the next five years, we’ll begin to see more and more of that at events.
EM: Do you think opportunities for women in event marketing have changed or evolved over the last decade?
PF: As a woman, especially as a working mother, what events have afforded me is that sort of flexibility—I don’t want to say being able to do it all, because that’s a big statement. But the ebbs and the flows and ups and the downs of the way events work, I think is appealing to women. At least I can say that for myself in my own experience… It really is an industry that lends itself to women to have a great career and grow in that career, but also be able to still be a mom and not miss a play or a soccer game or whatever it may be. So, I do continue to see the industry evolving in that way.