Voices from the Show Floor: Insights from Women in Events Week

“I think we’re in an exciting time for experiential. With linear television consumption continuing to decline, it is becoming more about the experience one has with a brand and, with the proliferation of social media, the ability to share that experience. It’s exciting to think about as we go forward, the role we can play in the marketing mix as we move from a logistics- and planning-first mindset to seeing events as an opportunity to bring the brand story and experience to life in a multi-dimensional way that goes deeper than what TV advertising alone can deliver.”

That insight came from Meredith Starkey, the Vice President of Sponsorships and Events at T-Mobile, when asked about the experiential industry.

Starkey was a featured panelist last year at Event Marketer’s Women in Events Week. She was one of several women in prominent positions who were asked questions that highlighted their successes, struggles, and views on the current and future state of experiential and live events.

Eight years ago, Event Marketer started Women in Events: a series focused on the unique contributions of women in the experiential marketing industry. Last year, the program evolved with Women in Events Week: a 12-city celebration that included networking excursions, afternoon mini-conferences, cocktail hours, dinners, and roundtable discussions with some of the industry’s most accomplished female leaders.

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For 2019, Women in Events Week expands to even more formats and cities, including:

·      Full-day experiences

o   October 22: San Francisco

o   October 24: New York

·      Half-day experiences

o   October 21: Chicago

o   October 22: Los Angeles

o   October 23: Austin

·      Networking meet-ups

o   October 21: Atlanta, Boston, and Dallas

o   October 22: Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Miami

o   October 23: Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, and San Jose

o   October 24: Nashville, Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.

In anticipation of this year’s Women in Events Week, here are some insights from last year’s panelists. (These excerpts are from an Event Marketer report, which can be read in its entirety here.)

One of the first questions the moderator asked focused on the issue of gender equality and if it created career obstacles for any panelist.

“I think it depends on your industry,” said Liz Brochhausen, the Senior Manager of Experiential Marketing and Live Production at Pandora. “I’m at this interesting crux between technology and the music industry, which has been predominantly male for so long. I’m constantly having road guys mansplaining to me about how live production works. It’s like, ‘Thank you, so much. I’ve been doing this for 10 years.’ But I think it just depends on the industry that you’re in and how much progress women have made there.”

The conversation then broadened into the expanded role of experiential marketing and how their respective companies perceive it. 

“I think in the last few years there seems to be so much more appreciation for what we do. The company rallies around events strategically, and there’s been a ton of respect for the team that manages them. It’s so fabulous to see that appreciated. It’s something I’m enthusiastic about. The more that we can be seen as a strategic part of the marketing mix, the more the leaders that are running experiential programs that are women can go up to other positions. It can’t be seen as this service niche of the organization, but as a strategic marketing powerhouse,” said Kimberly Whinna Cottrell, the Senior Manager of Experiential and Content Marketing for Autodesk.

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“I think what is so valuable about experiential that can be much more difficult to crack with some of the other marketing disciplines is that you have the opportunity to build both rational value in the minds of your customers as well as emotional value. And that’s where experiential marketing really factors into the brand-building process and brand marketing versus just performance marketing. I think we’re all lucky if we can work at companies where that is truly valued because the emotional connection that a consumer has with your brand can be what builds the greatest loyalty,” said Amy Marino, the Vice President of Global Experiential Marketing and Talent Management at American Express.

The moderator also asked about the must-have skills for an experiential leader.

“Being endlessly flexible is the number one skill needed,” said Jennifer Utz Ilecki, the Vice President of Buzz Marketing and Partnerships at Marriott. “Candidly, I’ve found from working in experiential marketing that there is a high probability something will not go according to plan. It is critical to the success of the activation to develop contingency plans, keep calm under pressure, and roll with the punches. Approach activations with a problem-solving mindset so that you’re not thrown when things deviate from plans. Also, be nimble, knowing that it’s not going to go exactly as you envisioned and there will inevitably be a need to act quickly as anything can happen, such as canceled flights, issues with talent, shipping delays, delayed visas for teams working international activations, the list goes on. In fact, when things are going super smooth and according to plan, I’ve said to my team, ‘This is too good to be true. Something’s going to break very soon. Let’s stay on our toes.’ Having everyone at the ready to remedy issues behind the scenes makes a huge difference.

“Listening is essential to being a great leader, too, especially in experiential,” said Keirsten Hammett, a Partner at Proscenium. “Things are changing constantly, and you have to be able to solve problems and come up with solutions that make sense and often are within budget. Mastering the art of listening to what people are saying and even sometimes what they aren’t saying allows you to respond more strategically to those types of situations with clients as well as within your team.”

“You also can’t take every one of your ideas too personally, especially when you’re getting started. In my career now I can say, ‘Here’s this wild idea and here’s 27 more that I have right now and I’m not going to get offended or hung up on the fact that so-and-so just gave me a thumbs down and hates it.’ It’s not about me. But that was a hard thing to learn when I was coming up,” said Katrina Kent, the Director of the Event Group at TD Ameritrade.

The moderator then questioned the panel to see if they had any advice for young women who may be struggling to develop their confidence at work.

“I think it’s important to reinforce the fact that you have been hired for this role because you bring a specific skill set and a specific level of expertise to the table that is valuable to the company and fulfilling its goals. And speak up. If you have an idea, share that idea. If you have an accomplishment, talk about that accomplishment. Have direct conversations with your leaders and make sure that it’s very clear between you what you see in your career, what value you’re bringing to the table and looking ahead, where you see yourself going. And then, back that up by becoming the master of your domain and really delivering the goods. Self-doubt doesn’t get you anywhere. You have a voice, and you’ve been hired to use that,” said Laura Lovas, the Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships and Events at ABC.

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The moderator closed the conversation with a question about the biggest challenges for event marketers.

“The smartphone is nothing new at this point, but the generation that’s now entering the workforce is truly the first generation that’s always had the internet in their pocket. So, we have to ask, how can we be “Phygital” in our approach? How can we merge the physical experience seamlessly with the digital side of experiential marketing? That’s what the next generation is seeking—they don’t see the distinction between the physical and digital worlds,” said Anna Clarke, the Midwest Regional Marketing Manager at Clif Bar & Company.

“Events are just one piece in the equation. So, how do you connect all the efforts versus working in silos and creating extra work, extra effort, all of those things that don’t necessarily have the same impact, unless they’re combined. That’s a challenge for sure, especially in large companies. How do you connect all those different dots?” said Nicola Kastner, the Senior Director of Global Event Strategy at SAP.

“That’s something that I really try to hit home with my regional marketing teams, the field teams that bring our partnerships to life, or bring events to life: what story are we telling? And how could it fire on all cylinders across every channel?” said Elizabeth Windram, the Vice President of Marketing at JetBlue. “It is ‘do more with less,’ but it’s also ‘tell one story with all of the tools that you have.’ My team presents ideas all the time, and if it’s a one-off, I say, ‘Absolutely not. What is it a part of? And who else on the team are you talking to, to make sure it’s working with their roles?’”

The 2019 Women in Events Week is just around the corner: October 21-24. Check out the website for more information and ticket availability.

TTG Marketing