sam weinglass

Let's Talk Experiential

The hottest word in the events world right now? EXPERIENTIAL.

It’s all the rage. Event planners are no longer producing trade shows with traditional booths, or designing spaces that are simply aesthetically pleasing. Brands are now insisting on engaging, interactive and shareable experiences. Every brainstorm we’re a part of now centers around the question: “but how can we make it experiential?”

While we can all thank Refinery29 for making 29Rooms a consumer sensation (you haven’t been?! It’s a must and the New York tour is about to start!), there are several other pop-ups taking place nationwide that are nailing experiential, creating one of a kind, shareable experiences that allow brands to really shine.

Here, we’ll talk about what we’ve learned through our experience producing experiential events as well as from observing and taking part in the pop ups that have been sprouting up all over our city. We'll highlight 7 key requirements to ensure your brand’s next event is an Instagram-worthy experience. And lastly, we'll share some favorite moments from New York’s latest fascination, the Rosé Wine Mansion!

1. You Had Me At Hello.

While we don’t expect you to go full-on Jerry Maguire, we do want to emphasize how crucial first impressions are for brands when executing events and how making  a good first impression will set the tone for the rest of the event.

How do you make a good first impression? Find ways to grab your attendees’ attention before they enter your event. Try something risky or balls to the wall, outrageous... we love to shock our guests with live entertainment greeting them at the entrance. But we’re not talking about the good ol’ man on stilts, we mean something they have never seen before like a model wearing a dress made out of 1,000 Chinese takeout boxes branded with your company logo, or an entire head-to-toe outfit made of mirrors. Bold examples like these will instantly excite attendees enough to take their phones out and share their experience on social media.  

2013 CES Client Hospitality Dinner

2013 CES Client Hospitality Dinner

2. Go Big or Go Home.

You’ve heard this a million times – well, it couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to making your event experiential…and we don’t mean financially (although a healthy budget always helps!).

When producing a consumer experiential event, think about the space becoming an adult playground. This will guarantee onsite and social media engagement. A winning recipe for this is taking an expected experience to an unexpected level with larger than life props. One of our favorite ways the Rosé Wine Mansion did this was their oversized throne. I mean, let’s face it - who wouldn’t want a photo with all their friends piled up on a giant throne? And yes, we absolutely had our photo taken here - check it out!

2018 Rosé Wine Mansion - Oversized Throne

2018 Rosé Wine Mansion - Oversized Throne

3. Right This Way.

One of the most important things to think about when designing an experiential environment is directional signage or how your guests will find their way. You want to ensure that you dictate the path your attendees take BUT in a way that lets them feel like they are in control (wink wink).

Big, bold colorful signage always seems to work well, BUT there are plenty of ways to go outside the box with this one too. We have used string art, oversized balloons and even larger than life bowling pins to create a path for our attendees. Human arrows are also a great tool, especially if those humans are dressed in adorable outfits. Lights and/or sound can also help move your guests from one location to the next. We once used sound in the way of a high school marching band. You read that right - we enlisted a high school marching band to help lead our attendees from one event location to the next, in the middle of Times Square, no less.  

2015 Upfront - Leading Clients To A Second Venue

2015 Upfront - Leading Clients To A Second Venue

4. Reflect on This.

It seems you can’t be experiential without an activation or a branded moment that involves mirrors or some other shiny reflective material. Those fun houses from back in the day were on to something!  

We recently created an experience using disco balls that had our attendees going wild. For starters, there were over 100 boxes of disco balls delivered to the venue (remember when we said go big or go home?) for a space not larger than 20x20. Everything that went into this space was reflective. From simple tactics like holographic streamers that guests walked through to enter the space to reflective mylar used as wallpaper to make every inch of the space shine bright. Layer on over 100 disco balls, additional thematic props, great lighting, and the space was on fire! Guests took their time going through the experience to ensure they got their money shot with the disco balls, boomerangs dancing through the streamers, and then some.  

2018 Upfront - Sunday Night Fever Experience Room

2018 Upfront - Sunday Night Fever Experience Room

5. It’s Not Just Catering – It’s An Experience.

Let’s face it, for us foodies, catering has always been an experience. Although, with food bloggers on the rise, even non-foodie attendees expect more from food and beverage at events now. While having a great catering partner is key, here are a couple of items to consider that can take your food and beverage from great to “This is so amazing, I have to post this!”

We all love specialty cocktails, so let’s take them to the next level! Let your attendees play bartender by letting them pick their perfect combination from a select menu. For example, create a margarita bar where guests can pick from a spicy or traditional mix, or from add-ins like mango, mint, or jalepeño...and voilà! You’re specialty cocktail is now a buzz-worthy experience.

Remember when we said to be bold? Well, catering is no exception. A great representation of this was when we worked with a caterer to create a 20-foot long donut wall in the shape of a company logo. Best part about it? We had separate donuts for guests to eat! Bold branding that is interactive and delicious, that’s a winning recipe (permission to roll your eyes at the corniness)!

2011 Holiday Party - Life-size Real Donut Wall

2011 Holiday Party - Life-size Real Donut Wall

6. All About Me.

Event attendees these days are looking for experiences that are catered to them. They want to feel important and that the brand or company hosting the experience cares about them personally. And while this may seem difficult to achieve, it actually isn’t and can actually be quite simple.

At the Rosé Wine Mansion, there were two very simple activations that were all about the attendee, and you were hit with them right at the start. The first experience was a room with white walls and furniture. The activation included giving each person grape stickers to decorate the room however they wanted - leaving their personal mark on the space. The second experience was a map with push pins with a headline asking attendees “Where do you drink the most Rose?”. Done! Just like that - guests felt important, and the experience felt personal to them. 

2018 The Rosé Mansion - Dot Room

2018 The Rosé Mansion - Dot Room

7. This Is Not Goodbye.

The event ends, everyone goes home, and you pat yourselves on the back for getting through an awesome and successful event. And then what? You pack up and move on to the next project? Nope! The experience can’t end there. There has to be follow through - a way to continue the conversation and ensure your guests don’t lose interest after leaving your event. The simplest way to check this box is by sending a thank you email to all those that attended. But the key to making these types of emails successful is an interactive and dynamic communication.

The Rosé Wine Mansion nearly nailed their follow up email as it included several informational links to help you connect with them via social media, register for a wine club, purchase tickets to attend again, and learn more about upcoming special events. All amazing things! But, there are two items they missed the mark on. One: an engaging, aesthetically pleasing design. They developed an entire experience that was vibrant, modern and colorful - but did not carry this through for their thank you email. If felt too templatized for an event that was anything but that. And two: they included a link that didn’t serve a purpose - the link about future special events. When recipients clicked here, it took you to a page that said “coming soon!” If you aren’t ready to share your news, don’t tease us. Instead, wait until the details are finalized and send out another email that can get me uber excited for more.

We’ve sent a gazillion thank you emails and have always focussed on keeping them fun, light-hearted and personal. But that’s not the only way to keep interacting with attendees. We have created interactive departure gifts tied to a social media campaign that gives guests a chance to win something. We’ve also shared photo galleries from the event and sent attendees thank you gifts such as a framed photo of them on the golf course, for instance, after one of our VIP client golf outings. These are all great ways to continue the conversation and leave guests wanting more!

So there you have it - no matter the size or scope of your experiential event, these 7 tips will be essential in creating a total Insta-worthy experience. We hope you found them helpful, but if this is all still a little overwhelming for you, don’t worry, that’s what we’re here for.

GET TO KNOW SAM WEINGLASS

First up, meet one of our founders, Samantha Weinglass or as her friends like to call her, Sami Rae. She tells all via a casual convo over milkshakes and french fries with her co-founder and partner in crime, Pauli.

P: What is one of the funniest moments you can remember onsite at an event?
S: Honestly, there are so many! One that sticks out to me right now is when my boss and I were checking an executive's hotel room prior to his arrival (we always made sure the room was freshly made, the tv and lights worked, the amenity we sent him was there with the personalized card from us, etc.), and unbeknownst to us, he had arrived 4 hours earlier than expected. We were still in the room when we heard the door unlock and saw him enter. Luckily, we were in the bedroom and not the living room where the door opened up into...and LUCKILY he was in a suite that had its own kitchen with a back door for hotel staff to come in and out. I remember doing somersaults, rolling over the bed, and doing a high jump to the door to get out of there as fast as humanly possible. The HARDEST thing I had to do was swallow my laughter and not make a sound during those 10 seconds - that by the way, seemed like an ETERNITY. We were hysterical.

P: That’s hilarious! What about your most mortifying event experience?
S: I have about a million. The one that I don’t think I will ever live down was at an executive offsite at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fl. On the second day of the offsite, we had set up activities for everyone; some went to the spa, the beach, some played tennis, and others played golf. My responsibilities that day was to oversee golf - make sure all the foursomes got out ok, set out directional signage and gifts along the course, ensure the photographer knew what holes to get shots from. My only other responsibility that day (outside of my golf duties) was to make it back to our team’s production office for our staff meeting at like 4 o’clock. The golf clubhouse gave me a golf cart to drive around the course in order to do everything I needed to. I was driving around making my stops and all was going great; I felt super cool, like I owned the place! [laughs] And then, all of sudden, I guess I made a wrong turn and found myself stopped at a red light! I said to myself “why the f*** am I stopped at a red light in a golf cart?” Somehow I had made my way off the course and onto the HIGHWAY. And to top it off, I looked to my right while stopped at this light and (passed the life size care next to me) I see my CEO at the time on the green, HYSTERICAL laughing at me with his foursome, I’m sure wondering why the hell I was on the highway. With my beyond sweaty palms, beat red face, and still completely disoriented, I somehow made it back to the clubhouse to return the cart. I ran back to the hotel and stormed into the staff meeting. I was 30-minutes late to the meeting because of my “joy” ride - MORTIFIED. Everyone was asking me where I had been out of concern. It was a mistake telling them because to this day, it’s their favorite story to tell about me over drinks for a good laugh. Luckily, I can laugh with them now.  
P: [Laughs] I really do love this story, never gets old. Although I wasn’t there for this, I find myself telling it like I was there.

P: You just had your second baby - beautiful Ellyot Drew. How are you managing with two under two?
S: Lol. Depends on the day, honestly. Today happens to be a good day! It’s extremely hard and exhausting having a newborn; nonetheless a newborn and a “Ty” who is only 19 months. I hear it gets easier after the first 6 months, so just 1 more month to go!! It’s certainly been a challenge finding the balance between work and family life too - I am fortunate enough to have a great nanny and an extremely supportive husband, and my family is close by to help too. So just taking it one day at a time and reminding myself I’m not superwoman and that’s okay. Ugh, now I’m all choked up!

P: On a lighter note, CREW EVENTS - what made you take the plunge and leave your corporate job to start your own business? Asides wanting to work with me everyday, of course. [Laughs]  
S: At the risk of repeating myself, my new family of four. I have always wanted to go out on my own, but I guess one big change led to another. It gave me the drive and lit the fire under my ass to finally do it. Also, my BFF (wink wink) asked me to go into business with her!

P: Any regrets in your career?
S: Not one. Each step of the way was part of the journey. I have been so fortunate in my career to work with and learn from some of the best in the business, co-workers and vendors alike. The past 11 years have been incredible and have led me here - nothing bad about that!

P: What inspires you?
S: The world around me - NYC. It’s window displays, street art, store displays, its crazy style. Our ‘idea of the week’ sessions we have every week too! Bizbash, instagram of course, my crazy son. Everything inspires me - as long as I am in the mood to be inspired. Lol.

P: What are some of the coolest places your work and events have taken you?
S: We went to Scotland for a client golf event with AOL, which was pretty cool. We did a European roadshow which I loved too. Doing events at Cannes was always pretty unbelievable. And honestly, here in NYC. I know it’s home, but to me, it’s the best city in the world. And it has some of the most unique event spaces, the most talented and creative vendors, and the fact that it’s the city that never sleeps is really quite fitting for me right now (thank you Ellyot and the 4 month sleep regression).

P: Piece of advice for anyone starting out in this crazy world of events that we love and hold so dear?
S: There are so many more opportunities now in events than even 10 years ago when I was starting out. Events and experiential marketing are where it’s at now. So don’t let anyone tell you event planning or event management isn’t a real job. It is, and it’s probably one of the hardest jobs out there - iIt takes a whole lot of skill, it takes passion, and it takes a certain kind of (type A) personality. So if you think you have it, GO FOR IT.

P: What do you do on your spare time, between running after your kiddos and creating FOMO-inducing events?
S: [Laughs] I don’t have much spare time these days, BUT I have started running again, in the morning, before the kids wake up. I missed it! I’d love to run the NY and Chicago marathons again one day… and I’ve heard the Big Sur Marathon is unreal. So running for sure.. I love the beach, lounging by the pool, and my husband and I love to make pizza and sushi.  

P: Okay last question, but maybe the most important one: favorite food?
S: I have a few that I literally cannot choose between...but they all serve their own purpose. Fro Yo with rainbow sprinkles, soft pretzels, chicken parm, and sour gummy watermelon.... Ohhh, and this peanut butter milkshake from Shake Shack which is life. [Laughs]

Check us out on Instagram @CrewEventsNY to follow our #FOMOInducingEvents.