While a plethora of industries have been deeply challenged by the pandemic, one of the ones that stands out is events and experiential. The epic rethinking of an entire industry, which shifts almost on the daily, has kept our planner friends in an impressive dance of agility and adaptation. Always one of the pre-eminent players, MKG has been at the coalface this past year, reimagining their work and doubling down on their core purpose of ‘actions above ads.’ We had a chance to catch up with the newly-appointed president Christine Capone and chief creative officer Lauren Austin to hear about the agency’s evolution in the past year, plus their predictions for the future of experiential.
Can you briefly both share your career trajectories leading up to assuming the roles you’ve recently taken on?
I joined MKG in 2015 as Director of Accounts, overseeing some of the agency’s key clients including Delta Air Lines and JPMorgan Chase. I then absorbed the business development group and eventually was moved into a Managing Director role in 2019. In that role, I really helped guide agency strategy with Lauren and our peers.
Prior to joining MKG, I spent my career in partnership marketing. I serviced sponsorship development for some of the United States Tennis Association’s largest US Open Tennis Championships and US Open Series partners including Ralph Lauren, Heineken, Olympus, and Mercedes Benz. Most recently before MKG, I led sponsorship and licensing at lifestyle clothing brand Vineyard Vines – launching the brand’s first sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby, brokering a partnership with the America’s Cup, and running all collegiate and professional sports licenses.
I Joined MKG in 2007, shaping the evolution of our agency and brand, taking us from a production house to a creative agency. During my time here I have laid the foundation for the agency’s structure, helped shape the business development process and added a team of creative strategists, art directors, and copywriters to drive big picture thinking. My team has led the creative vision behind all client work, leading to wins with brands like Google, Delta Air Lines, Target, Dos Equis, and more.
Prior to joining MKG, I built my career in experiential marketing. As a creative producer for Zoom Media’s experiential division, I helped build experiential programs for brands like [adult swim], Cadbury, Johnson & Johnson, and Jeep. I also worked at David Stark Design & Production on brand experiences for Entertainment Weekly, Target, and Tribeca Film Festival.
What does it mean to you to have achieved these incredible positions and what do you hope to bring to your roles?
Lauren and I are running MKG together with an incredible amount of support from our leadership team and our team as a whole.
I have assumed the role of President. I am responsible for driving the overall growth and direction of the agency in partnership with Lauren, CCO, and setting the strategy for client development and new business priorities. I am now overseeing agency operations, financial health, and the development of agency talent.
Lauren has assumed the role of Chief Creative Officer. She is responsible for leading the creative vision of the agency and all creative client work. In her new role, Lauren assumes responsibility for the design and integrated production teams at the agency in addition to leading creative strategy. She is also taking on agency culture.
We are working together on agency vision and growth plans.
How have the effects of the pandemic led to an expansion of your agency’s service offerings and how far-reaching are your capabilities currently?
While 2020 has been a year of challenge, it has also been a year of opportunity. We have diversified our offerings and broadened our client set. Some highlights include developing lululemon’s PRIDE campaign, helping strategize the launch of Martha Stewart’s CBD line, creating impactful, digital experiences for Maui Moisture at Curlfest and Afropunk, reimagining virtual sponsorships for both Google and Bank of America at the Grace Hopper Celebration, as well as some great live experiential work for clients like OGX and Dos Equis. We were also awarded a five-year contract with the United States Marine Corps Community Services which we are in the planning stage for.
Prior to the pandemic we specialized in brand experiences, but our team has always been multi-faceted and they’ve pushed themselves to learn how to do virtually anything. It’s been inspiring to watch our team grow so much this year.
The agency cites “brand actions” as a major focus looking forward. Can you explain more about that concept?
MKG is a creative agency specializing in brand action. Simply put, we believe in Actions Above Ads. Quality and price are table stakes, but it’s the actions a brand takes in the world that make a difference in consumer opinion. Brand Action is the most powerful tool any marketer has.
Brand Actions take on many forms including innovative, digital and virtual experiences, live events, employee engagements, social impact actions, and more, but with every action we aim to humanize brands through creative storytelling and thoughtful engagement. We believe in action -- in doing before saying. We believe that innovative, empathetic, and brave brand actions create growth and positive change.
Are there many other female owned and led agencies in your space and if not, do you think it provides you with a competitive advantage?
We are not the only women owned and operated agency out there. We certainly support our fellow female leaders – their success is also ours. It’s hard to say if being women-led provides us with a direct competitive advantage when it comes to clients. We do believe it provides us with an edge with our people. We run the agency with empathy. We listen, we welcome opinions, we are problem solvers. In the end, we believe that those qualities help us maintain a healthy business and create a good place to work.
What are some of your current projects you’re excited about?
We just wrapped a Covid-safe car wash experience for OGX in LA. We’re now in planning stage with the brand about what to do next since it was such a success.
We have a really fun project coming up with a food delivery brand that celebrates NYC and aims to uplift our community after such a trying year.
We’ve also been working on some creative mailers and at-home experiences for brands like Netflix, Target, and PepsiCo. With editor previews, product launches, and influencer events cancelled, mailers have been a great way to get products and brands in the hands of these key audiences. We just did a super fun one for the new season of Stranger Things and we’ve got more up our sleeves.
When do you foresee a return to live events and how will they be different post-Covid?
We’re already seeing a return to live experiences in creative ways. I think people are craving experiences so brands that figure out ways to deliver safely are going to see a lot of excitement and success. It’s a bit hard to predict when live events will come back fully as we are still watching the vaccine rollout, but we’re optimistic that we’ll see larger scale gatherings in 2021.
People will be much more aware of health and safety in general post-Covid and that will impact our industry. There’s lots of emerging technology that might become commonplace for live events -- you don’t just show your ticket barcode or say your name for a guestlist, but also have to prove vaccination status -- but it remains to be seen how much will be adopted and what a post-Covid society will actually require.
What have been some of your greatest business learnings in 2020?
Take nothing for granted.
It is imperative to continue diversifying your portfolio, even when the need to do so does not seem necessary at the time.
There is nothing more important than your people. Make sure they know that. Empower them. Our team’s spirit, hustle, drive and desire to learn and grow is how we are here today.
What are some major moves MKG has planned for the future under your leadership?
We are investing in the people, talents, and partners who truly believe in the power of Brand Action. As a community within our own organization, we all want to do work that feels good and positive so we hope to continue to build partnerships with purpose driven brands who believe in bold, brave action.
As part of the ACC, we’re looking to continue to bring forward thinking, creative, and innovative agencies into the mix as partners.
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