2019 was proof that experiential marketing is one of the most prolific tools behind a brand’s success. Having produced plenty of content around pop-ups and experiential insights last year, we noticed many of the major players were male-run companies. To highlight a different perspective, we spoke with four women whose experiential and events companies aren’t just on the rise, but are innovating and excelling at the same pace as the OG pros, to learn more about the industry landscape today.
We started by asking our interviewees if, at any point, they’ve felt the space was a boys’ club at the executive level. The consensus: while the industry might have started out mostly male, today’s demo reflects a more event split of male and female CEOs and owners.
“We have an opportunity to show what it looks like when women-led companies and departments, find balance and bring confidence to their teams and clients,” says Dera Lee, founder and CEO of Dera Lee Productions. “Now that events and experiential marketing is being taken more seriously, many women have quickly moved up into noticeable positions.”
Vogue Eyewear Editor Holiday Dinner at Chinese Tuxedo (Dera Lee Productions)
While some women have cemented a top spot in this space, Sophie Pape - founder of all-female led S_PROJECTS - notes that it’s still a surprise to some. “Sometimes it's definitely surprising to clients and vendors, particularly when they see me, that I am who I am. Or that I can execute the ideas that I conjure up in my imagination — that are seemingly impossible. Put it this way, I was the only CEO / executive producer to persuade the kind folks over at the New York Transit Museum to allow me to execute Moschino’s Pre-Fall 2020 show. It took many many months, but they trusted me and we did indeed, produce an incredible show.”
Madelaine Petsch, Julia Fox, Kacey Musgraves, Kim Petras and Aquaria attend the Moschino Prefall 2020 Runway Show front row at New York Transit Museum (Getty Images)
Ana Pelucarte and Rita Tabet, the 20-somethings behind Pop Up Mob, have seen this evolution over the past couple of years, too. “Coincidentally enough, we've gone through waves internally where we were 50/50 [men and women], and today it turns out we're all women within the organization as they seem to be the ones that want to stay and grow this unconventional pop-up world.”
From this, a new question emerged: could being a woman present an advantage in this space? Self Employed Communications co-founders Sarah Ivory and Anita Gatto, who joined forces after a mutual friend set them up, think so. “Being a woman gives us an edge in life, period,” says Ivory. “As mothers and business owners, we have an exceptionally high ability to multitask. Our organizational, communication and time management skills are absolutely integral to the success of our business. I am sure we are naturally prone to have an edge as a result.”
Pelucarte and Tabet see this as a white canvas to forge the path. “The business dynamics within this industry have been the same ones for decades and being young women coming from different cultures has made us try new dynamics and see them working; being warm, bold and not taking no for an answer, have gone a long way for us,” they add.
Pop Up Mob x the skimm NYC
Still, it’s the hard work behind these initiatives that has pushed the industry to evolve, in regard to both inclusivity and innovation. “I believe our clients want the best capabilities and creative ideas whether or not it's a female or male,” says Lee. “I think being prepared, knowing your stuff, and trusting your voice is what gives anyone an edge in this industry.”
Pape found her edge in the way she developed her business, which cuts the layer of accounts to streamline the production process. “Because of my and my staff’s multi-faceted experience, we can provide the same level of experiential services as much larger agencies but because I have streamlined, I can keep the business lean and malleable (for instance, there’s always a last minute request for A-list talent!) and we can pass those savings to the clients,” she says.
Each of these women had different work experiences before building their companies, and - whether positive or negative - they played an important part in their career growth. Lee recalls learning from amazing female business owners, especially about bringing balance between work-personal life. Ivory and Gatto both nod at their previous bosses and partners (particularly those who were hard on them) for encouraging them to push their limits and become better leaders.
Violet Grey's launch event for Danielle Lauder’s capsule makeup collection, Estée Lauder ACT IV (Self Employed Communications)
Pape heeds the advice of many peers and partners who shared advice along the way, on everything from production to business - especially about the benefits of being happy with where your business is currently, and not to focus too heavily on aggressive growth. Pelucarte and Tabet both had entrepreneur parents, and their philosophy has stuck: “Treat business as a piece of playdough - let it shape into what it wants.”
These brilliant women are all about paying it forward, helping to lift up other women in the industry in various ways. “Advising female entrepreneurs is an important focus for us,” says Ivory. “I can think of at three least women whom we strongly encouraged to start their own businesses. Those women currently own super successful agencies ranging from advertising to social media. Watching their professional successes has been super inspiring.”
Pape shares a similar sentiment, saying, “I hire brilliant women, I champion women, I invest and lend to other women in the industry. I share vendors, stories, intel and even pass along work to other female (and indeed male) producers if I feel we are maxed out and could not execute at the highest possible global standard.”
She continues, “I think for me, I hire the best person for the job regardless of their gender identity. It just so happens that right now, 100% of those people are women.”
Pop Up Mob London beauty pop-up
Providing your team with the support they need is crucial to their growth. Lee started a mentorship program last year, personally mentoring the company’s female interns, discussing everything from work-life balance and office politics to career advice and negotiating salaries. The Pop Up Mob co-founders keep an open door policy and make time for students looking to interview them for their projects, speaking at panels, giving advice to friends and overall constantly encouraging their “mobsters.”
It's exciting to think how women will continue to shape this ever-changing industry, especially with support from one another. As these ladies made very clear, empowering your peers is key to everyone's success. As such, 2020 is sure to see its fair share of game-changing programming and productions, which we look forward to covering here.
The Havas Media team has some strong views for what’s to come next year, including predictions about travel, retail and cannabis.
"2019 threw a lot our way, and I’m sure that 2020 will do the same," said Bre Rosetti, senior-VP and director of strategy and innovation at Havas Media. "As we embark on a new year, the Havas Media Strategy and Insights team took a step back to think about what’s next. It’s clear by now that media is so much more - it’s the connective tissue between behavior, culture and technology. For that reason these predictions span across industries and topics and should serve as a lens into the increased complexity that we must navigate on behalf of brands and consumers."
Here are the team's expectations for 2020.
1. AirBnB will start testing a subscription travel program that gives members access to ride sharing credits and exclusive local experiences.
2. Facebook will follow Twitter’s lead and stop taking political advertising -- but it won’t make the announcement until after the 2020 U.S. Election.
3. Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s will follow Nordstrom’s lead by launching subscription models for shoppers in Fashion and Beauty.
4. Amazon will launch flight search and booking in Southeast Asia-- and Prime members will be incentivized with discounts like free baggage and no change fees.
5. Travel and tourism will be front and center in the climate change conversation. In an effort to curb carbon emissions we’ll see hotel chains and airlines begin to incentivize travelers for conservation and ecotourism efforts like choosing carbon neutral modes of transportation and LEED certified hotels.
6. Recreational use of Marijuana will be legal in 15 states, including Florida, which will lead to formalized regulations about where weed companies can and cannot advertise.
7. The 2020 Women’s Marches will act as a catalyst for women’s travel and solo trips -- by the end of 2020 we will see an increase in experiences designed for women to meet and travel with groups of previously unknown companions.