Beyond the Hybrid Model: The Big Comeback for In-Person Experiences: The Top 5 Takeaways From HypeHour #11

12.01.2021 Articles , Blog , HypeHour LiveStream , Retail , Shopping Experience
By Sargena Narsa, PR & Communications Content Specialist

As the world returns to normal, we’re finally starting to see more in-person events and conferences make a comeback, and we’re ready to get back to having face-to-face interactions!

With lingering health and safety concerns, it’s crucial to make shoppers and event attendees feel the most comfortable during the transition back to in-person. In our latest episode of HypeHour, we discussed all things experiential and how brands and retailers can make the transition back to in-person, while making the health and safety of attendees a top priority.

Brands will have to go beyond safety guidelines to ensure the ease and comfort of shoppers and event attendees. In HypeHour #11: “Beyond the Hybrid Model: The Big Comeback for In-Person Experiences,” our panel of experts discussed the expectations of the transition back to in-person events, the strategies brands should consider as they plan for events in 2022, and insights on how brands can make shoppers and event attendees feel the most comfortable. The HypeHour is a monthly livestream that covers relevant topics, answers challenging questions, and brainstorms creative ideas, featuring different perspectives from industry experts.

Meet our buzzworthy panel of experts that joined us in HypeHour #11: “Beyond the Hybrid Model: The Big Comeback for In-Person Experiences”:

  • Kate Kessler – Global Field Sales Manager at Meta
  • Risa Matthews – VP of Brand Marketing & Events at MTV Entertainment Group
  • Elizabeth Jones – SVP of Experiential at MAG
  • Lenetta Pesotini – VP of Experiential at MAG

You can watch the livestream video above, read the detailed transcription below, or – if you just want the highlights – here are our top takeaways from HypeHour #11:

1)    Reengaging with Retail Sales Associates in Store

We all know that human interaction is priceless. Being able to connect with sales associates in store is necessary to show shoppers the excitement and passion behind the brand and product. As we make a comeback to in-person shopping, brands must rebuild customer engagement in store through product demonstrations and product education.

Having brand champions provides customers with an understanding of the product and brand when they leave your booth or store. Recently, Meta partnered with MAG Experiential to create brand champions for their Oculus products.

To build these brand champions, we developed traveling portal vending machines to train retail sales associates. After being trained, the sales associates completed a knowledge check on the vending machines. When training questions were answered correctly, they earned free swag. This method was a way to invest in sales associates, while giving them a fun incentive: free stuff!

2)    Rebuilding In-Person Communities for Lasting Connections

Face-to-face interactions are key for developing relationships, building loyalty, and making lasting impressions. Although the hybrid model allowed us to virtually make those connections, there’s still a missing element from being in the same room as a person. In-person events are important as they allow for more intimate engagement experiences with customers that leaves them with a lasting impression.

People value connection. For Meta, in-person interactions reign supreme as they provide hands-on demonstrations to their audience. Since not that many people have demonstrated VR, it’s effective to have that human connection where customers can put a name to a face and understand the passion behind the brand, while experiencing a new product.

Being able to meet customers in person gives brands the opportunity to interact with their audience and showcase their products, while having human connection. Customers walk away feeling immersed with the brand and the experience. Building awareness, education, and engagement is beneficial for a brand’s long-term strategy. Through the consistency and longevity of these interactions, ROI will be powerful in the long run.

3)    The Hybrid Approach Will Always Remain

2020 was the year of pivoting. With that being said, brands have had to sustain that pivot and now are finally able to reengage with customers and sales associates in store. Kessler believes that the upcoming year will be crucial for innovation, new ways of thinking, and creativity as competitors will do the same.

Brands will gain market share by staying committed to focusing on bringing the most engaging platforms to the audience. The hybrid model will never go away, therefore, brands must continue to engage sales associates and customers virtually. For example, the portal vending machine campaign featured a digital extension, which combined the in-person experience with a virtual experience.

4)    Driving Organic Social Conversation

Go where consumers are and bring a piece of your brand to them. Given the cultural climate, brands should remember to stay flexible and get in the hands of consumers one way or another.

Being the first media company to activate since the pandemic, MTV successfully executed the VMAs event and handed out face masks to all attendees, while street team members wore Moon Person suits (naturally COVID compliant).

MTV’s ultimate goal is to reach consumers and drive organic social conversation. With kit mailers, MTV was able to reach their celebrity fans and influencers that enjoy consumer content by directly sending them mailers. This drove social conversation between celebrities and their audience.

5)    Providing Consumers Peace Of Mind

With the comeback of in-person, consumers and event attendees want to know that their health and safety is being taken into consideration. For MTV, their goal is to protect the unvaccinated during their events. In addition to requiring vaccinations, their events require social distancing, mask wearing, and same day negative COVID-19 testing. People willingly follow the steps as they seek a sense of normalcy.

For brands, taking consumer safety and health considerations into account must be a top priority during post-pandemic planning. To provide consumers and event attendees with a peace of mind, brands and events should visually show that they are following compliance with the city, while providing visual elements of safety, such as, hand sanitizing stations, masks, and social distancing. Having visual elements to health and safety ensures the attendees that the event is taking care of their considerations.

For brands demoing products, it’s necessary to sanitize the product in between use and ensure you’re following protocol. Consumers want to know that their safety is being taken into consideration by seeing employees make an effort to keep the product sanitized.

We hope you enjoyed this episode of the HypeHour! With the comeback of in-person events, what are you looking forward to the most? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below or on Hype Hive’s social media:

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Transcription:

Elizabeth Jones:
Hello, everyone. We are so excited to be here today. By way of introduction, my name is Elizabeth Jones, and I am joined with the lovely Lenetta Pesotini who’s calling in from our headquarters in New York, which is a much lovelier background than I have right now. But Lenetta and I couldn’t be happier to be here. We’ve had the pleasure of working together for close to 10 years now, Lenetta? Keep me honest.

Elizabeth Jones:
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Elizabeth Jones, Lenetta Pesotini from MAG. We are so excited to be here. We’ve done plenty of events together, but hosting a Hype Hour is certainly on the list of our firsts. So we’re really excited to be here.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Yeah, that’s for sure. I think that this checks that off the bucket list for us, right Beth? The first time that we are invited to be speakers rather than being behind stage. But hello, everyone, who’s tuning in. And for those of you who aren’t familiar, MAG is the experiential division of BDS, and we have the pleasure of working with a variety of brands across a variety of verticals for B2B and B2C events.

Elizabeth Jones:
I actually remember the first event that you were a part of, Lenetta, at MAG. It was for a TV launch, we were producing an outdoor screening. I don’t even think you knew what a production schedule was at that time. And now 10 years later, here we are back at it hosting our own little webinar. So it’s exciting.

Lenetta Pesotini:
No, for sure. So if you’re new to Hype Hour, our series is typically hosted by the infamous Andrew Catapano and Kelly Campbell. And for those of you who have joined us on Hype Hour before, we know we have big shoes to fill today as guest hosts. But we’re ready for the challenge and we know that Andrew and Kelly are here with us in spirit along with this photo of them that I’ve added to my gallery wall so that they can watch how we’re doing. But Beth, it’s so good to see you. And when we first started the live stream, I just started awkwardly waiting like this because we’ve been so busy with planning getting back to in person events. I don’t think I’ve gotten the chance to talk to you in so long.

Elizabeth Jones:
I know. It’s been a crazy couple of months. But honestly, when is it not?

Lenetta Pesotini:
I know, so true. But I think that what’s different now about the craziness is it’s also coupled with excitement as it’s not every day that you get the chance to reinvent an industry. And as event professionals, we should feel lucky. Experiential marketing is being rewritten and we’re in the driver seat as those authors. And while yes, we’re talking about physically going back to in person events, it’s really about pushing forward in events and in the industry. So in today’s episode, we’ll be focusing on what that story looks like for the 2022 Beyond the Hybrid Model, the big comeback for in person events. So Beth, why don’t we tell everyone who we have teed up for our guest for today?

Elizabeth Jones:
Yeah, absolutely. So to help us lead this discussion, we have two industry experts, Kate Kessler, Global Field Sales Manager of Facebook Reality Labs, and Risa Matthews, Vice President of Brand Marketing and Events at MTV Entertainment Group. It’s a female forward, not going to lie, very excited, power packed episode. We promise we’ll get you out of here in time. And so with that, I will hand it off to Lenetta and we’ll get Kate on the stream. See you on the other side.

Lenetta Pesotini:
See you soon, Elizabeth. Let’s bring Kate in here.

Kate Kessler:
Hello.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Hi, Kate.

Kate Kessler:
How are you doing?

Lenetta Pesotini:
It’s funny, we didn’t plan to match, but this has become a reoccurring theme that we show up to meetings or events in the same outfit.

Kate Kessler:
It’s all appropriate. These are our show blacks, we’re doing a show, we’re talking about in person events. So show blacks are just how we’re going down today, for sure.

Lenetta Pesotini:
We’re just that good. We’re just that good at planning. But Kate, I’m so excited to have you here today. Thank you so much for joining us. When I was asked to host and they asked who I wanted to be on for my guest, I couldn’t think of anyone else. So first up, thank you for being here. But before we kick things off, Kate, if you wouldn’t mind just giving everyone a quick overview of your current role and your career path, that would be awesome.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. So this is my elevator pitch of what I’ve been doing. So I’ve been here at Facebook now Meta for about seven and a half years. So starting with Oculus down in LA, I was going through a lot of different roles very quickly, but I actually started out as an office admin, transitioned into logistics, and then finally landed that Oculus event team role. So that’s where I was producing and owning that on ground execution for all of our temple events. So that’s CES, E3, PAX, and then our Oculus Connect, owning the staffing and then the demo tech. And so that’s where my love of events really comes from is understanding how we need a demo VR for the very first time. So that’s where it started.

Kate Kessler:
And then when we opened retail and started selling red for the first time, I actually transitioned to the channel marketing team. I was an account manager for our retailers plus doing installs of displays, and then owning staffing and demo programs globally. So that’s where it led me to today. So the Field Sales Global Manager here at Meta owning our global retail staffing and demo programs for Oculus and Portal. And then also, our retailer events and in-store experiential which is what we’re going to talk about today.

Lenetta Pesotini:
That’s amazing, Kate. And seven and a half years, you must just be so proud of the journey that you were able to go on with this team as well too, especially with everything that was just announced in Meta and what’s ahead.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. A lot of growth, a lot of history. It’s been fun. It’s been a wild ride for sure.

Lenetta Pesotini:
That’s amazing. So in this role, Kate, you mentioned some of them briefly as you went through your different levels in the organization, but what type of events do you typically work on right now?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah, it’s a good question. I’m not doing temple events or even customer facing. So I really focus on our global retailer events. And so to give an example, Best Buy, our top retailer, has two in person events each year and they’re really training events. So one is Achievers and one is HLM, which is their holiday leadership meeting. So what I own and my job is really to come up with new ways to showcase our products to the Blue Shirts, which are Best Buy retail associates, and I’ll probably say RSA a lot here, but that’s what it means. And so what my whole goal is and what my job is, what’s super important with these events is creating those brand champions. So we need to bring new innovation ways to building our booth, demoing our techs so when they leave our booth, they understand what our company’s about, what our products are about so that when they go back into a store, and our reps aren’t there representing our own brand and products, they can be our brand champions.

Kate Kessler:
So that’s what I do for events. And then in store execution for experiential and at a home, due to the pandemic, I think anything customer facing has been put on hold. But RSA facing is something where you and I have been working a lot together is how to engage with those RSAs and in a new way in store. So for example, we just wrapped up this week, which you’ve been heavily involved in your team which is really great. It’s something called Celebrate with Portal where this might sound simple, but what we did is to keep Portal top of mind and going into Q4, which is basically our Super Bowl as the sales team, is we did a traveling Portal vending machine in the break room for our RSAs. It might sound simple, but people love free stuff. And so the goal was to be trained, do a knowledge check on the vending machine, get free swag. And I think ultimately, the Blue Shirts loved it because one, we are investing in them and we are giving them different tools to really learn about our new products.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Yeah. No, it was funny with our team who was traveling with those vending machines, it got to a point where as they were pushing that into the break room, the team was either clapping for them as they were entering the store or when they were coming out saying, “Thank you.” Or even when we executed here in New York on 23rd Street, consumers were stopping and being like, “Wait, is that for Portal? How do I get in on that too?” So just the machine alone with working.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. It’s just all about showing investment in the people that are in these stores. Yeah, we can go in and sell a product, but it’s how do we create those brand champions? There are different tactics in store.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Yeah, absolutely. And also Kate, you said something in there when you talked about RSAs and you were saying retail sales associates. And just to remind everyone that this is not only to showcase Kate and the work that we get to do together, but also as a teaching moment too. So we’re going to be stopping a few times during this. We’re going to be saying RSAs to tell you as it is. Last time I was on this, I used FOMO and had to explain that’s the fear of missing out for my parents. So you’re going to learn a lot coming out of this. But Kate, thinking about what you just said, either producing an experience at a conference or in store in the different audiences, why do you feel events are so important?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. I mean this is an important question, a loaded question. I have a lot of thoughts. But I think events are super important because it really allows that more intimate, engaging experience with your audience, which ultimately leaves that lasting impression. So I think it’s different than just the passive viewing of an advertising. It really gives us a chance to interact with our customers, our audience, to have that hands on demo time. And I think this is a very tactical answer, but for VR, not a lot of people have ever demoed it before. So how do we get people through VR demos? How do we show calling with Portal? So I think in person events are so effective because it’s a chance to have that human connection, put a face to the name, understand why we’re passionate about our products at our company. So then ultimately, they can go in store and they can also be passionate about our products.

Kate Kessler:
So I think it just boils down to people want to connect with other people. And I think the beauty of our products at Oculus and Portal is that that’s our whole goal with these products too is really bridging that gap no matter the distance. So I think now more than ever in person events are going to be so important to rebuild that community and re-engage with our audience.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Yeah. And at the end of the day, the purpose of planning an event is so that you can immerse them in the brand, immerse them in the experience and you’re walking away fans for life, right?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Now, Kate, before 2020, how often was your team hosting virtual events or hosting conferences virtually?

Kate Kessler:
Never. I mean we never really had it. We always would engage with our reps maybe over Zoom or BlueJeans, but everything we did was in person. We wanted to engage with our community, our Facebook community, Meta community in person monthly, quarterly. But then when it came to RSAs, we also want do everything in person. So it was a huge pivot. I mean to change from in person to going into virtual training is very different. And I think with your team, like we talked about this a lot going into last year with Quest 2 launching, it was arguably the biggest launch we’ve ever had for Oculus. And we couldn’t hear people in the same room. We couldn’t say, “Put this on your head, let’s talk about it. Let’s deep dive into the text.” So we really had to come up with creative new ways to engage with our audience, engage with our reps on training everything we needed to train on.

Kate Kessler:
And how do we engage with them in a virtual platform and how do we build that sense of community? And I think what we did was so fun with we had to create little avatars and we couldn’t physically see each other like we’re doing now, but we had a dance party and the dance party was virtual, but we streamed in DJs. So there’s little ways we could do that. But before this, we weren’t doing anything like this, no virtual training, which is crazy to think about.

Lenetta Pesotini:
That is crazy. And in my office here, I actually have photos from my favorite events. And I’m not going on my computer because I’m already having tech issues, but I actually have a photo from that dance party when we-

Kate Kessler:
It was so fun.

Lenetta Pesotini:
I knew someone spinning on their head too, which was a signature move.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. I never laughed so hard in a virtual event than I did at that dance party. So it was a fun way to interact.

Lenetta Pesotini:
I mean that’s crazy to think that you guys have never posted-

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. We pivoted very hard very fast.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Yeah. So I love what you just said. So you were saying 2020 was just about pivot, 2021 was just about sustaining that. So think ahead, Kate, to 2022 and the best practices that your team has built with the virtual events over the last two years. What would you say your theme is for 2022? And how will you incorporate the industry’s theme, which we all know is hybrid?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. I think next year’s all about innovation. It’s going to be huge because we’re finally reengaging with our customers in store, we’re re-engaging with our store associates that we haven’t seen through the pandemic. So we have to go into it thinking very big and different and creative because all of our competitors are going to be doing the same thing. As we finally can get back into store, we can finally see these people in person. So how do we gain market share? How do we think an innovative way of re-engaging that community? So I think that’s going to be the theme next year. And I do think the hybrid approach is never going to go away. I think it’s going to be half in person, half virtual. So we really have to stay committed and focused on bringing them the most engaging platform we can think of and build. Maybe it’s training in VR, maybe it’s using platforms we’ve done in the past, but really engage them in the virtual.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Yeah. And not only trainings for our community and our team, right, but even the Celebrate with Portal campaign that you had mentioned too. We had the stories where we were physically in there and then we have the digital extension of that as well too to be able to reach those RSAs in the uncovered stores.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
So knowing all of that, Kate, which is a lot, I want to ask this next question which I’m also nervous thinking about the planning we have to do for this next question, but when will your team start to return to in person events?

Kate Kessler:
Oh gosh, I hope soon for my sanity’s sake. But we have some partners reaching out to us in surveys thing and are you comfortable coming back to demos or to in person events? I’m like, “Yes, yes, yes. How can we do it faster?” We have one scheduled for H1 and one for H2 right now, maybe two. I think that’s all really TBD, but I’m hoping next year. I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel for us.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Amazing. I agree with you. We’re just going to stay optimistic and carry-

Kate Kessler:
Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Right? So with in person events, Kate, already underway, you said you had them on the calendar, and gearing up for more in store events, I know we talked about bringing back the demo, what precautions had your team been taking? Or what are they talking about having to take to make sure that consumers are feeling safe?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. I think the second COVID pandemic hit, we actually had an internal task force come together and think about the way we want to move forward health and safety, especially with Oculus because it’s putting a headset on your face. So we didn’t know if that could transmit COVID, so we were just like, “How do we get in front of this?” But when we want to relaunch back into retail or in store, or even in person events, so we did an extensive research project. That team was awesome. I feel super comfortable with what we’ve come up with. They actually put a strand of COVID on the headset and came up with a solution to do hygiene. So I feel super confident. I think going in next year… Health and safety is always top of mind when demoing any product. So I think that’s something that we definitely did great in during the COVID pandemic, so we can relaunch this in the right way.

Lenetta Pesotini:
And that’s amazing. And how are you sharing that best practice or the health and safety precautions that you’re putting in place? How are you sharing that with consumers?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. I mean we post it online. We’re trying to get as much as possible out there of how we can do this. We have new wipeable interfaces. So there’s just different ways on trying to keep that headset clean as much as possible.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Amazing. And obviously, everyone’s listening to this live stream right now, so they’re all going to know, right?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
While safety is the main priorities for a successful event, there’s no doubt in that moving back into in person, the events’ ROI will still remain just as important as always.

Kate Kessler:
Sure.

Lenetta Pesotini:
So in a recent, actually a Harvard Business Review that I was reading, Kate, a study showed that more than 90% of executives said that experiential is the most effective form of marketing that they use in their company. But only 23% of them said that they can actually see the ROI. Now, you and I were constantly talking about this with the team, we were working on the plans. But what tips can you give for ensuring ROI is powerful or for ensuring your events are set up to track this?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah. I mean we talk about this all the time. It’s like what is the impact? And how are we going to measure success on anything we do? I think it’s extremely hard to tie instant ROI to anything experiential or training because we really have the long game. I mean our whole goal is building awareness, education, surprise and delight, growing engagement, but with the ultimate goal of driving the ecosystem, right? So that is through sales and hardware and content. So even if it’s on an instant ROI, if we keep tracking that month over month, quarter over quarter, or seeing an increase at rate of recommendation in the store, we know we’ve done something right. It might not be instant, but it’s still a very important part of the customer journey no matter where they are. So we really want to keep the attention of those customers or the audience, make those special moments creating grand champions. No matter where they shop or see our brand, we want to make sure that we’re top of mind. So ROI might not be instant, but it is beneficial in the long run.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Of course, because it’s a consistency. We don’t do it just for that one day and then they forget about us, right?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah, exactly.

Lenetta Pesotini:
We want to give out amazing swag or get the email for a follow up. So that’s a longevity. So that’s awesome.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
So just thinking about everything you just said, Kate, to summarize, what would you say are your top tips for seeing ROI?

Kate Kessler:
Good question. Okay, I think my top two, one is to stay consistent, like you said, is always showing off your audience in a compelling, new, fresh way. Really focusing on the surprise and delight at every touchpoint. I mean it is important once they get into our booth or into the training the hows and what, but I think what’s really important is when they leave the booth, what are they leaving with? Is it knowledge? Is it swag? Is it a one sheet? It’s really every second they come in, everything they touch is very critical and it’s a very curated experience so that no matter what they’re doing in the booth, when they leave, they’ll always remember what they learned. So I think staying consistent would be my first. My second and especially thing about our virtual training events that we’ve done or anything we talk about now moving forward is gamify everything.

Kate Kessler:
So at every touch point, have an opportunity for instant gratification. Our RSAs or Blue Shirts globally, some training might be mandatory, some might be ad hoc and they’re just going to come by. But what are they going to get out of is really their first question. Is it swag? Is it free food? So I think just make every touchpoint and instant gratification is gamifying is so important.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Consistency and gamifying, I love it. Those are pretty much buzzwords.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Well Kate, you and I have had the pleasure of working pretty closely together this past year. And for those of you watching now, Kate and I always laugh this much on the call. This is not just show, I swear. We do this all the time. But with our passion for the industry, which I think is very evident as each of us talk today.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
We’re always so hard on ourselves to challenge ourselves to figure out how do we still send the experience to our attendees, probably bringing the participation or the energy to events.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
And we did that by one, exactly what you just said, gamifying everything that we could, and two, sending our attendees a package in advance with something that they could use during the event. So I’d actually like to put those best practices to work right now, Kate, if you’re okay with it.

Kate Kessler:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s do it.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Well I would like play a game that I like to call Lenetta’s flaming fire questions.

Kate Kessler:
Oh gosh.

Lenetta Pesotini:
All right. You have received a package in the mail from me, which was unmarked, it just had a buzzer in it.

Kate Kessler:
I had no idea who it was from, but I knew that I was getting buzzer for a reason. And I had a feeling it was you.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Well yes. If you could take that out, I’m just going to ask you a series of questions that are related to events and fun to get to know you a little bit more. And then I just want you to say the first thing that comes to mind, okay?

Kate Kessler:
Okay.

Lenetta Pesotini:
When you’ve done that, hit the buzzer, officially submit your answer and then we’ll go from there.

Kate Kessler:
One call out is my house is not show ready and I didn’t have AAA batteries. So you won’t hear a buzzer, but I will hit it as hard as I can.

Lenetta Pesotini:
It’s okay. One call out is that while I thought about your buzzer, I did not think about mine. So I have a handy dandy bell. But for those of you tuning in as well, play along. As we ask these questions, put your answers in the chat so you follow along. Okay, ready to go?

Kate Kessler:
Yeah, let’s do it.

Lenetta Pesotini:
So you’re gearing up for an event load in, what are three things you’re always bringing with you? Three, I held up two fingers, but I meant three.

Kate Kessler:
Were you? Okay. Always my box cutter. I know that sounds weird, but I always have a box cutter. I have a tech pack, which is chargers, USBs, whatever I think I might need going into a load in. Cough drops. Press. I’m done.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Okay. So go to meal?

Kate Kessler:
Coffee, coffee, more coffee.

Lenetta Pesotini:
I support that. Event credentials, keep them or toss them?

Kate Kessler:
Keep them. I usually keep them on my desk. It’s always fun to see.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Okay. How do you know if a booth is well put together? Or how do you judge other booths?

Kate Kessler:
Oh gosh, I love this question. For me, it’s their floors. Carpet is always super expensive. I think you don’t really think about putting carpet on the show floor carpet. It’s usually concrete. So it’s fun to walk around and stand in other booths because you have to stand all day at events. So it’s the floor. That’s how you know you made an investment if you have a squishy floor.

Lenetta Pesotini:
That’s interesting. For me, it’s what they’ve given me to walk away with, they’re giving me something cheap or giving me something expensive. Yeah. All right, so speaking of swag, what would be your ideal swag bag item?

Kate Kessler:
Okay. This is a weird one, but it is weird, I love when a booth gives you a water bottle full with water, because I think I forget to hydrate. So I love walking away with water. But I would say swag item related is a reusable tote or bag because we’re very eco-friendly here in San Francisco.

Lenetta Pesotini:
I love that. Answer at the minute. What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you onside of an event?

Kate Kessler:
Oh gosh. How much time do you have? Together at CES and make sure that they don’t break and they work at demos, our very first CES. Or at GamesCon in Germany, the lines were so long to demo, two hours. It was insane that people started breaking down our booth to get in. It was probably scary, not crazy, but that was a fun experience.

Lenetta Pesotini…:
Good, we’ll take it. What is your event pet peeve?

Kate Kessler:
Oh gosh. Wire management? I won’t walk into a booth if I see wires. It’s not like a health and safety thing, it’s a cleanliness thing. I don’t want to see any wires anywhere. I think it comes back to my events at Oculus, wire management, number one thing. What about you?

Lenetta Pesotini:
Organization. Mine is do they have enough food? If they have enough food. I’m so nervous people are going to be hungry, which is probably my Italian upbringing. Okay, final question, what would your walk on song be?

Kate Kessler:
Okay. I’m going to place a bet that you don’t know either of these or at least one of these artists. My first one is ‘Till I Collapse by Eminem, and if you don’t know Eminem, that’s going to be a huge problem.

Lenetta Pesotini:
No, I know Eminem, I don’t know that song.

Kate Kessler:
Okay. And my second one is The Beast by Tech N9ne which is so not you.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Yeah. Amazing. Well Kate, this was so much fun. Thank you so much. It was so much fun going through all of this, and I can’t wait to chat soon.

Kate Kessler:
Yeah, thanks for having me. It’s definitely different than our day to day conversations talking about our passion. So thanks for having me. It was so fun.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Oh, of course. But I think that this actually sparked as we start to kick off our 2022 conversations so much, so can’t wait to start planning.

Kate Kessler:
Right, see you tomorrow.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Thanks so much, Kate. And let’s bring back Beth.

Elizabeth Jones:
Hello, that was amazing.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Oh my goodness.

Elizabeth Jones:
You trumped me with the buzzer though. So we’ve got a lot to live up to. We’ve got a lot to live up too. That was really, really great. I loved her point about innovation and I think just at this point, we have to be purposeful with our events because we’re starting from scratch and everybody’s trying to figure out the right way to do it. So I really, really love that point. But I’d love to keep things moving. And so we’re going to bring Risa right back up and I will see you shortly, Lenetta.

Lenetta Pesotini:
All right. See you soon.

Risa Matthews:
Hello.

Elizabeth Jones:
Hello. Hello. How are you?

Risa Matthews:
I’m good. That’s a tough act to follow. That was-

Elizabeth Jones:
I know, right? Can you-

Risa Matthews:
Yeah, it’s really, really great. I loved it.

Elizabeth Jones:
Oh, well Risa, I’d love to just give our audience a little bit of background on the longstanding relationship that we’ve had with MTV. For everyone out there, MAG and MTV, we’ve been working together two decades now. I think you might have some hidden information on Jonathan from-

Risa Matthews:
Yeah. I’ve been working with Jonathan for 14 years, but who’s counting? Yeah. MAG is a go-to for us and trusted partner.

Elizabeth Jones:
That’s awesome. I will make sure that I get some brand ambassador photos of Jonathan as we rap this.

Risa Matthews:
I can probably pick some up from the iCloud.

Elizabeth Jones:
Good. Good, good, good. But what I thought was just a really interesting transition, the relationship that, Kate and Lenetta talked about is that with Facebook, there’s always been a digital component to the work that they’ve done together. And I think for us, it’s really interesting because the challenge is it’s always been rooted in on the ground and that hasn’t even stopped even when the pandemic hit. So we’ve done everything from branded vehicles to street level campaigns to popups within your office building, VidCon activations. So obviously, I mean, Risa, you can back me up on this, 2020 hit and we were like, “What are we going to do,” right?

Risa Matthews:
I mean what a wild ride it has been and still is for that matter. I think when the VMAs came about in 2020, we were the first media company to really bring back an award show. When all you had been watching the entire pandemic was a lot of DJ dance parties on television and fundraisers, and we really wanted to do what the VMAs always do, which it’s an escape from your reality and you’re watching these big performances on stage. And we always had a presence on the ground to give something back to the fans. So we were the first media company and big event to actually activate since the pandemic began. And there were so many unknowns. I think for us, we just did not want to be a super spreader event. But COVID compliance was really starting to be a thing and nobody really had a handle on what it was.

Risa Matthews:
But the one thing, we were joking about this before, is that the MTV Moon Person has been COVID compliant since 1981. So I think putting our street team in those astronaut uniforms and handing out face masks I think was just a wonderful surprise for everybody and something that was just a really fun way to start things ramping back up again.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yes, they’ve been very on brand for the past couple of years and it definitely helped with staffing because people felt comfortable. I mean all jokes aside, it affected how press was going to feel to come out and cover something, it affected how staff were going to feel being on site and being around consumers. And then obviously, the consumer comfortability as well. So the fact that MTV, back August 2020, they were able to still execute despite that. So kudos to you guys. We were so happy to be a part of it. And the reason I wanted to take a look back is just to see what this means moving forward. So 2021, we thought this would all be behind us. It’s not. And so for the VMAs this year, as an example, we scaled back a bit, right? We did a little less, we did some statues for the Country Music Awards, we did mailer kits.

Elizabeth Jones:
To Kate’s point, mailer kits are great. The hybrid model’s not going anywhere. I mean can you tell me a little bit about, just from a brand side, how that works and how you tie in influencers, how effective that’s been throughout all of this?

Risa Matthews:
Totally. Reaching fans at home is what we do with our on the ground events. We try to go to where the people are and do bring a little piece of our shows or our properties to real life. And I think the interesting thing, especially across the pandemic with these mailers which have really taken new heights, is we are able to reach our celebrity fans and influencers, people who actually enjoy it and consume our content by sending something directly to them. Our whole goal is always about increasing that organic social conversation and the best way to do that is by sending something directly to a fan. And celebrities are fans too.

Elizabeth Jones:
Right. Right, right. And we’ve done it for so many other counts as well. And I think to your point, at the end of the day, we want to reach these consumers. And if that method of how we reach them changes based on the time of year, the cultural climate, where we are, I think we just have to stay really, really flexible. And I mean that’s one of my biggest takeaways for ’22 is just that we don’t know and we have to just make sure we get into the hands of these consumers one way or the other. And kits are one way to do that. But also, I mean I know we haven’t worked particularly in on the digital side of things with you, but I mean do you see digital playing a role in the upcoming year? Do you think that’s something that’s going to ever go away?

Risa Matthews:
It’s interesting with the MTV Entertainment Group and all of our brands, content is the king and getting our fans to consume the content is the main event if you will. So ultimately, all of our efforts that we’re doing is driving eyeballs to watch the show. And so it is a little interesting in this virtual world in when you’re reaching fans and trying to get them to look in a different direction for another event that’s laddering up to a bigger event. So I mean virtual is just something that we are constantly trying to understand in our world where we’re driving eyeballs to television or social digital content. I think it’s just really going to be something that’s on a continual evaluation on our side.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think what’s really interesting about the work that you do too is that it’s so scalable. So you’re dealing with okay, what does this look like if we have a food truck on the streets? Or if we’re giving away smaller items? But then you’re also dealing with actual award shows like the larger scale. You had mentioned a little bit earlier, what was the process for that in terms of checking consumers and making sure that safety was paramount?

Risa Matthews:
Yeah. It’s interesting because COVID was something that really has manifested in different ways and we’re understanding a lot more about the disease. Our number one goal globally as a company is protecting the unvaccinated. And so even how we had all the food trucks and we were handing out face masks and sweet treats to people over the summer of last year, we’re actually not bringing in the risk of having any non-vaccinated person potentially get exposed at any of our events. So this year for VMAs, we had a couple lead up events where in addition to being vaccination required, which New York City already mandates, we also had social distancing, required mask wearing, and also same day negative COVID testing.

Elizabeth Jones:
Oh, so just a couple extra things to add to the live show.

Risa Matthews:
It’s amazing. And the people that actually went through all the steps to attend our events, it’s really fascinating and it makes you realize that people do want a sense of normalcy. They do want to get back to a regular cadence with their life and they are willing to take the steps to get there if you do lay it out for them in a clear way.

Elizabeth Jones:
Clear way. Well that was going to be my question is based on the last 24 months, is your take that consumers… Yes, they want to go back to normal, but do you think that they want it to be the same experience that they used to have? Or a little bit different, something that’s a little bit more cautious, because I know comfortability is key when you’re creating these memories?

Risa Matthews:
Yeah. I think really COVID was so different in COVID compliance for everybody around the country depending on where you lived and how things were enforced. So I do think people want to get back to normal, but I think as long as you’re ensuring health and safety are at the forefront of the planning and that the consumer’s consideration is taken, I think it’s ultimately what anybody wanted pre-pandemic or even post.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I agree. And what would you say are those… I won’t give you an assignment. I won’t give you a number. But what would you say are those top items right now at least that are going to make consumers feel comfortable or as comfortable as they possibly can?

Risa Matthews:
I mean it’s hard because it’s like we’ve all been functioning under the guidance of how our company works.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yeah.

Risa Matthews:
And so compliance with whatever that city dictates I think is important. And then making sure there’s visible signs I think of safety. I think as a consumer myself, that’s important to me. I want to see some form of social distancing, hand sanitizing, things like that. I don’t know. I personally am not ready to go back to full capacity anything because it’s nice to have the space. So yeah, I think some visual to health and safety that the event is taking care of our considerations I think.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yeah. No, I would agree. And I think that’s something, I mean it’s always been an organic part of the event business that communication, as much as we can give people ahead to prepare the better. But I think now, it’s not an option. We have to just spell everything out. And I mean I know working with your team on the VMAs, yes, we’ll be honest, it was so early on where we weren’t really sure what the protocols were yet. But it’s like when in doubt, let’s get signs up and let’s overstaff if needed, let’s provide people even just those visuals that will make people feel more comfortable.

Risa Matthews:
Yeah. I think without having a roadmap laid out for us, there isn’t so many companies now. I think that we did such great jobs as partners coming up with an activation plan that did make people feel safe. It’s funny, I was walking over to one of our seven I think trucks that we had that were handing out, I think we gave out 60,000 face masks over the course of the VMA weekend to healthcare staff and fans on the ground all around New York City, and this man was walking toward me and he said, “Oh my gosh, MTVs around the corner and they’re handing out free popsicles and face masks. If you want anything for free, go now and get them.” And my husband turned to me, he said, “Did you pay that guy?” And I was like, “No.” This is the word of mouth. It’s actually also funny, the face mask I still see everywhere all around New York City. And even on Saturday Night Live when I think Joe Jonas was hosting, people in the audience were wearing them. And so it was like the gift that keeps on giving.

Elizabeth Jones:
I love that. Well it was funny actually, we were reviewing a recap for a holiday program that we did in Union Square shortly after this, and I was going through all the photos trying to pick some selects and there was at least three kids wearing the masks. I was like, “This is great.”

Risa Matthews:
So good.

Elizabeth Jones:
It just keeps going. So well thank you, Risa. That’s awesome. The only other thing I just wanted to talk to you about was in terms of next year, which I know we don’t know, but what would you say is the one thing that you think is paramount in terms of making sure that it’s successful from a planning standpoint as well as the end outcome?

Risa Matthews:
We were talking about this a little bit earlier that because we’re a company that’s rooted in pop culture, it’s like we’re also used to being on our feet a little bit and being flexible to how we plan and execute things. So I do think the one thing that we’ve really taken away from this past almost two years is being agile, flexible and ability to pivot whenever needed. I think we are both experts at the pivot. But I think the flexibility, hopefully we are on a path to being able to execute things with limited restrictions moving forward. But I think we’re also prepared and know how to change and be flexible if needed.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yeah. No, I agree. And I think we always try to be proactive, but I think we’re now even more in this industry that we have to be reactive too because we just don’t know what is going to happen. So I guess I won’t have a four month lead time anytime soon. It’s still going-

Risa Matthews:
No, I’m so sorry.

Elizabeth Jones:
All right, it’s fine. We’re ready. We’re ready. All right. Well thank you so much, Risa. This was awesome. I’m really excited to see what ’22 brings.

Risa Matthews:
This was so much fun. Thank you so much for having me.

Elizabeth Jones:
Of course, of course. All right, Lenetta, come back out.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Oh my goodness. Well let’s start about the face masks what Risa was talking about, because I see them everywhere still, every weekend that I go out. And it’s so funny because that was last August, right, the timing. So a lot of brands were figuring out do we put our logo on a face mask? Do we want to have that association? But they had to make the jump quickly and it’s still playing up, and that’s going to hold true as we go back to in person events, making and setting the trend.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yeah, absolutely. But I do think across the board, brands are just feeling more confident in the unknown if that makes sense, because in the beginning of this, everyone, they were very cautious about everything, as we all were. We all were trying to figure it out. MTV trailblazed for us, which was amazing. And now, we’ve got digital under our belt, but we’ve also got hybrid under our belt and then we’re going back to our roots with live events. So I think it’ll just be really interesting to see how it evolves.

Lenetta Pesotini:
So exciting. And it’s funny, you look at Risa’s industry, she talked about content is king.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yeah.

Lenetta Pesotini:
And their goal is to get folks to view the show or to view the events. And Kate too, content is king, but it’s about landing the training. So different objectives of course, but they all in their answers hit on the same things. Innovation is going to be the driver for 2022. They both talked about sending the experience home as well, regardless if you’re employees or just audience. And then the second is always evaluating the need for digital and always reassessing what that overlay is going to have to be as you build the hybrid model.

Elizabeth Jones:
I agree. I agree. And I think with content, it has to be purposeful. So in a way, just like you mentioned, with Kate, yes, these training events are important to get people, get the content, get the information. But it’s also to get that personal connection. And I think that’s all where we started. So I think finding that balance between the two is really, really cool and I think it’ll be interesting to see it evolve. And then hate to always bring it back to safety, but that is going to be our new normal, just thinking about what’s going to make us feel comfortable. And in turn, that has to make the consumer feel comfortable.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Completely. And I think Risa said it perfectly as well that we were writing a roadmap to be able to follow up.

Elizabeth Jones:
Right.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Learning how we want to come back. So oh my goodness, I hope everyone had just as much fun watching this as I did hosting it, not to be selfish. We always do this, whether in person or on a phone call, it’s very telling of our personality side.

Elizabeth Jones:
“No, you go. No, you go.”

Lenetta Pesotini:
You weren’t lying in the beginning when you said we just had a powerhouse of women in the industry and events, so that was awesome to watch.

Elizabeth Jones:
Yes. Yes. Well thank you, everybody. We are here for any questions after the fact. But thank you so much for joining us and we will give you 15 minutes back of your day.

Lenetta Pesotini:
Thanks so much, everyone. See you next time.

Elizabeth Jones:
Bye.