We create full transcripts of all of our Talk Experiential episodes so that you can catch up after listening. It’s easy to read through and jog your memory or grab text to save for notes. Find our full transcript for episode #12 The Conversation That Can’t Be Had Anywhere Else below.

#12 The Conversation That Can’t Be Had Anywhere Else


Fritz Heffinger on Talk Experiential

Fritz Heffinger on episode #12 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY:            Hi guys, welcome back to the next Talk Experiential podcast, episode number 12. Our next guest is Fritz Heffinger, CEO and stuntman of his company called OutCold, based in Chicago. OutCold is a full service experiential agency. They tell brand stories in ways like building pop-up shops in Airstreams and [inaudible 0:00:27] in shipping containers, not just because the experiences are super fun and energizing, but because they believe in first-hand experiences to have an effect on people that cannot be matched. They push clients to deliver traditional market messages in new creative ways. He’s been really great to get to know. I’m really excited about this podcast. I hope you guys enjoy. If you do like this podcast, make sure you five star and share it to your friends. Enjoy.

JOEY:            Welcome back to another Talk Experiential Podcast. I’m really excited about this guest. Fritz Heffinger, he is out in Chicago, president of OutCold. Thanks for joining.

FRITZ:           Hey, thanks so much for having me, really appreciate it.

JOEY:            Awesome, awesome. Well, we would love to hear a little bit more about you. I mean, kind of dive in to some of the experiential pieces of it.

FRITZ:           Yeah. I’m Fritz Heffinger in Chicago. We have an experiential marketing firm called OutCold. We specialize in the production and the execution of experiential marketing events all the way from the actual build of the event to the account service part of it. Things like that. We have 17 full-time employees and about 400 part-time employees and yeah, this is our almost eighth year in business.

JOEY:            Well, congratulations, that’s exciting stuff.

FRITZ:           Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.

JOEY:            How did you get into it?

FRITZ:           I was a part of basically the traditional agency background. I would jump from agency to agency and I just really saw a lot of groups coming up with really awesome ideas and then forming it out to like the cheapest person possible to pull it off and when it comes to experiential, you know, you can come up with a really great proposal and a really great recap with so many people fall short of what really happened at the event and so we focused on that and you know, make things right and devil in the details and things like that, so we have this really fun niche of basically pulling off the impossible or pulling off people’s ideas that they have on paper and make them come to life.

JOEY:            Gotcha, very cool. Let’s dive into it. I mean, the term experiential has been thrown out there a lot. It’s the new term. It’s sexy, it’s exciting. Kind of just in your own words, I mean, you know, what do you see, what that is, where are these industries going and then the next question will probably be, you know, how can brands, you know, use experiential to really get in their target audience?

FRITZ:           Yeah, I know. I think it’s a great question. I think it’s kind of fun being in experiential especially for as long as I have. If you see a lot of people, a lot of agencies, and things like that, they’re coming up, they’re like, they say they do experiential but the definition of experiential has never really been defined. I don’t think it does have a definition. If you were to ask me, I’d say your experiential is creating authenticity between brand and consumer, throwing a team of people on the street corner is not what I would consider experiential. Yes, it’s a form of it, but you know, it’s really hard to really capture somebody’s insight or really have a conversation with a brand by just somebody standing there. So, I think that a lot of people are throwing the word around just because, you know, what the digital and your traditional media really — people are really second guessing a lot of these numbers and people are coming up with how their ROIs are. I’m really finding that when you have a conversation with a consumer, you can really extend the reach of that conversation further than you ever could with social media and word of mouth and things like that. How do I see brands using experiential? I think that some of these brands that really understand and had been early adapters just like anything that you early adapt something that is now cool, is obviously cool. But some of these brands are doing it right, really understand that, you know, it is a branding opportunity. There is really no math problem like people are claiming there are with digital with paper click and things like that. You’re paying for this conversation that could never happen [inaudible 0:04:38] human without us and so when a brand comes to us and has either dabbled in it or wants to start, you could tell right away whether they’re really in to it or not. I think some of those brands that really come to us and have these ideas but also say, you know, we’ve never done this before, we want your help or brands that really understand what’s going on. You see brands, some of the name brands that do it, you know, Target is one of them there. Amazing what they’ve done and experiences they put on and they’re on for that branding opportunity and they see home in or on their consumers and really get them excited and always be thinking about target.

JOEY:            Right, right. So, you know, you have a pretty big team and you’ve grown. Can you tell me a little more about the stuff that you guys had done, I was just in Vail, Colorado for the GoPro Games and I’ll tell you the script story. I was in Vail and saw this really cool, I believe it was a van, or what was it?

FRITZ:           Grand bus.

JOEY:            Grand bus and I was like, what is this and then all of a sudden, it just popped up on my Facebook. I think you posted it. I was like, I just walked by that (laugh).

FRITZ:           (laugh).

JOEY:            And I don’t know if it is like targeted because, you know, we know some of the same people but yeah, tell me about some of the cool stuff that you guys have done.

FRITZ:           Yeah, right now, I mean the bus is a great example. High Brew Coffee came to us. They’re based in Austin and High Brew came to us. Basically, they’re about three years old and really wanted to do something different and do basically like the Great American Road Trip and understand that you know, honestly because they are a drink, the try before you buy mentality is huge because, you know, cold brew coffee is such an it word right now or it words right now. So, they came to us and basically, they asked us to push them to the limit and they pushed us to the limit on what they wanted to do and this 1952 GMC Greyhound bus came to life and the Greyhound bus is really, really cool because it’s able to do three things that most people will consider totally separate activation but we’re doing all three and sometimes in the same day where we’re actually talking and going to distributors. So, they’re distributed now by Dr. Pepper as we’re going to Dr. Pepper and setting up distribution centers and talking to those teams that are based on the frontline going in to the stores. We’re going to retail location, so place like Whole Foods and Safeway and things like that that carry the product and not only talking to their employees that are in the store and getting them more aware of the product but then talking to those consumers walking in and out of the store and then third, going to major events, you know, walk-in and [inaudible 0:07:24] and things like that that are major consumer events. So, the footprint had to be built to hold down a major event but also shock in awe and wow a retail location or distributor.

So, we took the bus, we bought the bus in mid January. It was an RV. Some of them had made it into an RV. It actually had a map, sometime in the 70’s and it had gone to a Grateful Dead show and had the campground map that we found in the back, which was amazing. But the cool part of the bus is it was 100% built, stuffed, and account serviced by my team in-house. Once it pulled in to our office, it never left to get anything done. We do all of our in-house fabrication. We do all of our in-house mechanics. We do all of our in-house account service. So, not only is it that two are being built here but it’s also being run in the background by my team here and that is kind of something that we have been pushing ourselves towards for the last couple of years. You know, in experiential, because you are only as good as what you are doing on site, or at least in my mind a recap is pretty good but if you’re just BS-ing your way through it, it doesn’t mean anything and so we tell our clients that, you know, if you’re going to build something custom and do something crazy and different, no doubt in my mind, if it’s totally new and custom and different, something’s going to break, something’s going to need adjustment, and stuff like that. So, what’s better than to have a team that builds it and run it. And so, that’s what we do here. We do everything full service.

We have, you know, different parts of the agency that work in tandem and there are parts that they work by themselves. We produce custom retail displays all the way through the shipping containers and tours but we also do just consulting. Our account service team will do just consulting. We’ll do brand re-work and things like that. We have a lot of partners that we’ve been working for a long time but the goal here has always been to do everything in-house and with the development of my production team and fabrication team were now able to do it.

JOEY:            That’s great. Kind of like you said, like there’s, you know, I think you said it up upfront is, there’s going to be things that is going to happen. I mean, there’s so many moving parts that, you know, just a communication with the client and with you have to be pretty streamline and you know, doing it in-house sounds like you guys have kind of figured out that recipe.

FRITZ:           Yeah, it’s [inaudible 0:09:53] and I think that’s what a lot of clients like because obviously, they’re trusting us with a, whether it be a mobile cure, display, or even just a simple store launch or stuff like that. They know that when they come in to office, they’re going to see everything happening here and being able to be nimble and make changes and keep cost out and things like that by doing it all here, we made ourselves super competitive against some of our competitors because our turn-around times are very quick. We have a ton of assets here. Anybody looking to do a mobile experience like everybody wants you now, something that can go from city to city, stuff like that. We probably have 13 to 14 in-house, in-stock, totally-modified event-ready vehicles that I can turn around in almost less than a week depending on artwork and where its going. So, we’re able to take brands that really just want to tiptoe into experiential or just get a taste of it. We were able to turn some very in-house that are totally custom to them experiences in term of how really fast and show them that conversation. Now, most brands — and Joey, you know this because you have teams on the ground at all time. You know, it’s really cool to see a client to an event for the first time and see them see that conversation between a brand ambassador and a consumer and that moment, that’s almost like and I hate to use, it’s so cliché, but aha moment, like oh my god everything that we’ve been talking about has just led me to this and now I totally understand what you guys have been telling me this whole time.

JOEY:            Right. Well, it’s pretty cool because it’s — it gives me goose bumps too, listen to this too because it’s —

FRITZ:           I know.

JOEY:            You being able to change someone’s emotion for a brand and you can’t do that on digital level and you know, just you know, having so using that emotion to get attached to that brand for a long-term relationship. Instead of like seeing a newspaper ad or a TV ad, you know, sometimes you all get that because you already got that from that brand but it’s fascinating. It’s fascinating psychology world of this experiential.

FRITZ:           It is and it’s crazy too because you kind of hinted at it and I’ll push in to it, is we always tell people that there’s a brand ecosystem that happens right now and most of these big brands that you see, they’re doing experiential also have this ecosystem of print, social and digital, TV and radio that really make this whole thing. So, you know, by just doing experiential, it’s kind of hard really to have it. I mean, new brands or products at launch are kind of easy or CPG goods and stuff like that are really easy to do. We’re just experiential but it’s not that you get that full spectrum and I know that for a brand to have or at least to make it easier for me to have a conversation with the consumer, they already have at least an inclination or heard of or seen the brand and then that’s where the goose bumps really start because now, they’re having this conversation with this brand they’ve seen on TV or social whatever and they’re having this conversation. They’re actually having this authentic moment that just can’t happen anywhere else except right where it’s happening and that’s what we’re selling. The brands and the agencies, it’s just like we’re creating this authenticity that people understand that when it comes to our commercial or comes to radio, it comes in anything digital, there’s smoke and mirrors somewhere. It’s been mocked up, it’s been enhanced, it’s been green screened, whatever it is but when you have this moment with this consumer onsite, they know that it’s real. Like there’s no way to fake it and it’s a really, really cool interaction. It’s definitely the interaction that really gets me up in the morning and keeps us going all day.

JOEY:            That’s great, that’s great and your High Brew Coffee probably helps too, having lot’s of that.

FRITZ:           Yeah, a lot of High Brew Coffee, yes.

JOEY:            (laugh).

FRTZ:            A lot of coffee (laugh).

JOEY:            Back to that really quick, just that tour and I guess, you know, the biggest thing too is, you know, that tour isn’t cheap. I just can imagine that the price is around that and, you know, brands, you know, a lot of brands that have done this before understand but then, there are new ones that do like, I don’t even know how to begin and we’re putting a lot of money in this and how do I know that I’m going to get my ROI? I guess, kind of talk through kind of how you’re kind of, you know, providing that ROI at the end of the day for this client?

FRITZ:           Yeah, I mean, I can be — we’ve got a lot of metrics have just come back. We just extended the tour now for the winner. I can tell you that, yeah, the tour is not cheap and a lot of people come to me and ask me about that tipping point of when does it become too expensive or when does it become like just totally worth it and without divulging the budget, which I don’t think is appropriate but I can tell you, in the first week, we sampled over 10,000 cans of High Brew, which it’s kind of that go big or go home mentality and they kind of saw that that we could’ve have done it a lot differently and probably cheaper and not necessarily more effective, but definitely on the cheaper side but we wouldn’t have gotten the big bang that we’ve got to do it with the bus. The only reason we did it with the bus like we did, is because it added that level of what I call ROI for us, which is social media sharing and basically social media content curation. Nowhere else you’re going to find a brand that has a bus like that that is a true 1952 bus. It’s not modified in any way to be new or space age or digital or anything crazy like that. It’s not a new chassis or new motor or anything like that. A true 1952 bus that’s actually driving these miles and, you know, we’re activating when we’re not activating. You know, that was a big thing for us with High Brew like if they’re going to build this and they’re going to pay us to keep it on the road as long as they are that we should be activating when we’re not activating.

What do I mean by that? Well, anybody working with an agency or an experiential firm that basically tells them here’s you stops, here’s when we’re activating or re-activating this stop, it takes us three days to drive to get to this stop and something like that. When they came to us, basically we agreed on this budget, this really amazing tour. We made a promise to them that they’re paying us to drive this vehicle, we’re going to be activating at gas stations and hotels and in between stops and things like that and we actually made to build so that we would always have ice-cold cans of cold brew coffee on-hand anytime and that reach then has expanded this tour well beyond any impression value that you can find. We calculate our impression just like any out of home or any trucking companies and things like that just by on road, what market you’re in and what time, I can tell you we’re well into the millions of impressions and well into almost the six-figured as can sampled with only being on the road for about three and a half months.

JOEY:            Wow, those are huge numbers too. Well, in —

FRITZ:           There are.

JOEY:            Won’t be able to tie that in too because you just have a floating Instagram product that people wanted to take pictures of and it’s amazing.

FRITZ:           We have really cool app that we had developed that is basically what our team’s using, it’s a live photo video-sharing app that’s connected directly with the client and whatever agency might be involved and it’s high res photos and videos that allows for social media content to be curated as if it’s being curated live by the brand. So, their social media director has access to this app and they can send a message to one of the brand ambassadors and say, hey, get a photo released from that person. We want to get that photo for Instagram, or, hey, can you take the photo this way so I can use it and stuff like that. So, they’re actually having a live interaction with us even if they’re on the road. So, High Brew has taken this thing to the next level, which is just amazing that they’re now using this also as their out-of-home and social media content curation vehicle with no pun intended, but we’re going to all these crazy, fun stops and the road trip along the way and getting pictures with people in the bus and the bus at famous places and stuff like that and really living this what people now think is the really cool thing, which is hashtag van life. You know, people that live in a van and drive all the country. I’ve got people on the road that are doing that and now, High Brew has basically paid for it as basically been able to expand their reach way beyond we ever expected with this tour, yeah.

JOEY:           That’s fascinating, that’s fascinating, that’s — and you’ve done this all in-house, which is even amazing to build a full service like that.   Do you have another example of a cool activity project you guys worked on?

FRITZ:           Yeah, I mean, I can use a Nordstrom example. Nordstrom has been an amazing, an amazing partner of ours and you hear me say that word a lot. I really don’t like clients or vendor or anything. I really, we turn down a lot of work for people that don’t actually want to be partners and we really want to get to know a brand and them to know us and Nordstrom could be a better example of that. We got brought in Nordstrom when Top Shop and Top Man came in to Nordstrom. We launched Top Shop and Top Man in the US and Nordstrom had called us and we started doing a couple of small Nordstrom rack store openings and stores and things like that and we started getting more and more people from different departments like footwear and accessories and beauty that are coming at us and talking about this. Well, we finally got to sit down with them and we kind of developed and helped build this campaign, it’s called the Young Consumer. It’s basically Nordstrom targeting, all these departments are targeting the same person while we all work together and so, the target audiences, you know, women 16 to 30 and how do we really provide service to them and show them that Nordstrom is different.

Well, we put on this pod tour. It was three shipping containers with a footprint of about 60 x 40 at major events and venues across the country and it went on for two years and the great thing was is that, the pods only had about six pieces of clothing in them and that was probably the hardest thing to swallow for us and Nordstrom because everybody knows that Nordstrom sells clothes and what we really want to hammer home is because it is brick and mortar, it is retail, and there’s a ton of chatter out there about that, is Nordstrom’s focus is customer service and how do we really provide a service for her, which is our target demographic at these festivals, to really show her that next time she thinks about buying clothes, things you know, let’s think of Nordstrom because they really understand me and so we did this tour and the last year, the tour last year was probably the biggest eye opener to us and Nordstrom was we had very little clothing, we had three shipping containers that were dedicated to these experiences. One was a photo experience. It was gif and animated and all these fun things that everybody does now, but it was just a fun stable that could choose different backdrops and different props that happen to be Nordstrom clothes and they get, you know, put them in their photo. The second pod was basically a giant shipping container that was mirrors and it was probably 10 different stations in there that she could come down, sit down, plug her phone in and charge it, have access to basically a lot of the beauty supplies and samples that Nordstrom has in store. To basically check her hair, freshen up things like that. A lot of it, the girls we talk to, [inaudible 0:21:44] go to festival it’s like, I dread it, I’m going to a porta potty or finding a corner of the festival to like check their makeup and their hair and stuff like that so we just provided this service.

And the last pod was probably my favorite thing was a group called Radiant Human and anybody who’s listening to this now should jump on Instagram and type in Radiant Human, let them know you heard them from us, but it is a woman and her dad and her family had developed this, I guess way to develop photos. You get into a dome and they take a double-exposed photo of you while you’re holding this piece of, best way to describe it is metal and when the photo is exposed on a Polaroid, you have these colors over your head and they call this your aura and I’ll tell you that I am the least believer in psychics and all that stuff and I was blown away of how pinpoint accurate it was and so we provided this service and it was basically in 5 to 10 minute increments that people could sign up and do it by the time every festival opened. That day was booked within the first hour and what came out of it was something so beautiful and amazing that we never expected, was the photo that got printed they get to keep it —

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