Episode #28 From Radio to Relationships

Our talk with Ryan Gruwell brings us to discuss how to turn your passions into entrepreneurism. The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #28 From Radio to Relationships is followed below.

#28 From Radio to Relationships

Ryan Gruwell on episode #28 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY:                         All right, and welcome back to another Talk Experiential podcast.  Pretty excited to have a good buddy of mine, Ryan Gruwell, on this new podcast up here in Grand Junction.  We are the Initiate Conference, here at Two Rivers or Double Tree or something.


RYAN:                       Double Tree.


JOEY:                         Double Tree.


RYAN:                       It’s all right.  You haven’t been here in a while.


JOEY:                         No, I haven’t.


RYAN:                       So, we’re going to let that slide.


JOEY:                         It’s been like six years.  So, Ryan, tell me about yourself.


RYAN:                       Yeah, so I obviously went to school with this guy over here at when it was Mesa State, now Colorado Mesa University, finished up in 2004.  Right out of college, I got into radio and worked full-time in radio for about 12 years.  And then early on — And I did a number of things at the station.  I did anything from commercial production to sports broadcasting.  I worked in various formats:  top 40 country and 80s based station, music programing, so gained a lot of experience from that aspect.  And then really, right off the bat, right out of college, a year or two in, is when my entrepreneurship spirit was born and I kind of got to thinking, “Man, maybe I can do something with my love for music.”


And the way it was kind of — At that time, working at the radio station hosting a show, I would get calls from listeners.  They would call in and ask me, “Hey, do you — I’m getting married here in a couple months.  Do you DJ weddings or does somebody there do it?” and I was like, “Well nobody offers that here,” and that kind of sparked the idea to maybe do something, myself.  And so that’s when my DJ entertainment business was born, 2005, and started off really small, as you know, when you start a business it’s extremely grassroots, just kind of getting the ball rolling.


And as the years went on for a good yeah, about 12 years, I was full time at the station and then also had my side business, as well, DJing events, parties, weddings.  So, I was kind of doing both there for the longest time.  And then, finally, as time went on, I began to grow and add more sets of equipment to the mix to where I could do multiple events in a day, added a photobooth to the mix, and then finally it got to the point where it’s like, “I can’t do both.  I can’t do the radio station and do this.  If I were to pick between the two, my passion is entrepreneurship.”


And so I basically quit my day job, so to speak.  That was about two and a half years ago or so.  I still have minimal involvement, but for the most part, I’m solely doing this.  And so, this last couple of years, it’s allowed me to really grow even more, to the point where my lighting has taken on a whole new animal, as far as event lighting, like I said, photobooths, I contract out live musicians — It’s really kind of taking it to another level, since I’ve had more time to focus on that.  And then one quick thing too, taking you back to my roots at KMSA radio, you and I.


JOEY:                         Yeah.  We were doing this.


RYAN:                       Joey was a sideline reporter.


JOEY:                         Yeah.


RYAN:                       Doing sports broadcasting, among other things.  I think I even interviewed you one time.


JOEY:                         Well, we made a lot of commercials too.  I wish — I still had that in my car for a little bit.  It was pretty hilarious.


RYAN:                       Well, I interviewed you because you were the standout of intermural flag football.


JOEY:                         Yeah, I was.


RYAN:                       Yeah.


JOEY:                         And we did okay.


RYAN:                       Back to back.  I think back to back.  Season champs.


JOEY:                         We were, yep.


RYAN:                       But, I am currently the advisor of KMSA at the college.


JOEY:                         Awesome.


RYAN:                       And so, I get to kind of still have my foot in the door there.  It’s really a good mix between taking my love for radio, which I had for a long time, and then my business mindset to kind of combine the two and then help some new students as they venture off to the next level.


JOEY:                         Very cool.

RYAN:                       I think I kind of rambled there too long.


JOEY:                         Yeah, but it’s okay.  Well, a few things.  I remember, I believe, your first gig was at my graduation party here in Two Rivers — Double Tree.  I keep calling it Two Rivers.


RYAN:                       That is very true.  Very true.  It’s just so funny to think about where it was.  I mean that was 15 years ago, maybe.


JOEY:                         Yeah.


RYAN:                       Ish.  But, you know, a little iPod.  Back when iPods were, you know — I’m sure that for the younger listeners, they’re like, “What’s an iPod?”


JOEY:                         Right.  So, with your DJ business, you do it all over western Colorado all the way down to Telluride.  Let’s kind of talk, dive through that.  What do you see differently at events?  We’ll start with that.  What do you see different with events and what’s changing what you see?


RYAN:                       Yeah, as far as trends?


JOEY:                         Trends and just how are you beating the competition to be part of these events?


RYAN:                       Yeah, I mean there are really a number of things.  I think what drives me the most and I think what should drive all entrepreneurs is just having a passion, a love for what you do, because if you’re not doing what you like then you’re not going to be good at it.  You may kind of get through it but at the end of the day, I think what really drives me is just my passion for it.  I really do.  There’s some huge satisfaction I get at the end of the day when a client is like, “Man you just,” — Weddings is mainly what I do but when they’re like — a bride comes up and she’s like, “This was perfect.”  It’s the biggest day of their lives, for a lot of them, and for her to come up to me at the end — and that is what kind of keeps me going.  That’s what gives me — I want to provide this amazing experience.


So I think, for me, what separates me from the competition, I would say, really trying to explain my passion to potential clients and why I do what I do, and just being, like you talked about today as keynote, just being real with people, authentic, not trying to hit them with the sales pitch, right of the bat.  Ask them questions about themselves.  You develop these relationships with people instead of just, “Okay, here’s what I do, here’s what I offer, sign the bottom line.”


JOEY:                         Well, and for what you do, in the event world — I don’t know how you do it but you deal with very, very high stress.  I feel like they’re more high stress than anything because these are people’s memories of something that they’ve always dreamt of like, “This is how it’s going to be.”  How do you handle if something goes wrong in those situations?”


RYAN:                       Yeah.  Yeah, so for me, it wasn’t always like this.  Starting out, you don’t have a lot of money and so you kind of — you don’t always have backups for things and so I’ve definitely learned over the years to where I’m at now.  I think to deal with stress, it’s preparation, understanding if something does go wrong, here’s how to fix it right away.  And I think almost for everything I do from whether it’s microphones to sound setup to lighting, because technology is never 100%.  Stuff can happen, but being able to, on the dime, just, “Okay, if something goes wrong, no problem.  I have a quick out to fix it.”  That eases so much stress, to me it’s worth the extra investment to have those backups.


And also training my people, as well.  I have a staff of DJs so they know, “Okay.”  I’m actually going through some training with two people right now and we’re going to have a day of troubleshooting.  Kind of pretending like we’re at the event and I’m going to unplug things and try things to throw them off.  “Okay, what are you going to do in this situation?” and rehearse that now so that when it does actually — when the event takes place, they know how to fix it right away and they’re not Googling on their phone, “How do I,” — No, we’ve got a solution, right away.


JOEY:                         Right and you’ve got to get people that know that up front, that can fix it fast.  Last night we talked about some really cool new technologies that can bring into an experience.  I think the cool thing of how you’ve evolved is you’re not just sound anymore.  You evolved a ton more than that.  Why don’t you kind of touch on that?


RYAN:                       Yeah so, started as DJ entertainment and then over the years it’s grown into, yeah, photobooth I mentioned, lighting — When I say lighting, I mean I can take a whole room, transform it with color, Gobo Projectors, pin spotlights, I can shoot miniature spotlights down to highlight things, continuing to learn and grow in that area, I’m taking some conferences, color theory, all those things with the lighting part of it, and then contracting live musicians.  That’s something I’ve added to the mix.  I feel like I’m forgetting something.


JOEY:                         It’s almost like you’re creating this full experience package that you’re providing that’s entertainment based.


RYAN:                       Right.  Right.  So, it’s allowed me to really — not to where I want to be all things to all people but being able to surround myself around people that can help me grow to where I can really kind of hit a wider scale.


JOEY:                         Cool.  So, going back to the entrepreneur side and the business side, how are you finding your clients?


RYAN:                       Yeah, you know, a lot of it is — Especially in a smaller town like Grand Junction, a lot of it is word of mouth.  A lot of times I’ve DJed for somebody’s wedding years ago and their sister gets married or their friend and so that’s why, in a small town — And really the same could be said for a big city as well because in this day and age you have Yelp reviews and there’s big platform out there for that.  So, developing just a good reputation has been a huge part of it and I would say, definitely, I’ve done some things online, some online advertising, social media, trying to stay up with that.


JOEY:                         Where do you think most of it comes in?  Is it word of mouth or is it a lot of incoming —


RYAN:                       I would say word of mouth and just developing relationships with vendors.


JOEY:                         Yeah.


RYAN:                       Vendors is huge and just really, I think the biggest thing is building that trust with people.  I try to operate my business with integrity and I think there’s something to be said for that.  Just building that trust with people which can go a long way.


JOEY:                         Well, throughout your career, it’s been fun watching you because I could be — My parents have a place Ouray, Colorado and we drive down there and guess who I hear on 93.1?  KMSA or not KMSA — The Magic.


RYAN:                       Yeah.  Yeah.


JOEY:                         And your voice pops up.  I’m sure that helped a lot to be able to just be that voice but also can hire you outside of an event like that.


RYAN:                       Yeah my time in radio — And I’m still involved.  I mentioned KMSA, the college station, and then also I fill in from time to time still at MBC Broadcasting doing some various things.  But, yeah, my time in radio has definitely helped me tremendously in just being comfortable on a microphone, understanding music — When I put together playlists for events, my time in radio helped me a ton in just understanding you have different components of songs: the texture of it, the lyrics: is it a sad song?  Is it an up song?  Is it a ballad?  Is it not?  And how songs flow from one to the next.  And my time in radio programing a station really kind of segued into what I’m doing for these events and, again, training my staff and getting them up to speed with that as well.


JOEY:                         Yeah, very cool.  So, with — and again, we talked yesterday about being able to use technology to scale your type of business.  What are the ways that you’re using and one you’re currently using and even just finding the songs and working with a client?


RYAN:                       Yeah so, I’m a big tech guy and we talk about that and technology can be huge.  For me, it’s efficiency, being able to — We mention things like Calendly.com a scheduler, where it used to be the back and forth when I’m trying to get together with a client to meet.  “Are you available Tuesday at 3?” and you’re going back and forth through email.  “Now, I can’t do Tuesday, what about Thursday?  What about,” — and it takes like two days to figure out a time to meet and then you’ve got to cancel, you know?  And it’s the headspace.  Calendly, I shoot them a link, and it accesses my Google calendar and they can add something to my calendar and then it’s done.

So, things like that to really streamline it.  I’ve got a mobile app, as well, for my clients that really just makes the process — For me, and every business is different, for me I deal with millennials.


JOEY:                         Right.


RYAN:                       People getting married between the average 25 to 35, you know?


JOEY:                         Right.


RYAN:                       And so, millennials, from the stuff that I’m gathering, they want convenience, they want things right away, and the digital age.  The want to be able to communicate through social media, through some of these tech forms.  I think — I go to this conference in Vegas and don’t quote me on this exact stat but they were saying that for the first time, I think, 2018 — maybe it would have been 2017 — was the first year that mobile devices — Internet traffic was higher on mobile devices versus desktop.


JOEY:                         Yeah, I heard that.  I’ve heard a similar thing to that.


RYAN:                       And so, if you aren’t — As a business owner, if you aren’t accessible on a phone or a tablet, you’re way behind.


JOEY:                         Yeah.  Well, even for you to work with a client, too, because I feel like back in the day, you probably wrote down, “What song do we want?”  You probably had a sheet, “Fill this out.”  Well, now it’s, “No, let’s listen to the song, see if my significant other likes to play this song, click it and it’s already on the playlist and then it plays it for you guys.”  So, it’s almost taken a lot of work off your guys’ plate.


RYAN:                       Yeah.  Yeah, it does, which allows me to focus on other things.  There are a lot of managerial tasks, I feel like, that computers have taken over like, yeah, stuff that I used to have to manually do five, seven years ago, has been — the process has been cut in half because of computers.  Like, yeah, you mentioned the mobile app and allowing my clients to select music and build a playlist and collaborate on that playlist with other people.  Yeah, that whole process has been cut in half.


I have things like a CRM platform, making workflows that has cleared up a ton of headspace for me, where it used to be reminding myself to email people 60 days out, 30 days out, oh invoices, now I’ve got that automated.  And then some of that is semi-automated where I make small edits.  So, the cool thing about that is, that’s allowed me to grow more as a business because I don’t have to spend as much time on these managerial things and I can look into the projection mapping and some of these other creative ways to grow my business and to utilize all these different resources.


JOEY:                         Speaking about projection mapping, I’m so fascinated about that.  Tell us a little bit about what that is.


RYAN:                       Yeah and I can only vaguely — I’m still researching and looking into it, so I can’t speak to it too much but basically it’s taking real life as we know it and using projector and this scanner thing that will look at the dimensions of an object and that object,you can, from your computer in real time, give it color or throw photos on this particular object.  You can have lasers go around it, highlighting the perimeter of it, and how I’m going to implement that, I’m still looking into.


JOEY:                         Well, one thing you were saying is, we’re talking about weddings, you put it on a cake and you can put a slideshow around the cake.  I thought that was really interesting in how you can utilize this in different ways.  I mean I want to use it just for fun at home, really.


RYAN:                       Right?


JOEY:                         I want to have a full wall of this of just doing cool things.


RYAN:                       Yeah.


JOEY:                         But it’s almost like taking Vegas because there’s these thick pillars that light up and change and it’s nothing.  But, just being able to see in a different experience, I think it’s pretty fascinating that you literally can almost bring something in and make it pop out.


RYAN:                       Yeah, I mean just completely change the whole dynamic of something with color and lights.  Yeah, so that’s kind of — I have a bunch of different ideas in mind.


JOEY:                         Yeah.


RYAN:                       You and I, we get together, and we just go back and forth all the time.


JOEY:                         Brainstorm.  It’s fun.  Well, cool.  Well, Ryan, I really appreciate you coming on this podcast.  It’s been fun coming back up here.


RYAN:                       Yeah.


JOEY:                         We’ll do it again.


RYAN:                       Absolutely.


JOEY:                         Cool.


RYAN:                       We’ll have to go — After this, we’re going to go wander over to —


JOEY:                         To the Mesa State.


RYAN:                       — the old stomping grounds.


JOEY:                         I call it Mesa State.  It’s the wrong name.


RYAN:                       Just call it Mesa.


JOEY:                         Mesa.  Colorado Mesa.  Well, thanks, Ryan.  Thanks for doing our podcast.


RYAN:                       Yeah, absolutely.


JOEY:                         Awesome.


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Episode #27 Capturing Memories to Extend Consumer Engagement

Our talk with Ben Maitland-Lewis of Pretty Instant brings us to discuss how implementing photography helps leave lasting imprints and boosts consumer engagement. The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #27 Capturing Memories to Extend Customer Engagement is followed below.

#27 Capturing Memories to Extend Customer Engagement

Ben Maitland-Lewis on episode #27 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY: Welcome back to another episode of “Talk Experiential.”  Welcome Ben Maitland-Lewis. He’s the CEO of Pretty Instant.  Thanks for joining us.


BEN: Glad to be here.  Thanks so much.


JOEY: Yeah, we’ve worked on a few projects together.  I’ve known you guys for several years, I think through YEC.  I think the first time was either at a YEC event or you guys used to go to YEC Escape, and then in Austin, we actually did some work together.  Pretty cool platform. I’d love to hear your story.


BEN: I appreciate that.  We actually have another escape coming up this weekend, so I’ll be seen in Utah.


JOEY: I’m going.


BEN: Are you really?


JOEY: Yes.


BEN: Oh nice.  Yeah, again, I get to live vicariously through all you guys by looking at the photos that come through.  So, I kind of feel like I’m able to hang out at thousands of different events throughout the year, but in reality, I’m only actually attending probably like 100 or two, but that’s great.


JOEY: Cool.


BEN: Yeah, in general, in top level, we provide a national platform for companies and brands to work with and hire professional photographers.  It’s an awesome service that allows people to do what they need to do when they need to do it and always on brand and within their time frames and budges.  But it didn’t start that way at all. It definitely started out as something that sort of came organically out of our environment. It was never that my cofounders and I woke up one day and we were like, “let’s start a photography platform.”  It literally was, we were running different companies together prior to this, predominantly in the music and entertainment space.


So we were already working with a lot of brands on a national basis, doing a lot of different tours and brand activations and things like that, just as a means of distribution for our artists or anything really, and we were doing it in the entertainment space, the liquor space, and it was a fun time.  What actually happened is that we were co-producing this really large annual event that still happens to this day in Boston, Massachusetts, and we had a big-brand sponsor at the photo booth, and we couldn’t fit the photo booth through the front door the night of that event. Like it was something that none of us had ever thought about because, like who does?  You know, who thinks, or at least back then, who is like, “Oh, I’m gonna hire a photo booth company. Can their equipment fit through the front door of the building?” but low and behold, we’re in Boston, so we’ve got very old, old buildings, and that happened. So we were kind of in triage mode, and we needed to come up with a solution very quickly that, in brief, ended up being a point-and-shoot camera with an Wi-Fi card with a laptop and a backpack held up with a PVC pipe, and then we wrote a script that would auto-duplicate the photo from one desktop folder to another desktop folder, superimpose the brand, and then sink it through to drop off to an iPad so that we could then show it to the guest and e-mail them a Dropbox link.  


So they ended up getting their picture not instantly but pretty instantly, and that’s literally where the name came from, and we saved the party, and we basically had a client before we had a product, and the rest is history.  Fast Company wrote an article about it called, “The Difference Between a Joke and a Billion-Dollar Idea is Not So Far,” and we were kind of off to the races right after that.


JOEY: Wow, that’s awesome.  It’s amazing what ideas like, and really, you get engrained to these problems that you have.  You can’t fit a photo booth in the door, so what’s the solution? What are we gonna do? That’s pretty fascinating.


BEN: It works out actually.  Prior to that, we had done some random individual photo booth builds for some experiential campaigns we were doing, but we had never thought about starting a company around it, and we’re also pretty anti-photo booth, to be honest.  So literally, for us, we created, basically, this roaming photo booth experience segment, if you will, and we really drove with that in mind.


We ditched the stationary setup on the side corner and pulling all of your guests out of their organic experience to go have to stand in front of a booth and engage with a screen and hang out with these little plastic props.  There’s a time and a place for that, but for us, it was all about turning an entire event into a photo booth and being able to organically cruise around with a professional photographer to really catch these awesome happy snaps and be able to instantly brand them and share them organically through the guest’s social channel without them having to log in or touch the screen or whatever, and now it’s gone so much farther where we can collect consumer data on it for the CRMs.  We can accelerate share-to-win programs. We can push the jumbotrons and screens and wireless printers, and we can do pop-up surveys and disclaimers, so it just becomes so much farther than that and, again, that’s really just what started the company. At this point, it’s just a division of what we ultimately do.


JOEY: Right.  Again, I’ve used you guys before, and it’s just so seamless on booking, on just trusting that you guys have the right person, but then you’re providing me exactly what we want, the photos at the end.  Let’s kind of dive in. We were talking before on this show, you guys are more than just “here’s some photos and go.” We’d love to talk through your idea of what are the next steps? How are you using these photos more for value for brands or clients or events and engaging their audience a little bit more?


BEN: Well I think one thing that’s really hyper-unique about us than all the other “marketplaces” for you to be able to hire photographers or professional talent is that we take a hands-on approach to selecting the talent and then really have a deep understanding of what that vision is from the client and being able to translate that into something that’s executable on behalf of our contractors.  So what I mean by that is any other marketplace out there, you just go in, you sort of search through a bunch of profiles. You then negotiate a rate, because all the rates are different, and it’s kind of like a dog-eat-dog mentality, and each photographer has a different time at which they edit and turn around their images, and a lot of them all have different standards. If they’re delivering 5 images and you want 10 more, it’s gonna cost you this much more, or whatever it is.  


Those were all sort of the areas in which I thought needed improvement and kind of needed updating relative to the status quo that the industry’s been in for like a hundred years.  So for us, it’s much more about let’s handle and take an end-to-end managed approach for this entire client experience. So we hand-select all the different photographers in every market.  They go through federal and state background checks. They have to pass certain levels of vetting in order to even shoot for certain verticals of photography. So just because we hired them for event doesn’t mean that they can automatically go shoot real estate or commercial products, right?


JOEY: Right.


BEN: And then our clients, we’ve built these hyper-verticalized booking forms and flows so that you can literally book an event photographer, real estate shooter, whatever it is, anywhere across the country in under two minutes because we focus on vision.  There’s, of course, like the “no knowns” like the location and start time, whatever, but then it’s more about what do you actually need? What’s the end result here? What are you trying to do with these photos? Where are they going? Do you have anything that’s already pre-existing that we can even look at as inspiration and get a gauge of what you’re trying to visualize?  And then that goes directly through. Then we place the photographers based on location, experience, equipment, and then personality.


So our platform really goes in 85% of the way there to you putting in a booking in Denver, Colorado, for this type of an event at this kind of a time.  Okay, we already know that these are the photographers in Denver that are cleared to shoot this type of an event based on their equipment, their experience, and where they are, but there’s still a human reviewing every booking in our system, and then they do the invitations based on the personality and the culture fit because just because we can send somebody out at 2 a.m. at Brooklyn Bowl or whatever, it doesn’t mean that that’s the same person you’re gonna want to send to the White House for a NASA ceremony, you know?  You have to have the culture fit, right?


JOEY: Yeah.


BEN: Or if it’s with children involved, you don’t want to send somebody that has just come off from shooting a night club the day before.  You need to know that kind of stuff, and none of the other platforms really go that way. Then in terms of photographers, they literally go in, shoot, upload, and get paid direct deposit, and they’re out of the picture.  We have global distribution of editors that are also assigned based on their verticals of photography. Within our price points, you’re already gonna get professionally edited photos within 72 hours guaranteed, but we have options for on-site, 12, 24, and 36 hours.  So again, you’re not booking shoot for events or real estate properties or portraits or headshots or ribbon-cutting ceremonies, or whatever it is, based on the availability of the photographer. We are making it happen based on the needs and the deliverables of our client.  


JOEY: Right.


BEN: So I think even by being able to capture their vision and delivering it to them within a time in which they can utilize and activate on it, they’re already getting a higher ROI on those photos than they would be if they were kind of winging it and waiting until the photographer is done, going on an Easter egg hunt around the internet trying to find those photos based on whatever link or URL it’s stored on, and then potentially having to only have access to a few of them versus none of them, and it just allows us to be able to create these programs that allow our clients to scale their photography operations versus being bold and to [inaudible 0:09:34] their local contractors that they hire.  


JOEY: Right.


BEN: I think that’s crucial.  And then obviously just delivering them the photos in a shareable manner already is huge or incorporating our roaming photo booth experience where they can instantly push it to social accounts or instantly share it with their PR and media contacts, branded or not branded, is another avenue.  So at the end of the day, having them shot is one piece of the puzzle. Actually utilizing them to your benefit to grow your communities, increase your retention of talent, maybe increase donations or investments in your situation, showing off your executive team or whatever it is, like that’s the ROI, and I think that’s really where we help at the end result.


JOEY: That’s great.  From running and experiential company and staffing, and just having the visual of not being there and showcasing it, because really you want to extend that engagement longer than just that event.  Usually that event is a very expensive piece, but how can you promote it for the next year or just get more engagement? I think it’s fascinating. Kind of going back, from your background and your core values, let’s dive into that.  What are your core values or your company and where you’re taking this?


BEN: Well I appreciate that question.  I guess at the end of the day, our core values are to really serve both our photographers and our clients to the best of our abilities as possible and create win-win scenarios for everyone first and foremost.  So for our clients, we want to be able to save them time, energy, money, aggravation, back-and-forth. We want to provide them always with the highest quality service from end-to-end. We want to give them what they need when they need it.  We’ve created national standards of pricing, process, of delivery. We’ve taken all the heavy lifting out of it, and we’re just making it super streamlined to the point where a lot of our clients are actually telling us that they’re booking more photography than they were ever before because it’s so easy, and that makes me happy because at the end of the day, especially for me, I’m coming from the music industry background for 20 years, it’s so nice to be a part of something that’s actively growing and strengthening in the industry versus just poaching from it, and that means a lot to me and my team personally.  


On the other side of it, for the “artist’s” side of it, which is our supply side, our photographers, by hand selecting the best ones out there and providing them with amazing work with epic clients that they normally wouldn’t have access to and picking up that 80% or so of the back end that they’re not naturally good at, is also a huge value to us.  As an example, photographers are really great at being photographers. They’re great at knowing the ins and outs of their camera bodies, of their lenses. They’re knowing specifically to whatever vertical it is, like how to get certain things. They’ve got the eye, right? But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve got customer service and marketing and sales and logistic skills and all this other jazz that comes with it.  The editing is probably the highest pain point for all photographers.


Then there’s customer service, then there’s invoicing, then there’s hosting, and by us handling all of that, it’s a win-win, because we get to provide our clients with the best photographers at more affordable rates than going direct because we had so much of that back end.  And if they win, if our photographers win and our clients win, and ultimately the guests the win, because depending on the service that they’re using, the guests are also receiving their photos instantly in a state of euphoria versus days later or getting their photos taken at an event and all of the sudden that photographer dips away into the abyss of the event and they’re like, “I’m never gonna see that photo again,” which I absolutely can’t stand, when they’re given a business card to go to their website so they can download it by paying something.  If not, it has some crazy watermark over it. Like all that stuff, I’m just against. You know what I mean?


At the end of the day, everybody has a really good camera in their pocket.  What they’re lacking is the eye, the ability to actually be in a photo correctly and be present to an event, and mainly, what’s more important for our clients is that our clients can’t dictate their brand or style guides if it’s a completely democratized photography industry with everybody using their cellphones.  This way, what we do, we can still dictate and create together what that national brand and style guide is gonna be, and I can give you countless examples of clients that come to us and they’re like, “We’re nonprofit, we’re giving out 405,000 winter jackets this season to underprivileged kids in inner cities. We can’t handle hiring 58 different photographers in different markets.”  Yeah dude, we can do this, and we can make it so that it’s 100% rinse and repeatable any time you need it, no problem, and a junior person on your team could help manage it, no problem. Because we’re allowing people to do what they do best and we handle the rest of it, it’s a win-win for everyone. I think that’s the ultimate philosophy, you know?


JOEY: What’s an event that you can think of that you’ve done recently that was pretty bad ass?


BEN: Oh man.


JOEY: I know that’s the hardest thing.  People ask you that all the time. I already know we do.


BEN: It’s just such an honor, honestly, to be a part of all these things.  You know what I’m saying?


JOEY: Yeah.


BEN: We recently just did a crazy welcoming ceremony type of situation down in Orlando for Aetna and CVS as part of their coming out because CVS just bought Aetna.  We’ve got that kind of a thing going on. Next week, we’ve got a three-team interactive photo experience going on at the IBM conference in San Francisco. The client I just mentioned was Operation Warm, and last year they came to us, and they had 30 events where they were doling out winter jackets to intercity kids for free.  It took them four staff members to run everything on an Excel spreadsheet. They were constantly dealing with photographers not showing up or, in this case, over 40 galleries in different locations and hosting sites, and some photographers would get their photos delivered to them in three days, some would get them delivered to them within two weeks.  


You and I come from an industry where it’s like, dude, if you don’t have photos of that event, did it ever really happen?  And these guys are constantly trying to deal with stuff, so they came to us, and not only did we save them a boatload of money for doing, we allowed them to 3X their efforts with only one person on staff, and it was on a repeatable basis ongoing, so every market, we’re going off the same type of style guide, same type of shot list.  We’ve got dedicated editors on it, so that there’s that constant kind of look and feel, and that’s why clients like Black Girls Code, as an example–another massively growing community–Entrepreneur’s Council, Forbes Council, all those guys, they all were wanting us for these national campaigns. It’s almost like even if their local reps book the events on the ground, the brand is still dictated by corporate, and that’s awesome.  


So it’s tough for me to say, which his super, super cool.  I think they’re all awesome in their own right, and that’s another great piece about being where we are is that we kind of help facilitate and help them sort of attain or accomplish their goals by being able to capture it and have this tangible asset afterwards.  


We do a lot of work with the media production houses in LA and New York, so TNT and Turner is a longstanding client of ours.  We do all their premiers and things like that, to the point where there’s celebrities like Snoop Dogg and James Corden, and all these guys know our teams when we’re on site and they love us because we’re known as the “good paparazzi.”  It’s because we’re there for them. We’re not there to capture their photos like so many photographers are and then just go push it to a tabloid and get paid. We’re there for their own enjoyment, for their own experience, for them to be able to encapsulate that night, that event, that milestone, as well as archival purposes.  There’s a lot of shoots that we do that are specifically for the corporate account that have archival photography as their growing legacy, and I’m honored to play a small role in that, you know?


JOEY: Yeah, and it’s great talking to you too.  What you’re saying is something that’s just easy, something that’s quick, but also hiring people that actually know what they’re talking about or know how to shoot, but the quickness is so key in our industry.  Just with your background too, because you come from experiential marketing, and I think you understand, and this is why you have a company like this. Where do you see this in 5, 10 years? Is it going to be more, just quicker, or where do you see your sales in a couple years?


BEN: For us, I think it’s all about access and ease of use, right?  So obviously, right now you can go and book a photographer anywhere across the country in under two minutes for many different projects.  But that’s only one side of it. I think for us it’s gonna be much more around strategic partnerships and aligning ourselves to be able to include us in different buyer journeys and be able to add these things on, almost like a natural component to your everyday life, almost like allowing us to capture it and share it for you instead of you constantly out there with a selfie stick or trying to tap into your guests Instagram feed.  So I would rather it be a situation where you’re gonna go sell your house on Zillow and you pull up your Zillow account to create that situation, and there’s a button there that just says “Shoot this property,” and boom, we went in, we make it happen, and, Bob’s your uncle and you’re selling your house for higher than the market rate because you’re getting pro photos instead of using your little cellphone.


Same with events.  We’re going into some really cool, strategic partnerships with some really awesome brands, and I’m all about that.  I love that side of it because we’re helping them do their job better and more effectively. At the same time, we’re able to provide great work to great photographers on a national basis.  So, for me, I guess it would be global, like I would love to be able to go global, and I would love to be able to do it with a great partner or partners that allow us to be at the forefront of constantly pushing access to great photographers, drone pilots, videographers, basically just helping people be their outsourced content creative department really, and doing that scale in really cool ways.


JOEY: That’s great.  These partnerships, I think, are so key.  I think you guys have something really special, and we’re excited to continue using you guys here in the future.  Hopefully we can meet in the near future as well as have you on another podcast. I really appreciate you joining us today.


BEN: Yeah 100% and thank you.  I think the key takeaway here for anybody that’s listening to this is that the most important thing you can do, specifically within the experiential marketing, which is what we do, is to provide people with a really unforgettable experience, almost pull them out of their daily norm and give them something that they can absolutely remember on a visceral level, and that may or may not be to do with a brand, or foundation, a profit, or like a purpose or something like that, but that’s the whole point.  And what we have learned by doing this for four or five years or whatever and thousands and thousands of events, with over 2,000 clients, is that utilizing a photo experience, an interactive photo experience or just even great photography to help sell your brand and share that story, is absolutely crucial.


If you’re incorporating, let’s say our roaming photo booth experience and any lessons around that, in an organic manner where there’s still a human touch, you are gonna go farther and succeed farther as a brand because if there’s a human element to the experience and they’re not just interacting with the screen, which so many people are sort of doing these days for the hell of it–and virtual reality is a totally different situation, and I am a huge fan of that, and that is very different where you need to engage with a screen or have one over your eyes–but if you’re doing just on-site photo activations or you’re doing big outing brand activations up in Aspen on the mountains or like where you’re at in Colorado, like there’s constantly brands that are promoting their stuff on a mountain, you know, incorporating an engaging photo experience with a professional photographer so you look dope in a cool environment is gonna enhance that share, and it’s gonna make that touchpoint way more meaningful for you in the end.  That’s where we’re happy to be.


I appreciate the time here for sure and hope that it was useful for people that are listening.  If they want to check out what we do, by all means, they can go to our site, PrettyInstant.com. Anybody can get 10% off if they use BML10 as a code or just hit me up anytime.  I’m always happy just to talk experiential, pun intended. I’ll end it there.


JOEY: Very cool.  Well thanks again. We’ll put on the show notes PrettyInstant.com, and we’ll add the promo codes for 10% off.  So thanks again, and I appreciate your time.


BEN: My pleasure, thanks so much.


JOEY: Thanks.


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Episode #26 Your Network is Your Net Worth

Our talk with Jon Ferrara of Nimble brings us to discuss the need for relationships and the effective nurturing of them. The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #26 Your Network is Your Net Worth is followed below.

#26 Your Network is Your Net Worth

Jon Ferrara on episode #26 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY:                         Welcome back to another Talk Experiential Podcast.  Excited for my guest, Jon Ferrara, founder of Nimble.  Excited to have you on our show today.


JON:                           Thanks, Joey.  I’m excited to be here.  I really think that we’re on this planet to grow, and we do that best by helping others grow.  So any opportunity I can to have a conversation with somebody like you who has an audience of people who want to grow, and we can have a conversation about their growth, is just a pretty effing great day for me.


JOEY:                         Absolutely.  I agree with that.  Well, I’d love to hear your story.  I mean, I currently use Nimble.  I’ve been using it for years.  You founded GoldMine, which I’m excited to talk to you about that.  I remember back in the day that GoldMine was a very advanced CRM for the day, and would love to hear how that all happened.


JON:                           Yeah, I am happy to talk about any part of that journey.  I think that the lessons learned of building GoldMine and Nimble combined would be interesting for your audience, because we actually used influencer marketing to scale GoldMine back before it was a term.


JOEY:                         Wow.  No, that’s cool.  Let’s just start with, how did you become an entrepreneur?  I mean, is this something that you’re kind of born with?  And then how did GoldMine happen?


JON:                           Well, you know, that’s an interesting segue into GoldMine in that I was a reluctant entrepreneur in some respects.  My dad was the number one car salesman in the country back in the 50s with Lincoln Mercurys, and he had the first Subaru dealership, and I grew up on his car lot.  And I swore to myself I’d never be in sales, because my dad was a car salesman and, you know, sales is a four-letter word, and my uncle helped radar and microwave at MIT in the 40s, and he had an aerospace company that built a lot of the communications systems for NASA and all the moon missions and things.  So I wanted to be an astronaut.  So I bought a computer, and I studied computer science, but I didn’t have the money to put myself through college, so I got a job at a computer store, because I knew more about computers than anybody I knew, and it turned out I was pretty good at sales, and I was making $70,000 a year working part-time, living at home, going to college in 1981.  And that was a lot of money back then.  But even then, I didn’t want to do sales, so I got a job at Hughes Aircraft and worked in aerospace for long enough to know I’m not an aerospace guy.  Got a job at a start-up in Boston, and it was there that I started to experience the value of relationships and the need for effective nurturing of them and engagement.  And back in 1987-88 when I was doing this, there was no outlook.  There was no sales force.  There was no term CRM.  We managed relationships with something called a Day-Timer, and we communicate with something called pink “While You Were Out” slips, and we did our forecasts on a spreadsheet.  And I thought that was dumb, and so I looked for a tool that would integrate email, contact, calendar, and sales and marketing automation.  I couldn’t find it, so I quit my job at Banyan and started a company called GoldMine.  We started it in Los Angeles on $5,000, never took a dime of venture, and eventually scaled it to about 10 million customers, almost $100 million in revenue, and we did that by identifying the influencer of our prospects.  So back in the day, we had a networkable business application.  It wasn’t just CRM.  It was a contact management for the whole company because relationships are managed not by sales people but by everybody in the company, and we built the first networkable relationship managers.  So who best to sell that to our customer but the person that sold them the network?  So I cold-called every Novell reseller in the country, and I got them to use it because people sell what they know and they know what they use.  And then they started to recommend it and resell it.  That’s how we got to our first $100,000 a month in revenue.  And then Avaris started asking us for leads, and I didn’t know how to advertise.  In fact, I didn’t really have the money to advertise effectively, so I started contacting the places where our prospects would learn about technology, Forbes, PC Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, etc., and I said, “How can I help you write more stories?”  They said, “Tell us stories about how people are using technology to grow.”  I started telling stories.  They started retelling those stories.  And that’s how we grew to the next level, about $1 million a month.  And at that time, Microsoft ate Novell, so Microsoft doesn’t innovate.  They iterate.  They wait for somebody else to build the market.  Then they come in when it’s big enough with their muscle, which is billions of users and hundreds or thousands of resellers, and they came out with NT Server, Sequel Server, and Exchange Server, and our customers at that time were saying, “Hey, Jon.  We love GoldMine, and that has a built-in database, D-Base, but we need it more scalable.  And we love the fact that it hooks up to IMAP and Pop, but we need a more secure email transport.  And we’re at the enterprise level.  We need something more secure for our operating systems.”  So we built GoldMine Enterprise, which required a seat of NT Server, Sequel Server, and Exchange Server for every seat of GoldMine, solved our customer’s need to scale, solved our partners’ need to make products and services revenue.  But more importantly, we became Microsoft’s number one ISV in the world, and that’s what got us to $100 million in revenue.  At that time, in ’99, I was 40 years old and ran GoldMine for ten years, so I sold it and I retired for ten years and raised three babies.  And I’ll tell you what, Joey.  I don’t know if you are a dad.  Are you a dad?


JOEY:                         Yes, I am.


JON:                           So you know how precious family time is.


JOEY:                         100%, yeah.


JON:                           And so I just feel blessed that I spent ten years being a present father, husband, member of my community.  It was the best thing ever.  Highly recommend spending time with your family and your friends, and especially your spouse.  Quality time is a real good thing.  And that’s the GoldMine story.


JOEY:                         Well, that’s fascinating.  So you started this thing no marketing, it sounds like you were a hustler, cold-calling and then kind of took the PR route, I assume?  That kind of helped?


JON:                           Yeah, yeah.  So it’s really a combination of influencer marketing, so getting other people to tell your story.  So the Novell resellers had a base of customers.  They already sold the network to them, and I had an application that ran on the network to enable them to drive more revenue from the customers, so rather than just selling the operating system, they actually sold a solution on top, and that was a perfect start.  But then, to really scale, you need to build the brand globally, and you need to drive net new eyeballs, and telling stories to the press about how customers are growing using technology really helped to define the whole CRM marketing.  In fact, I’ll tell you a story.  A guy named John Taschek, who’s head of strategy at Salesforce, was the editor of PC Computing back in the day when I was teaching him what CRM was.  Today, he runs strategy for the largest CRM company in the world, and I’m proud to say I think I taught him a lot of what he knew back in the day about CRM and network business applications.


JOEY:                         Oh, man.  That’s really cool.  And then, how did Nimble come about?


JON:                           So I was starting to use social media in 2006, ’07, and ’08.  And I saw it was going to change the way we work, play, buy, and sell.  And I started looking for a relationship manager that integrated with social.  I couldn’t find it.  I found something called Hootsuite and Tweetdeck which unified social conversations into streams, but it didn’t tie the social conversations to people.  So if I basically saw that somebody was talking about me in Twitter, who is Joey?  When was the last time I talked to Joey, right?  What’s Joey’s business about?  And I’d need to fish Joey out of that conversation and build a record in order to begin to engage.  And then I started looking at contact management, and I saw it was broken.  When I was playing around with that, basically Google was the only cloud contact platform with email, contact, and calendar there in the cloud.  And email, contact, and calendar are three separate tabs in Google, in Gmail, G-Suite.  And so contacts aren’t linked to the conversations you’re having or the activities that you’re driving, so that’s a broken contact management in my regard, because GoldMine did that 30 years ago.  Email, contact, and calendar should be linked, so you have history.  And then you need context.  Who is somebody?  And what is their business about?  So you have to Google them to know what that is.  And the best way to understand who somebody is, is it walk in their digital footprint, to walk in their Twitter, their Facebook, or in their LinkedIn.  And so I saw that not only should email, contacts, and calendar be unified, but social should be linked to all of that.  Not just their identity, but the history of interactions and their business information.  And so I started hearing notes in my head, like I heard in the GoldMine days.  So I picked up my guitar, and I basically put a band together, and we built Nimble.  And basically, Nimble pioneered not just social selling and social CRM, but really the value of a unified relationship manager, not just for sales people but for everybody in the company, because it’s not just sales people that touch the customer, and it’s not just prospects and customers that you need to engage with.  At Nimble, we engage with editors, analysts, bloggers, influencers, third-party developers, investors, advisors, and prospects and customers, and traditionally CRM isn’t a great place to put all of that.  And you really need a team relationship manager.  And today, the contact tools you have, Office 365 and G-Suite Gmail and iCloud aren’t good at contact manager, because basically every team member has a separate contact database, and email and calendar aren’t linked, let alone social.  And so Nimble basically unifies all of that, becomes a team relationship manager, and that could either be your CRM or actually it works with your CRM.  In fact, Microsoft pushes us worldwide as the simple CRM for Office, but we’re actually becoming a gateway to dynamics.  And that’s really replicating what happened with GoldMine.  If you think about it, we started with Novell, and then Microsoft ate Novell, and we basically became the number one driver of sales for NT Server, Sequel Server, and Exchange Server.  We started with Nimble with Gmail G-Suite, which was effectively the Novell of our era, because if you have PCs, you tie it together with G-Suite Gmail.  But Microsoft ate them with Office 365.  Today, there’s 165 million Office 365 customers.  There’s seven million G-Suite customers.  So it’s really game over with email productivity, and the battle is going to be Azure.  Because, if you think about it, ten years ago, companies, corporations said, “We’re never going to the cloud.  We don’t trust it.”  And a few years ago, they started dipping the toe in the water by putting their exchange servers in the cloud with Office 365.  Tomorrow, it’s going to be the rest of the servers, because every company has either been hacked or is going to get hacked, and they can’t afford to manage and maintain their servers and firewalls, etc.  And so Azure’s the place where a lot of businesses are going to put their servers, and the company that can not only drive adoption and sales of Office 365 but retention and adoption of Azure and the other crown jewels of Microsoft like Dynamics will become the next GoldMine, and we’re basically primed for that position, because Microsoft has signed a global resale agreement with Nimble.  They’re pushing us worldwide through all their distributors.  We’ve signed up 30 of their top 50 global distributors, like Tech Data and Ingram and others, and basically are spinning up tens of thousands of Microsoft resellers who traditionally have sold plumbing to plumbers, IT infrastructure to IT decision makers.  But now, we’re getting them to use Nimble to become modern sellers, and to start selling Nimble on top of Office, which will help them become Azure and Dynamics resellers in the future.  And so, history is kind of repeating itself, and it’s really amazing to see.


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JOEY:                         Yeah.  Well, it’s fascinating what you’ve built and how you’ve brought it all into one.  I mean, I think one of the biggest things is data is king, understanding who you’re talking to, but also, you know, kind of what we were talking about offline, just the value of network and relationships.  You know, from just growing my company through marketing and through, you know, the Talk Experiential is just building these relationships.  Now, I’d love to talk a little bit about how you’ve grown this, just through these relationships, and why is it so important for, you know, people to really understand, like, you never know what’s going to happen ten years down the line.  I have a sales guy, a director of partnerships.  We worked ten years ago at a sales job.  We worked with GoldMine, the CRM.  We’ll probably laugh about it a little later.  And now he works with us.  But I’d love to learn kind of on your end, like just through growing your companies, you know, why is relationship so important, and how did it help grow your companies?


JON:                           Well, Joey, I’m going to tell you a story.  Imagine selling a company at 40 years old for more money than you could ever imagine in your life, and getting a head tumor a year later and almost dying, and having two babies sitting there, and a wife, a young life.  How would that feel?


JOEY:                         Horrible.


JON:                           It’d be kind of scary, right?


JOEY:                         Upside down, your life.


JON:                           Right?  And so that’s me at 41, and that was, I don’t know, 17 years ago and, knock on pressboard, and – let’s knock on some real wood.  But in the journey of getting healed, right?  From, like, just from healing the tumor, I also went on a spiritual journey, and I came to the conclusion that we’re on this planet to grow our souls by helping other people grow theirs.  And when you talk about the value of relationships, you know, they just don’t – it’s not just the people you do business with.  It’s everybody around you.  I think that you owe anyone you’re with your presence.  And to try to leave them with something, even if it’s a smile, right?  And so, I think the value of relationships are just critical to your personal and professional success.  Your network is your net worth.  Your personal brand plus your professional network will help you achieve your dreams in life, and I think that that’s what’s helped me to build two global companies, if you think about it.  Nimble was built by identifying the influencer of my prospect and building relationships with them, thereby building the Nimble brand, my brand, and driving eyeballs to our website, which has been as high as 100,000 uniques per month with zero advertising.  And the way that we did that is we identified the influencer of our prospect in and around the areas of promise for our products and services and began sharing their content, attributing the category and their name appropriately which generated eyeballs of people looking to be better, smarter, faster at social sales and marketing, audience of that influencer, and relationships with the influencer themselves.  And that results in traffic to our brand and in sales, but more important, introductions in relationships.  And I’ll tell you a story that just happened last night.  You know Lee Odden, right?


JOEY:                         Lee Odden, yes.


JON:                           Okay.  Lee Odden is one of the top influencers and speakers on marketing.  I get an email from Lee Odden last night.  It says something to the effect of, “Hey, Jon.  Our team continues to love Nimble as an influencer CRM that we use for ourselves, but I was consulting with Adobe and SAP this week in San Francisco, and their heads of influencer marketing could really use Nimble.  Is it okay if I do an introduction?”  I said, “Heck yeah.”


JOEY:                         Right.


JON:                           And I got an introduction, and now I’m having a meeting with the head of influencer marketing at Adobe on Friday, right?  Now, why did that happen?  It didn’t happen because I pay Lee Odden.  It happened because we’ve built and nurtured a relationship with Lee over time, and it’s not just a business relationship.  In fact, it’s really more personal.  I believe in the five Fs of life.  Family, friend, food, fun, and fellowship are the commonalities that we share with each other in order to build intimacy and trust.  And ultimately, that rides through any business connection.  LinkedIn is like walking in my lobby.  But if you want to know who Jon is, walk through my Instagram, my Facebook, my Twitter.  These are the softer places where we’re connected on our commonalities.  A barbecue, or backpacking, or whatever family.  And Lee and I have connected across a lot of commonalities, including the fact that he’s from a small town in Minnesota which is where my great-grandmother gave birth to my grandmother.  And so relationships are so critical, but we’re over-connected and we’re over-communicated.  You could only manage 100 to 200 people in your head at one time.  That’s called the Dunbar limit.  And most people have thousands of connections.  And when you are going to interact with somebody, you need to know who they are, you need to know the history of interactions you and the team have had, you need to know what their business is about for you to be effective in the one-to-one communication.  But the most important thing is to follow-up and follow-through.  People fail at the basics of business.  Follow-up and follow-through is critical, and you don’t do it because you have to go to the CRM to do it, and you work for the CRM by having to look shit up and log it.  I believe your CRM should work for you by building itself and then work with you wherever you are in email, in social, on your phone, so that you can be prepared for every engagement, do the follow-up and follow-through which will result in deeper relationships, will result in you achieving your dreams in life, which I hope involve you serving others and helping them grow, because that is why we’re on this planet.


JOEY:                         Absolutely.  Well, man, I really appreciate this.  This is great.  And I mean, you take it to a human level too.  It’s like, we’re not numbers.  You know, we’re not numbers in a CRM and we’re trying to connect, and you know, I like how it’s just, you can connect on a deeper level, kind of what you’ve been talking about.  You know, and taking it offline, because I think a lot of people out there always put business in front, that this is why we’re going.  I go to a lot of events, really just to build relationships and not have an agenda.  And it frustrates me when someone’s like, “Hey, go directly into business.”  Which is fine, because I understand that’s where they’re at.  But, you know, usually there’s going to be a stopping point for a minute.  But you know, going to a deeper level and understanding, we’re only on this planet for a very short period of time.  It’s like, you go down to like, where are you at and why you are here, so it’s really fascinating to hear your story and how you’ve grown over the years.


JON:                           Yeah.  I really think that they’re not going to write on my grave, “Built – invented CRM and contact management, made millions.”  They’re going to say, “Beloved father, husband, friend, member of the community.”  And that’s why we’re here.  But you can achieve your dreams and be successful in life without eating other people, right?  And so, if you think about it, sales today is a four-letter word, but I believe service is the new sales.  I believe that if a sales person entered into every relationship with the intent to serve and grow that other person, even if it meant recommending a competitor’s product at that particular moment, if that product suited them better, I think that that sales person would become even more successful, right?  But if you think about it, Joey, this is nothing different than what Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Stephen Covey have taught over the past 100 years.  So if you think about it, I think that social is creating a renaissance in relationship, it’s increasing the transparency and expectations that we have of each other, and is bringing us back to a small village where your reputation was based on the promises you make and the experience that you deliver, and I think that’s a great thing, because the era of bag ’em and tag ’em, Oracle Enterprise, shoot ’em in the head sales, I think, is ending, and we’re getting back into a place where relationships really matter.  And if you do that right, you can have infinite success and be happy too.


JOEY:                         Yeah, absolutely.  Well, Jon, thanks so much.  Our time is up here, but I would really love to follow up with you, and maybe we can get you on another show, and maybe meet in person at some point.  I mean, I like you quite a bit, so.


JON:                           Yeah.  And I’m up in Denver periodically.  Actually, I’d love to introduce you to some of my friends in Denver.  Do you know Joel Cohen?


JOEY:                         I do, actually.  Yeah.  He walks by my office quite a bit, and I’ve met him once.  Yeah.


JON:                           And Mia Voss?  Do you know Mia Voss?


JOEY:                         I don’t think so.


JON:                           Okay.  Well, I have some cool friends in Denver that I’d like to connect you with.  In fact, I have some friends that are influencers in marketing that I think would be great for your show.  So let’s chat about that after we wrap this up.


JOEY:                         Sounds good.  Well, thanks for joining.


JON:                           One last thing?


JOEY:                         Yeah?


JON:                           For your listeners today, I want to offer them a special.  If they go to Nimble.com and sign up for Nimble, it’s free for two weeks, they don’t have to put a credit card in or anything, but if they decide that Nimble will suit their needs for relationships, and it doesn’t matter if you have a CRM, like HubSpot or Salesforce or Dynamics, or they don’t have a CRM, Nimble can be your CRM or work within your existing CRM.  There’s a code, JON40, that they can put in, that they can save 40% off their first three months.  So I just want to give them a little bit of incentive to become more nimble in their relationships.


JOEY:                         That’s perfect.  And I’ll have this on the show notes as well.  You guys can click on the link to check it out.


OUTRO:                     If you like what we’re doing with Talk Experiential Podcast, please make sure you five-star it and review it.  Also please share it on Facebook and Twitter, or any other social media outlets.  Please tell your friends who you think that will get value out of our podcast.  Your support will help continue the success of Talk Experiential.

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Episode #25 Sponsorships: From Billboards to Events



Our talk with Mike Brant of Mile Zero brings us to discuss how to take sponsorships from billboards to live events and festivals. The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #25 Sponsorships: From Billboards to Events is followed below.

#25 Sponsorships: From Billboards to Events

Mike Brant on episode #25 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY: Welcome back to a Talk Experiential podcast.  We’ve got Mike Bryant from Mile Zero; founder and CEO.  Thanks for joining.


MIKE: Absolutely.  Thanks for having me, Joey.  I appreciate it.


JOEY: Yeah, well we just recently worked together at the Taste of Colorado here in Denver.  It’s interesting how kind of similar backgrounds and similar people we know throughout the years.  So, it’s a small knit industry.


MIKE: Yeah.  No, absolutely, and even connecting on this podcast.  I mean it’s funny that we did a deal together at the Taste and now we’re sitting here chatting.  [0:00:35.7]


JOEY: Exactly.


MIKE: Small world.


JOEY: Right?  What a small world.  Well, I’d love to dive in.  The conversation’s going to be around sponsorship.  You have a huge sponsorship background. I’d love to hear about your background.


MIKE: Yeah, absolutely.  So, like I’d mentioned before, I got my start in baseball.  I started in minor league baseball. That’s where I wanted to kind of cut my teeth and start on the sale side of professional baseball and I worked for a team called the Normal Cornbelters out in Normal, Illinois during grad school and started work there, got a job with the Royals and started to do some corporate sponsorship with the Royals and realized it was not really the path I wanted to take.  Alternately, I wanted to get to the Sox or the Cubs – being a Chicago boy – but alternately, in professional sports you go where the jobs are at. And, ultimately, I wanted to stay home – that’s where my wife and my family’s at – and I had an opportunity to come out with a company called Red Frog Events in Chicago and was able to kind of cut my teeth there and really help from a sponsorship prospective build their business from the ground up.  I got in when Red Frog was kind of a tiny little company and it was starting to really grow and blossom and [0:01:40.9]was in full swing at that point and a few years later we launched Firefly Music Festival on the east coast and the opportunity to sell sponsorships for that festival for a handful of years.


And as I grew with my time at Red Frog, I said, “I really want to do this for myself and really help people in this industry – the festival industry and the event space – from a sponsorship prospective and really help them build their business, and that’s kind of where the idea of Mile Zero grew.  


I was able to connect with a few event producers in the Midwest and they really – they had nobody doing it and there was really a hole from their sponsorship prospective and had a lot going on and was able to kind of dive in and utilize the contacts and the folks I’d met along the way at Red Frog and Firefly and really tap into the relationships that I’d built over the last four to five years and helped a group that I was working with in the Midwest with their festivals and it kind of just spiraled from there and a lot of it now has just been word of mouth, folks that I’ve done work with or clients that I’ve done work with have referred us to their event folks or friends or people in the industry and that’s kind of how we grew Mile Zero and that’s kind of where we’re at today.  


JOEY: Awesome.  Well, congrats.


MIKE: Thank you.


JOEY: That’s pretty neat to be able to go from these bigger programs and I feel we’ve actually stacked a few things.  We never worked together at Red Frog but we did a bunch with the Firefly Music Festival.


MIKE: Yep; yeah, absolutely, and even knowing Natalie on the marketing side.  A lot of folks that we’ve come across – our paths have crossed, definitely, and now they’re obviously crossing on another level, which is pretty cool, too, from a sponsorship prospective.


JOEY: Yeah, absolutely.  So, it looks like you guys work with festivals all across the country.  How many festivals and events are you guys working with?


MIKE: I mean it kind of ranges.  I’d say at our peak right now we’re probably at 15 properties, across the country.  We really started in core music festivals. That’s kind of where we started the business and helping the standard music festival where – 2-3 day music festival with a camping element and kind of started to kind of spin off to these ‘Taste of’ festivals and other areas that we found that really need help, that have a huge [0:03:48.9] or a huge attendance, like the Taste of Colorado, for example.  We’ve got 500,000 people and there’s a huge opportunity from a sponsorship prospective there and I think we’re starting to identify some underserved industries where the potential for sponsorship is really great but no one’s really identified it and I think that’s kind the route we’re taking as a company, is identifying those events or festivals that we really can make a splash in, from a sponsorship perspective.


JOEY: Awesome.  Just with your experience, you’ve been in it for quite a while and you’ve seen different brands, wanting to activate different things – What are you seeing right now with brands and what their kind of goals – Have things changed over the years of what they’re looking for and what they’re wanting?  I’d love to get your thoughts on that.


MIKE: Yeah, absolutely.  I think, back in the day, it used to be as easy as just a sign up on a billboard or a banner at an event or a festival, and now it’s certainly changing.  People want to be engaged. They want something that they’re excited about. They come to the festival and there’s music, there’s food, there’s other activities that go on and a sponsorship is just their layer on top of that event and I think brands are realizing, “Wow, we’ve got to do something more creative to engage these folks and to really bring them to our space,” as opposed to just throwing up a sign on the main stage or a logo on the main stage.  


These brands are investing a lot of money in these really cool experiential activations that have a sampling component and then it’s a drive to retail.  We just worked with a brand called Kevita Kombucha. It had a two story activation where you can go and you could sample a flight of kombucha – three different flavors – and then go up and watch music from their second platform, on top of the activation.  So, things like that. I think people are really resonating with the millennials and the groups that are really coming to these festivals and those brands, I think, are realizing that it needs to be more engaging, from an experience standpoint.


JOEY: Right.  Well, and especially this day and age, just with technology out there, how do you get in front of millennials?  I think millennials – I don’t know if you see it but millennials have been a huge target for brands. How do you get in front of them?  They kind of have the biggest bucket of opportunity, so that’s why a lot of brands are looking to target those. I know brands like Verizon has literally changed their logo –


MIKE: Yep.


JOEY: – and their whole focus on millennials, but for sponsorship, I guess do you guys see the bigger activations or a bigger type of presence they’re wanting, compared to a 10X10 booth at these festivals?


MIKE: Yeah, absolutely.  I think those are the most success for the brands that are investing some dollars on the activation piece of things, and not just popping up a 10×10.  Those are obviously successful for certain brands, but brands that are willing to invest a little bit of money to bring something that’s really cool and unique to the festival, and then on top of that, not only activate onsite, but from start to finish and telling that full story because there’s still – Ideally you want to capture somebody that’s pre-festival, during the ticketing process, onsite post festival, and keep those people’s engagement and attention throughout the course of the span of the sponsorship and I think brands that do that do it well, from a social perspective, from a marketing perspective, and really build a whole campaign around what they’re actually doing on-site and doing a really good sponsorship from that perspective, I think, is really important.


JOEY: Right, absolutely.  Very cool. What’s some big events are you guys working on right now?


MIKE: So we just wrapped, obviously, the Taste of Colorado this past Labor Day weekend, we’re starting to, obviously, gear up now for 2019, which is crazy that we’re not even in October yet, but we’re certainly in our sales cycle for that festival.  We’ve got a few festivals in Vegas, in the craft beer side, that we’ll be activating here in the next couple months. And then again, just rolling over some new clients that we’re in the process of talking to, we’re excited to roll out some new properties and some new clients that we’ll be on boarding here in the next couple months and I think from our prospective we’re obviously hitting the ground running from a sponsorship prospective, but now is a time where events and festivals are starting to reach out to companies like us and say, “Hey, look, we know this is the time we should be really hitting sponsors.  Let’s have a conversation to really start that process.”


So, that’s kind of been our focus, from year to year.  We obviously start or current sale cycle with the clients we have and now we’re starting to talk to new potential clients, starting to onboard those folks as the coming months progress here.


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Perfect.  So, I guess that’s great topic that you brought up is right now, usually – Right now is almost – I wouldn’t say behind the ball for next year but a lot of brands are looking for next year, 2019.


MIKE: Yep.


JOEY: You can’t just throw this together.  You might have a spot or whatnot but experiential marketing, anything physical takes a lot of time and effort to put together, but I guess, do you have any tips for these brands looking for festivals to be at that you’ve kind of seen that might be beneficial for them?


MIKE: From a brand prospective?


JOEY: Yeah, from a brand prospective.


MIKE: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of – I think it probably has to come from a couple different angles:  Who you’re really to target from a demographic perspective and then boil it down from, “Are we looking to target people at music festivals, are we looking at craft and food festivals, are we looking at 5k sporting events?”  


It kind of just depends on what their goals are, from a marketing perspective.  And I think when a brand starts to realize, “Okay, this is the budget we have, this is who we’re trying to target, and this what our activation looks like.  Now, let’s go out and find those events,” and that’s – Really, where our core focus is obviously client driven and supporting the events and festivals we work with but, ultimately, we want to be a resource for those brands and those agencies that are looking for properties, like the ones we represent and educate those folks too and say, “Look, we’ve got a slew of different things going on that might fit what you’re trying to do.  Let’s have that conversation because we want to be a resource for your brand or the agency looking for these types of events and festivals,” and I think we’ve had some good success with that, saying, “Hey, look, we’ve got the food festival, we’ve got some music festivals, we’ve some food festivals, tell us what you’re looking to do and we’ll make some really concise decisions on where we think you guys should be from a brand prospective and your overall goals from a marketing perspective.”


JOEY: Right.  No, very cool.  And I know that – So, you guys do a little bit more than just the sponsorship.  You guys work with the event management. You guys are pretty much event management for like – Let’s just talk about Taste of Colorado, for instance.  You guys kind of put the whole show on?


MIKE: Yeah, so we don’t just sell in a sponsorship and say, “Here you go guys.  Activate it,” we’re truly soup to nuts, from start to finish. We’ll sell in a sponsorship and then we’ll obviously activate it onsite.  And then another part of our business, too, is event operations and that’s ultimately, from our prospective, we want to start getting into our own events and start producing our own festivals and really working with brands to say, “Look, we know what kind of brands are looking for, from an event prospective, let’s start build some things around that and really make an experience that really ties into what some of these brands are looking for, from an event prospective.”  


But yeah, obviously, from my time at Red Frog and what we’ve done at these other events, we’re not afraid to get on a forklift and set up tents and tables and chairs.  I think it also is helpful to have that event experience than coming onsite and realizing this is what takes to help get a sponsor setup or this is a really high traffic spot, from an event prospective; this is where we should be putting this brand or this activation based on the flow of the festival or where we really think this is going to be a success for the brand.  So, I think having that understanding from the event perspective is also helpful when obviously selling in these event partnerships, as well.


JOEY: Yeah.  No, absolutely.  That experience is definitely key.  This is kind of a random question but – Like I said, you’ve done this quite a while.  What’s the coolest activation you’ve seen? It doesn’t have to be the one that you’ve done?  Kind of a broad question.


MIKE: Man, that’s a tough one.


JOEY: I know it’s tough.


MIKE: That’s such a loaded question.  No, we’ve obviously worked with a lot of cool brands, a lot of cool activations – I think one of the most fun ones I think that I had that opportunity to work on was with Garnier Fructis at Firefly, a handful of years ago.  They set up this really cool activation where you could go take a shower in the campgrounds and then you’d come and they’d style your hair, they’d have all the sorts of products, and it was basically like this beauty bar. But it was this 40×40 foot tent where when you’re at a festival for three or four days and you’re sweating and you’re not really showering because you’re camping for three days in 95 degree weather, it’s pretty cool to be able to say, “Hey, look at Garnier.  They got all this free product, they’re going to help me do my hair up for the rest of the festival and kind of refresh you for the next couple days.”


So, I think not only from an attendee prospective, the experience is great, but from a brand prospective, I think that was a really good sponsorship because you’re not just putting a logo on a t-shirt or handing out a bandana, you’re really engaging the consumer, the participant at the festival.  You’re offering something that’s really beneficial and really, ultimately, I still use Garnier Fructis, no joke, at our home, just from that partnership. We had so much free product and now that’s all my wife buys.


So, I think that’s just kind of a good example of a really good start to finish partnership where they had a great activation, a great engagement from a consumer standpoint and I think that really this can allow people at Firefly or across the board, now I use Garnier Fructis because I had such a good experience with that brand on-site.


JOEY: Yeah, very cool.  Regarding experiential marketing, I’ve seen a lot of – Even just the last year or two, I’ve seen a lot more companies taking their ad spend from to digital and taking it to a physical level.  Have you seen a jump here the last couple of years of more people wanting to be able to be at these events and be at their target market?


MIKE: Yeah, absolutely.  And I think – And maybe I’m wrong but I think a lot of the reason is just we’re so – We don’t have enough time in a day and our attention is all over the place with emails and Instagram and Facebook and social media and I think actually engaging someone onsite – They’re there for a reason, right?  They either want to see music or they’ve paid a fee to get into a festival and I think brands are realizing, “Wow, this is a really captive audience.


If we could do something that ties into the festival in a really organic way, let’s talk to these people on the ground and give them something or call to action then drive back to – like I said – retail or social media then, on the backend.  I think people get to site or at an event and they’re all over the place: they want to see everything and engage with people, and from a sponsorship prospective, I think that’s been really beneficial for a lot of brands is to maybe get a product in somebody’s hands or a coupon or just engage them and educate them and educate them about a new product or maybe something that they’re pushing for the following year or that current year, even.  


So, yeah, that’s certainly our core business, really, is setting up these activations and allowing folks to come onsite and set up these cool experiences and then obviously on the backend, tying it into other assets with digital and social and marketing and that sort of thing.  But, the onsite piece, I think, has been super important for a lot of these brands in the last – I’d say – four to five years.


JOEY: Yeah.  No, absolutely, and I think it’s just going to continue because it’s just – The digital side is just going to continue to be almost too much for you.


MIKE: Right.


JOEY: Being able to just get that captive audience, like you mentioned, just have a spark in their mind, “Man, I’m going to remember this forever,” but then have a brand attached to it that’s meaningful and kind of focus on them, I think that’s huge.


MIKE: Absolutely.  


JOEY: Regarding Taste of Colorado, there’s a lot of vendors too, right?  I got a chance to walk around there. It’s an interesting type of activation just because there’s some – I don’t know, it’s different type of just mom and pop shops that kind of jump in.  


I think their goal more is just for daily revenue, I assume, right, compared to a brand like Boss Coffee, that we did.  They want to push – Boss Coffee, we wanted to do two things: we wanted to get people to try a new product that no one’s tried before and then also a social media aspect, whether post it or like their page.  


I guess with – just with the vendors, I guess what we do is not cheap, right?  Even being a sponsor isn’t cheap but it can really differentiate where you’re going and figure out exactly where your target is.  So, I guess, I don’t know; do you have any thoughts on that, on how are these mom and pop shops are doing, compared to a bigger brand?


MIKE: Yeah and absolutely, I think there’s maybe that misconception too of what a vendor and what a sponsor are.


JOEY: Right.


MIKE: I think people say, “Well, we want to be a vendor,” but I think those two names are kind of interchangeable when I think they’re a little different when you kind of look at it from what your point was.  I kind of call those mom and pop shops or the folks that want to sell their trinkets or maybe beef jerky or whatever they’re doing from something crafty or what have you, those vendors have a place in the marketplace at the Taste of Colorado and I think they’re a little bit different than a Boss Coffee or a sponsor that’s setting up a large activation or sampling a product.  


I think there’s two differentiations where a mom and pop might just be paying a couple hundred bucks to set up a 10×10 and showcase whatever they’re offering is and make a profit on that at the Taste of Colorado or a Boss Coffee or a Kevita or a Frito Lay, where they’re pushing something from a marketing perspective, where it’s a little bit larger, where we’ve got this new product that we’re really launching and we’ve got a whole marketing campaign around it and brands like Boss or Kevita have identified Denver as a market and said, “Okay, now we want to be at the Taste of Colorado,” these are the folks we want to talk to because ultimately we’re looking to enter this market in a big way and now we’re able to talk to all these folks onsite, we’re allowing them to try the product, and now, hey, all of a sudden you’re going to go to King Soopers or a store and it’s going to be all over the shelves, and hopefully those folks now try that.  


So, I think there’s a little bit of a differentiator between what a true vendor is and what a sponsor is.  There’s obviously some gray lines and everyone’s kind of looking to get the word out about their brand or their name or their product, but ultimately, I think from a sponsorship perspective it’s a little bit of a deeper level where they’re really activating around this entire activation, it’s not just, “All right, we’re going to set up a tent and let’s sample some product.”  We’re going to try, like you said, to get some – drive traffic to Facebook or increase our presence on social or we’ve got a new product that we’re offering. So, I think there’s a little bit of differentiator there, between those two.


JOEY: Well, awesome.  Well, Mike, it was awesome having you on and it was a real pleasure working with you.  You guys put on a great event and I hope we can do some more and hopefully have you on another podcast and meet you in Chicago, hopefully soon.


MIKE: Yeah, absolutely, Joey.  I appreciate the time, man.  It’s great to connect. I’m excited as our first podcast and it was with you and Talk Experiential, so we’re excited that you had us on.  And, absolutely, we’re excited to keep chatting and hopefully we can do this again sometime.


JOEY: Awesome.  Thanks so much, man.


MIKE: Cool.  All right, Joe, we’ll talk soon.


JOEY: Take care.


MIKE: All right, bye.

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Episode #24 How to Drive Innovations in Trends

Our talk with Taylor Justin of Coca-Cola brings us to discuss how to drive innovations in trends. The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #24 Using Trends and Insights to Build Actionable Data-Driven Results is followed below.

#24 How to Drive Innovations in Trends

Taylor Justin on episode #24 of Talk Experiential.


JOEY: Welcome back to another podcast with Talk Experiential.  I am Joey Kercher, your host. We have Taylor Justin from Chicago, Illinois.  She is the market development manager for Coca-Cola in downtown Chicago. Thanks for joining.


TAYLOR: Thank you for having me, Joey.


JOEY: Yeah.  We’ve been talking for a little bit so I’m pretty excited to get you on here.  How’s the weather out there? Is it starting to get chilly in Chicagoland?


TAYLOR: It is but, it’s like – I don’t know; I personally enjoy this type of weather.  I’m an Ohio girl so I’m used to the cold. I will say that there’s a difference between Chicago’s cold and the rest of everywhere else that gets cold weather, but you know, it’s not too bad.  We’ve had some – We’re going to have some peak spike days so, for the most part, I’m enjoying it.


JOEY: Right?  Well, good.  Well, good, it’s always a fun place to visit.




JOEY: Well, cool.  Why don’t you tell us a little about your background and we can kind of dive into some of the work you’re doing with Coke.


TAYLOR: Yeah, so as you mentioned in my intro, I am market development manager with Coca-Cola, in the downtown region of Chicago.  Primarily, I manage and go some of the most affluent accounts in the city. Northwestern Hospital is one of my biggest accounts: a very reputable and well known hospital in this state, as well as The Rehabilitation Center, which is a part of the Northwestern campus, also very well known in the healthcare sector.  I manage a host of business professional accounts that have their food service in well known facilities such as the Aon Building, Prudential, as well as NBC Tower.


And then finally, I retain the business, also, for a host of what we deem quick service and full service restaurants in the downtown area, so the RPMs of the world, really well known restaurant groups like Let Us Entertain You, and a host of other really fantastic restaurants in the area that I’ve been able to build really long term partnerships with, since managing this part of the city.


JOEY: Gotcha; very cool.  So, it sounds like you work with – We were talking a little bit earlier before regarding kind of an on-premise focus for Coke – and I assume it’s multiple brands for Coca Cola?


TAYLOR: Definitely.  So, it’s always interesting to have the conversation about what falls under the Coke umbrella, because people still think that we still classic Coke.


JOEY: Right [0:02:41.3].


TAYLOR: That’s it; nothing else that I’m pushing out here.  But, no, there’s a host of brands that people know and love and might be surprised about that falls under the Coke umbrella.  


So, some of my favorites are Smartwater -that’s under the coke family – the Minute Maid line of juices is under Coca-Cola, Honest Tea is a Coca-Cola Brand – I remember I met a guy who seems like he was very anti-corporation and when I told him that we have Honest Tea under our portfolio and he – it seemed like everything just left his body.  He was just so unhappy. And I’m like, “You know, it’s kind of one of those things.”


But, what’s great about these brands and the business that Coke has is that they’re a beverage company and that’s all that they do, and so they beauty of the brands is that they don’t fall into one another, like most people don’t realize that all of these different brands – many of them being their favorites – fall into the Coke umbrella because they act separately.  


Internally, we have different ways of looking at it but even we have different teams that operate some of our well known brands differently because they target different consumers and because of that, they’re all not going to be treated the same.  So, that’s what’s pretty cool about having all those brands that I’m able to sell, is that even though they’re all under one family – I get to sell them all – that they still manage to reach people differently as well.


JOEY: Right, gotcha; very cool.  Well, and I know that, yeah, these big companies: Coke, Pepsi – it’s a lot of different brands under one and they’re almost m&a shops, when you really look at it, from a big picture.  So, you focus on certain hospitals and hotels and things like that?




JOEY: Awesome.  And, from that side, you were talking about immediate consumption type of product.  This is obviously a form of marketing and obviously a channel – We were talking about this earlier: this is a channel that Coke sees very valuable to continue through at these locations.  Let’s talk a little bit about what your goals and strategies are, offering Coke product, whether it’s through merchandizing or through activations.


TAYLOR: Yeah.  So, with these accounts, one of the things that I really try to focus on is who’s consuming these beverages?  So, immediate consumption is essentially like a single serving of something. So, when you think about your fountain machines or if you go to your favorite restaurant, you’re most likely just getting one or perhaps two of a single beverage.  So, it’s just for you to have right at that moment and probably not going to share, versus if you – Our other channels being large and small store, which are mostly related to convenience and grocery stores.


So, with this immediate consumption channel, what I strategically like to do within my accounts is to really figure out what the market is moving towards and the trend, especially on the beverage side is all about innovation.  The market is very competitive for beverages. Companies like Coca-Cola as well as the competition were major players in the game, but there’s a lot of smaller brands that are coming in and finding and seizing opportunity as well.  


I think with this channel in particular and just with big brands in general, people are starting to not necessarily get tired but they do want a little bit more excitement and a lot of that comes from some of these smaller brands who thought about the market that wasn’t being tapped into, whether that be through the way they market the products, how the bottle looks – the packaging and things like that – and they’re able to capture that audience.  So, for me, it’s really about trying to make sure that our brands can hold their own against that and figure out how to keep our space within these accounts, and again, continue to grow the brand.


Probably the best example of what I just kind of laid out is this whole sparkling water war that I feel like everyone is doing right now.  Under the Coke family, we have Smartwater and Smartwater has a sparkling but we also have Dasani. Dasani has a line of sparking waters that recently came into the market, maybe this time last year or it’s been about two years.  I feel like that was a product that was very late to the market, especially for such a big company like Coke, and even the competition because Le Croix had been in the market for some time and completely swept the competition and a big name like Coca- Cola, one of the things that I have to really strategically do is leverage that name of Coca-Cola, leverage the name of Dasani to try to push that product in against a brand like La Croix, who’s really been holding it down in the sparkling water category for so long.  So, it’s really for me figuring out how to drive the innovation and being proactive and determining what the trend is.


So, there’s a couple that are out there – it’s so competitive out there – but you know, a big name, a heritage name, does carry its weight but sometimes if something’s been around as well and people get used to a certain taste, even if it’s a heritage brand, sometimes it can be a little bit harder to push that in.


JOEY: Right, got it.  So, through this channel, this immediate consumption channel – you’re mentioning a little bit about driving innovation – what kind of things are you doing, I guess on a merchandising level?  Is it product placement? Is it being able to educate consumers? Because obviously, this day and age, consumers are smarter and they understand what they want, they know what’s in it – What are some of the ideas or ways that you are kind of pushing that innovation to get them to do that immediate consumption?


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TAYLOR: Definitely.  So, Joey, what I like to do, especially if it’s a really good partner that’s just kind of willing to bring in any and everything, is to see how I can leverage the brand in a way for their shoppers or their consumers to get a taste of it.  So, we will do or I’ll host sampling events during peak consumption hours, which mostly is lunch for a lot of these places.


So, generally it’ll be maybe an hour and a half to two hour sampling, just showcasing off the new products, and again, really focusing on the beverage category that’s really important for our business and then being proactive.  For example, it might be something like energy, and so we’ll have a two hour showcase of our Monster Energy line and really focus on, depending on the account – for example, if it’s the hospital, then focusing on the zero sugar zero carb line of the product so that we’re kind of addressing a two in one there.  We’re showing that, “Hey, this is an energy product. It’s going to provide this alertness, these type of vitamins, but also showcasing that we understand that this is a healthcare facility. So, this won’t have as much sugar as what you might assume has an energy beverage or it won’t have as much carbs in it.”  So, really focusing on the channel and making sure that I host events that are going to make sense for that audience.


So, that’s a part of it and then, secondly, like you said, merchandising, so, getting the product, especially if it’s new, right in the customer’s face.  And so, one of the biggest products that I do this with is with Smartwater or just our water category, in general, because I think out of any craving that a person might have, water is a necessity, especially a water that they really like.  So, it’s a matter of having this water right in their face, so placing it strategically at eye level – One of the things that we do with Smartwater a lot, too, is to make sure that it’s ambient because there is a trend with having room temperature water versus a water that’s been chilled.  Some people’s bodies are sensitive, I think there’s some studies that are related to that, and so we try to have as much ambient water on the floor as well, and place it by stations – if we are in one of our food service accounts – placing it strategically by stations so that people can have the idea of paring it with a meal or that they grab it upon the consumption of grabbing their food.


So, we always want to make sure that when we’re marketing the products, that we have it go with food.  That’s always been a big initiative for Coke, just speaking to the brand itself, I’m not sure how it is with other brands but we’ve always been a brand to pair with food.  You can see it one of the recent commercials that I see a lot is people are enjoying Coke or Coke Zero, Diet Coke, or something like that with different types of cultural foods.  So, whether it’s with barbeque, whether it’s with tacos, whether it’s with soul food, we always pair our beverages with food.


So, again, relaying that same message into a retail space by pairing the products by food stations and ambient places so it immediately catches the person’s eye so that they’re like, “Wow, I’m grabbing this cheeseburger; of course I’ve got to have a classic Coke to go with it.”


JOEY: Right.


TAYLOR: And then, lastly, having it as an impulse purchase as well and placing it in stations next to gum, chips, kind of grab and go areas like that.  So, again, kind of focusing back on entry points, by food stations and then of course by the check out.


JOEY: Yeah, very cool.  No, that’s interesting.  It’s so crazy how water has just – It’s just water, right?


TAYLOR: Right.


JOEY: But there’s so many ideas around it.  I just started drinking sparkling water probably two years ago and I started out with a different brand: La Croix, started out.  Now, I actually have two on my desk. Really, at the moment it’s – I like this –


TAYLOR: Oh, Perrier?


JOEY: Yeah, I have this Perrier and then I have this spring water.




JOEY: But when you think about it though, it’s like – Well, for me, instead of having some type of sugar, I want to have something that I still get the same effects of drinking a soda –


TAYLOR: Definitely.  Definitely. It’s the carbonation.


JOEY: Yeah.


TAYLOR: It’s the carbonation.


JOEY: Yeah.


TAYLOR: Because I have the same craving.  I really want something – I’m not a sweets person and I’ve never been a heavy pop drinker.  My go-to, if I’m going to have a pop is Sprite because it’s very light, but if I’m just craving and I’m like, “Man, I really want something,” I will go for a sparkling water and get a flavored one and it’s weird how – I think it’s more of a psychological thing –


JOEY: Yeah.


TAYLOR: – but it’s just really good.  The satisfaction is there.


JOEY: Yeah.  Well, you know, it’s interesting.  People don’t realize marketing – There’s so many different avenues with marketing.  I mean, just marketing water, like what we were talking about, it’s marketing to the right consumer and everyone’s different and people get – drinking a certain water gets a certain emotion that they get attached to it and especially with Coca-Cola, it’s definitely one of the biggest soda companies in the world.  I wouldn’t say, sorry, soda – Would you consider drink – Drink companies in the world.


So, I guess, let me veer for a second.  I know that you work at hospitals and hotels and different locations.  Do you have to change your approach, depending on what type of on-premise it is?


TAYLOR: Definitely because the product can be used in different ways, so immediate consumption at a fine dining restaurant in downtown Chicago is going to definitely be different than me selling it into the hospital.  SO, the approach, generally, with that is aesthetic and it’s generally less of a product – less product options. So, kind of touching on aesthetics – and this relates to hotels as well – Hotels are very competitive when it comes to food and beverage and I think mostly it’s because of how the hotels are changing, in terms of their operation.  


So, I manage – I don’t know, I might have 15 hotels that fall under my management alone and all of them are different, in terms of their operations.  Some may not have in-room dining or a mini-bar, some do. Some have gift shops, some don’t; some have restaurants and lobbies where you can hang out in all day and have grab and go sections and then some just have cute rooftop bars that people go to after 5 o’clock.  And so the whole approach is different and what it comes down to, especially within those channels and the restaurant channels is that it’s an aesthetic thing.


So, they want to know, “Is this going to look cute on a table when someone is having a big banquet wedding or some type of awards ceremony?  Is this going to make a lot of noise?” So, I think what’s interesting with the Coke company and the products that they have is that they kind of consider those things.  So, there’s a certain package that we have that are in the classic glass Coke bottle, which are very nostalgic, they’re smaller in portion size as well, and so that business or that product in general for the business does very well and most of it is sold at, again, the fine dining restaurants and the hotels and the lodging accounts because aesthetically it’s more pleasing and it’s smaller.  So, probably on the operational end for them, it might be a little bit more profitable as well. But, just from, if you can imagine a waiter or a waitress coming over and them setting that on a the table at a five start Michelin rated restaurant, that’s much more appropriate than them setting down a 20 ounce plastic bottle.


JOEY: Right.  Right.


TAYLOR: So, that has a lot to do with it, as well, but packaging plays a huge part in that conversation too, because with the water category – we talked about it earlier – my water does very well in my hospitals and my business professional offices because you think about the grabbing, the going, it’s in plastic, they can drop it, it’s not going to burst or anything, but in my hotels or my restaurants, it’s harder to get a plastic bottle on a white linen table because it doesn’t look as chic.  But, for them to sit a glass bottle on the table that maybe the competition is able to provide, that looks a lot nicer. So, I feel like that’s the biggest hurdle and the biggest challenge between those differentiated accounts, from my experience, it really comes down to the aesthetics of the packaging and the presentation: how you’re going to be able to offer that to the in consumer, is what it mostly comes down to.


JOEY: Right, right.  No, that makes complete sense, regarding the packaging.  And, really, if you think about it, the brand is the packaging; it’s not really what’s in the product because water is water.  I mean there’s obviously different tastes and things like that, different things you can do it, but it is amazing – There is a marketing strategy for it.


TAYLOR: Yeah, definitely.  Definitely. Because I can’t  – It wouldn’t make any sense for me and vice versa, it wouldn’t make any sense for me to sell 8 ounce glass bottles to customers at a hospital.  That’s not their consumer and that’s not the package that they would want. Not even 12 ounce. They’re the perfect customers for 20 ounce just because you think about the time spent at a hospital, so they’re probably consuming beverages a lot quicker than the average person because they are sitting in a place all day, the beverages are probably a little bit more – or excuse me, we call it sparkling – more sparkling versus still, which would be like water and juices and stuff because they’re just more attentive in the space and they’re trying to stay alert, maybe within the ER or for whatever type of activity has brought them there.  


So, the consumption is different amongst all those channels and so adjusting to it, when I first started, was very interesting because I’m like, “You know this brand.  I’m sure you buy this brand for your home. I know that you drink Dasani plastic bottles at home or barbeque, bring them into your restaurant,” and it’s like, “No.” After learning and really getting to know the customer and understanding their in consumer, it’s like at the end of the day, that doesn’t match with their aesthetic over all, so they wouldn’t be obliged to bring it in because they’re in, “I can’t really move it.  It wouldn’t look right being here,” no matter how much it costs, in their favor or not.


JOEY: Right, absolutely.  No, this is exciting.  This is great stuff. It’s interesting just how marketing there’s so many different channels and different ways to get to your consumer and how you can do things.  So, I really appreciate you jumping on here and hopefully we can do a follow up at some point down the road.


TAYLOR: Yeah, I would love that.  That would be awesome.


JOEY: Yeah, and hopefully we can meet up at some point, too.  I’ll hopefully be in Chicago at some point.


TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah, that would be dope.


JOEY: Awesome.  Well, thanks so much for joining the podcast.


TAYLOR: Thank you, Joey, I appreciate it.

JOEY: No problem.  If you like what we’re doing with Talk Experiential podcast, please make sure you five star it and review it.  Also, please share it on Facebook and Twitter or any other social media outlets. Please, tell your friends who you think that will get value out of our podcasts.  Your support will help continue the success of Talk Experiential.

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