EMS 2018 Recap and One Troubling Perception

Kitty Hart

22 May 2018

I am a Minnesotan through and through. And, once Spring rolls around in this fine state, I really like to shed my long undies and enjoy all that the 70 degree weather has to offer…before the mosquitos drive us back indoors. However, I was very happy to take a quick trip to San Francisco last week for Experiential Marketing Summit 2018. After all, a trip to sunny California is always a good thing. Now, couple that with a gathering of over 1,500 marketers including some of the world’s biggest brand leaders and you’ve got the highlight of my month. Yep, it was pretty spectacular.

eventmarketer created EMS to provide continuing education and inspiration for experiential marketing professionals. As always, the speaking faculty represented the world’s leading brands including Samsung, Under Armour, Citi, Clif Bar, PepsiCo, Airbnb, Porsche, Delta, and more. Oh, and Uber and Lyft even shared their experiences in neighboring rooms on the same day. A little friendly competition under one roof never hurt anyone. Pretty cool to hear from two very different brands executing hugely successful experiences in radically different ways.

The packed agenda over three days was really a lot to take in. Perhaps too much, actually. I was torn between which sessions to attend and at times felt my anxiety rise as I heard applause coming from other rooms. Darn you, FOMO. The struggle is real.

Well, fortunately, I could follow the #EMSLive Twitter feed for highlights along with some great recaps from fellow attendees. This was further demonstration that the week in San Fran was shared with an amazing network of peers, all focused on furthering the discipline of experiential marketing.

So, as I sat down to draft a recap of the week I decided to take a little different approach. Below you will find links to the uber-comprehensive, although nice and brief, recaps directly from eventmarketer. Again, since I was only able to physically take in 1/3 of the content, you’ll get greater learnings from the source itself. Hope you enjoy these quick reads.

EMS 2018 What You Missed on Day One

EMS 2018 What You Missed on Day Two

EMS 2018 What You Missed on Day Three

In addition to the provided recaps, I will touch on one common thread I heard consistently throughout the presentations. While the week in general was great, I did find this one takeaway a bit troubling.

In short, several brands spoke of the ever-present, ever-limiting marketing budget. Oh boy, do we know this story, right? Grand ideas. Free form brainstorming that results in “out of the box” thinking. Extraordinary experiences using the latest technology. If you can dream it, we can do it. Yada yada yada. Champagne taste on a beer budget. Well, yah. This is pretty much a given, isn’t it? Who has unlimited budgets? This is real life business in the 21st century.

Here’s the troubling part. The complete statement on this topic from a variety of speakers was, “We had a limited budget that made it impossible for us to work with an agency. So, we needed to be really creative.”

Hmm. Fundamentally, I get it. Corporations pull projects inside whenever there are spending freezes or limited budgets. Why spend outside when you’ve got the bandwidth inside? Fine, in theory.

But let’s break this down.

You’ve got a situation. A looming deadline. You hunker down, pull in your teammates, assess the schedule, and start creating. No doubt, you push off with some great momentum. But then reality hits. You’ve got deadlines on other projects. The perceived internal bandwidth really doesn’t exist. Creative juices begin to dry up and this project that requires the utmost attention is now in danger of falling flat.

Agency to the rescue.

This is your opportunity to turn the “limited budget” situation upside down. Contrary to popular belief, this is the BEST time to engage with your agency partner. We’re not a luxury. We’re a necessary competitive advantage. Here are three simple reasons why:

An agency partner knows how to get things done, fast. If anyone understands deadlines, it’s us. The team can scale depending on schedule and no matter what’s going on within your internal process, the show goes on inside the agency walls.

Fresh perspective
Your agency partner offers a fresh perspective and clear lens. They don’t harbor your biases nor do they wear the scars from past crash and burns. Just because deadlines and budgets aren’t flush, doesn’t mean you can’t take a fresh look at the world. In fact, this is the best time to go where no (wo)man has gone before. Trust and rely on your agency to always offer a new way to approach the world. If they aren’t offering new ideas, get a new partner.

You know your business. Your agency partner knows experiential marketing and has gained experience across a multitude of industries. If you need a root canal, where do you go? Not yo momma! You go to the dentist; someone highly educated and experienced in the important procedure you require. When you need to make the most of your budget, go to the people who know how to create and execute against all odds. It will be done right the first time.

Next time someone says your budget doesn’t allow an agency partner, call us. Let’s talk. I know I can speak for the entire team here at Star. After 25 years, we’ve seen it all and know how to make the most of our client’s budgets. We work with you, shoulder to shoulder. Not a luxury. Not even a nice-to-have. We are your secret weapon and a necessity for success.

Next year, EMS will be back in Las Vegas. My hope is that we hear more great stories about brand/agency collaboration. I know we’ve got some amazing activations and events on the horizon. We look forward to sharing these stories with you throughout the year.

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Stay tuned to Star.

Kitty Hart


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