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Each week, we ask agency experts for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

Consumers have been getting back in recent months. That must mean there’s potential audiences for marketers willing to spend on IRL experiences and activations. So, how are they persuading your brand roster this is a viable option again?

Are clients still reticent, or are they champing at the bit to get back out there? Have experience-based marketing activations seen much of the ad spend deluge reported in 2021? And how can agencies talk them through the contingencies and concerns involved?

How do you solve a problem like... convincing clients to spend on experiences again?

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Fran Derry, managing partner, experiential and PR, Iris

Our clients are as keen to get back to real experiences as anyone. Interacting with customers IRL really can’t be replicated digitally. We started planning our Barclaycard festival activations for Latitude and Isle of Wight many months back, and before it was 100% clear they would go ahead, which really proved Barclaycard’s commitment to getting back to live experiences.

Speaking to other clients about hybrid events with some sort of streaming element or parallel digital content has not only boosted the campaign we’ve been working on, but has also given them confidence around making the leap.

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Gustavo Fernandez, vice-president, production and operations, Republica Havas

Fortunately, we work with brands that have heart and soul. The safety of their consumers is the priority. As such, viruses and variants are villains.

However, we all want to get out there. Brands. Consumers. We all do. To connect. To experience. It’s a must. We are almost there.

As long as safety is at the forefront of our thinking, it’s not difficult to get our clients excited about getting out there and connecting with their audience, and they trust us to guide them through it. See you soon.

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David Wisely, vice-president of experiential, Innocean USA

Our clients recognize the need to get their products back in front of people through live experiences. These engagements are paramount to driving meaningful consideration. That said, the uncertainty of conditions has led them to take a cautious approach to returning to the market.

Our process has been to reassure them that contingency planning is in place, and that safety comes first. Giving them that sense of security frees them up to make smart, strategic decisions and allows them to re-engage in the marketplace at a lower risk threshold. 

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Lisa Welborn, strategy director, media design and platform partnerships, Eleven

I can’t say that I am persuading clients to spend on IRL activations at the moment. We’re still very much facing a pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that brands should stop creating experiences for their customers. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They should focus on creative, innovative pandemic-friendly experiences, with fun spins on getting back to life. Right now we are living through the most critical, cultural moment of our lifetime. If you continue to cultivate relationships, you will see positive long-term loyalty.

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MJ Every, account director, Hell Yeah!

Events and experiential are typically executed more in London/major cities, and footfall, particularly from tourists, is still down. If you’re trying to reach that market it can feel cheaper and less risky to do it with other routes.

However, this quieter time has opened up opportunities for smaller brands to try out experiences and experiential, as prices are lower. We are seeing scale-up brands invest in pop-ups and similar. The opportunities for brand building and trial from experiential are still great, and confidence will return for the brands, along with everyone else.

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Christophe Castagnera, head of strategy for UK/Europe and Middle East, Imagination

We have created physical experiences for a range of clients since things opened up. The data so far indicates higher engagement, dwell time and brand favorability versus pre-Covid. 

Customers are embracing sensory moments and hands-on experience more than ever. So our advice to clients is to invest now in the right type of experience to meet your KPIs while learning how to adapt to the new landscape – the rewards are clearly there.

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Ben Gardiner, creative solutions director, Talon Outdoor

The interactivity of experiential advertising is a welcome tonic after 18 months of sitting indoors. In OOH we’re seeing clients invest in real-life experiences and activations like never before as ad spend on the channel is forecast to grow by +43.7%. This return in spending means we can now go bigger and better than before, with increased data insights making OOH even more targeted.

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Matt Kiernan, business director, Engine Creative

With the return to packed stadiums and a semblance of normality for live sport, this sector can be driving the continued recovery for brand experiences (BX). Sports marketing and BX go hand in hand because of their combined power to create authentic, personal and lasting connections through consumers’ passions.

Going beyond badging, brands know they need to ‘show up’ and add value, and after the last eighteen months sports fans won’t be taking the live experience for granted. In fact, fans will be more receptive than ever to activity that makes their days out even better, and reinvesting in BX will be a no-brainer for clients looking to capitalize on this.

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Jonathan Ong, creative director, Barbarian

A global client recently tasked Barbarian with creating an interactive digital experience for an upcoming trade show tour. As the world slowly opens up to IRL experiences, we encourage our clients to consider gesture interactions versus touch to reduce Covid concerns. We’re also contingency planning for possible event cancellations and maximizing budgets by adding versatility, building the execution to live digitally beyond the trade show floor.

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Dan Minty, strategy partner, Amplify

As with all good relationships, it’s about openness and honesty – helping clients understand a balanced picture of opportunity, appetite and potential challenges in returning to ‘live’. We’ve seen a fantastic appetite from brands to create live experiences again, but what’s been equally positive is that we’re not simply returning to the status quo. Lessons learnt through the pandemic, in terms of breaking traditional formats and creatively challenging what experiences can be, both for IRL and remote audiences, now inspire how we collectively more forward.

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David McLean, general manager, Bridge Studio

As the effects of the pandemic fade, we need to understand the changes in consumer behavior that have taken place – such as the dramatic pivot to digital – and react accordingly, offering clients the best solution to boost reach and engagement.

Hybrid solutions and technology could play a big part; with a wider reach it is vital experiences are high quality and unique. Data segmentation will aid in tailoring events to particular audiences, as will incorporating experiences into wider content solutions. This will allow client activity to live beyond the event, offering more opportunity to engage with audiences.

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Trevor Cairns, chief executive officer of branding and design agency, Love

Surprisingly, we haven’t had to do any convincing on experiential and have continued to work on multiple consumer experience projects throughout the pandemic. 

Progressive brand leaders have always recognized the importance of IRL experiences, however the impact of the pandemic has really dialed up the opportunity. Having been locked down for months and largely limited to online experiences, there’s pent-up demand for real life interaction. 

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Dax Callner, strategy director, Smyle

We don’t need to convince clients to back live experiences, they are eager to return. That said, we don’t believe in ‘back to normal’. Events are about agility, in response to changing health considerations and consumer preferences, as well as huge technical innovation.

Other issues include biosecurity – keeping all involved safe, ensuring physical and digital participants have meaningful, high-value experiences, and using technology to enhance the physical while making the digital side more human.

We’re also identifying ‘parachute points’ to determine if IRL can work or if the event needs to be virtual. And it’s vital to measure everything to understand what works so we can evolve our offering.

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Carina Filek, global chief operations officer, Elevate Staffing

We’re seeing demand rise across every sector. There is still reticence – compliance with health and safety laws, once assumed, is rightfully a key topic on every agenda. However, nervousness from brands is now more emotional: people have waited a long time for experiences to restart. Therefore brands have a big responsibility to get it right – a ‘dud’ event or experience isn’t acceptable. A big focus for us is connecting brands with the right staff to deliver a stellar experience that epitomizes the brand’s values and beats customers’ lofty expectations.

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Jenny Nicholson, executive director, brand experience

We’re helping our clients evolve from traditional ideas of experiential to a more modern approach to brand experience. The pandemic has accelerated a much-needed expansion of what counts as ‘experiential’. The truth is, brands don’t need to be on the ground to have an impact. Think live events in the metaverse. Simultaneous digital experiences such as the Mr Beast ‘Finger on the App’ activation. Or phygital events including the White Claw Winter Games. There’s a whole playground of creative experiences that can give brands way more reach – and way more actionable data – than an in-person event ever could.

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