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    The Judges’ Club: meet Mia Choi, chief creative officer and co-founder of MAS

    The entry deadline for The Drum Awards for Experience is fast approaching, as the awards festival closes for entrants on Thursday 13 October. In the meantime, we caught up with one of the judges, Mia Choi, chief creative officer and co-founder of the experience agency MAS.

    Choi started her career in the film industry, which for a native Los Angeles resident is a natural route. But New York was set in her sights as, although she liked movies, she wasn’t so keen on the business of the industry.

    “Everything took too long,” she explains. “By the time you were done with a movie, you were over it, you didn’t give a fuck anymore.”  

    A friend encouraged her to move into events, feeding into all the things that she loved about the film industry; creating a story and watching it build. “It fed all the reasons why I worked in the film business, but it had this ephemeral quality to it.”

    Choi got her start at the New York agency Event Quest, and worked her way up to running the company in a fairly short period of time. After learning all she could, Choi ventured out with her business partner and they built their own agency, Mas, from the ground up. Their portfolios became really diverse, with clients including Nespresso, Google, YouTube and Meta.

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    What one problem would you could fix right now within the industry? 

    Our algorithms are going too far. They feed us what they believe we want based on something else we liked. People who are very lost in their algorithm can start to think that that’s the taste that has defined them. For example, my daughter’s a sneakerhead, but is she really? Or is her algorithm telling her that she is? From both a creator side, but also as a consumer side, it’s creating this weird, narrow view.  

    Remember when you walked into a record store and the guy behind the counter would judge you over what you just put on the counter, but he’d also suggest that you look at a certain CD? There’s something in that human element that the algorithm is going too far with. It knows everything. It feeds me everything. There’s brilliance in it. I’ve discovered music that aligns with my tastes, but haven’t discovered something that doesn’t align with my tastes that could also be my taste. It’s giving us experiences from our first touch that we think we want.  

    What trend changes are you seeing in the experiential space right now? 

    Hyper personalization is out. It shouldn’t be a trend anymore. We’ll begin to see people creating experiences that are more open-ended. The emotion of how you feel and your own reaction to it is the way things should move forward.

    When we worked on VidCon this year, our client, YouTube, wanted the children to feel like they walked into the greatest drive-through. They didn’t focus heavily on promoting the brand and orchestrating every single experience. As a reaction to the market manipulation that we get with our algorithm, the trends are moving towards experiences that make you feel something with an organic response.  

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    How have brands been bouncing back from the Covid lockdown?

    In our mind, brands are coming in big. People are focusing on the experience through the lens of emotions, and by giving them an emotional roller coaster they’ll ultimately love the brand.  

    One trend report pulled five different activations for Gucci. The most interesting thing is that other than the name Gucci, they all lived in a different space. They were true to the digital space that they were in, not so much tied to brand colors or text. Values are different, but the framework of everything that has got to be in this format is evolving. It’s excellent for our industry and is going to keep it more interesting.  

    What’s been the best advice you’ve ever received? 

    When I started out in the film business, I was 21 and wanted a job at Sony Pictures. I had to go through this crazy HR experience, and they did a personality assessment. At the end of the interview when I was about to leave, one of the interviewers stopped me and told me I wasn’t built for a corporation. My personality would not thrive. She told me I had an entrepreneurial spirit. This sat with me. When I’ve made choices about my career path, I picked, small, nimble, thoughtful companies where the hierarchy didn’t matter as much. I ended up with all these sorts of different skill sets from it. And starting MAS was one of the things I wanted to do. I wanted an entire company filled with that entrepreneurial spirit. 

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    Why should we be celebrating the excellence of the industry? 

    It’s lovely to be recognized by your community but, hopefully, that’s not your focus. You don’t work for the awards. It’s still a beautiful recognition but for me, when we win awards, it’s about celebrating every single person who worked on that project. They get to feel like what they did actually mattered, that it was seen in space. 

    What’s been your proudest career moment? 

    We sold MAS to Opus Group in 2018. It was such a moment of pride for me and my partner that we had built something that was valuable enough. It had a solid client base. The process, as a woman of color, was such a moment of pride, especially as the percentage of women who build and sell a business is probably less than 2%.  

    The sale gave us room to open up the company – we were able to hire more, we had a lot more freedom, we weren’t bogged down in the business of running HR and finances, and it allowed us to go back to what we loved. 

    It gave us a place to strategize where this agency was going and, as I look over the last four years, we’re stronger and have a better voice than we’ve ever had. So much of that comes from selling the company. It gave us a lot of freedom.   

    The Drum Awards for Experience deadline is fast approaching. Make sure you enter before Thursday October 13.

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