A WestWorld Experience
Several shuttle buses filled with South by Southwest attendees wearing black and white hats descended upon a deserted town near Austin, TX where the SXSW conference and convention was taking place.
As they approached, they recognized familiar the sights and sounds of Sweetwater, the fictitious town of the HBO show WestWorld. As they walked around town, they interacted with WestWorld folk, horses, saloons, brawls and gunfights, becoming part of the WestWorld adventure.
The visitors flooded social media and video platforms with their experiences, effectively becoming ambassadors for the show.
This unique promotional experience was created by HBO and the predominant Los Angeles agency, Giant Spoon. Patrick Jong, VP of Experiential at Giant Spoon was part of the Giant Spoon team for this notable event.
Patrick Discusses Experiential Marketing
On October 22, 2019 AMA Los Angeles hosted the Experiential Brand Experience and Event Marketing event which included Patrick Jong on the question-answer panel. Patrick has worked as an event/experiential marketer for almost 20 years. He came to the experiential space after training as an architect, but after working in live shows and festivals his passion directed him into the career path of marketing, production, and events. Following the AMA panel event, we had the opportunity to sit down with Patrick and ask some additional questions.
AMA: How do you come up with the ideas for the projects? What is the process?
PJ: Typically, when we start a project, before we even get into the idea phase and brainstorming, we start with the strategy. We start with the “why” behind the client’s challenges, and we try to understand the business problem that a client is trying to solve. We also look at what’s happening in the cultural and competitor landscape; what are the goals and the KPIs for this client for this brief. Then our strategy team starts digging in and uncovering insights that might help us when we’re starting the ideation and brainstorming process. Once we really understand the “why”, the ideation process starts to become much better.
AMA: I see, it makes total sense to know the “why” as the starting point. How does the brainstorming process work? You’re coming up with original, interesting things that no one has done before. Can you talk a about how that happens?
PJ: We have something that we call Spoonshots. They’re similar to a moonshot. Not every brief submitted for the project lends itself as a Spoonshot idea, but some certainly do. When we are looking at a brief, we look at the opportunity to bring a moonshot or Spoonshot idea to the table, where we could make a cultural impact and create a cultural moment, like we did with our activation in 2018 at South by Southwest for WestWorld. That was a Spoonshot idea and we made a cultural moment out of that experience. Every project is different, and no two briefs will be the same. We we try to do things that have never been done. And I think we’ve found a real sweet spot by thinking of something that really makes sense for the business strategy. Then we figure out how to make it happen. Our team finds the right partners and developers to help us execute and bring these visions to life.
AMA: The Spoonshot concept is great, bringing in your brand. Once you have ideas, what processes do you have to validate them and ensure they’re workable?
PJ: The process to validate ideas is interesting because a lot of the things that we’re creating have never been done. A lot of it is us figuring it out, and clients trusting us. We work very closely with our clients and we like to act as an extension of their teams so that they’re involved in the brainstorming process. We check in with them regularly to make sure that they like the ideas. That close collaboration helps to validate the ideas and make sure that they’re workable and feasible. We have a team of very experienced producers who have a knack for figuring things out. We rely heavily on that expertise and our resources in addition to working closely with our clients.
AMA: I see how close collaboration would help everyone involved. When a client’s budget isn’t as big as their ideas, what tips and tricks do you suggest? Are there any kinds of projects that you recommend to clients with smaller budgets?
PJ: Typically, when a client’s ideas are bigger than their budgets, we try to simplify and recommend that they do one thing really well versus trying to do too much. Almost everything is scalable, so our recommendation would typically be to focus on doing one thing. Doing one thing well is going to make the biggest impact. It also depends on their goals. If their goals are to create tons of buzz or to get tons of eyeballs, we might even pivot and say, “Experiential might not be the right thing”. We are full service so we can come to the table and offer up something different that may be more impactful like a content piece. That project might be more impactful and get you a bigger bang for your buck. We want to make the client’s money work hard for them.
Are there any kinds of projects that we recommend to clients with small budgets? We wouldn’t tell the client not to do project XYZ. That’s not really how we operate. We want to do great work for our clients. But if we realize what they’re asking for just is not feasible for the budget, we will tell them, and sometimes we’ll even recommend a different partner if it is a better fit. We don’t have a chest of ideas for smaller budgets because everything is bespoke and customized. I think we would just look at it the same way we look at every other project and figure out what can we do for this budget. If we can’t do anything, we’ll make some recommendations for other partners that might be able to help them.
AMA: What are you working on now? Are you allowed to discuss it? Can you talk about any future projects?
PJ: I can’t talk specifics, but I can tell you that we’re working on activations for CES and South by Southwest right now. Regarding planning for 2020, we’re in the process of mapping out what we’re going after. We set up goals, cultural events that we want to be a part of. We focus on specific categories of businesses that we target to partner with and would like to support. Right now, we’re in the 2020 planning phase, but also in the middle of preproduction for both CES in January and South by Southwest in March.
AMA: It sounds like you’ve got a head start on projects for next year. What advice would you give to novice experiential marketers or those who would like to get into it?
PJ: That’s a really good question. I think my best advice would be to immerse yourself in experiential, stay informed about what’s happening in the industry. I attend as many events and experiences as possible. We’re fortunate that we live in a city where almost every weekend there is something happening. Most are fairly affordable – everything from popups to museums. There’s lots of inspiration you can get from just going into a museum. Any art installations, festivals, cultural moments like cultural tentpole events, South by Southwest, Comic-Con, are all experiential events. You don’t even need to be a badge holder. If you can afford to attend as an official attendee, you can get to all the events. But you can also attend the big experiential activations at no charge. You just have to get there. For instance, you can go to Comic-Con in San Diego from L.A. on the Amtrak train. The round trip is about $70, and for a day you can walk around there and go to all of the huge activations that are happening outside of the convention center that are absolutely free.
I would definitely recommend just immersing yourself, seeing what people are doing, seeing what brands are showing up. And then you’ll start to see patterns of studios that always attend these events, like at Comic-Con and CES. So just immerse yourself.
AMA: So basically, just find out what’s going on in the world yourself, experience it yourself.
PJ: Yes. Experience it yourself if you’re trying to get into the business. But every person is going to be different, depending on their level of experience. There are so many different aspects to experiential marketing, from design to production to account management to strategy. Find what you love about these activations, and once you know – once you experience them, figure out what you would love about these areas. See how you can try to make a career out of it. It may mean having to start at the bottom or take an internship just to get your foot in the door, but sometimes it’s worth it. It takes time to become seasoned in anything. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now. So be patient and do whatever it takes to get in the door.
AMA: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
PJ: I thought about this one for a while. It wasn’t so much of a career advice, but it’s something my first boss and mentor always used to say, “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”
Those words have always stood out for me at different points of my life and in my career. Interestingly, my boss didn’t use them in the context of career advice for me. But I thought about those words so much that I turned them into career advice – and actually left that job after nine years. I moved on to the next thing in my career. That led me to where I am now. I would say, that was the probably the best career advice that I’ve ever received.
AMA: That sounds like great advice for most of us! Thank you so much for your time and an inspiring discussion!
We would like thank Patrick for participating in the AMA Los Angeles Experiential Marketing panel event and this insightful interview.
What are some takeaways from Patrick’s discussion?
- Plan. Know the audience.
- Start with understanding the “why” of the brand’s or event’s objectives, then build on that.
- Work closely with your clients or your company to ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Brainstorm for great ideas and let the creative juices flow. Try to come up with new ideas.
- Work within your budget. You can still create unique, effective events at a smaller scale.
- Immerse yourself in the world of event marketing and check out what others are doing.
What’s your experience with experiential marketing? Do you think we’ll see more brand experiences and events from major brands in 2020? We’d love to read your comments!
AMA Los Angeles puts on events like this throughout the year, so check in with us to see what’s coming up. Visit our Eventbrite page for details.