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48 I Richard Black, Superfly: Experiential Marketing in an Ever-Changing Industry

  • July 1, 2021
  • 48:55

Richard Black (President, General Manager, Superfly) shares how experiential marketing continues to evolve and the importance of investing in immersive brand experiences.

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Top Takeaways

1

THE EVERGREEN VALUE OF VIRTUAL EXPERIENCES: "For years the largest audience of a live event always sits outside the live event. What you're really trying to gather is intimacy at scale, so if you take a small venue and an amazing musical act inside that venue, I invite you via live stream technology to view the experience. This was experiential 2.0 where experiential agencies and brands realize, they could actually scale and get a better return on investment by widening the aperture beyond live. 3.0 was the advent of mobile, and as everyone began to think about how do I enjoy brand experiences on my phone because that's how I live my life. That began to help brands rethink what they're doing. So, agencies have been telling brands that it's an ecosystem you need to produce."

2

ONE HYBRID SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL: “The word hybrid probably this year people begin to kind of use this interchangeably when they don't want to talk about live versus virtual. So, it's, "Oh, it's a mix." I'm not so sure that's correct. There's been a hybridization of experiences. You have to start with the strategy. Who are we trying to reach? What is compelling for them? What is our offering? If you get that right, you find the different ways that could often lead you to knowing whether a virtual or live experience might be the best way to go. Trying to have a one-size-fits-all doesn't work for brands. They end up watering down a lot of their dollars and don't get the results they want because they need to be relentlessly focused on the end-user."

3

TYING EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING TO BUSINESS OUTCOMES: “You'll measure the value of your advertising. You'll measure the value of all your digital initiatives. You should measure the value of your experiential activities, and it's easier today to do that than it's been in the past. The 1.0 of experiential measurement was all the vanity measures, like the number of people who visited your event, the capacity in the venue, the number of photos taken. 2.0, we began to lean more into intimacy at scale and using social for amplification. Now a wider audience was looking at your event. 3.0 really is for those clients who are astute practitioners and will drive it all the way down to the sale. So, I came, I visited, I posted, I saw, I participated, I was a lead, I bought something. We're on the B2B side. We had a Zoom call, a webinar, you attended, I followed up three times, you then bought something from us. And then, now you truly have that."

ABOUT Richard Black

Richard is the President and General Manager of Superfly. Richard oversees Superfly’s agency services business and drives the development of award-winning strategic and creative marketing solutions for leading brands by leveraging Superfly’s unparalleled expertise in cultural storytelling, community building and experience creation.

With over 25 years of experience, Richard has held a variety of executive roles within global agency networks. Most recently, Black was Chief Growth Officer at Momentum Worldwide where he achieved unprecedented growth for the agency’s New York flagship office, greatly increasing client acquisition year-over-year and modernizing the agency’s brand across all communication channels. Throughout his career, Black has excelled at fostering innovation and collaboration with an inclusive leadership style that brings out the best in those with whom he works.

Episode Transcript

Rachel Rappaport:

Hello, and welcome back to In-Person, brought to you by Bizzabo. In case we haven't already met, I'm Rachel Rappaport. And in each episode of In-Person, we explore the world's most daring events, and the people who make them happen.

Rachel Rappaport:

Today we’re chatting with Richard black, President and General Manager of Superfly. Richard oversees Superfly’s agency services business and drives the development of award-winning strategic and creative marketing solutions for leading brands by leveraging Superfly’s unparalleled expertise in cultural storytelling, community building and experience creation.

Rachel Rappaport:

With over 25 years of experience, Richard has held a variety of executive roles within global agency networks. Most recently, Black was Chief Growth Officer at Momentum Worldwide where he achieved unprecedented growth for the agency’s New York flagship office, greatly increasing client acquisition year-over-year and modernizing the agency’s brand across all communication channels. Throughout his career, Black has excelled at fostering innovation and collaboration with an inclusive leadership style that brings out the best in those with whom he works.

Rachel Rappaport:

In this episode, we explore the power of experiential marketing and designing immersive brand experiences. We talk about how agencies have adapted and continue to stay at the forefront of the ever-changing events industry. And we discuss why experiences are the most important investment you can make for your brand.

Rachel Rappaport:

And stay tuned after the episode credits to hear Richard’s perspective on how the Superfly team creates experiences that tap into cultural storytelling.

Rachel Rappaport:

Let's get to it. Here's Richard Black, and our host Brandon Rafalson.

Brandon Rafalson:
Richard, welcome to IN-PERSON.

Richard Black:
Thank you for having me.

Brandon Rafalson:
I'm stoked to talk to a representative, a senior leader over at Superfly. A company that I've known about for a while. While I haven't been to Bonnaroo, I went to say like Lollapalooza way back in the day. The friends in my friend group they went to Bonnaroo, and they always had such magical stories to tell. Of course, that's just one of the many experiences under the Superfly umbrella these days and I'm excited to explore some of those with you, but for starters, I know that you have an extensive career and driving brand experiences even before Superfly. So, could you walk us through briefly some of those different steps of your career and how they led to where you are today?

Richard Black:
I'd be happy to. Again, thank you for having me today on IN-PERSON. And while my career was not shaped at Bonnaroo either, I did not attend the music festival, though many of the folks who I work with have. I had been working in experiences for the better part of two decades. Actually, coming up on my third decade of working actually in experiences. They were called events then.

Richard Black:
So, there's been a lot of changes in the industry over time, and it really comes down to, for me, as an individual is that the things that I love to participate in, they've always been experiences. And I think that's why people have such an emotional connection to music festivals and other things that you do with others. And so, that really is the secret power to this and the business has obviously changed dramatically over the years as all marketing has.

Richard Black:
So, I started out I wanted to produce television commercials. That really was the thing I wanted to do. I have a comms degree, undergrad comms degree, and worked a lot in video in front of the camera, behind the camera. And that really was my entree into the industry. I began to PA and do things like that. And I actually started my career at Saatchi and Saatchi, which at the time was the world's largest advertising agency. Famously, CFO there was Martin Sorrell before he was Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, and now S4 Capital [inaudible 00:02:09]. He was my bosses' boss.

Richard Black:
And it really was a first row seat to the advertising community advertising world. And I started actually working in the finance group as part of like a training program and ended up in sort of client finance and I was managing Procter and Gamble's budgets early on. So, I learned the business from the inside out, and over time, I began to look at the various opportunities or disciplines within an agency. From there, I went to [inaudible 00:02:35] and I really honed my operational expertise.

Richard Black:
And I decided I wanted to get an MBA and I wanted to move into the business side and really work on the client side of the business. So, I did that. And it really is by happenstance that I ended up in experiential. I need to interview someone from a chosen field related to my industry, but that could not be the company I worked for.

Richard Black:
I interviewed this gentleman. His name was Victor Imbimbo, and he owned a small company in New York called the Hadley Group. And sure enough, they were an experienced based company. They did some events. They did some other work for brands as well. And the very first project that I got put on there was a new business pitch for Schering-Plough. And in the morning we pitch Correctol laxatives, little glass figurines to go inside tea bags. And in the afternoon, we pitched Coppertone Sport with an entire, what you call now a 360 degree integrated campaign live event component all around their brand premise.

Richard Black:
We lost pitch one on Correctol laxatives. I was probably never so happy in my life, but we won the second. We won the second pitch, and it really began my journey to work in experiential and I learned first-hand what makes a really great experience for consumers in that case, and also, and for that particular brand for what works at retail. That really was the start of it. And since then I've looked and gravitated towards companies that this is the thing that they do. It's their core mission that they believe in the power of brand experience, and that's really where I have cut my teeth and learned to become an executive and a leading practitioner in the industry.

Brandon Rafalson:
Wow. So, it all started with Coppertone and laxatives.

Richard Black:
Yes.

Brandon Rafalson:
But beforehand you had experience getting exposure to the production side of things through your communications background and learning the ins and outs of the agency world through Saatchi and Saatchi.

Richard Black:
Yes. And then, that really helped me and every role that I've had, my current role is really an operation's role, how to run and effectively manage an agency and drive its growth and set its vision. It's very operationally focused. It also obviously has components of managing clients and developing creative and working with others, but now I direct from a different position in the company is where I was, when I was coming up in the industry I had more like mainline responsibilities for those various parts of the business.

Brandon Rafalson:
So, yeah, could we dive into that a little bit more? I mean you were brought into Superfly in 2020 a very interesting time to say the least to join an experiential agency. What was sort of your remit stepping on board and what were those responsibilities you were looking to take on?

Richard Black:
Absolutely. You're right. 2020 has been a really fascinating time for anyone who transitions into a new company requires a lot of different things and I'll come on to those in a moment. But I really was attracted to the company by one of the founders, Rich Goodstone. He and I had the pleasure of actually meeting prior to my joining the company, I think we actually met on leap year. So, it's probably one of the last times that people actually sat down and had a dinner together, and he and I had a really great conversation about the future of the experiential world and his agency and what he wanted to do moving forward.

Richard Black:
And I was really intrigued by an opportunity to build something even though the company is 25 years old, I really came here to help the company write its next 25 years, and help them scale the business and drive some significant step change growth as the definition of experience evolves, and it really caused me to rewrite my entire approach to running and operating an agency.

Richard Black:
First, we're live event. This is our core business with a significant portion of our revenues there, although I think we were better set up than most other companies. We've been doing virtual experiences since the early days of Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo was one of the first brands to be on YouTube and creating our own content channel and doing live streaming. And so, we already had made that a part of our organization and clients knew us for that. So, our pivot wasn't as great as many other companies and many other of the folks that I have worked with, whether it was in the past or other agencies.

Richard Black:
Really ours was more about recalibrating, so we just began to recalibrate coming out of those times in March where like the darker days, and it really was focused on our employees' well-being and health. That was the primary concern. And we fundamentally shifted our focus. We focused inward more. We certainly checked in on all of our clients. We did a significant amount of business in the virtual space and helping them continue their relationship with their customers usually through virtual, but we didn't just take live events and flip them into virtual events.

Richard Black:
That actually doesn't really work, but our focus has been on, and my focus has been on really making sure that we have the best possible talent, and they're in the best possible frame of mind as we all continue to come out of this.

Brandon Rafalson:
It's amazing to hear and you mentioned embracing virtual more and fun fact to hear that Bonnaroo was going virtual way back when, but I think that touches on this million-dollar question of how does an experiential agency adapt to the virtual world? How do you bring that same, I can't believe I was there feeling, of those in-person events to virtual?

Richard Black:
So, for years the largest audience of a live event always sits outside the live event. What you're really trying to gather is intimacy at scale, so if you take a small venue and you have an amazing musical act inside that venue. And I invite you via a live stream technology to view the experience, well, I can have many more people outside the venue than I can inside the venue. So, this was probably experiential 2.0 where experiential agencies and brands realize, wow, we could actually scale and get a better return our investment by widening the aperture beyond live.

Richard Black:
In sort of like 3.0, that really was the advent of mobile, and as everyone began to think about how do I experience brand experiences on my phone because that's how I live my life. I'm first generation or Gen Z versus Millennials being like the internet generation. That began to help brands rethink what they're doing. So, agencies for all along I've been telling brands that it's really an ecosystem that you need to produce.

Richard Black:
So, you need to produce something that is probably rooted in live or may not be rooted in live, that has a virtual component to it or a digital component to it, and our largest audience sits outside, so to use a provocative word for 2020, that's contagious. Meaning that people want to share and talk about it in social. So, agencies have been telling their clients this for the better part of a decade.

Richard Black:
The first thing usually to get cut by a client was a virtual experience. Most of the time that's what happened. It would be replaced by, "Well, we'll do something on Twitter or Instagram, et cetera, but we're not really going to invest in using the virtual platforms in the way that we all are living today." So, now you can imagine what happened now, everything is sitting inside virtual. Many clients were not really prepared. Thought it was an easy switch to flip. It actually isn't. To your question, how do you create that emotional connection?

Richard Black:
Well, there's a lot of ways that can be done. That can be everything from inviting you into the experience in a different way, allowing you to choose everything from your own avatar, to what your background might look like, to sending you a gift or something to participate with at home. We just had to rethink and reframe the journey to give you all the things that you like about an experience, which are usually some type of nostalgia, some type of escapism, right? An emotional connection, something to share with your friends. These are like the tenants of in real life.

Richard Black:
And so, we apply that thinking to a virtual experience and luckily consumer adoption for everything skyrocketed during the pandemic. I was like, "Okay. Cool. I will certainly watch that Instagram feed and I'll watch my favorite artist and I'm so appreciative of doing that." I think now what you're seeing is, "Hey, that's great, but now I want to go back to live but I still want that too for when I can't go to live." So, I think you're going to see a lot more of an eco-systemic approach to brand experiences moving forward.

Brandon Rafalson:
So, now when you put virtual on the list as a potential option, clients are going to feel a little bit more inclined to keep it on the list.

Richard Black:
Absolutely. And B2C will use it for scale. B2B brands will use it because their entire world of virtual selling went all Zoom, and so we'll see how that works out. And the best brands and agencies, they'll figure out what's appropriate for their constituents and what they're trying to do and who they're trying to reach will be the driver of how much you invest in one versus the other.

Brandon Rafalson:
So, cool to hear these ideas around like intimacy at scale and experiential 3.0 and what the future will look like to that extent, but looking back say even at 2021 so far or 2020, could you share an example of like one of these virtual experiences that was pretty successful for the Superfly team?

Richard Black:
We've worked on a couple that come to mind. We worked with Facebook around the Grammys. We brought on Flo Milli as an artist. We were helping them trying to build community within Facebook groups. So, we used an artist to help delight them. We celebrated that it was Grammy time. We allow people to carry on and sort of pay it forward in terms of their experience in the group and really plays into the same tenants that our job is to make sure that we basically, as an agency, shorten the gap between the brand and the fan by making sure that the fans get an enhanced experience and the brands play a meaningful role in delivering that enhanced experience.

Richard Black:
And so, that's a good example. We also helped the NBA 2K league with their virtual draft. And so, we got a little more participation probably up like, I don't know, a thousand percent versus previous years by really rethinking the draft experience for them and making some of their constituents part of it and really understanding the gaming audience at heart what they're interested in seeing. So, those are just a couple of the examples.

Richard Black:
We also work on Intel Master of Game. And so, they're targeting PC gamers, and they want you to work on their platforms. They've been in the gaming space for literally probably since it's on set good 20 plus years now in gaming. And we had to take everything and make it all virtual, because globally, we're not going into venues. No one at Intel is going into a venue. So, there was a lot of work done on how do you create more of like a festival environment? How do you create a property that you build equity and what does that look like for brand?

Richard Black:
So, we've done a lot of that. That work actually led us to something that we just did a few weeks ago with CLEAR. So, you take CLEAR Health Pass right. So, CLEAR is a digital company. It's all about health and safety, always has been. Primarily built for the traveler and they thought, "Well, what do we do in March of 2020 when no one's traveling?" Well, they've got amazing technology and could they offer that up to not only consumers, but could they offer that up to businesses as we all move back into a post-COVID world?

Richard Black:
So, we did the thing that we're all missing. We reunited families who had been apart. We flew them up, we connected them all. We knew everyone was safe, because we put in the proper COVID safety protocols, and that was really at the top of our creative brief and we used some really interesting technology and CLEAR Health Pass and we protected everyone's privacy. And when they got there all they had to do was show their phone and I think you'll see the adoption of this technology even faster.

Richard Black:
I saw today that there's going to be no more paper tickets. That's over with. So, any of those sort of interactions that we had handing things to each other, those days are over. So, CLEAR was a really interesting platform for us to work on. Probably more importantly to me personally. It was really great for my team. Their like mental health and well-being has been so much on my mind and to see all of them producing a live experience inside a stadium, again, to see the joy on their faces, and them high-fiving and knowing that every person in there is safe was really kind of a very moving experience. And of course, I was very happy that we delighted the client, but it was more important I think at that moment to make sure that our team that was kind of like a sign that, "Hey, we've been here the whole time and we're back. We're on our way back."

Brandon Rafalson:
Wow. That's amazing and speaks to the reintroduction of in-person experiences already being underway. That's very cool to hear. With an event like that working with your team, what were some of the key considerations that you had in mind when bringing this in-person event to life?

Richard Black:
Top of every brief now is safety. That's always been a part of the production world and the production lexicon, for sure, because obviously in large gatherings things happen, a bit of Murphy's Law at times, whether its natural disasters, rain, snow, weather, none of us had ever really had to work in a health crisis like we just had. So, not only did we make that part of what we were doing, but we took it to a different place and created a creative benefit for brands out of that to help them build trust. And the way you build trust is by reducing fear.

Richard Black:
So, we integrate it into the creative. So, when you go to outside lands as an example, and that's our festival that'll happen this year around Halloween in San Francisco. You'll see Ranger Rick there wearing a mask. Now, many times what would happen you would see, like we all see signs and everything else, but now you make it part of the creative, you make it part of the messaging in a way that people really care.

Richard Black:
So, at the CLEAR event, you got to take a COVID test prior. So, we checked you in, and if you hadn't completed your test, well, we moved you off to the side and you took a test and we used a company that provides on-site testing. It's actually a small technology called Lucira. And everyone takes a COVID test and takes 30 minutes, and it's now the first level of micro molecular. And so, we made that part of the experience.

Richard Black:
And so, that's you knowing that every person who's sitting there, okay, is negative. And so, that part of the attendee journey was reframed as part of that. We didn't hide that. We made that part of everything we're doing up front. I think you're going to see more of that. I think you already see there's a few venues that I have seen that if you produce your vaccine card or your vaccine safe or have been vaccinated, you can sit in a different section.

Richard Black:
And again, all those things are now designed to do what experiences have always done which is build trust and relationships with brands and you do that by obviously satisfying and delighting them, but in this case, you remove people's fears of being together.

Brandon Rafalson:
It brings up an interesting point like Superfly is already working on some of these events that have happened and will be happening later on this year, and it seems like you and your team are putting in place a lot of messaging, the right infrastructure to be health and safety conscious, and simultaneously these are large events that are happening. I wonder in some of the conversations I've had with event professionals in the B2B space, it seems like in some cases 2021 is written off for in-person, especially at a larger scale. From your perspective sitting in this agency position, what have you seen on the B2B side?

Richard Black:
B2B is definitely going to lag behind B2C. I think that there's a tremendous pent-up demand inside the consumer space. I think we all want to get out. I know that my kids asked me the other day can we go to the movies. So, they had seen in social that AMC or somebody was open, and they really want to go back and go see a movie. They've probably seen every movie under the sun since we went into quarantine, but I think for B2B brands, they have a bit of a unique challenge.

Richard Black:
A lot of the B2B marketers I've spoken to over the past six to eight months, they flat out we're like, "No. You're right. We're not doing anything in '21. We will do things in 2022." Over the past probably three months, that has begun to change. We've had a lot of clients ask us, "Can you do something in September? What about October? Could we add a live component to our virtual experience? How would you do that?"

Richard Black:
I think part of it is driven by for many B2B companies, they've yet to figure out if they're going back into an office. So, one of the first things that we do is we have a COVID compliance meeting with clients, and some of the things that we ask about are, "What are your company's COVID restrictions that they have on employees now? What is your return to work policy or remote work? Are you allowed to attend to shoot if we were to send a camera crew to your house or do we just need to send you a camera and you're going to self-administer?"

Richard Black:
And so, that has actually been really illuminating. So, when large B2B brands are not going back to the office and have not announced when they're going back for some of them, they can't show up then at CES or other large trade show environments. And so, that's been certainly one of their challenges, but I really feel like that is beginning to change and change very quickly for brands, because they've just been asking us like, "Hey, we're interested. How do we do this?"

Richard Black:
And I want to say that Salesforce just announced that Dreamforce is going to be a hybrid event. So, you're beginning to see that. I know CES announced that we'll be backed up live, but those are essentially looking out in the future. They'll be the leaders on the large-scale experiences to go back.

Brandon Rafalson:
And I suppose with any conversation like this things change so rapidly. So, we're recording this at the very beginning of June, who knows what the latest guidance and regulations will be later in June when this episode finally goes live?

Richard Black:
We took a tack right out of the gate like, "We need to advise our clients because they're asking, so how do we get ahead?" The reason we exist really is to keep our clients ahead of the curve. So, we wrote a couple different thought leadership pieces. The first one was virtual. We talked about how do you create a best-in-class virtual experience to what kind of partners and technology do you need to look at? What are the components that make it viable for your business? Which we gave over 100 plus presentations to brands, and that drove a significant amount of our revenue in 2020 and now into 2021.

Richard Black:
The second one we wrote was return to live. The emergence of live experiences. We gave our first one probably in April, because we began to talk about a significant first market mover advantage for brands. We did a fair amount of research both quantitative and qualitative plus our own POV. And then, we talked to a lot of other folks in the industry.

Richard Black:
One of the things that really bubbled to the top is that the choice to go to a live experience varies by household to household, person to person, region to region, brand to brand. I'll go to this type of experience, but not that type of experience, and that was a really big learning early on for brands. So, we continue to advise clients on that work. And right now we're actually working on our largest study to date around the future of experiences.

Richard Black:
So, we've got a panel that we created. I think the first of its kind within the experiential agency world where we're in active dialogue with consumers of multi-generations from Boomer down to Gen Z to see what they want and how that's going to play out. So, perhaps for another podcast.

Brandon Rafalson:
Cool. So, if any of our listeners are interested in checking out some of this data, they can find it over at Superfly?

Richard Black:
Yeah. They can reach out to us and follow us on all of our various social channels. You'll see periodic postings around some of the topic and certainly reach out to any of our people, be happy to facilitate a conversation.

Brandon Rafalson:
This other thing that I'd love to dive into a little bit more is hybrid. You mentioned that something that's popping up in your conversation with especially B2B. What are some of the ways that you and your team are thinking about what hybrid looks like for the future? There are all sorts of different approaches that have been shared from like it's more about a hybrid strategy to as you mentioned earlier, well, how can we amplify something in-person virtually there being an opportunity there? How is Superfly thinking about it?

Richard Black:
Sure. I think the word hybrid probably this year people begin to kind of use this interchangeably when they don't want to talk about live versus virtual. So, it's like, "Oh, it's a mix." I'm not so sure that that's actually correct. I think that there's been a bit of like a hybridization of experiences. You have to start with the strategy, right? Your strategy of like who we're trying to reach? What is compelling for them? What is our offering? If you get that right, then you find the different ways in that could often lead you to, well, a virtual experience might be the best way to do this or a live experience might be the best way to do this.

Richard Black:
Trying to have a one size fits all, I don't think that primarily works for brands. I think they end up watering down a lot of their dollars and don't get the results that they want because they need to be relentlessly focused on the end user, and if it's B2B their customers and what's important to their customers. And so, I'm always looking at and seeing what's happened. I think there's a good piece, I think it was LinkedIn might have done like a piece on virtual selling, which I think has been really kind of fascinating.

Richard Black:
So, I think for B2B brands the live event will fundamentally change, and there's been fundamental changes over time. If you go back to trade shows, trade shows were basically or places like Las Vegas were basically created to give people who are going to trade shows something else to do, not the other way around. And trade shows used to go there and write orders. Buyers and sellers got together and you wrote orders, and that's when all the order taking would take place.

Richard Black:
Then, you fast forward, and then that became, well, now it's where we go to build relationships. And I think what happened in COVID is that we were sort of caught somewhere in the middle. And we were used to seeing our customers or B2B brands, we're used to having these large moments, these live experiences for brands to connect and build those relationships and that kind of went away. So, then now they pivoted to virtual.

Richard Black:
Virtual is a little bit different. You have to give the information up front, the things that they need, like your pricing, your product offering, your differentiation. There's less time for relationship building in that way. This hybridization of B2B experiences will, again, have to be reframed to figure out, well, what is my goal as a brand? What do my customers need? And why would they bother to attend this? If your CES, large international travelers, probably aren't coming like they were in the past because they've proven, and their bosses' bosses will say, "Why am I sending you from Asia to Las Vegas when you can do everything that you need to do right here on the screen?"

Richard Black:
And I think there'll be some point in that. We don't have to wait for that one seminal moment that we'll get back to a more balanced approach in connecting with customers. I think Salesforce does a good job with that. There's Dreamforce, they're a large event that takes place in San Francisco, but they also have smaller connect experiences that are more intimate where you get to meet individuals from the company and you get that one-on-one experience outside of being inside a massive event when there's just far too many distractions.

Brandon Rafalson:
Are there any specific projects in the works either B2B, B2C that Superfly is working on in the hybrid route?

Richard Black:
I'll give you one that we're working on that was just announced. So, the Super Bowl of reality TV, BravoCon, will be back in October. That's a 40,000 person event inside the Javits Center. We have been working with NBC Universal for the better part of a couple of years now. We spent a whole lot of time this year imagining, reimagining, and figuring out how to actually pull off an experience like this. So, I think that this will be one of the largest challenges as a company that we undertake, and one of the bigger signals for brands and consumers that we truly are back.

Richard Black:
Some of the stadiums, whether it's Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, you'll see some of that. Obviously, we've seen some of that with the NBA already, but these are like a large scale ticketed experience that's brand centric that'll be happening in October. And I'm just really excited and really happy for my team. When you kind of create something like this. And then, to have it sort of be shelved, that's really hard. And you work really hard trying to figure out how do we make this happen for the clients?

Richard Black:
And the client wants it to happen too, because it drives such tremendous value for their business. It'll be back in October, and there'll be obviously a lot more details that come with that, but that's something for us all to look forward to.

Brandon Rafalson:
For organizers who are considering bringing back in-person experiences and potentially integrating some sort of digital or virtual component, what's one piece of advice you'd give to them?

Richard Black:
My advice would come from a learning that we had. You have a lot of choices that you can make, and one of the things that if you're thinking about a digital experience is choosing which type of platform. You need to decide, am I going to be on an ZR stage or a Zoom okay?

Richard Black:
And the way that you decide that, my advice would be is really think about your audience and the experience that you want to have for them. Tech for the sake of tech doesn't always work, and it doesn't always deliver what you're looking to get out of it. So, if you're a tech forward brand, it's important for you to be seen on the leading edge of technology. Then, you probably want to lean into a more tech driven solution. If you're a brand that just wants to connect people and the content is really the story and the connection that you have, then you probably want to work with a platform that's a little more simple.

Richard Black:
We get questions at Superfly around, "Well, help me choose." And it's about managing those trade-offs. So, again, it goes back to the brand. It goes back to who the audience is and what's in their best interest. I think a lot of that happens by asking them. So, that certainly be something I would give as advice. And I've given it quite frequently lately.

Brandon Rafalson:
So, that's on the client side, but if we look at the other side of that coin for other agencies out there, what sort of advice would you give about the way teams might be structured in the future and as we approach this hybrid era?

Richard Black:
The agency world has always been about change and innovation and has structured itself as such. We really as agency individuals, we swarm to the work. We bring different people together. It's really the diversity of thought and disciplines coming together that really make great experiences. So, I don't see that changing for the foreseeable future. A matter of fact, I would actually see it accelerating, and that will have more outside voices that play inside agencies for a variety of reasons, economics probably being one of them as agencies look to climb back out of COVID.

Richard Black:
I'm not seeing a huge change in that. I think what you're probably seeing is that, and what I've always kind of believed in is, "Look, if you own the thinking you own the doing." And so, for experiential agencies or an agency like Superfly, we want to develop the top relationships, we want to be there and helping you craft your experiential strategy. And then, we're happy to execute against that strategy. I think when you don't have that in place, it's really difficult to execute against.

Richard Black:
I also think it's incredibly difficult to measure the effectiveness of any of the work, and that is a huge gap. That happens when you're not sitting at the table strategically or have your experiential partner sitting at the table strategically.

Brandon Rafalson:
What are some of the ways that you are aligning on what those key business outcomes are going to be that a brand is looking to drive with an experience, and then, next, figuring out what those metrics are that you're going to evaluate to determine whether or not the event was successful in achieving those outcomes?

Richard Black:
Well, you asked the holy grail of questions for experiential agency practitioners. I think experience agencies kind of get a bad rap on measurement. There's probably some truth to it that some are not as sophisticated as others, but the value of an experience is not as easily calculated as it is in some other forms of media. The one thing I will always say and start this off is that you can't block an experience, you opt into an experience.

Richard Black:
And we all see this because when the world went dark, what's the thing we missed most? Going to a concert with friends, going to the movies, right? So, the things that were taken away from us, that's why there's such pent-up demand, are the things that you can't block. And unfortunately, they were blocked. More specifically, if you're a brand and you're writing a brief, you need to figure out what the role of experiential plays inside your broader marketing mix as much as a leader in experiential agency would like you to spend all of your money in experiential. That's probably not the reality, but you should take the same level of introspection as a brand to tie it to your business outcomes.

Richard Black:
You'll measure the value of your advertising. You'll measure the value of all your digital initiatives. You should want to measure the value of your experiential activities, and it's actually easier today to do that than it's been in the past. Sort of like the 1.0 of experiential measurement where they're all the vanity measures, which meant the number of people who visited your event, the capacity in the venue, the number of photos taken, 2.0 from that came where we began to lean more into intimacy at scale and using social for amplification.

Richard Black:
So, now a wider audience was looking at your event. 3.0 really is for those clients who are astute practitioners and will drive it all the way down to the sale. So, I came, I visited, I posted, I saw, I participated, I was a lead, I bought something. We're on the B2B side. We had a Zoom call, a webinar, you attended, I followed up three times, you then bought something from us. And then, now you truly have that.

Richard Black:
So, until you get to whether it's a look-alike population for a desired behavior or down to actual sales, you don't have a full measurement stack in place. And I think that the industry, in general, has worked really hard. It's not standardized across the industry, so every agency has their ways of doing it. I set a goal for my own team that I want to make sure we win an Effie in the foreseeable future. Obviously, we're trying to measure the effect of this our work, and that's one way that I can help judge our internal practice against that.

Richard Black:
And when I say that I want to win an Effie, it means I want to complete an Effie application with a client or a client and our agency, so that we can learn and continue to grow and ensure that we are delivering on best in class measurement analytics for brands.

Brandon Rafalson:
And for those who might not be as familiar, what is an Effie?

Richard Black:
So, an Effie is just one of the many awards in the industry that measures the effectiveness of marketing efforts. It's probably I think one of the more difficult ones to win. Requires a client partner to work with their agency partner and really be committed to sharing a lot of internal information, whether it's sales or the actual effectiveness of what they're doing, and all of its audited.

Richard Black:
So, the industry, it's awesome to win awards. Don't get me wrong, we won experience of the decade for BravoCon, and it certainly lifts everyone's spirits and sort of lifts our clients, and it just celebrates the great work that the agency has done. But many awards are for the industry by the industry, and those are great to win too. And so, I think one of the things that I threw out as a challenge is we want to be known for the effectiveness of our work as much as we want to be known for the care and the creativity that we use in creating the experiences that we do.

Brandon Rafalson:
Love it. I know we're running towards the end of our session here, so just a few more questions for you, Richard. One is who someone you look up to in events, marketing or business in general?

Richard Black:
The people that I admire the most are the people that are on my team. It's a year to honestly honor them. I think plenty of the other folks that I would give you as names are honored and talked about quite a bit, whether it's in the trades or in business in general, but when I think about all the people and what they've all been through. When I joined the company I joined in August, so we were not in the office. We're going back to an office centric hybrid model September 7th, which will be in the common [inaudible 00:36:30] three two, mostly for the well-being of our employees.

Richard Black:
And so, that we get one more like last hurrah as we head into a really busy fall. So, we get people to transition from one part of their life back to their next part of their journey. And so, I think those are the people that I really want to honor with your question. Those folks on my team have been through a lot, and I got to meet with them one-on-one, so I joined. I couldn't go to the office. The bulk of them I never met. I met them all on Zoom and learned about them and talked about what I was interested in, and certainly, but I was way more interested in what they were doing, what they saw the future of their role, the future of our company, the future of experiential.

Richard Black:
And frankly, just to hear that they're okay. And every person had a unique story, every person had a unique challenge that they were trying to figure out. And I think this is a year that we kind of put humanity back into the agency business. This is a really tough business. It used to be like work hard play hard. Now, it's probably live hard. It's no more bucket list. It's living list.

Richard Black:
So, I really want to honor them. They're an inspiration to me. They make me every day think about, "I just need to be better. How can I be better?" So, my honorees for 2021 are the great people at Superfly and the agency team. They'll all laugh that I said this, but I remind them this all the time.

Brandon Rafalson:
Love it. Shout out to the Superfly team. If you could give an early version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Richard Black:
COVID and changing companies and even prior to that caused me to do like a lot of self-reflection. And one of the things that I turned to and learned this past year, year plus now is really to be more mindful, to be more aware, to practice a little more self-compassion. I see this in a lot of our young talent. They're in such a hurry to get to the next level. They're in a hurry to get to that next promotion that there's all these external triggers that signify that they're moving forward or upward in success.

Richard Black:
And I think practicing a little mindfulness and being okay with where you are and what you're doing and realizing that everyone that surrounds you, only wants you to succeed. Like no one wakes up in the morning to think, "Well, I don't want Brandon to succeed today." Like no one does that. And so, to quiet the voices in your head, to be present where you are. And you should always be thinking about what you want to do and where you want to go and the experiences you want to have, but to be present in everything that you do and to enjoy those moments.

Richard Black:
For half the world COVID was a disaster and probably the darkest times. For the other half of the world, it's probably been some of the better times. It's been such an individual story, so just taking time to just self-reflect and practice some self-compassion and Rich Goodstone always, he always says this. So, I'm going to borrow this from him. "Where attention goes energy flows, so find the spaces and places to put your attention that you love and you'll get the most amount of energy out of those and you'll really get to be a happy person and do what you truly want to do."

Brandon Rafalson:
Final question is how can our listeners keep up with you, Superfly, and all the great work that you and your team are doing?

Richard Black:
Best thing to do is just follow us on social, whether it's LinkedIn or Instagram or Twitter. We post all of our work there. We post what's going on in the company. We post thought leadership. We really try to make it as easy as possible for people to connect with us. We're part of a larger community, whether that's an agency community or a community of experiences.

Richard Black:
We're a little bit different than many of our agency competitors, because we own and operate our own properties and we work for brands too. So, we kind of understand both sides of the equation, so I think the best way to do that is to follow us in those channels, and certainly, reach out. Most of our executives really are always looking to pay it forward and are accessible people and really just want to talk with other like-minded individuals and share what's going on. So, I always encourage people to do that.

Brandon Rafalson:
Great. Well, Richard, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today.

Richard Black:
My pleasure, Brandon. It's great to be a guest on IN-PERSON.

Richard Black:
Superfly, it's actually quite interesting and I did not know this when I was interviewing at the company and before I joined. What I had known the company for was essentially Bonnaroo, and I thought, "Well, this is a company that creates festivals." And as I began to do my own discovery, I realized that it was so much more.

Richard Black:
And when I got to meet the various founders of the company, what I learned is that they were always fascinated with experiences, and essentially what we talk about is how does the world connect, right? How do we shape the way people play and connect with each other? We do that across sort of communities or fandoms. We do this across what's going on in culture, what's on the minds of people, where do their interests lie?

Richard Black:
And then, because we're in the business of our clients business, we talk about commerce with our clients too. So, how do you monetize, whether it's their experiences or how do you make sure that somebody chooses their product over another? And over time and just looking at the company, started out at Bonnaroo, large-scale music festival, a very difficult game, the music festival business is a tough business, being highly successful in that, and launched a few others. Outside Lands, which will be in October of this year in San Francisco Golden Gate Park.

Richard Black:
And so, what you learn is that they were never really in the business of an agency serving clients. They were essentially serving themselves at the outset and creating these really meaningful experiences for you and I. And over time, clients wanted to participate in that. And so, that really was the beginning of how the agency was formed was really to meet the needs of sponsors and brands who are interested in connecting into culture.

Richard Black:
Over time, we figured out, "Well, how do we weave brands in and out of culture?" And so, we began to create some of our own IP. In the pandemic, in March, I was talking with Rich Goodstone, one of the founders, and he shared with me a brief to support small business owners, because they knew that small business owners and particularly small businesses that are owned by minorities were bearing the brunt of the pandemic and the losses.

Richard Black:
The company created small business live, and it was six hours of programming on Instagram that raised over a million dollars to support small businesses, minority-owned businesses, in particular. And I said, "Great. So, which client did you guys write the, was it an RFP? Was it a brief from a client?" And he was like, "No. None of the above. We just knew that we want to participate in culture, and we do every day, and this was a time for us to do something, to create, to do what we do as an agency, right? To create the future of experiences."

Richard Black:
And so, they did that. Called some brands, got some brands who were like, "Hey, I want to participate. Here's how I can participate." And the thing was put together in a matter of weeks and very successful program and lives on 'till today. We still have clients now asking us, "How can we be involved? What can we do together?" And so, I think that's one of the things that separates the agency. We don't wait for a brief.

Richard Black:
The other part of our business, and this has really been kind of fascinating is that we've had the FRIENDS Experience, pop-up experience. It was open in Chicago during the pandemic. It was open in New York throughout the last year. And we certainly recalibrated what we were doing, so that you could attend safely, and that's been very successful. So, you take sort of both ends of the company and inside that really sits the agency. And the agencies remit as, "Well, how do we do this for brands?"

Richard Black:
And it starts by, "Well, we've actually done this for ourselves." And we look at these big moments in culture, we actually can say, "Well, we've actually created a cultural moment." Versus some others who can say, "Well, we sponsored something large and our brand showed up there." That's a very different thing. So, we have that unique capability. We have that unique understanding. And obviously, when you're producing experiences at the scale of some of those, we're never in a conversation about our executional capabilities. We find ourselves more in a conversation about how do we help ignite what you're trying to do from a brand perspective strategically? And that usually comes to life in an experience.

Brandon Rafalson:
That's fascinating. So, not waiting for the brief, but actually going out there and creating something. And then, finding folks who want to be a part of that, finding brands who want to be a part of those experiences. That's very cool. And for our listeners who might not be familiar. The FRIENDS Experience is more than just hanging out with say your friends. That was a pop-up related to the TV show.

Richard Black:
Yes. So, it's how do you take something that is a cultural icon and how do you actually bring that to the masses and really reintroduce it to a whole new generation. Most of the folks probably attending the FRIENDS Experience never really watched it on terrestrial television, right? Probably streamed it and certainly don't know what it meant to culture in its first iteration. That is something that we brought to life, so that you could have what it would be like to really live inside the lives and to get an hour plus let's say of escapism, maybe get some first-person nostalgia, but something that's been very successful for us as a company.

Rachel Rappaport:

Thank you again to Richard, for joining us, and thank you all for listening. If you enjoy listening to In-Person, there are several ways that you can show your support, subscribe, rate, leave us a review, and share the show with your colleagues and friends.

Rachel Rappaport:

If you'd like to share your feedback, please drop us a line at in-person@bizzabo.com. You can also find full transcripts of the show, along with key takeaways at in-person-podcast.com.

Rachel Rappaport:

In-person is a production of Bizzabo. Today's episode was hosted by Brandon Rafalson, co-produced by Brandon and myself, and edited by Brian Pake. Music by Ian O'Hara, until next time, I'm Rachel Rappaport, thanks for tuning in.