Elizabeth Hellman is president of Rubik Marketing, an experiential marketing agency that counts some of the biggest brands in entertainment among its clients, including HBO, Sony and Disney. Recently, Rubik brought Game of Thrones elements like the Dragonstone Throne and the Westeros Map to life for HBO activations. They also created a site-specific installation to promote Disney’s live-action Dumbo in (where else but) Dumbo, Brooklyn.
In addition to her role at Rubik, Hellman is the cofounder of EventMates, which offers professional event services to clients with limited marketing capacity of their own. We discussed Deadpool 2, consumer expectations, and learning from failure.
The Vendry: You’ve worked in both advertising technology and experiential events. In moving between these two worlds, how conscious were you of the way social media is changing the way events are archived?
Hellman: Social media is certainly a driver of many experiential and pop-up events, but these events were happening before Instagram was around and before people were publicly archiving them. This ethos was always part of my marketing DNA, but with the rise of Insta-ready pop-ups it was a great time to be in this space and facilitate them.
The Vendry: So the rise of social media doesn’t tell the full story.
Hellman: It’s not only social media, it’s also what is happening in real estate that enables us to have pop-ups. So I can't give full credit to social media, but you know, pop-ups exist in a way that they never did before. Museums exist in a way that we never did before.
Rubik recently did a museum for Deadpool 2 and it was called "Believe in Your Selfie Museum," very irreverent, on-brand with the franchise and encouraged people to come and, just as all museums do, take pictures in these vignettes that were capturing the moments from the film. And so fans, super fans, down to just sort of everyday fans flocked to this museum because it is so fun. Social media was the main contributor to how we designed that museum.
The Vendry: So would you say that the principles of experiential marketing already existed, but that–
Hellman: Social media has fueled it?
The Vendry: Yeah.
Hellman: Without a doubt. And continues to drive it, because now what we're seeing with so many consumers is that the experience needs to go beyond the photo. They want something more meaningful than just a picture. They actually want to learn something. They want to take something away from it. Not necessarily a physical something; not a gift, but they want to be able to say that they have captured something more than just a photo. And we love that as well because it continues to push us to be creative and figure out how to infuse the right balance of education and fun.
The Vendry: Are there other technologies or emerging technologies that you feel are changing the way that experiential marketing works?
Hellman: So there's two sides to that. One for the brand and one for the consumer. For the brands, they have their KPIs, and so they have to have the technology in place to confirm their ROI on the activation. That's a tough thing to do. And there are a lot of people working diligently to create those platforms that can then quantify the results of the event. You can look at it from so many different ways, from social, to PR, sales lists, and brand awareness. The metrics are all there, but no one has really cracked that code on having the exact technology to confirm that.
With AR, VR, and everything happening… the technology can't replace the brand. It's only good for a brand that it makes sense for. Sometimes people feel as though the technology has to be incorporated, and we always ask, is it right for your brand? And is the consumer expecting this from your brand? If not, just create a great experience.
The Vendry: What do you wish people knew about your work?
Hellman: That there is strategy behind it. Soon-to-be-graduates say they want to be in the events industry because it’s so creative, which it absolutely is, but it’s also strategic. The two go hand-in-hand. You always have to think about the business goals and business objectives, and build for the consumer experience and build for the brand success. And if you've done a good job, you've hit both.
The Vendry: What's the biggest piece of advice you have for someone starting out in the field?
Hellman: You've got to embrace the thought of, “It's not failing fast, it's learning quickly.” Events are super fast-moving and in the moment. You can't plan for everything. There will be moments where it could feel like a failure, but I always say, consider it a moment of learning and a lesson you can take into your next event.
The Vendry: What inspires you?
Hellman: I find inspiration and ideas everywhere. We're so fortunate to live in New York City, and one thing I make sure that I do is to keep my eyes and ears open as I'm walking. I put down my phone, I take out my headset. I just make sure that I embrace everything around us, because the things that I see and hear every day in New York City, and really anywhere that I travel to, drive my creativity.