You’re the cofounder and chief creative officer of NA Collective, a production company meets experiential agency. It says in your bio that you once built a skate park on a barge! How did you pull that off? That’s still one of my favorite projects to date. A Los Angeles–based agency brought me on to build a skate park on a barge for its Nike clients in New York City—in less than five weeks. There was no agency team in New York, so I built a team and then proceeded to navigate through all the red tape and roadblocks. At the time, no one had created a public experience on a barge—the closest was a Red Bull barge that had been built in Florida for a closed video set. I needed to be able to have the public skateboarding on our barge for multiple days. We brought in Bruce, a Coast Guard consultant who was my ace in the hole; together, he and I—and my team, which included Aaron Mason, my cofounder at NA Collective—worked through all the proper approvals. The Coast Guard even required us to switch barges a few weeks in, so we had to start over with new drawings and designs!
One of the more interesting days was spent at Brooklyn Bridge Park, watching our boat execute a bathymetric survey—measuring water depths and determining if the location was free of debris that could damage our barge when moored, and then reviewing the data and hiring a crane boat to remove any items that looked dangerous to our barge. Let’s just say I know a lot about barges, ballasting, gangways, bathymetric surveys and permanently moored vessels.
Had you had a lot of experience in the experiential marketing space before tackling a floating skate park? Yes, I had been working in advertising—and specifically experiential—since I’d graduated from college. My degree was in marketing with a concentration in advertising and promotions. Aaron and I had worked together during my time at Mother and other agencies, and the barge project was actually the impetus behind us starting NA Collective.
The barge, like many projects I have worked on over the years, was the first of its kind. There was no playbook, website or permitting entity that could simply tell me what I needed to do—but that’s why I found it fulfilling and exciting. I love the projects that have never been done before. I feel like a detective, uncovering information and putting the puzzle pieces together. Finding experts—who often think you’re nuts—is the best approach. There was no way I could become a Coast Guard expert overnight, but I’m a fast learner, and with Bruce and Aaron by my side, I could move quickly and pull all the appropriate pieces together. I’m a doer and I’m definitely not patient, which have both helped me significantly over the years.
What can production companies and creative agencies learn from each other? So much! Creative agencies often come up with great ideas but wait too long to brief their production companies or triple bid the “treatments,” so you end up trying to fit an already-approved concept into a budget that may not be appropriate. Often, the budget doesn’t match the creative team’s aesthetic expectations or account for all the nitty-gritty details. Coming from a creative agency, I understand that the creative vision may seem simple on paper, but creating something in real life requires a high level of detail, prepping and quality in execution. When you’re dealing with live experiences, people will walk up to things; touch, feel and smell them; and interact on a number of levels in a multitude of environments and weather. Every detail makes or breaks the experience.
On the flip side, production companies do a great job of bringing the vision to life, but they often aren’t in the initial brainstorms with creatives, and they struggle to interpret a creative vision and bid based on only an initial call or meeting. Only once you get into the details do you realize that the creatives may have had a totally different level of detail and expectation.
It’s really important for everyone to remember that we’re in this together. There are pluses and minuses to both sides, and even internally at NA, we constantly remind ourselves to collaborate and ensure that both creative and production teams are at the same table from the very beginning. There are no silos—there can’t be. To create an amazing experience, everyone needs to work hand in hand.
What do brands tend overlook when it comes to experiential marketing? The value of an experience. Although experiential is becoming a more common element in a marketing mix, you’d be surprised at how many clients still struggle to find its value or silo it, disconnecting it from the other advertising mediums. Events and experiences cannot happen in a vacuum. They are only as strong as their promotional strategies, public relations approach, content distribution and postevent engagement plans. The most successful experiential programs are multifaceted campaigns where integrated marketing teams work together.
How do you tune in to consumer chatter to ensure you’re creating experiences that make people want to take out their phones and share? Nine times out of ten, someone on our team is part of the target demographic, or we know someone who is. If we need more insights, we’ll bring in friends, experts or referred contacts to gauge their interest and gut check us. We know we can’t be experts in everything, but our networks are vast, and there is always someone we ask for insights.
As a philanthropist to the Flatwater Foundation, you compete in a number of endurance events every year—including a recent ice marathon in Antarctica. How do you balance your role as the head of an agency with your athletic commitments? If all I did was work, I would eventually explode or burn out. I almost always have an athletic commitment in the distance; it keeps me focused, and it is a really good excuse to get to bed early so I’m fresh for a full day of work. A lot of people meditate, but I prefer to run and train, and find that it provides the same mental clarity. When I’m running for 20 miles, I have a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts. Whether I’m brainstorming, resetting or just absorbing the culture of the city I’m in, that’s my time, and I truly value it. I also find that my athletic commitments connect me to new places and experiences. It may sound crazy, but I met a group of amazing people in Antarctica, some of whom are great business contacts as well as new friends. They’ve already introduced me to new contacts, provided invaluable business advice from a different point of view, and opened my mind to other industries and insights.
What’s something you wish you knew when you were first starting out in advertising? Every single person you meet along the way can be a partner, client, vendor, freelancer or friend in the future. Save all your contacts, be nice to people and never burn bridges—our industry is much smaller than you realize. I’ve been lucky to stay in touch with a lot of my old colleagues, clients and vendors, but there are still a few from my very early years that I wish I could track down. You never know who will be the perfect person for a project!