Dan Hilbert is Senior Vice President of GES Events, where he and his team bring brands to life by creating and producing some of the world’s most impactful and immersive brand experiences. With more than 30 years of experience in the event, agency and entertainment business, Dan has a deep understanding of true experiential marketing and what it takes to make clients successful.
Great Client and Experiential Agency Relationships Are Like Great Rock Bands – Producing Hit after Hit
Like any great band, a client and their experiential agency need to work in unison to create impactful immersive experiences for their event guests. The players need to know the setlist, the right grooves, what to be careful of and how to crowd surf in the mosh pit. Okay, maybe there’s no mosh pit, but certainly, the team needs to know how to work the room.
“I’ve said this over and over again, but I love being in a band.” – Ringo Starr
Step one: work as a team. There should be no delineation between the client and the agency team. Have you ever seen a guitar string break while a band is onstage? The guitar tech runs out with a new instrument or string while the rest of the band covers the licks until the issue is resolved. Like great performers, everyone must work in conjunction to keep the train on the tracks. If there is a ball that gets dropped, it’s a collective ball, and the entire team puts their heads together to find a solution to the issue. And most importantly, regular and efficient communication is essential to your collective success.
Music executive Shea Fowler, a seasoned pro when it comes to managing the complexities of band relationships, says, “Consistent check-ins with one another to make sure everyone is on the same page, informed and happy is key for a successful band.” Same goes for your teams.
“A great band is more than just some people working together. It's like a highly specialized army unit or a winning sports team. A unique combination of elements that becomes stronger together than apart.” – Steven Van Zandt, E Street Band
Another way to cement a great relationship with your client is to become better at your craft. Like the old joke says, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Many legendary musicians were self-taught, from B.B. King to Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. As an event professional, focus on preparation, organization, innovation and execution. Keep challenging yourself. As your talent grows, the more valuable you become.
So that leads into perfecting your performance skills. Bands get better by touring. Some do relentlessly so they improve with every show. Whether it’s timing, learning to work the audience or simple musicianship, most music legends would say the road is where they really honed their craft.
When working with your client on an event, consider it your stage. Make an impact by elevating those skills that make your agency stand out from the crowd. If you find innovative solutions for tough problems, your client will come to appreciate your leadership.
“I’d rather be a musician than a rock star.” – George Harrison
When you work well with a client and they value your efforts, the door opens to developing a long-term relationship. For over 50 years, Bernie Taupin has written the lyrics and Elton John the music for hit after hit. Of their 31 studio albums, they have never once written a song together. Yet as a team, they are incredibly successful.
Long-term relationships require enormous effort, mutual respect and a lot of work. But that pays off in the end for you in numerous ways. A happy client may lead to another, and word-of-mouth testimonials are the gift that keeps on giving.
“As good as I am, I am nothing without my band.” – Steven Tyler
There are challenges in every relationship, from different personalities to trying to adapt to new environments together to creative differences – the reason for almost every band breakup. Says Fowler, “Sometimes conflict can bring out the most creativity in a band, whereas other times sitting down and having a heart-to-heart and getting back to the initial vision can be most helpful.” So don’t fear disagreements or contentious discussions – embrace them.
It’s possible that a heavy debate can ultimately breed the best ideas. And be mindful that the grind of putting on event after event can also influence how people respond to challenging situations. Being on the road means time away from loved ones, and that can come at a personal sacrifice. These relationships can sustain you, so put in the effort to make them work.
That’s why it’s helpful to have a tight partnership. Where there is trust and respect, there’s room to grow and evolve. Encourage constructive and creative feedback. Like the best bands, great client and agency partners evolve into a tight-knit family, show after show. Knowing how to work together and resolve differences, like a well-oiled machine, leads to a more enjoyable ride. Add in some variety and excitement about the innovative experiences you continue to create together and you have an unbeatable combination.