13 Essential Tips: Surviving + Succeeding in Experiential Marketing

Last week marked our 13th year in business as an experiential marketing company. I started Department Zero in the spare bedroom of our old house and unknowingly dove head first into an emerging industry that was still in its infancy. In fact, back in 2003 “experiential marketing” wasn’t even a term yet. Most referred to it as alternative or event marketing. I feel old.

Turning 13 is a bit of a triumph for us because there are so many shops who haven’t been as fortunate. I’ve seen amazing people, ideas and companies rise and fall over the years. I would like to attribute our staying power to a little bit of luck and stiff drink or two. But honestly? I know our success lies with the amazing people we work with. I’m talking about our employees, clients and business partners.

Without great people, we wouldn’t grow. They have challenged our organization, inspired us, supported us, educated us and constantly pushed us to improve our game. We have become better at what we do, because of the lessons they have taught us, sometimes unknowingly.

So to celebrate Department Zero turning a baker’s dozen, here are 13 shareworthy tips we’ve picked up from the best in this business.

  1. Experiential marketing happens in real time. Life happens in real time. Be flexible.
  2. As with people, services, products and ideas, you get what you pay for.
  3. Red flags and sinking feelings are warning signs to be heeded. Trust your gut.
  4. Insist on simplicity. The more complex activations become, the faster consumers lose interest.
  5. Design experiences to achieve goals, not the other way around.
  6. Brand ambassadors are the linchpin of every activation. Invest in your event team.Take care of them and they will take care of you.
  7. After every option has been explored, remember there is always another way.
  8. Establish clear expectations and goals early; foresight is better than hindsight.
  9. Don’t skimp on production quality. It’s easy to think no one will know the difference, but trust me, they will.
  10. Just say no (when it’s appropriate)It’s empowering. It’s liberating. It will keep you true to who you are and why you’re in this business.
  11. Respect the golden rule because, karma.
  12. Like the Boy Scouts, Be Prepared. Play books, trainings, and pre-planned responses make it possible for everyone to do the right thing, in the right moment.
  13. And my personal favorite “Go big or go home” (direct quote from a beloved client).