In this part of the series, Event Farm’s CMO, Alexandra Gibson, spoke with Rebecca Linder, Founder and CEO of Linder Global Events. In the interview, Rebecca talks about how for the first time ever, the National Mall hosted the Landmark Music Festival, a music festival with two full days of 40+ musical performances across 5 stages on its grounds. The festival marked the kick-off to the Trust for the National Mall’s Landmark Campaign, a national initiative aimed at increasing awareness about and funds for the National Mall. Linder was brought on to produce the Trust’s #MakeYourMark tent, an interactive experience that educated festival-goers on the National Mall, Trust, National Park Service, and the Landmark Campaign. Every component within the tent contributed to the overarching goal of engaging a new generation and increasing exposure to the organization’s mission.
In walking Event Farm through the series of activations at Landmark, Rebecca shows how an agency can help an organization connect with and make a tremendous impact on a new and hard-to-reach audience, even with a limited budget and tough spacial restrictions. Read on to learn more, and if you’re interested in checking out the rest of the videos in their Masterminds of Experiential Marketing series, you can access their on-demand video recordings by clicking here.
Alexandra Gibson: Hello, and welcome back to the Masterminds of Experiential Marketing series. I am very excited to be joined by Rebecca Linder. Rebecca is renowned not only as a leader and an innovator, but also as a friend to both clients and vendors. That reputation reflects her professionalism, determination, and keen attention to detail, as well as her personal sensitivity, receptivity, and warmth. Her commitment to organizational and production excellence has led Linder Global Events to the top of the event planning business, producing national and international events for many of the world’s largest and most-prestigious nonprofit institutions, corporations, government agencies, and membership associations.
With more than eighteen years of experience in the industry, Rebecca is especially proud of the large number of clients who have chosen to stay with her firm over the course of many years. Linder’s work includes events for the Smithsonian Institution, the USA Science and Engineering Festival, the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Mars Incorporated, Global Programs, and the Mayer Brown LLP Annual Partners Meeting.
Without further ado, I will turn it over to Rebecca. Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us and especially happy to have a fellow DC-er presenting today!
Rebecca Linder: Thank you, Alexandra. It’s a great pleasure to be here as well.
Alexandra: I’ll let you jump right in and talk a little bit about one of the experiential activations that you’ve done recently.
Rebecca: To start, I will give you a quick, brief overview about who we are and then move into a little bit about our client at hand. My company, as Alexandra pointed out, is Linder Global Events. Our tag is, “Ignite Your Audience”. We have been around since 1997. I am the founder and CEO of the organization. We have 29 employees. While we’re headquartered in DC, we actually have a global footprint and have been working all over the world for almost 20 years.
We do three things, essentially. We plan, and bring your event to life starting with a strategic, creative vision. We then promote, market and brand your event to attract and inspire the right audience. Then, we produce it. We deliver the seamless experience that your audience will be looking for and will never forget. That’s our general ethos and philosophy around how we tackle our events.
The client that I’ll talk to you about today is the Trust for the National Mall. We’ve been working with them for about seven years producing a variety of events for them. They are a nonprofit organization that partners with the National Parks Service and are dedicated to sustainably restoring, maintaining, and improving the National Mall. Typically, their demographic and funders are corporate sponsors and high net-worth individuals. The Trust, in their mission of restoring and maintaining and improving the Mall, has a pretty lofty goal ahead of them. There’s about $500 million in deferred repairs and about $350 million in needed upgrades. In the manner in which they’re moving forward, they have quite a bit to do.
They created the organization because of the significance of the Mall itself, which they really believe tells the story of America. The Mall is where iconic things take place. It’s not only where iconic buildings live and signify who we are as a country, but it also is where these big moments happen in our country, whether celebratory or centered around protest and change. The significance of this effort is quite substantial.
The Trust has some inherent challenges. They want to grow from being a local charity and move into an energized, national cause. They want to increase the park awareness and their stewardship and they need support from a new generation – the Millennials. That’s probably their biggest initiative. Then, of course, they have to raise funds for this backlog of upgrades and deferred repairs.
They came up with a solution: The Trust for the National Mall Landmark Campaign for the National Mall. The initiative is a grassroots campaign that’s going to have a multitude of events across the nation, but the first two events that they put into place were the Landmark Music Festival and the Make Your Mark campaign, which is in support of the Landmark Campaign and is about creating your own virtual monument and sharing your story around the significance of the Mall to you or something that’s taken place there.
The two-day Landmark Music Festival took place for the first time in September 2015. It was conceived by the Trust in conjunction with the music promoters from C3 Productions. They had over forty musical performances across five stages, and over 30,000 people attended. The diversity was a real key tenant for the Trust of the National Mall in that they really wanted to highlight the diversity through a wide range of not only the musical styles, but the art, the cuisine and other important aspects of the festival, not only to celebrate what the festival is about, but what they, DC, and the Mall are all about.
Our role was multi-fold, but started with design. They asked us to design a cool space and have some fun, while creating curb appeal that would draw the crowd in. Our normal scope of work with the Trust surrounds the very large, 1,200-person, beautiful luncheons for their corporate sponsors and high net-worth donors. This was a very, very different demographic. Their big initiative here was to appeal to the Millennials, which is just not a demographic they engage with really at all. When they do, they don’t gain much traction.
Within this festival, they wanted to create an environment that they could design that would be cool and fun. They wanted to make sure that they were creating a series of interactive activations that would provide that fun in a low-cost manner. They also wanted to leverage some of the things that they already had in place in order for people to learn about the organization and mission. They have social media platforms, an app, and a mailing list, but wanted to capture more to help with the timeline, narrative, and story that they wanted to tell.
For us, there were several of inherent challenges with this effort. One, aside from the fact that they’re, as an organization and their admission, they’re virtually unknown to the audience to which they were trying to appeal, so that was the first thing to overcome. The second was that we had limited real estate. We had a 40’x60’ tented space to use. While the festival would have given us a lot more space, for us, it was much more desirable to be by the main stage where Drake and some of these bigger people were going to perform in order to make sure that we got the highest foot traffic potential, which limited us. The other risk was the competing activities that were taking place. There were quite a bit of other activities, whether it was food and beverage, or the performances themselves. There were also other organizations like the National Park Service and Events DC that were actually on the Mall and activating as well. They also needed to distinguish themselves from all of what was going on in addition to having 30,000 people in this space.
We came up with a variety of solutions. We realized right out of the gate that the tent itself wasn’t going to supply us enough space to facilitate the kind of impact that we wanted to have, so we had to really go from indoor/outdoor solution. That was going to be critical to the success of this. From the outdoor perspective, we created a live mural wall with a question of, “What would you march for?” We did it on two of the four walls because they were the ones facing the main stages, so that was where we were going to get the most traffic. It actually was so popular that we ended up having to paint it overnight in order to facilitate the use of it the next day. What was great about it is not only did it attract people to the actual tent itself to then go through it, but we were able to have the Trust volunteers interact with them as they were painting or talking or commenting or taking pictures about the Trust, who the Trust was, get on their mailing list, ask them if they had any questions. This was a really, really good way of getting people engaged.
The Trust also partnered with Rock the Vote, which created some external visibility with signs and sort of the picket signs and a variety of other things that and, again, volunteers to create some visibility for concert goers and, again, encouraging them to cluster around this particular activation and move them through the space.
The indoor solution was actually a series of activations. We needed to manage the crowd flow, so we created these series of tunnels that moved them through the space where they could stop, interact, or bypass and move to the next activity. We needed to have some compelling content to bring them through. Given the small budget, we wanted to leverage some of the material and assets that the Trust already had, so the Timeline Tunnel actually ended up being five short videos that the Trust had already created and then we coordinated getting them a viewing station within the space on both the right and left side of the tunnel as you entered, in addition a visual timeline.
There was so much interaction with this. Of course, you’re providing the Millennial set with a method of consuming information in a way that they actually understand and appeals to them. Then when they finish that, we had a trivia game that we created that was based on what they just saw, and we had all these tchotchke prizes like branded koozies that they could win as a result of getting it right.
Then, we wanted to leverage the concept of the Millennial selfie mentality because we know that that is a really powerful tool. As an organization, they’re not getting any of this type of social media traffic with this demographic. By creating several opportunities for people to take and post photos, this really increased both the Trust’s and the festival’s exposure on a social media side.
We did all kinds of things. First and foremost was a series of flash tattoos that was a Make Your Mark. People had them on their stomach, their backs, and their arms. They were taking pictures. From a visibility standpoint, they were all over the space of the entire festival over the course of two days and people were constantly asking, “Hey, where’d you get those?” That alone drove a ton of traffic into the space. We also had a photo op with a backdrop, costumes and fill-in-the-blank posters. This drove a ton of pictures and a ton of people stopping, watching and seeing that interaction. External to that, there was a frame-up to the right of the Make Your Mark campaign that had the Washington Monument in the background so people could also take pictures there and post them.
We also had a live social media wall. If anyone was posting on Instagram or Twitter using the Make Your Mark hashtag, their photo would then be shown on the social media live stream in both the tent. Plus, festival goers had the opportunity to see their photo up on the stage Jumbotrons twice a day. We coordinated with C3 Productions to help facilitate getting that up there. Again, it made that activation pretty substantial as everybody likes to see their face on the big Jumbotron, so that drew quite a bit.
Another source of engagement around, not only the physical space, but also just having them learn more about the Trust in particular, was one of the only places at the entire festival that had some charging stations. We linked those charging stations to the Virtual Monument Building app that they already had in place. There ere instructions on the wall on how to build the monument, and we incentivized participants by allowing them to charge their phones, and gave them a chance to win VIP tickets. There were drawings that were taking place that would allow them to sort of elevate their experience at the festival itself.
We also had a variety of manned kiosks for Rock the Vote, Landmark to Sustainability, and the Trust for the National Mall, where they had hats and koozies. This was their effort in exchange for getting people to join their mailing list. We also had Landmark to Volunteerism, which was, again, the National Mark and Memorial Parks collaboration. Then there was the Landmark to Democracy, which was the Rock the Vote collaboration where people could actually register to vote. They had both an external and internal presence. There were two components going throughout. Then you can see the flash tats in there, too, in the environment that we created there.
The results were pretty significant in terms of the Trust. They got roughly half of the participants at the festival – about 15,000 people – to go through and experience the tent and the Make Your Mark environment in some way. Over 7,500 tattoos were distributed and displayed around the grounds. The social media ROI was incredibly high and significant. It was well beyond what they expected and there’s still quite a bit of Make Your Mark hashtag being used, so it continues to have a life.
Beyond that, there are three main takeaways that we had in the role that we play in order to facilitate the goals for the Trust in this particular instance and then also within the timeline we had to actually plan this. First, ask really good questions. You really have to understand what it is your client wants and what their priorities are in order to both pull off something within the time frame that we had, but also within such a small footprint to be as impactful as we wanted to be. It was imperative that we understood and identified what the client’s priorities were. This was huge for us.
Second, we needed to make decisions very quickly. The Trust had quite a few stakeholders, and have a big infrastructure as it relates to decision-making. Being able to communicate and understand what those protocols were, both internally and for their stakeholders, became a very critical element to getting this accomplished and done.
Last was the collaboration. There were quite a few stakeholders. For instance, with National Parks Services, we had to understand the permitting and the rules and regulations on the federal grounds. There’s quite a bit on the compliance side that we had to address. The concert promoter collaboration and coordination was another. Everything from the Jumbotron integration to working with them on the infrastructure that we needed to facilitate the space, making sure our and the Trust brand, was integrated appropriately and in the right places and in the capacities that were promised to them by the concert promoter. There’s quite a bit on that end.
Then on the stakeholders’ side, we worked with them quite a bit and actually they ended up wanting to repurpose. The National Park Services, one of their partners, ended up wanting to repurpose some of the décor for their 100th Centennial celebration that’s coming up. It was interesting that as a result of what we did, there was additional stakeholder interest in buying it and moving and continuing the effort from that particular instance and moving it into some of these other milestones that are coming up.
(Note: the transcripts of the interviews in this series have been edited and condensed for readability and flow. However, the key points remain the same as they do in the original recording.)
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