How DO They Do That?
How is it you’re in a different city every time I check? How do you seem to get so much time off? Are you on a permanent vacation? How can you afford to travel all the time? When are you going to settle down and get a real job?
These questions are common, and even some friends and family aren’t quite sure what exactly it is we do. The field of mobile/experiential/event marketing is not especially new, but it’s still less familiar than the traditional methods. In the past, advertising was most likely done through print and later radio and television media. As each of these became more common, more mainstream, they began to lose their effectiveness. These days, most of us don’t really believe product claims “As Seen on TV.” Through the 90s, more and more companies began thinking about how to reach customers in a more personal way.
Early forms of street marketing, still used today, included straight sampling, where someone hands you a free trial size of their new product to flyering and handing out coupons. In-store product demos are a related example of showing off a product or service to people while they’re already shopping. Trade-shows and industry conferences have long histories as well, and these are still quite popular, though their audience is more narrow.
As the field evolved, companies realized that making an emotional connection and creating a memorable experience were more and more important for a successful campaign. Experiential marketing can include many different types of events, from a one-day blitz before the opening of a new movie or show to a multi-year, cross-country tour. In any case, the aim is to create a memorable experience, while informing the consumer about a product/brand/service and ultimately increasing brand awareness and driving sales. They reach people where they are already having a good time, and create a warm, fuzzy feeling about a brand, using the latest technology to increase the fun. Some elements are always the same: a client (the company wanting to get its product into the minds of consumers), a marketing team who develops the ideas and concepts on paper (this can happen in-house or through an outside agency that bids for the business), a production/design team that creates the event elements, builds the sets, and brands the equipment, and the team on the ground that actually executes the events, along with in-office support from a management team. With the emergence of Social Media, the integration of Twitter, Facebook and other technology like QR Codes and Tags or Text-to-Win type games have become the norm.
For the past 10 years or so, we have been working in this exciting industry, most often in the role of Tour Manager. With full-time travel as part of the job, this nomadic lifestyle seemed a natural fit. We were put together to go on the road during college football season in 2004 for Cingular Wireless (now AT&T). That tour consisted of a giant goalpost with video gaming stations, tackling dummies, TV screens playing game reels, demos of the newest phone models and a photo op showcasing the new Bluetooth technology at pre-game fan festivals and tailgates. The next football season, our nomadic lifestyle involved we driving an RV 27,000 miles, crisscrossing the country for Cingular following ESPN Gameday (see photo above). On our tours for USG, we had a see-through trailer with a NASCAR showcar inside, bringing the car and product demos from the world of Sheetrock and joint compound. The second year included a “Best Drywaller in the Country” competition! Other projects have included a mock “Baby Shower” in New York City’s Time Warner Center for the “birth” of a new show on Bravo, running meet and greet/photo ops at the American Idol Finale in Los Angeles, handing out hundreds of thousands of Coke Zero samples, and creating a space with a “living room” feel for people to sample Glade’s candle and reed diffuser scents in malls for the holidays. We drove a school bus for our Back-to-School tour for BIC’s stationary division, and spend a fall/winter making toast and waffles to spread samples of Nutella on and serve from a food truck.
Without getting bogged down in details, Tour Managers are generally paid a salary and get some sort of per diem. Most commonly, a food per diem is paid, and the company covers or reimburses for hotel expenses. A contract is signed, and you are employed by the company for the duration of the tour. After that time, if there happens to be another tour beginning and they are happy with your work, you may be offered another contract. Equally likely, you go back to job hunting, hoping to land another contract sooner than later. Depending on the season, it might also be a good time to take some time off, as tours are usually a 100%-on sort of thing. That’s one of our big benefits (since the full-time job’s health insurance and retirement plans are usually out of the question): unlimited time off, for as long as your savings last. Since we have very few expenses, touring is a great way to save money. Just think: take rent/mortgage, property taxes, electricity, water, food/groceries, sometimes cell phone, personal items like toilet paper (and shampoo if you don’t mind hotel brands), out of the equation and even if the salary is modest, you’re still able to save a nice percentage.
This nomadic lifestyle isn’t without sacrifices: being generally rootless, usually far from family and friends, working longer than average hours, missing weddings, births and funerals while we stand around at the state fair. On the other hand, we’ve visited 47 of the 50 states for work (48 total), not to mention two around-the-world trips on our off-time. We’ve been backstage at Disney and Universal, handed out a check to a driver on the Jumbo-tron at a NASCAR race, enjoyed the festivities of Super Bowls and National Championship events, mingled with various American Idols and enjoyed countless concerts and music festivals for free. There have certainly been times we’ve said we’re coming in off the road, until something new pops up and the pull is irresistible. Being outdoors, in a new town every week, new people, new projects, new technology…it’s addictive. Going back into an office is difficult to imagine.
The decisions we’ve made have allowed us to live life on our own terms. We have no regrets, and look forward to continuing a slow and deliberate existence, savoring every moment of the adventure this nomadic lifestyle ensures.