Your Audience. — It is important to know who you are catering to. The age demo, geographic locations, income levels, interests, etc.
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Lasky, President and Founder of The Influence.
Alexandra launched her multifaceted agency which specializes in influencer relations and talent partnerships, social media, events and PR work/publicity campaigns, in November of 2016. The company preaches that the space of influencer marketing is not only about the influence of these said influencers on consumers, but the influence of brands on the consumer. The Influence debuted in November 2016, when founder Alexandra Lasky ventured out on her own after 15 years in the industry, with business partner Chad Weinman, a respected tech and eCommerce entrepreneur. Originally from New York, Alexandra has now been based in Los Angeles for over a decade. She also serves as a member of the Forbes Business Council, and has several published articles to her name.
At The Influence, Lasky focuses on talent and influencer brand partnerships, talent and influencer social media engagement, talent booking, experiential events and event curation/activation, social media consulting, and traditional publicity/media services, public relations of course. The Influence is headquartered in Los Angeles, but service clients anywhere in the country, with strong focuses as well in New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Palm Springs and San Diego/OC, as well as globally, having supported and led events, activations and client launches in Cannes, London, Paris and Australia. Their clients range across film & entertainment, hospitality, food & beverage, lifestyle, wellness, fitness, beauty, fashion, consumer home products, tech, business, and nonprofit, as well as talent and influencer representation.
Lasky is known for her attention to detail, strong work ethic, quick results, creative problem solving and idea curation, initiative, leadership, enthusiastic team, passion, commitment to client success, and undeniable dedication.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
As a child, I grew up on the south shore of Long Island, in a beach town, about 40 minutes from Manhattan. We would go on family vacations to locations along the east coast and New England, Florida, and regular trips into New York City. We would often attend Broadway shows and cultural events in Manhattan. I had a pretty standard upbringing, attending day camp, sleepaway camp, and all. I even worked at our town Roller Skating Rink, was a camp counselor, and managed ice-cream stands at the beach throughout High School. Plus all the extra-curricular activities I could handle, from writing for the school paper to the dance team to the debate club to art club and yearbook, to the tennis team. I always had an excitement for creativity and creative projects. I loved anything art related, interesting projects, and exciting adventures. Senior year of HS I won a state marketing competition where we had to create an ad campaign for a new product for a local grocery store chain. I also had my artwork exhibited in various student competitions. During college I worked at more business oriented jobs, like an insurance claims assistant, cashier at CVS, a college professor’s assistant, fundraiser for my college alumni department, and eventually an intern for Juicy Couture at their showroom in NYC, which was my first foray into the fashion and PR world. I was also the event planning and social events chair for my college sorority, which I of course absolutely loved. I attended UMASS Amherst, specifically their business school, the Isenberg School of Management, and majored in advertising and marketing.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I had always wanted to go into advertising, having been intrigued by Judith Light’s character of Angela Bower on “Who’s The Boss?” I loved how she owned and was president of her own ad agency in Manhattan, and all of the exciting ad campaigns she would conceptualize in her role. I specifically always remembered the episode where they planned a calendar shoot for a ski brand, and Alyssa Milano was one of the teen models in the shoot. Her character was very inspiring. (I had the opportunity to tell this person to Judith Light at the 2017 Golden Globes, which was a truly remarkable, full circle moment, and she was genuinely touched and so amazing to speak to.) Murphy Brown was another inspiring strong female character, running her newsroom as a female leader in the workplace and not taking B.S. from anyone. After taking a journalism workshop during high school at Columbia University, I knew I also had a love for that world, and continued to take communications classes during college. Since understanding journalism is a crucial element of PR, and I have always loved to write as well, this was very beneficial to experience.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I feel like there have certainly been many, but I honestly cannot recall offhand right now something resonating as ‘funny.’ Perhaps it was when I was maybe 23 or 24, and I was escorting Jane Fonda into a film event I was working at the time, and in making conversation, accidentally referenced a movie starring Shirley McClain. She was quick to say oh honey, that was Shirley McClain, but I loved that movie too, in a sarcastic but fun and sassy tone. Obviously I was mortified, but it was not the end of the world, and I learned to definitely make sure to always double check the IMDB app on my phone before throwing out a film/TV reference. (At the time I had a blackberry, so the IMDB app did not exist, just the web page, but once the app came out, it became a great friend of mine.)
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There is not one particular media source that had a key impact, but more so everything I have learned, read, experienced, been privy to witness, and been taught since I began my career. I think the secret and the Magic, and Deepok Chopra’s 21 Day meditation are key elements to my current mindset and outlook on life and career, but not one thing I can necessarily credit. It is a composite of so many different things.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A previous boss whom I learned a lot from always would say “persistence breaks resistance” and “teamwork makes the dreamwork.” Both of these phrases are so important to daily work, company mindset, and goals to achieve success for clients. Both became ingrained in my mindset. I take pride in often showcasing the ‘persistence breaks resistance’ theory to my team members, when perhaps someone is unsuccessful in a first try, first pitch, first initial outreach on a project. And remembering everyone’s roles are as important as the other on the team, is also key. You must respect everyone’s position, and they must also respect their role within the team. It is also important to remember that “ if you can see the result, you can achieve it.” This is hugely important and gives you the confidence to push the limits for success, to be creative, and apply proper problem solving where applicable, all of which contributes to your personal growth.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
I have spent much time and attention over my 20 year career organizing, leading, participating, attending, planning, facilitating, conceptualizing, and staffing events of all natures, all sizes, and all types, all over the world, with goals of all sorts in mind. From fashion shows to film festivals to film premieres to charity galas to restaurant openings to fundraising events to album releases to intimate dinners, app launches, and much, much more. I am very versed in all of the steps and elements needed for a successful event, and pride ourselves at The Influence in being able to turn one around fairly quickly. We have incredible vendors and resources on speed dial, and quickly grasp the concepts our clients are trying to achieve. Events are a creative outlet with a focus at hand. Seeing the elements come to life is always so thrilling and exciting. All the moving pieces need to align, and you have to be able to troubleshoot throughout the process, shift, and adjust to any challenges that may arise during planning.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Since the launch of the pandemic, I immediately saw the shift into virtual events, and began positioning these to clients right away. Since March I have organized over a dozen virtual events, as well as virtual streaming sessions with music/DJ clients, nonprofits, chefs, celebrity talent, film, and many more. The virtual event is unique because it gives the brand/company/entity the opportunity to continue to get eyes on the virtual event, even after it has aired. The event lives on in perpetuity, allowing the entity to continue to benefit, expand its audience reach, secure new eyes, and continue to raise awareness. I have in fact launched a sub-arm of our company called Charity Gala Online (www.charitygala.online), which focuses solely on nonprofit virtual events, virtual conversations, and digital charity auctions. It is important that brands continue to give back, and very important that nonprofits continue to have a platform to fund-raise and raise awareness for their causes. We have also helped spearhead numerous partnerships between our clients, especially consumer brands, and charity organizations hosting celebrity streaming events, in order to build new relationships and reach new audiences, as well as meet/surpass fundraising goals.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Definitely a few. One company is Off The Menu, who hosted a National Burger Showdown event featuring celebrities and restaurants on a national level, showcasing custom burger creations for #NationalBurgerDay back in the Spring. The streaming event secured tons of eyes and buzz, and successfully brought attention to the restaurants involved, such as Umami Burger, while also raising money for frontline workers. By also bringing in a partner like Uber Eats, they were able to further publicize and promote the stream event. Billboard has also engaged in many fundraising concerts through their Facebook Live series as well and successfully raised tons of funds for important charity causes near and dear to the artists that have participated.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The most common mistake I have seen is running charity galas via zoom or Skype, as the platforms in my opinion do not lend themselves to the quality streaming level needed. It is also important to have a tech expert/IT company on board overseeing the stream, to make sure the content is high quality and clear, and being properly recorded. You also need to have a very easy to use donation bar on the screen, so viewers can easily click to support. (This is something we focus on with our Charity Gala Online agency platform.)
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
We have been using a few different streaming platforms, however, Twitch has definitely been a preference, as well as Facebook Live, and for interviews, IG Live. We hosted the annual gala for Rhonda’s Kiss, a nonprofit that raises funds for Cancer patients in need. It aired on Twitch live, and now lives on their Facebook Page. Some clients have also created hosting on their own websites through built in technology, which also allows the stream to continue to be viewed following the live debut through exclusive limited access. This is currently the case for our client’s 2020 Virtual Taste of sbe, which features chef pairings with renowned culinary names like Morimoto and Dani Garcia, and talent like Nick Jonas and Bryan Cranston.
Our client Skam Artist has been successfully hosting DJ live streaming sessions nightly and weekly across Twitch, allowing for global tune-in, taking their roster’s exposure to the next level as a result. One client launched a platform called Cryptograph, a digital auction platform featuring one-of-a-kind NFT digital collectibles created by notable icons and artists, that are then auctioned for charity across the blockchain. It is a truly innovative platform and remarkable at what they have accomplished and how much money we have raised for incredible charitable organizations since their July launch in this space, a new leader in the cryptosphere. Charitybuzz is another more traditional auction platform we have worked with quite a bit as well.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
There are various, however, it is different for every company and is dependent on the goal, the nature of the stream or event, the audience intended to reach, etc. We would suggest a consultation with the partner agency/entity/freelancer brought in to help organize the virtual event so it is properly customized and catered to yield success.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Five Things You Need To Know:
1) Your Audience.
- It is important to know who you are catering to. The age demo, geographic locations, income levels, interests, etc.
2) Your Goals/Client’s Goals.
- It is important you understand what your client wants to achieve, perhaps a fundraising level to hit for the donations, and set realistic expectations.
3) Your budget
- What is the budget for PR support, tech hosting, marketing and promotions, artwork creation, etc.
4) How to promote through social media marketing
- You should be prepared to promote the event via IG and FB promotions, and have someone on the team skilled in this space.
5) What differentiates your event, ie. why will people tune in?
- What makes your event unique? Are you able to pull in celebrities to support and endorse the charity cause? Do you have unique social influencers or personalities in the social justice space that people respect? There has to be something to drive a tune-in, to your event.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I recommend they create a list of their goals for the virtual event, an estimated budget they have to work with, the audience they intend to reach, and their timeline..to start. Then they should have conversations with agencies like ourselves, in order to properly execute the idea for the virtual event at hand.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Well, I hope by establishing Charity Gala Online, we can be a resource for nonprofits to create virtual events and provide the tools, resources and manpower to help. I also hope to inspire a movement of conscious marketing, where any event taking place, virtual or not, has a charitable give back component. With the shift in our culture since March, it is crucial we all use our resources to help wherever we can, and raise awareness for all the impactful and important organizations working to do good on a daily basis.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Hmmm. I would say Gary Vee. We have various mutual friends and have crossed paths before, but he is all-inspiring and always right on the nail with the advice he gives. He is truly an incredible voice in society, the business world and to the entrepreneurial mind. I would also love to have the opportunity to meet with Michelle Obama. She is incredible, inclusive of all her work, her leadership, mindset, and the list goes on. I wish she had run for president, as I am sure everyone would have voted for her hands down.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.