Make the event feel human by creating opportunities where the audience has the ability to influence the content: Recently during a series of consumer events for American Eagle, we used gamification tools where attendees were able to dictate the content. During one event, we utilized Zoom breakout rooms to split up attendees for a “mad libs” inspired activity and for another event, we fabricated a giant wheel a la a “spin the wheel” gaming format that allowed attendees to participate in the fun with our hosts and determine some of the wheel’s activities through live polling.
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 Jamie D’Attoma, Senior Vice President at integrated marketing and communications agency, SHADOW.
In 2016, Jamie laid the foundation for what is now the agency’s Experiential Marketing Division, which he oversees. Known for fostering longstanding relationships with entertainment and lifestyle media as well as event vendors in NYC and LA, Jamie is the go-to guy for producing memorable brand activations.
His cross-categorial experience in traditional PR and experiential marketing allows him to create buzz-worthy events, meet brand goals and deliver extraordinary results, ROI and shareable content across multiple platforms. Over the past year, Jamie and his team have expanded their role beyond event production, executing digitally native and hybrid-style events on behalf of the agency’s beauty, CPG and retail clients.
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”?
I’m from Akron, Ohio, and to this day whenever I tell people where I am from, they always tell me how nice people from Ohio are and that I am a shining example. Growing up, I was active in theater and show choir and always enjoyed the arts. Throughout my childhood, I would take trips with my mom every year to either Chicago, Toronto, or New York City to see Broadway shows. It was on these trips that I evolved my love for the theater, developed my love for NYC and became adamant about living there. I moved into the city the same day of my graduation from Ohio University in 2008 — only making a pit stop in my hometown of Akron to pick up a few necessities before continuing the drive with my parents.
I think my love for theater piqued my interest in event production — I was always blown away (and still am) by stage design and the costuming that goes into every theatrical production.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
During my start at SHADOW, I worked as a publicist and got my footing working for entertainment, retail, and spirits clients including the Tribeca Film Festival, NYLON Magazine, SVEDKA Vodka, and A|X Armani Exchange. Working for these clients, in particular, provided me with the experience of working on some major events with NYLON cover issue parties, the Neon Carnival at Coachella, Tribeca Film Festival after-parties, including the CHANEL Artist Dinner and Heidi Klum’s Annual Halloween parties, to name a few.
As a publicist for these events, I got to work alongside vendors and event producers and ideate around branded activations for my clients that could be amplified in the media. In 2015, I started to realize my passion for the production side, and the four Partners at SHADOW — Brad Zeifman, Lisette Sand-Freedman, Liza Suloti, and Michelle Sokoloff, allowed me to launch our Events Division in 2016. From there, we have continued to operate as a fully integrated agency, creating buzz-worthy and impactful events on behalf of our clients.
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?
It was not very funny at the time, but one mistake I made early on was not obtaining all needed measurements for an event I was producing for one of our retail clients. We built this really beautiful custom display unit only to find out it was too big to load into the venue’s elevator. We had to take the unit apart piece by piece and re-install it on-site only a couple of hours before the event started, and I was stressed, to say the least! I realized a production 101 that day — the importance of getting all needed measurements to best execute both load-in and load-out!
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?
I recently re-read “The War or Art” by Steven Pressfield. It always serves as a powerful reset in terms of sparking my creativity and having utter confidence in myself, both professionally and personally.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never assume, because when you do, you make an ass out of you and me.”
Simple and straightforward, but it is a powerful reminder to communicate clearly and efficiently to effectively manage expectations in all facets of my life.
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 oversee the Events Division at SHADOW and lead up the production of large-scale initiatives, product launches, or activations on behalf of our clients. The events we produce are mainly for media and influencers, but we execute consumer events as well. Past and current event partners include Aerie, American Eagle, CONAIR/ scunci, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Kim Crawford Wines, Moroccanoil, SVEDKA Vodka, and TORRID, among others.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
The first virtual event we executed was in May of 2020 for our retail client, American Eagle. With high schools across the globe missing out on their prom due to the pandemic, AE wanted to create the ultimate virtual prom experience for today’s Gen Z community, their core customers, through music and technology. We produced the #AExMEProm using Zoom’s Webinar platform with added streaming on the brand’s YouTube channel, which allowed over 17,000 attendees to tune in (our largest virtual event turnout to-date)!
The 45-minute live scripted event featured an MC, chaperone, TikTok influencer (and brand campaign star) Addison Rae, a performance by singer Tinashe, live DJ sets and more. Polls and Q+A’s were incorporated for all Zoom attendees, and we pre-selected AE fans of the brand to join us with their cameras on and be a part of the fun, getting to demo Addison’s TikTok tutorial and dance along to Tinashe’s music and DJ Cash Cash’s set.
Since then, my team and I have produced several other virtual events for American Eagle along with beauty clients, e.l.f. Cosmetics and Conair/ scunci.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job of creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
There are a lot of brands that have executed some really outstanding virtual events this past year with event organizers tapping into great engagement tools to reach consumers and keep content dynamic. I most recently loved what HBO Max did to promote its new series, The Flight Attendant, hosting a live experience for influencers, press, and consumers. In line with the twist and turns of the series (I highly recommend it by the way), HBO Max hosted a barista coffee making class that turned into a “whodunit” live experience with hired actors and pre-selected participants to be in on the fun, creating a truly unique experience that aligned with the show’s concept.
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?
I think one common mistake is not scripting and show-running your content. I often joke that with the shift in executing virtual events, my role in event production has evolved into becoming a broadcast producer. Make sure to allow time for many rehearsals leading up to an event — talent rehearsals, tech rehearsals, etc. Record rehearsals and watch them back with a fresh set of eyes for necessary adjustments and always invite outside participants to join your dress rehearsal for honest feedback. Also, put the same amount of importance you give to your hosts, co-hosts, and attendees into your tech and A/V team running point behind-the-scenes.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
For the smaller, intimate events that we typically host for media and influencers with around 50 attendees, Zoom is still great to utilize as most attendees are familiar with the platform and its functionality. Gallery view, spotlighting, and utilizing breakout rooms are great tools to encourage attendees to participate with their cameras on.
At SHADOW, when we came to the realization “Zoom fatigue” was real, we decided to completely revamp the way we were running our staff meetings and apply some of the best practices from producing virtual events for our clients. Coined “Out of the SHADOWs,” a play on our DNA, we have created a programmed “show” hosted by our AVP of Fashion and produced by my team, working “behind-the-scenes” to act as the showrunners, orchestrating transitions and using tools such as spotlighting, polls, and Q+A functions. Each meeting is programmed a little differently, and we’ve welcomed guest speakers that have included Eva Chen of Instagram, author and dynamic keynote speaker Shola Richards and I Am A Voter founder, Mandana Dayani. Overall, they have been much more informative, fun, and interactive while we continue to work from home.
For larger, webinar-style events where attendees join with cameras off and you’re showing a mix of live and pre-recorded content, we’ve leaned into platforms such as BrandLive that allow for prominent branding as well as the ability to link directly to shoppable product on the event platform’s page.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
2020 has not only expedited event technologies and the new norm in hosting virtual events, but it also has shed light on the importance of being more inclusive within the industry. As we continue to evolve eventing and look ahead to more hybrid-style events with the inevitable return to IRL, making sure you’re educated and up to date on new event technologies, expanding your vendor relations, and are informed of the latest local guidelines and regulations are key in being able to be a good partner for your clients and hit the ground running in terms of strategizing and executing your next event.
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.)
We are all craving the human interaction that can only be found at IRL events, but I do believe virtual or hybrid-style events are here to stay. With virtual events, here are five tips you need to know to successfully run and keep them fun and full of energy:
- Secure the right talent: Casting the right talent or influencer is key when looking for a host or co-host that can carry the event for you. Not only do you want to find someone with a strong and charismatic personality (one that translates through the screen), you want to make sure your talent can communicate all needed brand messaging points and is good at improvising or pivoting on the fly.
- Refresh what’s shown on camera every five to seven minutes: This rule of thumb helps keep attendees engaged and tuned into your event. Virtual events should be condensed and provide snippets of digestible content whether you’re showing a video, running a poll, or simply switching speakers. We look at our virtual events through the lens of entertainment, more akin to producing a TV show with candid interactive elements.
- Mix up live content with pre-recorded content: Hosting an event live is always impactful, but pre-recorded content not only gives your host(s) and tech team a moment of pause during a live event, it amplifies the opportunity to incorporate unexpected moments all while delivering brand and/or product messaging. For a Conair x scunci Wild Primrose beauty launch, we created a virtual experience inspired by music festivals, complete with “headliners”, transitional video interludes that mimicked walking to different “stages”, and debuted a campaign music video that featured professional dancers styled in the collection performing to a “festival megamix”.
- Engage the senses: When producing a virtual event, you want to try and tap into at least three of the five senses. To celebrate e.l.f. Cosmetics’ holiday collection with beauty media and influencers, we partnered with celebrity makeup artist Kelsey Denihan and Grammy winner Lil Jon. We featured an IRL component in the form of a creative delivery of the product that was sent pre-event to attendees for them to test and trial the collection during some festive (and funny) holiday makeup tutorials with the unexpected pairing of our hosts.
- Make the event feel human by creating opportunities where the audience has the ability to influence the content: Recently during a series of consumer events for American Eagle, we used gamification tools where attendees were able to dictate the content. During one event, we utilized Zoom breakout rooms to split up attendees for a “mad libs” inspired activity and for another event, we fabricated a giant wheel a la a “spin the wheel” gaming format that allowed attendees to participate in the fun with our hosts and determine some of the wheel’s activities through live polling.
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?
- Consider your target audience.
- Determine the best platform and necessary tech support to host your virtual event.
- Ask yourself — does this need to be a virtual event or could this idea be executed in another way?
Answering these three questions as the first steps will help ensure you are planning a virtual event that serves a purpose, is well-executed, and is worthy of attendees’ time.
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 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.
Michelle Obama. Not only would I relish having the opportunity to pick her brain, but I would also love her opinion on other world leaders, business entrepreneurs, and entertainers that she has met!