I had the pleasure of interviewing Joaquin Esteva.
Joaquin has over 20 years’ experience in the advertising industry, specifically in arts and entertainment. He has proven success in developing and implementing multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns, as well as expertise in advance planning and timely execution of projects. His work has helped raise the profile for successful Broadway clients and cultural institutions such as Disney on Broadway, Wicked, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, or readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up with an extended family that loved theater and loved performing arts. I had uncles and cousins who acted in the theater, and I had one aunt who was in the original West End cast of Miss Saigon. I got the chance to see her perform in London when I was in high school, and that was the moment that really ignited my love of theater. At the same time, my parents also instilled in me a love of travel — on our family trips we would visit museums and historical attractions, which is something I still love to do as an adult.
When I went to college, I decided to major in marketing because I thought that having a business career was very practical, but choosing a marketing major still allowed me to tap into my creative side. When I moved to New York after graduation, I eventually landed in an entry level position at an advertising agency that handled Broadway shows. At that point, I thought I hit the jackpot because I was able to use my marketing degree to promote a product I really love, which is the experience of going to the theater. I’ve been in this industry for almost 20 years now, and worked at a couple of different agencies throughout that time, and also had a stint at a nonprofit arts institution working on the marketing team in-house.
Now, I’m back on the agency side at AKA NYC. The thing that I love about AKA is that we don’t only work with theater clients, we work with museums and popular tourist destinations as well. So, I found myself being able to tap into both my love of theater and of travel.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It wasn’t so funny at the time (and sometimes when I look back, it’s still cringeworthy!), but it was an important learning moment for me. Back in my first agency, I was working on an account where we were doing focus groups testing a TV commercial. The commercial was structured in a way where it told the narrative arc of the lead character. There was a glitch when we were reformatting the spot, and it removed the voiceover audio from the scene but left the dialogue between the actors. When we were interviewing the subjects, they were confused by the commercial because it didn’t make sense without the context that the voiceover provided.
Fortunately we were able to fix it for the next focus group, but the important lesson that I learned there was to check and double-check everything and pay attention to the details. This is something that I’ve always carried with me since then.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
The tipping point that I can identify is when I was assigned my first accounts to lead. I made sure that I took the opportunity to demonstrate my capabilities and what I had learned since starting at that agency — making sure I was thorough, responsive, paying attention to every detail, and working with a sense of urgency and ownership of the account.
For those just starting out in their careers, or finding themselves as a junior member of the team, the word of advice that I would share is to be hungry but also to be humble. This means taking advantage of a time when you are a junior member of the team to be a sponge, to absorb everything and observe the senior members of the team, learning best practices from those who you admire in your company. That way, when the opportunity does come for you to step up, you can be confident in your ability to apply what you’ve learned and know that the learning will continue as you experience successes and failures throughout your career.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are a lot of reasons why AKA NYC stands out. One is our brilliant team of creatives, media planners, content creators and client services folks who are really passionate about our work and our clients. We work really closely with our clients, and we fully enjoy the collaborative nature of our relationships. As an agency, we’re very resourceful and nimble, so if a client comes to us with a challenge or request that’s urgent, we pull out all the stops to make sure that we’re responsive and delivering great work in a timely manner. I also like that we’re very insights-driven and results-oriented; our recommendations are always driven by research and data, and we evaluate our campaigns with measurable KPIs to ensure they’re performing effectively.
An example of something that we did recently on one of my accounts, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, that really stood out was our Times Square Takeover. As part of the launch of our new campaign, we took over more than 50 screens in Times Square. It took months of planning and involved a large team of people to pull off the largest video takeover in Times Square’s history, but it went really well, the client was pleased, and it got a lot of attention and buzz.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working with this incredible institution in San Francisco called the Asian Art Museum. They’ve been going through an expansion of the museum, building new gallery and exhibition spaces, and we’re working with them on an ad campaign that will reintroduce the transformed museum to the public. The campaign is working to upend people’s perspectives on what Asian art is and what a museum experience should and could be. I’m really excited about that — it’ll hopefully be launching soon, once everything in our world is back to normal.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Be gentle with yourself. To me, that means understanding that failure is inevitable. It’s going to happen; so rather than feel defeated by it, use it as an opportunity to grow and expand. Another thing is to take work-life balance seriously, and not feel like you have to be a martyr working long hours to prove your dedication. You’d be surprised at how and when inspiration can strike if you step away from work and do something that brings you joy and clears your head.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many people in the industry who I consider to be “mentors.” One, in particular, was my supervisor at my first Broadway agency job, who definitely has helped shape my growth in the business. I started in an entry level position at that agency and stayed there for 13 years as I worked my way up, so my supervisor was with me from day one and really helped me grow. I’m also grateful for my current boss at AKA NYC, who has provided me with many exciting opportunities to showcase my skills as both a marketing professional and a team leader.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?
I have a few. I really love the “Get a Mac” campaign from Apple; I think it’s a great example of competitive advertising and using a template to give your campaign some legs. The execution is very simple to help make the message land, and it established personalities for a Mac versus a PC that I think people found relatable.
I also like the Absolut Vodka bottle campaign, which is a great example of how executing a campaign flawlessly really helps it succeed. I love that the print ads were collectible; when I was in college so many people had the magazine tear sheets hanging on their wall. The serial nature of the campaign kept it fresh and established a strong connection between brand and consumer.
Finally, a fairly recent campaign that I thought was brilliant was the Dove Real Beauty campaign. It engaged the public in a very meaningful way, and generated a lot of attention, which amplified the message way beyond the paid advertising component of it. I thought that campaign was really impressive.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
There are several elements. Having a strong voice or point of view, an approach that’s a little out of the box, a campaign that’s authentic and true to your brand, and something that is aspirational or appeals at an emotional level are all important. Also, it should be executed flawlessly and get everyone talking — not only the public but also the media. A successful campaign gets the media to help amplify the message because it resonates so much with the public.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
There’s going to be more of an emphasis on great storytelling that connects your brand to your audience on a more emotional, much deeper level. Further, becoming mobile focused is where everything is going these days, because everyone is constantly on their phones — having snackable, shareable video content that people can easily consume and share is going to continue to be an important part of marketing going forward.
“Influencer marketing” is the new word of now; getting endorsements on social media from influencers or celebrities will be more and more prevalent. More hyper-targeted and segmented communication is also essential. Moving away from mass targeting to more specific groups and tailoring your messaging accordingly is where marketing is headed.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Follow your own path and progress on your own timeline.
- Don’t be afraid of failure.
- Don’t worry about what others think of you. Most of the time they’re probably thinking about themselves rather than you.
- It’s okay to not have all the answers.
- Follow your inspiration and do what brings you joy
A specific example for me was when I first graduated from school, I was offered a job at a large corporation, which I jumped on because of the prestige that came with it along with a good sense of stability and longevity. After about three years, I realized it wasn’t what I enjoyed doing — it wasn’t what I was passionate about — so I left that job, and that’s how I landed at the career I have now. Looking back, it’s that lesson of following your inspiration and doing something that brings you joy, and everything else will fall into place.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technology is a great way for small business owners to create detailed, immersive experiences for consumers with relative ease. Not all small businesses or agencies can afford to host large-scale events or brand activations, but AR/VR technology can be used at any scale. For small business owners, finding ways to leverage this technology in a way that ties into their business goals — whether it’s trying on clothes, testing how a piece of furniture looks in an office, or something else — can help create more advanced marketing campaigns likely to draw the public’s attention.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
There’s one daily email that I subscribe to and read religiously, which is Seth Godin’s daily email. I think he’s a brilliant mind, and has very astute perspectives into marketing. He offers his thoughts on the industry, and a lot of time he ties that into current events and things that are happening, so he touches on a lot of different marketing-related topics. He has very interesting observations that I think are spot-on.
Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?
It’s a little cliché, but I would say that my parents are my heroes. They’ve worked really hard to raise four kids, and they put each one of us through college. They’re retired now, and are really living it up in their retirement, which I’m really happy about. My love of travel came from them; they instilled in me this curiosity about the world and its cultures.
For my dad, specifically, he taught me two things that have become the foundation of my work ethic — working with a sense of urgency and attention to detail. As I’ve moved through my career, I’ve tried to always keep those two things in the back of my mind, and tried to apply them in all the positions I’ve been in.
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.
It ties back to what we do at AKA NYC and the mission of our agency. If I could inspire a movement, it would be encouraging people to go out and enrich their lives by experiencing the great things that the world has to offer. Whether that’s museums and cultural institutions or historical attractions or Broadway shows, I think that traveling the world and expanding your horizons is key to a fulfilling life. Travel is a great way to meet new people from different cultures and helps break down barriers. When you travel, you come to realize that we all have a lot more things in common with each other than differences. Traveling, visiting museums, consuming culture; it all enriches your life.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can keep up with me on LinkedIn.