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Don't Hire Brand Ambassadors, Hire Performers: Q&A with Mustard Lane

Posted by Samantha Stallard on April 18, 2017
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Too many brands are overlooking a crucial component as they plan their experiential activations. They're booking incredible venues, joining forces with mutually beneficial partnerships, and promoting the event to their fans and followers. But something's still missing - incredible brand ambassadors, staff, and promotional models. It takes a special kind of person to welcome attendees into your event with open arms, making them feel welcomed, excited, and special all in one breath.

Hiring brand ambassadors (BAs) shouldn't be the last thing event marketers cross off their to do lists because the personalities that interact with attendees can make a break the guest experience. Pop2Life partner, Mustard Lane, is doing their part to ensure that all brand events are properly staffed with engaging and informative performers (yes, you read that correctly). They're a a full-service, boutique staffing agency that thinks outside the box, providing smart, creative staff for experiential activations and interactive events. Also, we've definitely dressed a few of them up as Elvis and plopped them in a dunk tank at SXSW...

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I had the opportunity to interview Mustard Lane's Business Development Manager, Molly Montgomery, to discuss the history of the company, her take on the staffing industry, some of the coolest experiential activations she's ever seen, and what The Beatles have to do with it. Read the full interview below!

Tell us the Mustard Lane story.

Ten years ago, our founder and CEO, Kristal Mallookis, graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in dance. Upon moving to New York, she found herself taking temporary work handing out flyers and noticed her co-workers would often show up late, skip shifts, and not communicate with their bosses. Kristal knew she could find people better than this and that’s when Mustard Lane was born. Over the last decade, Mustard Lane has evolved into a company that does so much more than flyering.

All of our employees, who we lovingly call “Laners," are performers in some capacity. They really love working for us because they can participate in our crazy cool events and still pursue their artistic endeavors. I’m a writer and actor myself, so when I met Kristal I instantly felt like I fit in with her family of performers. Actors make the best BAs because they know how to talk to people, keep them engaged, get dressed up, sell a product, and represent a brand. We make the event special because we're having fun and pursuing our artistic endeavors simultaneously.

It's a great community and our holiday parties are always a blast! We have a talent show every year and everyone gets on stage to show off their skills - last year, one of our male employees did a Nina Simone impersonation. He sounded exactly like her and maybe even better! And the name is a reference to The Beatle’s - our first client called Kristal "Penny Lane" and she called him "Mean Mr. Mustard." So Mustard Lane was born.

Basit_Nina-1.jpgPictured: Basit Shittu as Nina Simone and Calley Luman, his make-up artist

How do you define your services?

Mustard Lane is a staffing company. We provide staff for any and every position you could possibly need to execute your event. We’ve built a database of about 5,000 talented vetted performers from across the United States. So, if you need a fire breathing juggler to dress up as an astronaut, I’ve got a guy! And I probably have the astronaut suit, too. Ten years ago, the word brand ambassador didn’t really seem to exist and now agencies want to do something different, all thanks to the rise of experiential marketing. Right now, we’re doing events that require performers because we live in this world of people that want to post on Instagram and Snapchat and Facebook - cultivating stories for themselves. Brands are coming up with extremely creative ideas and they need BAs to execute and accomplish their goals. Our people become the face and heart of those brand experiences.

How did you personally get involved with Mustard Lane?

I am an actress and a writer and I needed a job to help pay my bills, so I started as a brand ambassador. I really hit it off with Kristal and she needed help in the office. I went to the office a couple of days throughout the week and really loved working with clients and the logistics of securing a client and hand picking the right Laners for the job. Come to find out I was good at it and thrived in the position, so she asked to bring me on full time. I became Business Development Manager about six months ago.

It’s a lot like everything I do in my other life, including writing and acting, and I have time to pursue those passions. In fact, I just took two months away from the office to film a movie that I wrote - it was awesome - and I was able to come back and continue my work for Mustard Lane. The idea that we are all performers and we all go off and do our art and come back is true and I can speak to that. It makes our Laners, myself included, love working here and yields amazing results.

What is your interview process like? What types of characteristics are you looking for in Laners?

It’s kind of intense. We have someone on our team that specializes in body language and personality testing - I was happy that I was hired before he came on! We are mostly referral based, so an employee will ask if we can interview their friend and then we will ask for their professional head shot, their performer resume, their personal resume. Then in the office, at least two of us have to approve those materials and be interested in interviewing them. Once two people approve, we interview them. Then, if they pass that, they take a personality test, which helps solidify what we learned in the interview and helps us decide where they go in the company.

We hire for BAs, so they must love talking to people, be the right amount of engaging and forward, and be able to problem solve on the spot - the test allows us to put everyone in a role they'll be best at. As a brand ambassador, you have to do so many different things. For Pop2Life, we had to put a brand ambassador in a dunk tank at SXSW last year and you know that’s not for everyone! So all of these things kind of help us determine if they will love that. We learn all of that information in an efficient way.

Tell us about Dijon Express.

Kristal’s husband, Matt Zur, is the CEO of Zurnet, he built ML a custom database which has been crucial to our process of staffing. When someone joins the Lane, they create a profile on our database with their head shot, bio, measurements, everything we need for an event. Then, when a client reaches out to us to staff an event, we consult the database and reach out to the Laners who will be work best. From there, the chosen ones get an email from us with the details of the gig and the client receives a look book of the brand ambassadors that will be working their event.  

What are some of the craziest requests you've gotten from clients?

There have been a few! Once we had a client that wanted to build the American Ninja Warrior Wall at a tailgate and have BAs complete the obstacle course dressed up as eggs, bacon, hot dogs, and burgers. I needed my fittest and most fun Laners that would enjoy scaling a wall in a burger suit, so I put together a list of dancers and fitness instructors and they were all down for it! 

On the other hand, it's still surprising when I get an inquiry from a brand asking for 10 performers from 10am-8pm at this address and that’s it. In order for me to give you what you want, I need to know what you want. Agencies put so much time into this creative event and the last thought is, “ we need brand ambassadors.” Brand ambassadors are the face of events and the first interaction that grabs people’s attention. 

Tell us about some of the coolest brands you've worked with. What made the experience stand out so positively?

One of my all time favorite gigs was with AMC at Comic-Con for Fear of the Walking Dead. The experience had fans completing tasks aboard the Abigail, from the show's second season, attempting to survive the zombie apocalypse. My husband and I often discuss what we would do in these situations, so the whole thing was awesome! The Mustard Lane performers were decked out in full costume and makeup as the “walkers.” We love to show off how talented our staff is and makes us so happy to see them do what they love. When your event's staff is having the time of their lives, the experience is improved for everyone.

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What are Mustard Lanes' plans for 2017?
We are opening our own event space! We have a space in Chelsea that we are completely renovating to host parties, conferences, activations, and once it’s completed, we will also run our office from there. So 2017 is bringing the opportunity for us to host our own events. Traditionally, were just a staffing company for our clients, but we’ve been breaking into producing our own live events, which has been awesome. Hopefully 2017 will be full of staffing and producing!   
Bio: Molly Montgomery
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Molly Montgomery is a New York City based actress, writer and producer originally from Texas. Dubbed as a true New Yorker, Molly has resided in the city for over 10 years now. Snakes I Have Known was her first full length play, which was published after a sold-out run at the International Fringe Festival. She is now in post production on her feature length film, A Little Water. The film was produced by Paired Entertainment a company she co-founded with Charles Warburton in 2016. As Business Development Manager at Mustard Lane she enjoys meeting and cultivating relationships with Mustard Lane clients. In her spare time Molly enjoys exploring the endless trails with her husband around their country home and hosting dinner parties.

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