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Experiential is a Movement Not a Trend: Q&A with Bernstein & Andriulli

Posted by Samantha Stallard on March 14, 2018
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Event attendees rarely think about the work that goes into its creation – the countless hours of planning, negotiating, and problem solving. And, as creators, we don’t want them to. We want them to walk into a world that seemingly appeared overnight, in which every detail, from the entertainment to the wine glasses, works together in harmony.

One of the biggest components of branded events, especially Condé Nast events, is the involvement of creatives. Whether they are a photographer or an illustrator, street artist or makeup artist, it’s important to authentically align a brand and its experience with creators that have a similar aesthetic, passion, and voice to the causeBernstein & Andriulli is a premier creative management agency and media consultancy whose job is to do just that. B&A scouts the globe and works with everyone from cultural icons to burgeoning hot new talent to bring fresh solutions to the creative community. I sat down with B&A’s senior brand experience agent, Alma Lacour, to discuss the history of the agency, the importance of trust, and the joy of heavy metal music in the morning. 

Tell us the Bernstein & Andriulli story. How did the company begin?

For over 40 years, Bernstein & Andriulli has been pairing world-class artists with brands to help their visions come to life. Former art director Sam Bernstein and advertising account lead Tony Andriulli had just three photographers on their roster when the company formed in the late 1970s. In 1982, Howard Bernstein joined, and would eventually take the helm of the company in 2000. Over time, the agency has continuously diversified its roster representing award-winning talent across photography, illustration, animation, murals and now experiential. The agency was acquired in 2014 to join Great Bowery, where Howard became managing partner in 2017.

What drew you into such an artistic world?

I moved to New York in 2001 to pursue a career in the music business. Through a friend of a friend, I got my first gig as an assistant to Slayer’s booking agent. It was my job to call venues around the country to make sure we were selling tickets. I remember walking into the office at 9am and heavy metal would already be blasting.  I coveted my co-worker’s collection of VIP lanyards.

When you’re just starting out, you try to soak up as much as possible. I worked on the soundtrack for a Kermit the Frog movie, then did marketing for a children’s record label. Later, I was asked to help launch the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival and for some reason they put me in charge. Working on that festival was the first time I was responsible for a production of any scale. I remember feeling incredibly driven by the responsibility in the moments I wasn’t completely overwhelmed by it. There’s nothing quite like it.

I later joined a production company called Decon, which was acquiring the legacy brand Mass Appeal at the time. We were doing projects in the music and film production space, while laying plans for the “new” Mass Appeal. After a few years I became Partner there, and was tasked with building their agency division. I orchestrated partnerships between brands and artists - anything from exhibits, tours and product launches, to documentary films and album releases. It was the first time I think I truly understood the nuances of working with talent and how to responsibly build partnerships with brands. My work there lasted almost nine years.

A year ago, I was asked to join Bernstein & Andriulli to build their experiential division. It was an exciting opportunity to create a new vertical within a highly respected, well-established artist’s agency that has been operating for decades. I now manage a roster of incredibly talented artists working in the experience realm and I’m humbled every day that they trust me with their craft. It’s my job to find them great partnerships and contribute to the strategy of building their careers. It’s incredibly gratifying and creative work.

How has the creative management/media consultancy industry changed in the last 5-10 years?

Our world changes daily and the realm of art and commerce is no exception. I remember when “viral” and “content” each had their moments within the halls of advertising, and now “experiential” is having its own. Even then – and I might be biased – I don’t believe that it's just a new marketing trend, it’s now affecting the way we interact with our entire world. 

The idea that experts working in this field are artists worthy of top billing is a notion that people are still getting used to. But the people that are embracing of it are also the ones reorganizing their entire business structures around “experiences.” This is no longer relegated to creating a PR moment, it now affects the way products are sold, the way content is consumed, and the way brands build meaning for their audience.  And audiences are expecting it, big time.

Like every other area of our lives, technology continues to reshape the landscape. It’s given us new mediums and platforms with which to create, and it’s not so surprisingly driven a renewed appetite for tactile creativity. Amidst all of the technology innovation, I still love seeing a completely analog experience that was inspired by a 19th century theater trick or a design concept that pulls craft-based traditions into a new era. Where analog meets digital is truly the sweet spot.

No matter what, I’m excited to be working in a space where artistry is prioritized and being a craftswoman or man puts you in high demand.

Tell us about some of the coolest projects your clients have worked on. What made those experiences stand out so positively?

I’m always inspired by the passion projects my artists invest their blood, sweat and tears into. The studio Sensorium just came back from Sundance where they premiered their interactive social VR experience,“Zikr: A Sufi Revival.” The piece uses song and dance to transport participants into Sufi rituals, while also exploring the role of this mystical Islamic tradition in the lives of its devotees. Sufism is a commonly misunderstood and persecuted Islamic practice, and Sensorium’s dedication to use their artistic platform to heighten awareness reinforces the power and responsibility of the craft. You can’t help but be inspired by this piece.

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zikr_media_360_mohammed.jpegImages from the interactive social VR experience, “Zikr: A Sufi Revival.” Check out Sensorium's B&A Artist's page here

The mural artist Insa continues to surprise me. Having gained a huge global following for his experimental mural work, he’s responsible for creating the first-ever GIF animations of graffiti: a meticulous and labor-intensive process that requires him to repaint an entire mural by hand several times. One of my favorite of his feats was the time he repainted a parking lot in Brazil over the course of 4 days, capturing imagery from a satellite to make the world’s largest animated GIF. No big deal. (No seriously, it was a big deal.) 

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Top photo: A GIF of Insa's mural from space; Bottom photo: Insa admiring his mural from the ground. Check out his B&A Artist's page here

How do you think implementing an artist partnership improves a brand experience? If you were to advise a brand looking to partner with an artist, what advice/guidance would you give them?

Like any other part of life, the best relationships are built on trust. As experiences evolve, the amount of collaboration and information sharing required to produce larger projects at speed only continues to grow. Some brands simply have more trust in that process than others. No two projects I’ve ever produced have been the same, either in the creation process or the final result. Now imagine that phenomenon across the scale of a large corporation. I can see why businesses are being strategic about how they adopt to this new realm while trying to balance a leap of faith. It’s not only about believing in experiences, it’s about having a company culture and structure to support it. With that in mind, finding partners who are experts in their craft becomes even more important.  

Anytime I partner a brand with an artist, I try to create a relationship built on flexibility and creativity. When both sides feel as though they’re truly collaborating, allowed to “own” their part of the process, it’s hugely satisfying and can deliver amazing results. Over communicate, don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know, and strive to keep the long game in mind. None of this is happening in a vacuum, and this way of doing business and creating content is not going away anytime soon. Might as well try to have a little fun, too - we’re all just experimenting along the way.

Are there any big updates for B&A coming this year?

When looking to the future, I try to take my own advice and keep the long game in mind. Technology advances and audience appetites will always continue to evolve. But, I am very excited to see how brands will continue to approach physical destinations whether they are retail, location-based entertainment, or both.  How can we continue to turn physical spaces into destinations for exploration and play?

I’m also excited to see how multi-platform experiences can break boundaries in storytelling. Overlaying digital experiences on top of physical spaces, bridging the gap between what is happening on screen vs. what is happening in real life seamlessly -- and how a narrative can weave them both together. My clients may not love to hear this, but I also love creating experiences where audiences put their phones down and are just truly absorbed in the moment.

But in the short term, we’ll be announcing new talent signings soon, and have partnered with several collectives to help them grow and expand in 2018. One project I’m particularly excited about is our relationship with the Montreal Mural Festival who are introducing their event to the US for the first time in LA this November.

What are your predictions for the experiential industry in the next five years?

A lot can happen in five years. I’m interested to see how hardware developments will continue to streamline, further blending analog with digital experiences. I think immersive environments built as destinations will only continue to be the norm. Entertainment is going to blur more and more with marketing and advertising. And I’m excited to see how a younger generation of makers and marketers will embrace these tools to inspire a new wave of artistic expression. Oh, and I’m crossing my fingers that the step and repeat will officially be extinct by 2023.


alma_lacour.jpg For over 15 years, Alma has worked with artists and brands to create meaningful experiences. Today, she leads the Experiential division of B&A, a talent management and brand experience agency. Her collective of artists span a wide variety of mediums including installation, experience design, creative technology and strategy. She is also the founder of Anthony + Stanton, a women’s community.

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Topics: experiential marketing, marketing news, go beyond, interview

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