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Ready to level up your event and PR game? We’ve got you covered! This week, host Jack and tech PR wizard Amie welcome Molly and John from the award-winning pop culture marketing agency, Experience12. They’re here to offer their fantastic insight into the best ways to bring event plans to life.
The Experience12 team explains the different options available to those looking to build a presence at events such as EGX, Gamescom and GDC, highlighting how even if you’re an indie on a budget, you can still be present at events in some form. However big your budget is, what is super important is planning, and the team explain how bigger events often require year-long planning.
We reminisce about the best free goodies we’ve bagged at events and how the industry as a whole is shifting to more sustainable methods of delivering event experiences and booths across multiple events to maximise efficiency and minimise waste!
We also discuss how the post-COVID era has undoubtedly posed challenges, but it has also offered opportunities that underline the significance of relationships formed at events and how important having a presence at said events can be. Online events still have an important role and allow a wider base to participate in them, but they need the experiential nature of physical events that can really assist in relationship building.
Experience12’s Molly and John highlight the importance of creating a vibrant atmosphere and expanding someone’s experience at an event to being more than just sitting down and playing a game. Wrapping up the conversation, we delve into how local partnerships and event attendance can open fresh avenues for brands.
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Welcome to the GamesPR podcast, your regular dose of video game PR goodness. Sit down, and relax as our team of experts and special guests share tips and tricks to help you level up your PR game with media and influencers.
Welcome everyone to the GamesPR podcast. It’s your guide to the world of Games PR, marketing and a little bit of everything in between, hosted by me, Jack, who has been doing all of that and more for my entire professional life. So joining me this week is Amie, our tech PR wizard and events specialist, which is excellent timing for today’s topic, and special guests from the award-winning pop culture marketing agency Experience 12. Welcome on board. Hey guys, that’s Molly and John here. So I said award-winning pop culture marketing agency, what does that mean?
Exactly what it says on the tin, basically. So yeah, we’re a pop culture marketing agency that specializes in pop culture, so that’s across TV, film and games, those lines are getting blurred more and more these days as well. So we specialize in a lot of things. We specialize in events, exhibitions, launch events, PR events, and anything like that. So the company’s been going for just over 10 years. It was our 10th birthday this year. I’ve been with the business for four years. My speciality is in the games industry. But, yeah, I’ll let Molly help have a shout as well.
I am one of the newbies to the company this year, so I started in January and I’m on the production side of it, so producing the wonderful ideations that come from our client side. Not that we don’t have a good idea ourselves!
Well, that’s a good intro and a great point you’ve raised there really, I guess, distilling what it is you do, which is taking ideas people have and making it a reality, as you guys have been doing for so many. I think an easy one to start by discussing what can you do, or what really can’t you do, maybe, as it were, because people can have ideas and think, oh, I can’t do it. That’s impossible. But I mean, I saw pictures from Gamescom and there was just a tractor sitting in the hall so that you can start small or large really and go from there. But I think in the last episode that we spoke about events, it was more along the lines of why people should do them and just kind of put themselves there. But really, if they want to take that extra level, it is perhaps getting some experts on board and going let’s go big. So why go big?
Well, just taking a step back, what can you do? Anything, to be honest? What should you do? You should be more specific and that’s what we like with our clients, we love getting involved really early, like could be a year out from the event that they’re looking at doing, just so we can bounce ideas around and things like that. But for what they should do at events, it depends massively on the type.
If it’s a small indie game, you just basically want to get there and you want to spend your money in the smartest way possible. If they’re looking for investment or if they’re just looking for players to get involved, there are two different ways to do it. For the big triple-A’s, there’s lots of things you can do. We’ve just done a big thing with Sega EGX where they had five different titles on one stand. Or you can have people that can just concentrate on one title and take half a hall of Gamescom. It all comes down to what they want to achieve and most clients come to us not knowing what they want to achieve. So that’s kind of it’s a lot of hand-holding and saying that this is you. Come to us with what you want to do and they will say this is what you can do. Xyz or Gold, silver, or bronze depends on budget, depends on timing, release dates, and lots of things really.
It’s also when you’re thinking about going to these places. It’s how you want to engage with your audience, which is a big aspect. It’s what they’re paying money to be there. They’re paying money to see you. What is going to make them interact with you? And that’s something that we have to consider. When a client comes to us, they can come to us with ideas and, as John said, we can put them in a Gold, silver, or bronze spectrum, but we can also give you ones that you may not have thought about. We can give you that other-sided view, because we also need to put ourselves in the audience’s shoes, saying what would we also want to push to see to get people who may not be in the games industry, and how are we going to entice them to start getting involved?
I was going to ask if there were any cool examples or stories that you could share that people may have seen in the wild, Some of the shows or recent things that you’ve done. People don’t necessarily have to have seen them, but it’d just be good to get a taster if you can paint that picture.
So, coming out of EGX, as John said, we went to the exhibition with Sega, and we made this really incredible five-title structure, and I think one of the best things about that that we did was you got to play one of the titles. You did your 10 minutes of the demo, but from that, we took a piece of the action, and you could live it. You could have your moment as one of the characters in this really fun slow-mo glam bot that then you can share in your socials to say that you’ve been there, you’ve done that, you’ve been part of the game. So that was quite a nice niche one. But also for anyone who didn’t do the gameplay and just wanted to have a fun capture moment, a takeaway from the brand itself, that was available too.
There’s no you have to do this to do the next part then. It was just a bit free-flowing and everyone could be involved. There were these two gorgeous old women with their grandchildren and their son. It was really lovely, and they were there dancing in it as well. It was probably one of the sweetest moments I’ve seen on the stand, and it was just nice that it was a whole family environment, and it wasn’t just because he was there and wanted to introduce his kids to gaming. He brought these two grannies with him, and it was so sweet to see.
Do you often get that sense of jealousy if you’re on the stand and you see someone across the hall doing something cool, and you have that competition for getting eyes on it?
Yeah, you do. If you feel you want to participate and you think, oh, I wish we had thought of that. But then it’s something you can take away yourself. You work on it, you figure out a concept that works for another client in a different route or a different creative, and it’s something you can implement in the future. So it’s kind of that whole thing that you’re never not learning, and you’re never not engaging with others. There’s always something to learn, there’s always something to see. So the best thing to do for us as a company is to get on the ground and see what’s around and see what we will be competing with when we are going into the pitch. That’s how you win client trust. That’s how you make sure we have everything in our arsenal to go ahead and go to these people saying we can deliver what you want.
So you’ve mentioned a few event names already. I think it would be great, and I always talk about timelines on this podcast as a bit of a bugbear, but I think it’s really important here, because if someone’s thinking, oh, I’ve got some ideas of things I want to do in an event, how early do they need to start planning that? And I think I’m setting you up for someone to hit this with an offer or a home run here, because I’ve heard whisperings that during GDC itself, there are already people planning for the next year while the show is still happening, to show you how intense the timeline really is.
Yeah, it certainly can be. You can plan like I just said. You can plan next year’s at the event you’re at because you’re figuring out what’s working and what’s not working at that event, and the sort of best answer for your question is always going to be from us as early as possible. But that doesn’t. It really doesn’t have to be. I mean, we have worked with clients for 12 months for an event. We’ve worked with clients for two weeks for an event.
You know they’ve just suddenly decided they need to be at EGX or MCM or Gamescom or wherever. I want to get in there as quickly as possible, but as long and short of it, yeah, as long as possible. But you know, three to six months is kind of the sweet spot if they’re looking at doing something, a large activation. By large activation, I mean like a 10 by 10 to 20 by 20 style booth with lots of gameplay, a photo or some sort of merch, and that’s going to need staffing and building. But again, with a sort of short amount of time, again with smaller budgets, things can be thrown together. They won’t be anywhere near as professional, but things can be done, or a lot of time, deals can be done, so you could maybe get somebody like an indie developer who could get space on somebody else’s stand.
You know, there’s a lot of the larger shows, like we can mention EGX just because that’s in the memory because that’s just happened, but they have the indie zone there as well. To get into those can be easier at short notice than to get onto the show floor. But obviously, with the larger shows, things like Gamescom and things like that, to get the prime space, you really need to book in early. The only caveat I’d say to that would be the Tokyo Game Show. I went to that last year for the very first time with the client. Their show floor is a complete lottery. So you say how much space you want, and then you go into a lottery, and they divide it up. Somehow all the Japanese developers end up in the same hall. But yeah, apparently, it’s a lottery, but yeah, it is a great show to go to as well.
I think it’s also fair to consider when you’re planning something or coming up with your concept and you’re saying you definitely want to be there the less time you have, and if you have more investors or stakeholders on your stand so say, you have varying op-cos or buying space on your stand or you have different business units all wanting different things how bespoke they’re going you need to take in consideration how each of those different companies working together will integrate together how their approval processes work.
So that’s something that you need to kind of fine-tune at the beginning of the process on our end. So making sure everyone’s happy with the ways of work, that’s going to take time, it’s going to be a learning process, and it’s just making sure that everyone’s comfortable in the time that you’re working. So the less time you give, the less time you give those approval chances and all those back conversations that they need to have internally for us to sign off. So we can push as much as we can, but we also are very aware of how a client has to work too.
Yeah, like you said, there’s a lot of people involved. So, Amie, a question for you then is, from a client’s perspective, what is the sort of PR and marketing value of being at an event? It might sound obvious, but some people really don’t really know what their goal is. They just want sales, so why should going to an event be something they should consider versus spending all that money on advertising digitally?
It’s a really good question, in my opinion. I think if you want to do something physical or experiential where people get to engage with it or see it, I feel like they’re more likely to remember it, or like they see something gorgeous or fun, and it just sticks in their memory, and it’s also kind of like an unobtrusive way of marketing. You’re not going, here’s an advert, please follow and like me, it’s actually, we are here, we exist, we’re in this space, we’re very serious about this and for all the people that don’t necessarily know about your brand or you know you’re out there for discovery.
It’s amazing to have passersby that you get to interact with, in the video games context, your players, your consumers, the people that you’re selling your games to, and I think it’s really important that the brands make themselves just more present. Generally, I love walking the halls at Gamescom and GDC just because there’s so much stuff that I would never necessarily discover on my own. Even if I got served an ad, oh, it’s an ad, I just click off that, not interested. But there’s something that hits a bit different when you’re caught up in the same interest and the same reason as to why everyone else is there. So I think that alone to get your brand in front of, let’s take Gamescom, for example, 320,000 people.
It hits a bit differently. It’s quite personal, and on the flip side, it’s something that I really enjoy doing. But you know, that’s that’s a different side.
You’ve mentioned the memorability there, so a little fun one for everyone. What is the most memorable bit of free merch you’ve got at an event?
I have mine literally down here [Amie shows off Xbox branded controller cushion]
Oh, my God.
Is that from the party at Gamescom last year? Yes, yes, yes, that’s so good, that’s so cute.
I think mine was. I don’t think I’ve got it, or I might have given it to my kids. Do you remember Rage 2, which came out about maybe five years ago? They made a flying boomerang disk that came together and just pressed a button, and it clicked out, and you could throw it across. It was fantastic. But they were given out at, I think it was either EGX or MCM and ended up with a bit of a war outside where there must have been 100 people just lobbing these things at each other. It made for a memorable evening, but yeah, they were great.
For the audio listeners who didn’t see what Amie was presenting, it was a cushion. There is a concept that merch and freebies are just pens and notepads or useless, it’s not always the case. If you really want to make your brand stand out, putting some real thought into what are even just minor things can really set you apart. Ironically I’ve forgotten the brand, but at GDC last year, they were giving away these really neon green bags that opened up so you could store them in a little bag, and you open it up, and it’s like a shopping bag, and you can put it back in your pocket. They were handing those out, and you saw everyone walking around the show with these bright neon green bags, perhaps not interested in the product, but they stopped by the booth to say hello and pick up the freebie. So it was at least memorable because it was useful.
Yeah, the merchandise doesn’t have to just be for entertainment. It can be useful. Water bottles, just getting your brand out there, showing that you’re caring, being like, make sure to hydrate yourself. Yes, probably everyone in the world has a million water bottles, but what’s one more, they’re very useful to have. I’ve got one at the office, and one at home. I have one that goes in my work kit. When I go to a site, I make sure that I have one at the ready because no one wants to walk around with plastic bottles anymore, even some of the nicer ends of the tech industry or gaming industry. Giving out portable chargers that fit in your pocket is just the most simplified and genius way of getting your brand into a potential consumer or business associate’s pocket. It’s there, it is so usable, and it’s easy to carry around forever.
Yeah, a thing that we’ve started doing a lot in a post-lockdown thing as well for because we don’t just do large expo events, we do launch events for games and things like that, and we start these with gift boxing campaigns. More and more clients are asking for these boxes to contain things which will then sit in a streamer’s background, so things are branded and will just sit there so they’ll become part of the environment. So it’s like a journey through to the launch event, and these can be simple sort of statuettes or even things that people are creating out of cardboard, so the box itself falls down, everything pops out, so it’s like a model that they can create, but then they can be displayed in a background or, you know, they become a sort of collectable in themselves. So yeah, gaming merch is a lot different now than it was when it was just basically t-shirts and tote bags, which you know like sort of like 10-15 years ago. Giveaway merch has to be thought of almost as much as the event itself because it’s the takeaway.
And I feel as though there’s also a big push towards sustainability now with events and merch, the idea that you should be able not to produce more useless plastic, but if you are producing something, you can reuse it. I don’t know how often that factors in when you’re producing something.
No one wants to see endless amounts of plastic in all their stuff. It’s really interesting when you’re working with suppliers and you ask them how it is packaged, and how is it being delivered. And you get this really sustainable, lovely piece, and then they send it to you in a plastic wrap, and you go what’s the point in that? You’re sending it in a box, but each individual item is plastic wrapped? It doesn’t make sense. So when a client is saying we want to be more sustainable, that is something we actively avoid. We go out to smaller companies. It might have that little bit more of a price tag on it, but you know it’s ethically sourced, it is premium, and it’s gonna look very smart. And again, that is the client put in trust and asks to be like, oh okay, they’ve delivered on the promise they were pushing out and as meaning, they can take a box saying, we achieved what we said we’re gonna do. We’re gonna be more sustainable.
There’s also a lot of your elements, some of the builds. Some of them can be reused again or recycled, or made into different things. Does that also apply in the same context? I know you can hire furniture, but I’m sure your guys’ stands are pretty reusable and you can store them for other events too.
You can store a lot of your stands. It is dependent on if the client wants to go through the storing or disposal process. So with storing, we’ll keep as much or as little things that can be reused. So say you’re building bespoke walls, and they may have some hammer marks or whatever when you’re trying to derig it. That can then be cut down and used in flooring. It can then be cut down and used into smaller pieces on another stand, and then it gets recycled.
We’re trying not to be a wasteful industry. We’re trying to be very considerate. There’s also other ways you can go about it. If you don’t want to do the bespoke side of things, you can do rented aluminium frames that then have these reusable graphics where they use the silicone edges that they pop in, and it’s something that is easily tourable. These are kit scenarios that we can work on, and we can build a package for you that is a touring scheme that goes around. So in the long term, it would be more cost-efficient. In the upfront cost. It might may not be everyone’s fancy, but then you have something that you can then maybe rewrap or you just keep rolling it out for as long as you need it. It can be very simple, it can be very complex, but there is definitely ways of making yourself sustainable on-site.
Good, good, planet-saving knowledge there.
Trying a bit at a time.
I didn’t get to go to Gamescom this year, but I’ve seen people talking about things they saw at Gamescom, which were then reused at EGX. So that’s showing in action people reusing the assets. For a lot of clients as well, especially if they’re on the smaller scale, they do really need to see these as an investment, so they’re going to want to see it used more than once. Have you seen cases of things being reused in a completely different way than you expected? Once it’s served its original purpose, Is everything fairly, fairly standard?
I’ve not seen anything like that, but referring to your previous point. A lot of the stands now that we get asked to look at for larger scale stands, so for a Gamescom stand, which could be anything up to a hundred square meters, obviously Gamescom is pretty much the only show that’s big enough to take that. So a lot of those stands are designed and then they might have a modular concept, so the center of the stand can then be packaged up and sent and brought to EGX, MCM or something like that. So it’s not the whole stand can be reused, but parts of it will be then taken to another show, or even just as much like just the photo op from a large stand will then be reusable. So that side is becoming more and more in the design element as well.
It’s a question that’s been asked at the beginning of the process, not something that’s halfway through. It was an afterthought. Can we use this for the show at the end of the year, whereas now it’s part of a 12-month plan? If this is the start of our show, we can use it here and then we can use this element XYZ show down the road.
Touched on an interesting point, though. A question I have, at least, is, what do you wish people knew before they came to you with a brief to make things easier for you? If they think this isn’t feasible, what are some? Some really just basic-level things that don’t seem that basic to someone who’s very new to this.
That’s more of a production question. I’ll let Molly field that one from my side.
A consideration that may get overshadowed in this is ideation. I think logistics can be a very grey area for people who don’t know what that can entail. Looking at England, and not to bring up Brexit, but we now don’t have easy access to Europe. We have to think about the extra travel, having to make sure that the different people involved with that they’re taxed correctly and that the companies have a freelancer who hasn’t been in Europe for 180 days. Now, there’s a lot of considerations we then have to make sure that we’re prepared for, and that’s why we go to certain suppliers that we wholly trust because they get it, and that’s why we would go back to them. And then, on the other side is another consideration If you have, because of COVID, a brand that is new, they don’t know where to start and they want to go in somewhere and they’ve only ever been in a digital capacity.
Making them physical is not what they see on a screen. There’s a difference in colour. You can come to the argument of looking at a company that’s only digital, and they go oh, this is our colour, and then they see it physically, and they think that’s not right, that’s not what it should be. But it’s that disparity of not knowing what the physicality is. So they’re the two things that get lost in translation on the initial, and that’s what we’re here to help to show them that road being like we’ll get it done, but just be patient. Well, we get there with you as well.
You touched on an area that I really wanted to get into there about. You mentioned COVID because for most other aspects, especially in the games industry, we saw things moving online, but it didn’t really feel like events worked online and having people working remotely. Game devs might be working remotely still, but events are still very much physical. People returned for GDC, and returned for Gamescom, so why do we all think it didn’t work online? What’s that benefit? We might have alluded to it earlier about just having that experience, but why take this physical and why didn’t it stick online like everything else did?
We still now talk about events pre-COVID and post-COVID. They are. You know, things haven’t got back to what they were before, and they’re certainly getting there, and they’re getting better year on year.
I would say Gamescom this year was pretty much back to normal, but why didn’t it work? I think there’s a lot of different people, and a lot of different answers to that. For me, personally, I think events, I love events, and I’m an events nerd, and I think it is a shared experience. When you’re at an event, even if you go by yourself, you buzz off the atmosphere, you buzz off everybody else there, and you just don’t get that at home, and I think a lot of things for events are similar to festivals, maybe as well. It’s not just seeing what’s there, it’s meeting up with people, gamers especially. It’s meeting up with people you may game with. You live in different parts of the country, different countries, and you’re going there to meet up or to meet new people, meet people that are just into the game. If you’re a Destiny fan, you’ve been on the Destiny Reddit or Facebook group or whatever, and there’s a meet-up arranged. That’s a huge part of it.
But yeah, covid was a hard time for events, definitely, and it was great to see people trying to do them online to keep that sort of thing alive. But it was a massive breath of relief when they came back and even when they came back half-heartedly in the end of 2021, 2022. But to have them back now in full swing is fantastic. But it is a different landscape, definitely than sort of like pre-COVID More challenges, but we relish the challenges as well. It’s coming up with a new atmosphere for people to enjoy. So, yeah, it definitely had an effect. But yeah, for me live events will always be there. We just need to keep them changing, moving with the times, basically for what people expect.
I think it’s hit the nail on the head. I honestly don’t think it can all be digital. You need to immerse yourselves in it. You’ll never get the same reaction. A great example, John, is the festivals, that reaction of you’re stepping out. You’re hearing the roar of an audience. When you sit down on a digital screen at home, it’s empty.
From my perspective, I think a lot of people just, it’s not that they need an excuse to go somewhere to meet with like-minded people, but I think it’s really important to understand that so many people don’t necessarily have easy access or have equal access to events like this who are lucky enough to go and see what’s on the show floor and spend time with people.
We have to remember that some people may not necessarily go out on a really regular basis. So feeling that acceptance to be anything or everything that you want to be, and also not feel judged by that, it’s quite a safe space in that regard to express yourself and to nerd out in whichever way you want. It almost feels in a weird way, that the brands are sort of rewarding their consumers. It’s almost like a thank you for being such a supporter. Yes, you’ve bought a ticket. Yes, we spent loads of money on this booth or whatever, but we want to interact with you, we want to hear what you like and we’re interested and we know you guys care. There’s not a feeling like it. There is not a feeling like it.
I agree. I mean I buzz off events even now being involved in them. When I go to an event every single event I get reminded of the first organised LAN event I went to in the very late 90s and it was just like you said then it was just being in a room with like-minded people that we could sit and we could play and we could nerd out. And every time I walk into an event now I get that same sort of feeling. Safe space is probably the word for it. You can be nerdy and this is where we’re going to be nerdy, and the brands are here to watch us be nerdy and reward us for it. And being involved with that sort of stuff is a privilege. I love it, absolutely love it.
That was a complete privilege. We’re very lucky to be involved in the industry. We are because we get to see so many different aspects. We get to see so many different people integrating together. You might not even consider would go near each other Every different part of industry that our company touches. So, whether it be the filming and streaming or the gaming, whatever it is, it’s just such a wholesome community in every area and that’s the best part of it. You just see so many different, like-minded people at once and it just when an activity touches the right emotion for people, that’s when you get that sense of oh. This is why we were hired to do this.
I love the idea of like and I’m going to use Destiny’s example because I will and I shall it’s like if I had never met, for example, my teammates that live, you know, maybe all over the world, all over the UK or something, to have the opportunity to be like right guys. Do you want to meet up at Gamescom? We can meet for the first time, and I just wonder, and I sit and think of how many relationships or friendships are made in those days or like those real face-to-face meetings because of games, and I’m just like that’s insane, that’s just incredible.
The magic of events there.
One of my favourite things at gaming events and Comicons, or anything like that, is taking an hour out to people watch. Just sitting in a space at the Excel and you can see groups of people that are either meeting for the first time or not seeing each other since the last con and things like that. It’s just a real pleasure to watch and be around.
I think that’s a really nice way to come to the end of this episode. I think we’ve seen the business side of events, but also the really value it can have on everyone involved, whether you are on the, as you say, the production and ideation side, and then seeing that transform into an experience someone is having for the first time or for the 50th time At that event. I think one last one I want to end on is perhaps a niche event someone should look out for. Maybe they haven’t thought we’ve covered a lot of the flagship ones here, but maybe there’s a hidden gem somewhere that they think you should look towards that.
The PAX events, they are great events. They’re on both coasts, they are very indie-focused and their audience is. It’s different. It’s a different audience than a Gamescom, than any EGX and then E3 or anything like that. It’s an open event for people. We’ve activated at those before and they’ve been really great to see and it’s it was interesting going. Having heard of these events for years about in the press and read about them and read interviews and things like that. I’ve actually been on the ground at one and seen what they like. It’s a totally different element in a great way, really really good, fun events to be at. So yeah, that would be my recommendation.
I’m very new to all the different gaming exhibitions and where you go to, so my pedestal at the moment is Gamescom, EGX and potentially GDC I’m looking at. What I would say is don’t knock the local community. Any form of partnership that you can do or sponsor or get involved in with the local community. Your engagement will be just as good because you’re bringing something so unique to them that they may not get on a normal day-to-day basis. So, thinking of your council, run many festivals in the park or anything there that can be a family day or something unique that’s going to go a long way for people in those areas. So don’t knock them till you try them.
I was. I didn’t know if this answer included me as an expert, all I was going to finish off with is more of a like one to watch. Now you have people from all over the world going, isn’t there? Isn’t there this conference in the UK called WASD or something, and I’m just like, yeah, this is growing, and I think this year, like just to show that growth, they have some big industry names. It’s an event that’s quite interesting. It’s still quite small, but it’s very well known, and it’s getting bigger on a yearly basis. So that is my kind of one-to-watch recommendation.
That’s a good example of an event that’s a post-COVID event. You know that’s come out since since lockdown and things like that, and they’ve taken a slightly different approach to it, and it’s worked brilliantly. They run great events. Yeah, highly recommended.
Speaking of running great events. Molly and John, that is your job. We thank you for taking part today. Where can people find you?
Yeah, Experience12.com, all the information’s on there. We’re on all the socials mostly, mostly active on LinkedIn, but yeah, we can mostly be found on that.
Awesome. It’s been really insightful because I know Amie has spent a lot more time on the event side than I have, so I’ve genuinely learned a lot today, and it’s been really interesting to go behind the curtain, as it were, the many curtains to get to the stage.
That’s where we like to be.
Well, thanks for having us!