For three decades, Jay Lenstrom has been an instrumental force in bringing the experiential marketing industry to light. His agencies have worked with 15 of the Top 20 Fortune 100 companies, and has held leadership positions across a number of verticals. Today, he’s the SVP of Experiential for Shiftgig, a role he took after Shiftgig acquired BookedOut, the staffing technology firm he became CEO of in 2015.
Impressive resume aside, Jay came to experiential before it was even labeled “experiential.” He helped create the space as we know it today, and is candid about its humble beginnings.
Here, we talk to Jay in a three part series, to find out where the industry started, where we are today, and where he sees the future of experiential headed.
Part 1: The Early Days of Experiential
Tell us a bit about the start of the experiential marketing movement.
Experiential marketing began 20 years ago before it even had a name. At the time, large CPG brands were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on free-standing inserts in newspapers, for little return.
What many of these brands didn’t realize was that if they allocated that same budget to someone like me, it could be turned into a campaign that would provide an infinitely better ROI.
Then, in the mid-90s, we started calling what we did ‘event or live marketing,’ and the movement really started to take off with the popularity of the Internet 10 years later.
What were some of the first clients and projects you worked on?
In the late 90’s a number of large tech companies wanted to figure out how to reach college students. At that time, I was working with Miller Brewing managing their college-based marketing and sports accounts. Apple, Microsoft, and Nokia saw what we were doing from an experiential standpoint and peer-to-peer influence, and wanted to take the same approach. Soon after, Pepsi reached out, and then a number of other very large brands followed suit, including automotive, banking, etc.
How did the proliferation of the internet change the game?
At the time, people thought the Internet would kill experiential marketing. A lot of brands thought if you could watch a concert from your computer, you wouldn’t attend it live; or if you could see a product demo on-screen, you don’t need street sampling. But that wasn’t the case. In reality, a strong digital overlay amplifies an event of 300 people to reach tens of thousands.
When did you find out about BookedOut and decide to join the team?
In May 2015, two BookedOut representatives spoke with me about their plans for the platform. I thought the idea was great because, at the time, recruiting and staffing events was extremely labor intensive.
When I saw this platform and the original concept, I knew it would be good for agencies, but I knew more importantly that it’d be good for the Brand Ambassadors (BAs) too. And ultimately, I knew if we developed a technology to support BAs we would grow a following of the best brand staff in the country.
Stay tuned next week to hear more from Jay Lenstrom as he discusses the experiential marketing industry today in Part 2 of this series.