Last fall, EMC Outdoor welcomed our esteemed colleague, Rainy McGrew, as the Director of Insights & Development. As an integral component of our agency’s business development and client relationship building, Rainy is a woman who is always on the move, furiously exploring new ideas and clients.

After nearly 10 months, we were finally able to pin her down and ask her some pressing questions about her background in Experiential Marketing, her perspective on the industry, and what the future of EXP looks like!


How long have you been working in EXP?

Officially, 21 years. I got my start in Experiential marketing in 1997. I had landed a role working in radio at Katz Media, under Stu Olds. We were launching this new little technology called “streaming.” Somehow, then, after a golf outing with all these “techy” guys, I ended up at a Madonna Show the very next day. I came to find out I had been diverted to promotions and events. Clearly, I did not skew techy!


Was there a watershed moment or campaign that inspired you to see what EXP could become? What was your a-ha moment?

It wasn’t just one moment but many. In radio promotions you had to communicate with participating stations across the country and most of our work was done over the phone. Speaking with so many exciting people, in multiple markets, while creating and executing one message and one goal, forced our group to find new ways to generate excitement.

One experience comes to mind. I activated a promotion for George Straight, which was a huge highlight for me and always has been.  First, we were giving away a one-ton crew-cab dually (which I love). Secondly, I fell in love with country music. To this day, watching them hand those keys over to a 24-year-old single mom of three has been the highlight of my entire career.


What was the first experiential concept that you developed and saw through to completion?

My very first EXP campaign I created and owned was a lemonade stand. I was 10-years-old and I ran it with my best friend, Carol Jean, for four weekends. We created a stand unlike any other. It was a community effort. Our neighbor who owned the local hardware store gave us all the wood. The local church gave us old paint. Our neighbors gave us lemons and rhubarb to use as stir sticks. Once we were all set up, our principle, Dr. Jackson, came by for an audit!  It was a bit harsh but delivered with love.

That day I learned some valuable lessons that I’ve held onto ever since. He taught us to “pay attention to every single step and make sure you know how to spell Lemonade!” He also taught us to alert the local TV and radio stations to let them know we were raising the money. So, at the age of 10, I learned how to coordinate a community effort, audit my work, and the importance of a solid PR campaign!


Rainy McGrew-Experiential-Lemonade Stand


What has contributed to the growth of EXP as a marketing channel? Why do you think it’s becoming so much more popular?

I recently read an article that speaks exactly to my thoughts on the industry: “experiential outperforms (almost all) other marketing channels.” The study, from Ad Age, states that overall U.S. promotion-agency revenue, including events and experiential, rose 5.8 percent over the prior year. That’s an increase greater than media, advertising, and PR.

The growing popularity of experiential marketing and live events are an indication that marketers and advertisers are seeking more  face-to-face opportunities with consumers. It’s a channel that reliably offers better brand experience and lead generation. And, as we know, the younger generations that are becoming purchasers seek experiences, which in turn create better brand loyalty.


In your opinion, what are essential elements of a great and memorable EXP campaign?

Creating a memorable experiential campaign is pretty simple. It requires full buy-in and collaboration with a client or agency lead, and transparency and honesty with all parties involved. This is the only way everyone, at all stages of the activation, will share a common understanding of the goal and message meant to be heard. This is how you create something that feels bigger than a single event that can live on beyond the activation day.


Many sources point to brands devoting more budget dollars to EXP in the coming years. What do you find is the biggest barrier to brands entering into EXP campaigns?

Most marketers and agency teams do not realize the cost factors of executing an EXP campaign. People fail to consider things like labor costs, media placement fees and permits. If not accounted for than they can be huge budget-busters.

People sometimes have a hard time proving the ROI of an experiential activation, too. The problem is, the way we measure ROI with other media—impressions, clicks, conversions, purchases, etc.—is not a great measuring method for EXP. It requires consideration of how people are interacting with your brand: the feeling they get from the interaction, their likelihood to return or purchase, what they might tell other people about the experience, etc.


How has the advent of social media changed how brands approach EXP campaigns?

Social media tends to lead the conversation; however, I feel the experience should drive the social media. You want to give users an experience they will engage with and remember. If an audience first experiences a brand in real-life, they’re more likely to stop and absorb more from that brand when they see it on social media. By combining experiential with a social media campaign, we can increase the potency of marketing efforts in ancillary channels.

Brands must be strategic when extending live experiences to virtual audiences in real time via social channels. With the advent of streaming video on Snap, Instagram and Facebook, it’s important that brands understand how people on those channels are experiencing an activation compared to those experiencing it in-person. They are both important opportunities for brand engagement, but very different.


What are the most exciting developments in EXP right now?

Virtual and augmented reality. There is a technology available in the market that can virtually take someone to another location in the world. This creates a special moment where they can visit a place they otherwise could never go in their lifetime. That’s really exciting!

Then again, a simple street team can create the most exciting experience if they deliver a unique, sharable moment.


Who do you think could benefit from using EXP? Who would you like the opportunity to work with?

Most industries feature key players that already use EXP to some degree. That said, there are a few brands I would cherish the opportunity to ideate with, including: Charlotte Tilbury, Hint Water, Madison Reed and anything Bozoma Saint John touches!


Want to pick Rainy’s brain and hear one of her latest wild ideas? Reach out using the contact form below!