Big John has an epic interview with experiential expert Max Lenderman. Max knows a thing or two about the experiential/creative world, and it’s a punk rock lovefest as the two of them talk experiential. So sit, listen and enjoy, as Max reveals “Advertising in general is meaningless while experiences are not!”
For more information on Max, please check out his website and socials below:
Max Lenderman 0:00
I think the biggest thing that that COVID has allowed for everyone, right is a certain amount of rehab revaluation. to varying degrees. Some people might have complete personal epiphanies and professional epiphanies and others, we just find that, you know, they didn’t really like their morning commute as much as they really said they did. Right. And in that, in that wide chasm and that wide chasm, there’s a little bit of reevaluation that’s going on. And I think people are reevaluating their relationship with technology, and also reevaluating their relationship with people near and dear to them. Right and, and then, above all, that is, quite frankly, without being too maudlin is the sense of community that I think we’re all kind of finding ourselves in. And granted, there’s a political divisiveness. But I think deep down, there’s a sense of community that is the underpinning of both physical and digital relationships. And so as long as that has kind of been strengthened, and I think it has, then the reemergence of experiential is going to be not just more vibrant, but more meaningful, more intentional, absolutely, more valuable. You know, Joe Pyne used to define experiential as time well spent. Well, we are really in a time and culture where we are evaluating what time well spent is, and brands who want to participate in that conversation will find ample reason to do that experientially.
Big John 2:07
Hey everybody, welcome back to yet another episode of event speak with me Big John CEO of Beyond Experiential. Today, we have a very special guest. Coming from a very extensive background in the experiential marketing game. And as we were just talking off camera, we’ve got a bunch of mutual friends, which is not uncommon. in this industry, as I always say, it’s an incestuous little sandbox that we all play in. But our guest today, Max linderman, is the former director of experiential Crispin Porter, former ECD at GMR. And currently writes a experiential fanzine if you will, called CAMUS. C-A-M-U-S. CAMUS is what Max is currently putting his efforts into, but Max’s voice rings throughout the industry, and we’re excited to have him on the show today. So joining us now is our good friend, Max Lendermon. Max, let’s get you unmuted. There you go.
Max Lenderman 3:13
Hey Big John.
Big John 3:14
Hey, man, how you doing?
Max Lenderman 3:17
I’m great. How you doing?
Big John 3:18
I’m doing well, man. You know, we, everybody, for those just tuning in. Max and I have been chatting for the last like 20 minutes or so. And one thing it’s really fun about doing the show is you get sometimes so into these conversations that you’re like, oh, wait a minute, we should record this because this is for everybody to watch. So how are you doing today, Max? Man? What’s going on? And you’re coming to us from Boulder, Colorado, correct?
Max Lenderman 3:41
I am. I am. Coming from Boulder and just happy to be here like like you just said, you know, anytime our experiential folks or experiential heads get together. The conversation is wide ranging and usually touches on a lot of people that we know and, and a lot of challenges and problems that we’re seeing right now. And that empathy gene like starts rearing its ugly head and we start empathizing with each other and, and really vibing so it’s been great. And I’m glad to be here.
Big John 4:11
Absolutely, man. Thanks for taking the time today. It’s interesting guys. For those of you that have been following the show and watching the show, first and foremost, thank you so much. We really appreciate the support. But we had our friend Sam Ewen on the show a few weeks back and Sam actually was like hey you need to know max kind of thing and linked us up on LinkedIn of all things. And then as we were talking and of course we were talking about your background at Crispin Porter, Jeff Yeatman has been on the show and of course we know Judd Katz so we have all of these these and these are you know very dear friends of both of ours, everybody so it’s kind of kind of cool when when you when you stumble on to these things, but you know what you just said Max i think is is very prevalent and now more so than before you know when we first started the show back in March, it was this giant question mark. And nobody knew what was going on. And now, you know, we’ve become a little bit further along, we’re starting to see little blips on the radar and even some little small. I don’t want to call them events, but happenings will say, throughout the experiential industry. Let’s, let’s talk about trends for a second. So what trends are you seeing before COVID? And how are we seeing those trends now? Post COVID?
Max Lenderman 5:36
I think the trends that we saw before in posts that have been highlighted or or steroid eyes is the interplay between digital and physical, right. And it’s something that for the first six months post COVID, everyone was cheerleading it like a bigger leap or a wider leap or a faster leap into digital and I think that has occurred, right in terms of the intention to get to digital. I mean, I remember for years for decades, I think almost every single experiential agency would promulgate the the phigital right the the melding of digital and physical that was bound to happen.
Big John 6:14
Phigital. I might quote you that.
Max Lenderman 6:15
Alright, yeah, you got a TM. And, and, you know, we used digital as a as an amplification mechanism, right? So we would, we would say, hey, create these compelling experiences, there would be a camera on that, right? We can dice and slice and dice some content around it. And it gets disseminated into this, this giant megaphone called figital though, that people used to think of it that way. And so experiential got a little bit smaller, right. So there might have been less large scale touring activations, like the Warped Tour, etc, and maybe a little bit more stinky stuff that then would get parsed as, as content. And that’s how experiential kind of approach digital now come COVID all of a sudden, digital is the medium to which experiences need to be translated for the time being. And, you know, the acceleration into that has been fraught with problems, right. And everyone kind of has this debate, whether it’s like you can actually have an authentic experience in the digital realm of, you know, newsflash, he totally can. It’s just how you use digital. How you curate that channel, how you curate that medium, what you do with it is, is the real kind of fruit of the idea, rather than the channel itself. But I would also say that from a, from a people perspective, we’re using digital a lot more. We’re using it, you know, not only just for convenience sake, but we’re also starting to use it as the first step into finding our new experience, primarily driven by a little bit of fear, or a little bit of, you know, kind of like unsureness of whether you can go to a restaurant or go to this bar or go to this event, etc. So we’re using digital, we’re using our kind of phones as the first entry into it, which is something that experiential marketers always wanted to do, but could never get. Right? Like right hand, right, and so and so there’s like this amalgamation of like, yeah, we’re, we’re using it correctly, but maybe not. And then, hey, culture is moving that way. How do we start doing what we said we were going to do all these years. And people are really trying to figure out this this tennis match between digital and physical, in really unique ways, and really kind of like debatable ways, which I think has not been a mainstay and experiential industry as a whole. For a long time, like new ideas, like can we debate new approaches and ideas? as an industry that hasn’t happened? So digital is moving us in really cool uncharted territories.
Big John 6:19
You know, it’s something where you said it earlier off camera that, you know, Necessity is the mother of all invention. And I feel like what’s happened is, while this is probably been an everybody’s kind of the the backburner of how do we integrate digital more into our experiences, and what we’re doing an experiential, but there’s never been the absolute need to look at something that was solely based in digital, because we always have the opportunities for the large scale events, or even just, you know, any event where you’re going to have access to consumer interaction. Then all of a sudden, it’s like now everything has to be digital. So the industry is caught off guard, the tech is caught off guard. But as we’ve even seen, I think since March, we’ve seen the tech grow so much, and we’ve seen it come leaps and bounds. We had folks from Gamerjibe on the show recently, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, but they are essentially, you know, video game developers that turned into virtual event developers It’s really quite fascinating that you can completely experience this digital event where, I think, you know, the question of can you get an authentic experience? Absolutely. I think it’s different than what, you know, you may expect and what the we’ve always been used to it, but it’s also forcing, I think the creative types, to really start to think outside the box. And I think we’re just now seeing the that major shift. Now, the big question on everybody’s mind, and I’ve had a lot of these conversations is, what will that? What will that balance be? Once we eventually get to the other side of COVID? Whenever that’s going to be, you know, how, how do you see digital sort of handshaking or piggybacking with standalone events in front of actual consumers?
Well, it’s a great question i and i think it it, it begs kind of like a more cultural look at how digital and physical work together, let’s just say Beyond Marketing, right. And and I think there is, I want to be cautiously optimistic about the need for physical experiences, right. And and the reason why I’m cautiously cautiously optimistic is because of a pandemic. Without the pandemic, I’d be exhuberantly optimistic for the need of physical experiences, just because how overwhelming all consuming, toxic and manipulative a majority of digital media is these days. So I’m not really talking about tech in terms of like UX tech, but I’m talking about how culture views the digital ecosystem, which is dominated by four players, right. And so the notion of, you know, the trope of the the more digital, the more physical could be proven out, like really, interestingly, in a petri dish, of post COVID emergence of physical activations and physical experiences. I’m pretty bullish on the cultural need of experiential, I’m a little bit more bearish on the ability to do it, you know, for the next year, year and a half of a blossoming but I think it will. And I think the biggest thing that that COVID has allowed for everyone, right, is a certain amount of rehab revaluation. to varying degrees. Some people might have complete personal epiphanies, and professional epiphanies and others, we just find that, you know, they didn’t really like their morning commute as much as they really said they did. Right. And in that, in that wide chasm, and that wide chasm, there’s a little bit of reevaluation that’s going on. And I think people are reevaluating their relationship with technology, and also reevaluating their relationship with people near and dear to them. Right and, and then, above all, that is, quite frankly, without being too maudlin is the sense of community that I think we’re all kind of finding ourselves in granted, there’s a political divisiveness. But I think, deep down, there’s a sense of community, that is the underpinning of both physical and digital relationships. And so as long as that has kind of been strengthened, and I think it has, then the reemergence of experiential is going to be not just more vibrant, but more meaningful, more intentional, absolutely, more valuable. You know, Joe Pine used to define experiential as time well spent. Well, we are really in a time in culture where we are evaluating what time well spent is, and brands who want to participate in that conversation will find ample reason to do that experientially.
I love that time well spent and you know, that actually is something that I don’t believe a lot of people probably have considered, is that now more than ever, people want to be united, despite all the divisiveness as you just said, whether it’s in the political climate, and all of the evils of today’s world, so to speak. You know, we, how could you come out of something like this pandemic and not have a greater appreciation for what it means to just be able to go meet your friends for dinner, to, to be able to, to be able to be part of, you know, an activation, sampling a beverage down on the beach, you know, the stuff that, you know, we probably would have, you know us all the older time guys be like, I don’t want to waste my time with that now, but now, it seems like the good old days of being able to be out there and interact with anybody in any authentic kind of a ecosystem. You know, So I feel like it’s, it’s an inevitable rebirth, that only time will tell how that’s gonna play out. So you You call yourself a purpose driven, experiential marketer? What does that mean? And where does that come from?
Max Lenderman 15:20
Great question. So, so the purpose part comes from about seven years ago, kind of reading some tea leaves. And, and really looking at what would be the why, to an experiential agency right to use a Simon Sinek term, which I think is overplayed and oversimplified, but really I was, I was really taken aback and inspired by a lot of cause organizations at the time, like the girl of fact, like Pencils of Promise, like a lot of interesting cause marketing stuff. And then at that time, it was 2013, the 13 out of 20, or maybe 14 out of 20 of the best campaigns in the world that’s measured by canne lions and France. They were all kind of like purpose or cause II based there was like dove real beauty sketches, there was like, there was just a bunch of really interesting campaigns that I was like, that is great, creative, like, you know, I would give my right arm to work on that. And I know that young people would give their right arm to work on that. And a lot of that is real world stuff. Yes, it’s a film or video, but it’s done in the real world. It’s got experiential corollaries running through all of them, like I want to bottle that magic. And so, you know, talking to some mentors, etc, he started an agency called School, where it was real world action, you know, which is the heart of experiential, but directed towards good for the world projects and world brands, right. And this was before kind of purpose marketing became the lexicon of day, a couple of years ago. And so we realized that brands needed to now have social impact in order to drive relevancy and trust. But also nonprofits needed to start working and operating and talking like brands. And so there was an interesting interplay where we could work in the middle and trying to correlate the, you know, the two. And, you know, not to pat myself too much on the back. But it was a, it was a fundamental thinking, I think that that is now accelerated by COVID, which is how to creatives and strategists and producers and account directors and sea level people answer the question of why should anyone care about you? Right, like, which is kind of like what we talk about when we pitch brands, right? But we never really kind of directed it directed at ourselves. Right? And if you don’t have a clear answer for it, you know, it’s really hard to create culture, to create movement to win without, you know, pitching, endlessly, like all those things. And I found partners that we could answer the why of, we want to educate, you know, developing world kids like so we partnered with Pencils of Promise, and all our marketing budget, we never entered any awards, we never spent any money talking about ourselves, we took all that money, and we would build schools with Pencils of Promise. And that’s why we call ourselves School. So we were able to find our why. We were like, why do we come in every day and take shit from clients? Sorry, clients. You know, it’s, it’s because to build another school, it’s not to win another award, it’s not to jump to another agency for another hundred grand. So, and it was that kind of approach that I think kind of infected us. And then we had a great internship program affected younger people who are now going out into agencies and starting to like rolling purpose into all their work, not just into CSR.
Big John 18:58
It’s supreme value creation for all the right reasons. And I firmly believe that what you’re talking about, first and foremost, that’s, that’s amazing. I think that companies like TOMS shoes have showed us that you can do something that comes from a humanitarian aspect, you could do something that creates value that gives back to the community, and even to the consumer and at the same time, still manage to be profitable and grow and be able to, you know, continually expand that mission. So now, from School, you, you’re now writing this experiential zine called CAMUS. itscamus.com. Tell us a little bit about CAMUS. And what that is and why people should know about it.
It’s a great question. I mean, I started I mean, it’s, it’s, you know, I I think in the time of pandemic, it’s really good. To go back to some of the earlier things that made you fall in love with what you do. And I was, you know, I was a trained journalist in New York before I became a creative director at advertising agencies. And we used to write like, zines for, you know, like hardcore and punk and Scott zines in New York.
Max Lenderman 20:21
Big John 20:22
Yeah, it was just, it was cool shit. And then I moved to Montreal, and we started a zine there is, you know, like, around the same time as the vice guys, it, it was always part of kind of like my quiver of expression, right. It’s not really artistic, but it’s, it’s writing. And so, in when everything started happening around, you know, February, March, and there was a lot of doom and gloom, and there was a lot of head scratching. And then there was a lot of kind of entrenchment around kind of solidified ideas of what experiential marketing should be. And I was hearing this a lot about when people were talking about digital versus physical. And I thought, you know, like, this is a perfect time to disrupt anything that’s being entrenched, like the last thing I want, as an experiential marketer is having entrenchment of dogma, or reactionary or recidivism in terms of like, how creativity can blossom. And so I’m like, I gotta, you know, we got to like, hype this up, we got to cheerlead this industry, we got to be more punk about this, this is the perfect time to blow shit up, rather than go back to what tried and true. So I’m, like, CAMUS, because I like him as a philosopher, I was reading the plague at a time of COVID. And I find that advertising in general is meaningless. But experiences are not. Right. And so, you know, our CAMUS shows you that you could still be meaningful in a time of turmoil. And the way to do that is, is, you know, to, to blow stuff up, instead of going back to the tried and true, and that’s what I’m trying to do with with zine.
Max Lenderman 21:59
I love that man, you know, anybody that knows me, knows that I have roots in the in the punk community. And something that I feel like a lot of a lot of folks don’t necessarily embrace is that punk is very much a, it’s an attitude, and it’s in its approach to life as as much as it has to do with the Sex Pistols or NOFX, or any music that you could line it up with, you know, and I have always, very proudly tried to live my life in that way and approach, how I do things, you know, with, with Beyond or with the guys that Evolve in my extended family at EventSpeak. You know, and it’s really not too far off of why we even brought EventsSpeak back to life. Was that exactly what you said, like, it’s, it’s not about what was happening before, it’s maybe offering a as you very keenly pointed out off camera, giving people some place that is familiar, that at one point was a great spot to find employment. And now giving them a place for dialogue, a place to come together a place to have some solidarity, along with a lot of other people that are across the entire event ecosystem, that are all have a big question mark on their head, and are trying to figure out what the hell is going on and what this is going to look like, going into the rest of this year into next year. You know, and something that, you know, we feel very strongly about now more than ever, as we’ve been talking about, with the divisiveness that exists in our country, to so many of our friends that are in, in the music industry that are just completely destitute right now. Now, more than ever, we need to unite people. And we need to create dialogue. And that really, I believe, is the secret across the board in life of how we’re able to start moving past this. It’s about it’s about being many embodied, but one in mind. And that’s, of course, a lot more easier said than done. So something I like to ask all my guests Max is since we’ve covered a lot of the the brass tacks of what you do and what you’ve done and what you’re doing. What have you been doing to entertain yourself? Like, what’s for dinner tonight? What is Max getting into, to keep himself busy? When he’s not working? When you’re not doing the things you do with your zine? What is what is a good time? And as I said, being the foodie that I am, what’s for dinner?
What’s for dinner tonight is tacos.
Big John 24:32
Max Lenderman 24:33
Yeah. So and you’re like, I think what, what where I find a lot of joy these days. Is quite frankly, spending I this is gonna be so trite and cliche but like spending more time with the family. And like I’m laughing and I don’t even know why cuz it’s like, you know, I’ve listened to myself like oh my god. But but it’s something that you know, and we talked about like it experiential tours right? Or or, you know, running an agency or, or being a creative strategist, it’s it’s such a peripatetic lifestyle, right? Like you’re always on the go, you’re always moving. I don’t know how many times, you know, we’ve missed birthdays and celebrations and holidays, important moments, holidays, and then I’ve never factored in my life, like the actual travel time to the the amount of work that I did, you know, before COVID. And it’s, it’s extraordinary how much time is spent in cabs, you know, buses, airplanes, and hotel rooms by yourself. And so I actually tried to like reformulate that, that lost currency, so to speak into spending more time at home, and I’m literally like, home all the time, right, which is, I find that to be just as kind of revolutary and weird and strange as being in a new city. So I’m constantly discovering new things about like, what it is to be constantly home all the time, you know what I mean? But I, you know, I still kind of, like, try to pluck my way out of guitar every once in a while. I’m a big English Premier League Soccer fan, so I wake up early to on the weekends. And, you know, and and basically, try to spend my time well spent, you know, and wisely as much as I can.
Big John 26:30
More value creation, Max. Absolutely. No, I hear you, man, the fender acoustic that’s behind me. That was actually a recent acquisition and decided that was now more than now. All right, might as well pick up the guitar again, it’s been a while, you know, and it’s, it’s just been, it’s, it’s interesting, what you said, I agree with that very much, you know, after literally the last decade and a half of my life where I was constantly on the go. And especially back when I was touring full time. Being home now, where I’ve been home, I’ve been home pretty much since. Let’s see, the last thing I did was I was at Sundance, with my clients from Stella, and that was back in February. And I’ve been home since February. That hasn’t happened. Ever? I don’t ever. So it’s it’s been it’s been exactly that kind of reacclimating myself and discovering new things for ourselves at home. But Max, I want to take the opportunity to sincerely thank you for joining us on the show today. And let everyone know where they can reach you. First and foremost, you could find Max and all things max at his website, which is maxlenderman. lenderman.com. And for his zine, its CAMUS. www.itscamus.com. And of course here on the EventSpeak network, where we’re going to have obviously as our good friend Amanda Younger says, continue the conversation. This is Big John, once again, thanking each and every one of you for joining us today and reminding you to take care of yourselves and each other.