An Agency Strategist’s Take on Event Innovation — Kevin White of XPL

Written by The Meeting Pool

Kevin is Founder and Chief Strategist at XPL, an experiential design agency innovating in the event world. He has previously spoken at BizBash IdeasFest Los Angeles, ISES, and other industry events. Be sure not to miss his session at BizBash IdeasFest New York, October 30, 2013! Read more about it here.

2336694dbaf9b5db0a55369f0d66b8a8_KevinWhiteHeadshot1. It’s great for The Meeting Pool readers to hear from the agency side, Kevin.  How do you define an innovative brand?

Innovative brands are ones that people believe are disrupters. Those that change the balance of market share based on what they introduce. Unfortunately, I don’t think all innovative brands are attached to innovative companies. Innovative companies have a core belief in the dynamics of an idea. They design their systems to produce as many ideas as possible. They create a culture that allows ideas to collide into each other. They celebrate when ideas fail and they take advantage when ideas succeed. Companies that, with great discipline, nurture, remix and share ideas are the most innovative. This is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t consider Apple to be an innovative company, even though they are seen as an innovative brand.

2. How does that apply to experiential events and our business?

Events – depending on which market segment you are in – are most often measured on a trend setting basis. That is probably the most frequently used gauge when evaluating an event. Many producers like to achieve things “people haven’t seen before.” That’s great, but one has to ask the question, “Does that have any impact on an event’s success? ” I’d like to think that the companies in the experiential industry that are innovative, that are breaking new ground and succeeding in new and more effective ways are the ones who are digging further into human psychology and behavior. Events exist because of the power of in face interaction. Those that innovate know what they are doing with respect to that interaction. Everyone else is being trendy or creative.

Excel at collaboration.

Image from Jonny Goldstein on Flickr.

3. What are the top 3 differentiating factors or characteristics that you see with Google, Disney, and innovative brands that event profs should have?

They must excel at collaboration. They must create space for collaboration. They must empower every single one of their people to fail and to succeed.

4. What are the top 3 challenges or obstacles that you think event professionals have when they try to implement an innovative approach to their business model?

I always begin talks on the topic of innovation with questions about innovation. I think one of the hardest things about creating a culture based around it is to truly understand what it is. People have general ideas about it – maybe about its output, or perhaps about its process – but in general, understanding the thing they are trying to bring about is a big first step and its not always done right. Secondly, people too often rely solely on those within their own company to provide innovative input. I have spoken to dozens of single person companies who say they cannot be too innovative because its “just them.” That’s a very big misconception. Ideas and collaboration can come in from anywhere. Use every network you have and you’ll soon see that small companies never lack for an inflow of ideas. Lastly, folks in our industry believe the task is too hard or unachieveable because there is no time. This is just simply not true. It is a matter of priority and it is a matter of discipline. Don’t wait to innovate until you are asked to. Do it all the time. We tend to fill our lives with many many urgent matters, but often at the expense of important matters. Daily innovation is an important matter.

5. What are 3 things they have to infuse in their company culture to keep innovation alive and kicking?

Take a look at your surroundings.

Image from Sonja Lovas on Flickr.

In no particular order:

1. Respect for all ideas.

2. Embrace failure.

2. Be patient because creative and innovative thought is a skill, not a trait.

6. Give us 3 solid ways that event profs should apply to their 2014 strategy plan to kick off the year right?

Failure is great. Repeated failure is just plain dumb. If you haven’t learned from the last 4-5 years, you are doomed. So taking lessons from the immediate past:

Learn how to scale up and down – your staff, your output, your resources. If you are not a giant company, you only survive and move forward by being agile and able to rise and fall with the tide profitably.

Pay attention to your surroundings. More times than you think, the answer is not in your own back yard. Or even a neighbor’s. It could just be in another neighborhood.

Form unlikely relationships based on trust and respect. Many of XPL’s clients are what we might consider competitors. But we collaborate, we exchange, we support, and we succeed together regularly. And we actually enjoy it more than working simply for traditional clients.

7. What’s your advice for our readers if they have eventpreneurs in their mix, or those more inclined to lead innovation and new ways to disrupt the status quo, especially for those that are not comfortable with doing the old tactics in a new way?

I’m starting the answer to this question by focusing on the back end of this – with those who are afraid of exploring the new. Often they have pressures on them others don’t feel as much. It’s their company. It’s their department. If failure occurs, it hangs on them more than it hangs on others. At least, that is what they believe. This keeps their comfort zone constricted and often times in a very small “lather, rinse, repeat” mode. Keep it simple. Don’t stray from the process. The pressure they associate with failure prevents them from taking risks and from hearing feedback. So you have to understand THEM to understand how to overcome them.

If eventpreneurs want to be accepted, they have to fail small, fail fast and never repeat-fail. Its smart for them to prove their ability in non-threatening ways to gain trust. Gather feedback from others who support their ideas, their processes and their goals and use it to build confidence from their higher-ups in their approach. If that doesn’t work, tell those who fear change that no one ever learned anything from doing the same thing. Greater success comes from evolution.

8. What should people expect as the big takeaways from attending your session at BizBash?

Energy! Although sadly, that always dissipates once people return to the “urgent” of their lives (phones ringing, emails in the inbox, clients needing now now now). I still have to figure out how to keep people engaged and excited about bringing change to their companies once they have left the session.

Processes that help produce and refine ideas. Innovation lives and dies by ideas, so you have to know who to get to the best ones. But that’s tricky for many.

Having a much better sense of what the inside of an innovative company looks like. The things they support and encourage. The environment they strive to create.

9. Give us your predictions for 2014 for our events?

  • Taupe
  • Catfish
  • Same as last year (seriously)

More About Kevin

Kevin is Founder and Chief Strategist at XPL, an experiential design agency innovating in the event world. Kevin has spoken at several industry events including ISES and IdeaFest Los Angeles, and will be speaking on How to Think Like Google, Disney, and Other Innovative Brands during the Event Leadership Institute’s Workshop Series at BizBash IdeaFest New York on October 30 at the Jacob K. Javits Center. For more information, and to register, please visit