Experiential Essays: Interview with Kenny Hyslop, Pernod Ricard

Encouraging customers to engage and interact with a brand is at the heart of experiential marketing. At one time this relied heavily on the sampling and 'product in hand' end of the experiential scale, but with the rise of online media and video, one person's experience can be shared with millions and the concept of viral can bring new layers and audiences to that experience.

Interview with Kenny Hyslop of Pernod Ricard
Interview with Kenny Hyslop of Pernod Ricard

But whatever the medium employed, creating a personal experience – and with it a more lasting memory – is as important for marketers today as it has ever been. Indeed as people are bombarded with more advertising messages and a greater array of products to choose from, some would argue that experiential marketing is an even more powerful weapon in a marketer's armoury. Rather than just telling customers about how wonderful the brand is, experiential marketing means customers see, touch, taste, smell  and interact with that brand to experience the benefits of it themselves.

Of course some brands lend themselves to this element of the marketing mix better than others and there's no doubt that drinks have a head start. So for Kenny Hyslop, head of experiential at Pernod Ricard, with its raft of global alcoholic beverages from Havana Club to Absolut, Jacob's Creek to Perrier-Jouët, the opportunities are bountiful to create inspiring and exciting environments in which drinkers can sip its wares and interact with its brands.

Here Hyslop shares some of his insights into how experiential marketing works for client marketers, how clients and agencies work on projects and what trends he sees developing that will affect the landscape for everyone in the business.

How important is experiential within Pernod Ricard's marketing department?

From a marketing point of view it's becoming more so. Experiential and digital are the two growth areas and they feed off each other. From a Pernod Ricard UK point of view its massively important and that's shown by there being three of us here who work internally. We are either the consultant or the agency: so on the consultancy side we'd take a brief from the brand team, or we'd take a global idea that one of our brand owners had, and make sure that can deliver for the UK team. Then we'd work with a supplier or agency to deliver that.

On the other side we effectively become the agency and it allows us to be more creative and responsive and deliver tailor-made solutions for the brand team. This tends to be on more internally-focused work. For example once a year we have a media lunch and we're a creative resource on that.

So we can be a hands-on resource or we can work strategically with a brand team. This in-house resource is quite unique but if you look globally, events and experiential are at the heart of Pernod Ricard. If you go back to Paul Ricard he believed that you should 'make a friend every day' which centred around our company's sense of conviviality.

Does the drinks industry lend itself particularly well to this type of marketing activity?

Where it's great for us, is we have a wet product that people want to try or sample and experiential fits well – it lets you deliver the product experience. All of our products and brands have real provenance and heritage and that's great from a brand experience point of view where you can bring that to life. For example Absolut has a unique property, it's a concept called 'one source': the product, the glass, the labels are all made in one tiny village in southern Sweden and using brand experience you can bring all that to life.  

Are any brands within your portfolio heavier users of experiential than others?

We work across all the brands in some shape or form. Anything that's live, be it brand experience or an event, we're involved in. So champagne is not a massive user of experiential but they do lots of events such as the Perrier-Jouët Arts Salon which brings influential art people together to award a prize. That involves a dinner which we helped them with. For Martell we have Very Special Nights which is a collaboration with Jamie Cullum doing the music, Raymond Blanc the food and we provide the drink. We've taken the concept and delivered it across three channels: on-pack, on-trade and as a media promotion. I'm passionate about experiential not just being about going to a shopping centre or a flash event in a nightclub.

Are you moving away from the classic in-bar experience?

It depends on the product. We're more involved in sampling and brand in hand. For instance Jameson is involved globally with film and we have an experiential platform called Jameson Cult Film Club where we take a cult film and show it in a location that means something to the film. With Malibu it has a 360 property called Malibutique and the concept is teaching girls to get ready for a night out or the summer. From a live point of view we work with partners to deliver a hair, makeup and nail experience. Last year we used GHD, Revolution, Heat magazine as partners.

How is experiential measured in 2013?

We measure it event by event or experience by experience and it depends on what your KPIs are and your objectives. For years I've been going to experiential conferences where they're looking for this holy grail of a one size fits all piece of measurement and I don't think it really exists; it depends on what you're doing. So if the objective is getting 14,000 drinks in hand then that's what you're there to deliver; if it's about moving consideration from x to y then that's what you'd measure. It could be as practical as making 14 people come for dinner; did they have a good time, did they taste the wine? But we don't shy away from big, in-depth testing work.

It's about being clear up front and working with the teams to deliver a solution that meets their objectives. It's easy to get carried away with the event itself but you need a fundamental objective. We judge success by meeting these targets set; it's as simple as that.

What trends are you noticing in the market?

Digital and content are becoming more prevalent.  Before, you'd do your event and you'd probably work with your PR agency to make sure you were getting coverage but more now we're working to deliver content whether that is video or picture content. Or using things like RFID technology [radio frequency identification], the same technology as your Oyster card. In Australia with Jacobs Creek there's been a trial where you register the card to a Facebook or email address and you touch it in like you would an Oyster card and it posts you or emails some suggestions. So it's a great way, if you've got a large experience, of delivering content to people.

The other trend I'm seeing is pop-ups and street food. They're becoming more prevalent and we're doing one in Manchester with Kahlúa (see case study) –  it's a great way of having something there for longer than six or seven hours.

And from an experiential point of food street food has become bigger. For a lot of our brands food is a passion point for the consumer, so how can we use street food within our experiences to add value?

Is there any particular direction you think experiential is moving?

Previously we would work with our media agency, work with the brand team to come up with the experience, work with the PR agency to get coverage, and the digital would come in half way along. What we're seeing now is everyone sat in the room right up front saying 'what content do you want to deliver, and we'll build you an experience to deliver the content'. For instance Renault Clio's new work where it invited consumers to test drive a Clio, but it's an actor not a salesman taking them in the car. At one point they press the 'va va voom' button and a street scene comes to life involving Papa and Nicole. It obviously wanted a piece of content that will go viral. That's where experiential can really help you deliver that. Five or 10 years ago it was all about a big party in a nightclub or festival, now it's becoming more strategic – [the Clio example] is an experience for one person, but potentially several million people might read about it. There's nothing wrong with still going to festivals but there's also nothing wrong in saying we're going to take one person and spend a heck of a lot of money to get this piece of content up.

Do you work with agencies in your experiential marketing?

We've got three or four preferred suppliers we've worked with for a few years; we don't have a formal roster system. They all have a different skill sets so one agency is really good in terms of practicality; one is really creative, strong and agile; one is more traditional in terms of its planning and thinking skills; one is more food led – so we have a balance.

What agencies are currently impressing you?

Apart from our own, of course, RPM is always doing really good work; Iris Experience does some great stuff; and creatively Cake is good. I admire its creativity and their ability to deliver. RPM has done amazing stuff on Sky with the bike work; Iris Experience has done good work with Sony and Heineken down the years and then Cake did British Airways.

This industry is pretty small, we all know each other and see each other at various industry events, festivals, whatever it may be. For me, it's about networking and understanding what each agency's strength is.

How does experiential work with your other marketing initiatives?

It's integrated at the planning stage. We work to two cycles a year; one is a three year strategy and the second is the brand and activation planner for the next 12 months. So it's about being involved as early as possible, even if it's just a conversation over the water cooler. This is where I'm really passionate about where we add value because we can be involved before it's even a seedling of a thought. And sometimes global teams will say we've got this toolkit and we need to use it but actually it might not be the right thing for the brand. That's why being employed by Pernod Ricard, you can be more honest than an agency would be.

How important is experiential for achieving word of mouth endorsement and brand advocacy?

It's definitely a way to convert you from endorsement to being an ambassador because you've had a physical experience with the brand. Some of these experiences you can be involved for 15 - 45 minutes so you've got that personal experience to take away and I think that's where it will drive more demand. We often use a number that if you have an experience you'll tell eight to 10 friends about it, and digital can get more on top of that with things on YouTube going viral.

Case study: Kahlua in Manchester

Pernod Ricard's Mexican coffee liqueur, Kahlúa, has run regional experiential campaigns for the past two years (one in Sheffield and one in Leeds) but this year it decided to ramp it up in Manchester with the launch of its first ever pop-up bar. For one month (through April 2013) Pernod Ricard opened the Kahlúa Coffee House in Manchester's trendy northern quarter taking its theme and inspiration from the liqueur's Mexican heritage. Serving Kahlúa-based cocktails such as the Kahlúa Espresso Martini, the aim was to inspire local bartenders as well as consumers visiting the bar. During the pop-up period the Coffee House held master classes in cocktails and coffee as well as DJ and music events.

"A local bar company called The Liquorists helped us deliver our drinks experience, a local barista the coffee experience, a local restaurant the food and a local PR agency delivered the amplification plan, so it's really rooted in Manchester. We asked Gary McClarnan who runs an agency called Sparklestreet and he also owns a restaurant  to help. We've learnt it's important to work with local agencies with local contacts. We've got a great sales woman in Manchester too, the local bars see us as adding value not competition," says Hyslop.

Kenny Hyslop is head of experiential at Pernod Ricard

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