22 Aug Trends in Events: An Interview with The X Letter’s Chad Kaydo
Like most of us, I think it’s a priority to stay on top of the latest trends and developments in the event industry and the culture at large. And, like most of us, sometimes I feel it’s hard to keep up — or as if it’s an entire job unto itself!
Well, it is. It’s Chad Kaydo’s job, and I for one am grateful that he’s doing it, because it makes my job that much easier.
You may know Chad from his work as the founding editor in chief of leading event industry magazine and web site BizBash, where he directed the publication’s print, digital, and social media content for more than a decade. He’s talked with virtually every major player in the event industry, from Chief Brand Officers, to designers, to producers, to vendors.
Chad’s now serving up his informed and savvy perspective on events, marketing, and culture with The X Letter, a web site and newsletter surveying what’s happening in the increasingly conflating spheres of experiences, brands, and culture.
He also hosts the similarly themed cocktails and speakers series, Xembly, and publishes monthly trend reports at theXletter.com. (Don’t you already feel more relaxed just reading this?) And, you can still find his writings on events and more at BizBash, where he contributes a biweekly column.
I was thrilled when Chad agreed to sit down and tell me more about The X Letter, the trends he’s seeing in marketing and events, and where he goes to learn about tomorrow’s next big thing — today.
Tell me about The X Letter.
The tagline is “Experiences x Brands x Culture,” and it’s about where those things intersect, and how they spark trends and ideas for live events and experiences.
Since I started covering the event industry, my favorite people to talk to have been the ones who love art, theater, technology, fashion—the ones who get inspired by an experimental theater piece instead of someone else’s event. So The X Letter started as an email for them—a very skim-able morning read with links to interesting things I’m seeing and reading.
I’ve also launched a cocktails-and-speakers series called Xembly, which has a similar point of view. The first one had talks from the brand V.P. at Tough Mudder and the archival artist from Joe’s Pub.
What are some of the big trends you’re seeing in corporate events right now?
I wrote my first column for BizBash about what I call the three C’s of events right now: content, community, and collaboration. We all feel so busy right now, and I always say the people you most want at your event are usually the ones who get invited to everything. So what makes people want to show up? More and more, I think that’s about connecting with other people, and the three C’s all tie back to that.
What do you think are the most useful, efficient or innovative uses of tech right now in events? (i.e. the best check-in app or wearable tech, etc.)
I’ve been thinking about this a lot—in June I published a report about the next tech trends for live events. (This is the first in a new monthly series.) There are so many exciting things happening in this space, and it feels like we’re still in the early stages of some major movements. I’ve been geeking out about the virtual reality headset that Oculus is building, and how it could be used for a lot more than video games—it might help us share experiences with other people.
A lot of this stuff can be intimidating at first, but when you dive in and start reading about things like wearables, beacons, N.FC./R.F.I.D. [Near Field Communication/Radio Frequency Identification], the Internet of Things, Big Data, etc., it’s really exciting. These gadgets and platforms can help attendees and event hosts share information with each other that can ultimately help them both create more interesting, relevant experiences.
(If they can get decent Wi-Fi, that is—that’s the big complaint I heard from so many people as I was researching the report.)
What kinds of the trends in design or aesthetics do you see on the rise?
I’m really fascinated by how social media has changed the game here—how brands are now designing experiences around getting guests to photograph and share them. That is: How can you distill your marketing message into something that will make me take out my phone and show my friends via my social media platform of choice? I think that design challenge is so much more interesting than choosing linen patterns (although I like that too). I know you can make a beautiful room, but I’m more impressed when I see you make something beautiful that also represents the mission of an organization. I still remember the whimsical installations you did for the Hudson River Park Trust two years ago.
I’ve got a thing for pop-up shops and stunts. Do you have any recent favorites?
I loved this Coke stunt with a specially designed bottle that could only be opened with another bottle—a great way of making people interact with each other.
What’s some of the most inspiring work you’ve seen recently, event-related or otherwise?
I think Jimmy Fallon is killing it on The Tonight Show—it’s fresh and funny, of-the-moment and timeless. Beer pong with Diane Keaton? Idina Menzel singing with the Roots playing kids’ instruments? That’s a party I want to go to.
As someone who loves magazines and has made his living almost exclusively from them (online or in print), I’m happy to see magazines looking to events to help them make the money they’re finding it harder and harder to make in more traditional ways. I loved talking to New York publisher Larry Burstein for my BizBash column about the Vulture Festival, and how all of their big events are run as profit centers, not just added value for advertisers.
What are some of the biggest challenges event professionals and marketers are facing right now?
Budgets, of course. Short lead times, of course. But I’m especially struck by how technology and social media are changing the world so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. For many people, just executing their events can be tough enough, without taking time to try out a new app or planning tool. The risks are just too great. And when do you find the time to keep up with what’s happening anyway? That’s part of my intention for The X Letter—helping people make sense of this stuff, and hopefully getting more excited than overwhelmed.
What are must-read Web sites, Twitter accounts, blogs for you these days?
There are so many. Jason Hirschhorn’s MediaREDEF email is a great aggregator of stories about media, tech, and business—both newsy and with some deeper thinking. I’ve become a big fan of Wired and Fast Company—their print magazines as well as their websites. Fast Company has great blogs on innovation and design. I’m really interested in Skift, the travel industry site, and its mix of news reporting and analysis. They’re definitely a model for The X Letter. The trend research firm PSFK showcases some cool stuff. And of course the BizBash editors continue to kill it in terms of finding the best ideas from all kinds of events. Their lists of the most innovative people and brands in events right now is a must-read.
What projects do you have on the horizon?
I’ve been getting great feedback on the first Xembly and the tech trend report, so I’m excited to get the next iterations out there.