Weddings in 2017 are as likely to have a searchable hashtag as they are cake and flowers. If you're attending a party, it's guaranteed there's going to be manufactured photo opportunities; maybe a photobooth and props. Insta worthy cocktails and gorgeously snappable canapés are par for the course. But whose job is it to make sure that events are tailored to social media trends? Who guarantees every experience is endlessly 'gram-able? Enter Venetia Harpin, an 'experience producer'; the new kind of event planner that makes sure your soirées are as special as they are social media compatible.
What do you define as your job?
I’m a creative producer that specializes in live immersive experiences and experiential activations. Or, ‘experience producer’ for short.
How did you get to that point? What did you do before?
I started off in the music industry, booking gigs and managing live tour production. I then branched out and started learning how to manage other aspects of live events. Catering, lighting, walkabout entertainment, crowd flow and so forth. All the elements that you combine to create a fun and memorable experience. I became really fascinated by the psychology of live environments and I started doing more work with marketing strategists, eventually specialising in highly interactive and hands-on experiences.
Can you define what an ‘immersive experience’ is, and why is it different from a normal event?
There are lots of interpretations, but the one that sums it up succinctly for me is; an immersive experience is one that cannot function without a participant. Or to put it another way, you (the audience member) are an integral part of the narrative mechanism. Sometimes I like to call it ‘experiential 2.0’ because they share a lot of characteristics, but immersive takes it a step further and every part of the environment is designed to put you at the heart of the experience.
What’s the biggest way you’d say the events industry has changed?
Over the past decade, the dynamic between live events and social media coverage has completely flipped. It used to be that you would throw a party for the benefit of the people in the room, and maybe document it using video or photos to use later. Now most events are designed around hitting social amplification KPIs; – you literally work backwards from whatever form of online coverage you are trying to achieve.
What are the things you curate for parties that tend to get lots of shares online?
Endlessly more complex and fabulous versions of the humble photobooth. Forget the silly sunglasses, it’s GIF booths, bullet time rigs, and Super Slo Mo videos these days. The technology might have advanced, but humans basically still love sharing pictures of themselves more than anything else.
Do you cater your parties to trends on social media?
Yes, there are definitely event trends. Food crazes are the most obvious example. There was a phase when everyone had to have nitrogen ice cream, then it was cro-nuts, now it’s edible bubbles… But you have to be careful not to just copy what everyone else is doing. The documentation of events and activations on social media has resulted in a huge proliferation of identikit ‘on trend’ concepts too, that can very quickly feel tired and unoriginal. Can we stop with the ‘giant oversized household object’ PR stunts now please?
What’s been the craziest thing you’ve planned for a party?
I produced a summer party for a well known social media brand a while ago which had an ‘Eccentric English Garden Party’ theme. We had a pantomime camel walking around with a talking animatronic meerkat riding on its back. I’ve never seen anything so popular.
Any disaster stories?
I had a very established DJ turn up utterly smashed to a high end Christmas party a couple of years ago. He insisted he could still DJ but when the client tried to intervene he told her to fuck off. Suffice to say he was escorted very promptly from the premises… Luckily our warm up DJ stayed on and played a banger of a set.
What’s the best and hardest parts of your job?
Seeing people have a great time is hugely rewarding. I can spend 6 months putting together an event that is over in 6 hours so it’s immensely satisfying when it all comes together in synchronicity. The toughest part is probably the stress levels – you often only have one shot to get everything right, so there’s a lot of pressure.
Do you incorporate these elements into your own personal events?
I hate throwing parties for myself! It’s too much of a busman’s holiday. But yes, if I’m helping friends or family then I approach it in exactly the same way as I do at work.
A phrase you wish everyone would stop using?
‘Surprise and delight’. It’s a lovely concept, but unfortunately the phrase has been used so much it’s anything but surprising. Or delightful, for that matter.
Headtorches. I did a festival activation for Energizer a few years back and got to keep a handful, and now I use them. All. The. Time. You know what’s better than having light? More light.
Best way to find out more about you:
Put ‘Venetia Harpin' into Google. One of the special advantages of having a completely unique name on this planet. Thanks mum and dad!
Thanks, Venetia! Visit Skylark Events for more information about Venetia and her work.