Experiencing ‘Never is Now’

Screen capture: YouTube

By Amy Aronoff Blumkin

A lot has been written in trade publications and business school magazines lately about the evolution of event marketing. In an age when so much of our interpersonal communication is electronic and “one way,” events are experiencing a renaissance, and it’s especially true in mission-based organizations, where your consumers – your constituents – want to interact with the causes to which they feel so attached. Events are experiencing a renaissance, and its human interaction – conversation, debate, discussion – only serves to deepen the connection.

For ADL (Anti-Defamation League), our annual summit – Never Is Now, The Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate (NIN) – was an outstanding way to reintroduce our brand and positioning to people who knew of our work, but were not necessarily directly engaged with it. Reflecting on the tragedies of Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso and Monsey, ADL’s message and work have never been more important. But just talking about what we do is not enough – we need to continually engage in dialogue and enable our constituents to experience, and internalize, the importance of our research, our community support, our education programs and the ways that they can contribute.

I have spent my career in experiential marketing, working with brands that are loved and respected worldwide – Disney, American Express, and the Super Bowl (Host Committee) – because of the nurturing and stewardship these organizations focus on the brand. To paraphrase the poet Maya Angelou: People may forget what you said, they may forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel. In creating NIN 2019, we put Angelou’s words into action, creating a totally immersive experience with brand ADL and bringing our work to life.

The Summit, in its 4th year, continues to grow in importance and impact. NIN 2019 was held at the Javits Center in New York City, with nearly 1,800 people in attendance, ADL’s largest gathering, to date. The program was packed with critical, important speakers addressing topics that are on everyone’s minds in the fight to end anti-Semitism. Highlights included inspiring remarks by actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya.

Nearly two years ago, ADL rebranded, debuting a new logo and tagline. We created our brand personality, the vigilant champion – analytical, determined, and principled. We placed a value on consistency of message and now show up visually stronger and more consistent in look, feel and voice. This applies to our content across our owned, earned and paid channels. With our critical elements in place, we clearly and sharply demonstrate the strength of the brand and connect it to the importance of the work that ADL does every day to fulfill our century-old mission: to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all.

For those who attended NIN 2019, it was more than a conference. It was a journey in getting to know ADL today – our thinking, our priorities, our approach. NIN 2019 drew guests in with interactive stations, so they could experience first-hand how the issues we fight impact them daily. The expert panelists introduced them to new facets of anti-Semitism and provided tools to stand up to hate in their own communities. We demonstrated how guests could become an integral part in fighting anti-Semitism and hate. In creating Never Is Now, we borrowed heavily from lessons I have learned along the way in my career.

Lesson 1: The Guest Experience

I spent my formative years in marketing at Disney, where I helped to create the vision for the guest experience. When you enter a Disney theme park, you are not a tourist or a visitor, you are a guest. And this mindset changes everything. You welcome guests into your home and focus on ensuring that they have a wonderful time, with all needs anticipated; we set out to do the same at NIN 2019. Our team was focused on how we treated our guests, from the first email confirming their registration to the moment they left the Javits Center. We thought about their needs first and made sure they felt welcomed as they entered the event space, were greeted while they waited in line and immersed themselves in ADL’s work after they walked into the convention hall. What they saw, what they heard, what they did – including every interaction with ADL staff – was coordinated to create a fully immersive experience. It is often the small details that make the biggest difference – an ADL logo on a table, a thoughtfully designed program guide, a sign outside a breakout room, wall décor that educates and informs, while directing the flow of traffic.

Lesson 2: It’s All About the Mouse

In an early TV commercial, created by our team at Disney, two brothers were in their bedroom packing their suitcases and preparing, excitedly, for a family trip to Walt Disney World. Between their twin beds hung a picture of a rocket ship. Our SVP of Marketing asked us why it was not a photo of Disney’s most iconic image, Cinderella’s castle. That’s what people will notice, and what will make the commercial memorable. In that one moment, I learned a lesson about branding and product positioning. Your logo needs to be everywhere so that it is in every photo, so that it is engrained in people’s minds. When Sacha Baron Cohen delivered his remarks at NIN 2019, he stood in front of the ADL logo, so every time someone watched the video of his speech, they saw ADL. Subtle, but important.

Lesson 3: Anticipating Problems

At the Super Bowl, we worked hard to make sure nothing would go wrong – but we thought constantly about worst-case scenarios. We worried about visitor flow at our Mobile Tour, which made 55 stops throughout New Jersey, New York City and lower Westchester County and drew over 250,000 people. We worried about the lights going out (as they did in New Orleans), and we worried about snow removal. We worried about Twitter – a lot – and about how to inform people about how to get around and what there was to do. As I learned from the SVP of Special Events for the NFL, “everything depends on everything” and “surprises suck.” In planning NIN 2019, we devoted time to thinking about guest traffic flow, session materials and key takeaways. We thought about everything that could go wrong and planned for every contingency. And no matter how planful we were, there were still lines for the restrooms, and so we add that to our list of things to plan for in 2020.

Lesson 4: So What?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experience in the for-profit world is that we always need to ask ourselves that uncomfortable question: So what? So what does this mean to our constituents? Why should they care? And what should they do about it? If we’re going to invest our time and energy in creating an event, think through every aspect of it from every angle, and urge people to sign up, we want to make sure that they’re getting something meaningful out of it. And that they understand their important role in taking action after the summit to make the world a better place for us and the generations to follow. At ADL, that’s something much more than a fun family adventure or an exciting sports event. If we’re not providing them with a substantial program packed with information they need, tools they can put into action and facts that they can share, then the most impeccable branding isn’t enough.

ADL fights for a world without anti-Semitism and hate and every aspect of the conference experience demonstrated why this is so critical to our future and how every guest has a role to play in eliminating this scourge. By meeting the four primary goals of the conference experience, NIN 2019 ensured that guests walked away empowered to join us in our fight for good. And, hopefully, attend NIN 2020 to learn and engage with ADL even more.

Amy Aronoff Blumkin is ADL’s Vice President for Brand and Marketing.