Experiential Experts: Gabriela Neves, Factory 360

One of the many benefits of my job is the opportunity to talk to incredible people throughout the experiential marketing ecosystem. One such person is Gabriela Neves, co-founder of Factory 360.

I first got interested in connecting with Gaby when I kept seeing Factory 360’s name on prestigious lists throughout 2020: Chief Marketer 200, Ex Awards, PRO Awards, Experience Design and Technology Awards and the Inc5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in America.

I was curious to hear what Factory 360 was doing - and what expertise they were relying on - to get them through the last twelve months and emerge as a stronger agency on the other side.

During our conversation, Gaby shared some wonderful insight about existing skillsets that her team leveraged and strengthened during the pandemic, the importance of building and sustaining an agency culture that unlocks employee potential and shared her thoughts on how brands can improve the selection process to take advantage of fresh thinking.

Brad: It’s really great to be talking with you, Gaby. I keep seeing your agency popping up in industry awards, your team is winning business and doing really interesting work. It has made me curious to dig into what expertise Factory 360 was leaning into to weather the storm of the last 12 months.

Gaby: I have this analogy I like to use. I was a tennis player growing up and I played right-handed. I was very jealous of ambidextrous players who could literally play their backhand like a forehand. What the COVID experience has done for Factory 360 is it has helped us to develop our left hand, so that our overall game is stronger.

Brad: I absolutely love that analogy and only partly because I am lefthanded. What are the right-hand and left-hand strengths that you are referring to?

Gaby: Our right-hand strengths have been what has been at the core of Factory 360’s brand activation capabilities. We are a soup-to-nuts shop: strategy, planning, creative ideation, development, execution, reporting, analysis, rinse and repeat. We have a strong background in two challenging industries for experiential: spirits and tech. There are distinct qualities that you need as an experiential agency to do great work in those categories.

Brad: Right. In spirits, because it is so heavily regulated, there is so much specific expertise needed to operate well. I often say if you can do great experiential work in spirits, you can just do great work.

Gaby: Exactly. You have to have a certain type of knowledge and understanding to work in that industry. So, if an agency does not have that background, that transition is a lot more difficult for them and it is more difficult to excel in that space. And then in the tech space, a big key to our success is that we operate like a startup. We have a startup mentality. We are nimble and resourceful. We are able to make decisions without having to consult hundreds of people.

Brad: So, going back to your analogy, the right hand is the fundamental experiential chops that have been at the core.

Gaby: Right. And the left-hand would be our digital and creative expertise. Thankfully, as a result of working with a lot of tech companies, we're constantly surrounded by - and our team is aware and exposed to - the latest technology. A few years ago, we brought in a creative technology professional to grow our in-house capabilities. That allowed us to integrate technology into our programs without outsourcing. We also invested in our creative team. We already had a full in-house creative team before going into COVID. But we strengthened that part of our left hand by leaning into it and investing in it.

Brad: How does the strengthening of the left hand – the digital and creative side of your business – play itself out for Factory 360 clients?

Gaby: Pre-COVID, the creative and digital elements were all in service of the experiential. Everything we did was built around experiential. So, for example, you build out a tour and then the creative elements would be: OK, well we need signage. We need a website. Potentially a microsite to do RSVPs. We need social posts to promote the event. We need uniforms, vehicle wrap. You name it. With COVID, it all got reversed. The pivot…oh I hate saying “pivot”. And I hate saying “think outside the box”. So I’m going to try to avoid saying those things.

Brad: You just did.

Gaby: Right, but I said them just to say I don’t want to say it. Don’t worry, I’m going to come up with better phrases for that stuff.

Brad: Terrific. While you’re at it, come up with better ones for “new normal” and “in these challenging times.”

Gaby: You got it. Now back to my point. What has happened with COVID, is it is reversed. Creative and digital have taken the forefront. Almost all of our work over the last year has been virtual events and creatively driven. As a result, we now have a much more holistic offering, from a below the line perspective.

Brad: So, you see Factory 360 coming out of this as a stronger agency? What is giving you reason to feel really good about March 2021, 2022 and 2026?

Gaby: We absolutely see ourselves coming out stronger. Our team is the strongest we have ever been. We've all been through a lot and we all trust each other, and we all have been able to weather this together. We have become stronger in terms of flexing our left hand. And so now we are going into this knowing that we have much more to offer.

Brad: Do you feel like that investment you have made in the creative and technology side of your business leaves you better positioned to see where things are going for your clients? To advise them on trends they should taking advantage of?

Gaby: Absolutely, but that is more about our agency culture and less about the individual skills. I mean, you can have all the right resources, but if people don't have the mindset to think out…

Brad: You were going to say “think outside the box” weren’t you?

Gaby: I was, but I stopped myself. I’ll say it differently. We want people who are comfortable doing different things. People who aren’t going to be stuck in their ways or afraid to do new things. From an agency culture point of view, we have people who are excited about innovation, excited about technology, and are not afraid of it. They embrace it and they personally take the time to learn about it. Pre-COVID it was certainly easier to foster that kind of culture. We would fund opportunities for people to take advantage of cultural events and, with a lot of tech clients, we always had interesting tech gadgets in the office that people could interact with, so they could learn about them and apply them to client opportunities.

Brad: How have you been able to keep the Factory 360 culture intact with everyone working from home?

Gaby: We just try to stay connected with each other. As the world was ending in March, we started a weekly meeting for the team to come together online, virtually via Zoom just so we could all stay connected. The meeting has evolved, but it started with icebreakers even though we all know each other. Our creative team leads that. And our Art Director takes the team through the latest technology. Something interesting that the team might not know about. This past week it was about Starlink, Elon Musk’s proposed broadband offering. And then we have a pop culture segment. Last week we talked about the Gorilla Glue lady.

Brad: So, you have fostered a culture inside of Factory 360, where people are encouraged to let their minds misbehave. They’re encouraged to color outside the lines a little bit. What’s the expertise to take the ideas that are borne out of that and

strategically apply them for an existing client or for a prospective client?

Gaby: It’s research and awareness. We have a process that we take clients through to understand their challenge: competitive landscape, demographic research, what they are trying to solve and who they are trying to reach. And having built this culture of creative, cultural and technological awareness, we have a great head start on knowing what tactics we can apply. We don’t lead with the technology, but we know what is available in the toolbox and will fit the challenge. Then, having the creative technologists in-house has been transformational. Our creatives can come up with an idea and immediately get feedback on how that could come to life.

Brad: Right. Versus going outside with it and probably a higher cost. Having expertise across various disciplines working together is so helpful.

Gaby: I agree and additionally we have a team of multidisciplinary professionals. So, we have people with certain job titles: creative director, art director, graphic designer. But the reality is that title doesn't mean that's all that person does. For example, this designer happens to have a passion for virtual reality or animation or whatever. Those are the kind of candidates that we look to hire and it creates a really exciting environment because there are so many things that they can tap into. Brad: Let’s get into the shoes of a client who's looking for their next experiential agency. What questions should they be asking to get the right partner?

Gaby: I think they are generally asking the right questions. I just think the selection process is often broken.

Brad: I don’t disagree with you, but I’m curious how you think it is broken.

Gaby: I think the biggest issue is that brands don’t create space for new agencies and new thinking. It’s similar to the issue with having diversity in hiring. You need to be purposeful and make time for it. Make a plan and a commitment to bringing in fresh candidates and fresh thinking. I think it would be great for clients to make a commitment of a couple projects a year to test out a new agency.

Brad: I agree and I think that is really smart to get new ideas and approaches in the mix, but let’s assume that gets fixed: there is still a question as to what brands should be doing to make sure they are properly evaluating the contenders, right?

Gaby: Sure. And I think consulting firms are helpful in the process because they can offer an unbiased approach for initial vetting and help expand the network of potential agencies. Additionally, I think they help find the right chemistry fit which is really important.

Brad: What’s your take on the importance of chemistry?

Gaby: It’s actually something that is a little bit beyond chemistry. It is having a personal connection during the process. We have often dealt with that “lost in translation” experience when a brand wants to give all of their information and feedback through written materials. But operating just off of paper leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. If you leave more room in the process for personal connection, you get to build a rapport, there is less room for miscommunication. And, as you start actually exchanging or sharing ideas and hearing how people think through or rationalize their approach, you start to develop a sense for whether the agency’s thinking is actually generating enthusiasm and excitement for the brand.

Brad: I think there’s little doubt that making the process more personal is helpful, but time is so often an impediment to that. Gaby: Of course. But even if it is an opportunity to review the brief together. Because we have all been on those calls where they're like, “OK, the client's gonna take you through the brief” and there’s like 10 people on the phone and nobody knows who is on the phone, and then you ask questions at the end. It's super awkward and that's not a good environment. And that’s not going to create the best outcome for the client. So, can you carve out 30 minutes per agency? And make the timeline tight. The agency has to be prepared and that will give you some good initial intel on the agency. Were they prepared? Did they ask smart questions? Brad: It’s a good idea. Now let's talk about young professionals. Folks who are just getting into this weird and wonderful world of experiential. What should they be doing to set themselves up for success and growth? Gaby: A few things. They need to find the major publications in the industry and the agencies that look interesting to them and they need to follow them on LinkedIn and Instagram. That is going to give them insight and they will be better prepared for interviews. Also, they need to explore different types of work. Do as many internships or job shadows as possible in different areas of the business. That's what I did. I was able to get my feet wet in different departments.

Brad: How does Factory 360 view internships?

Gaby: Internships for Factory 360 is an investment for potentially bringing on the best talent. They are so critical for getting the right people in the door. Another piece of advice for young professionals is to go on agency websites and send out your resume to people. But make sure the resume is a good resume. There are a lot of bad resumes out there. Bad grammar. Too many graphics. I’m looking for your experience. And my final piece of advice for any professional: don’t wait for anyone to create your success. You have to create that. Brad: This has been an incredible conversation, Gaby. Thank you so much for sharing your insight. What's the best way for people who want to work with you to get ahold of you?

Gaby: Thank you, Brad. This has been fun. Best way to reach me is through email and on Instagram @gabynyc7.