Robyn is a fourth-generation entrepreneur and event planning is in her blood. As the Founder of Change The Stage and the Founder of RDC, she’s worked with some of the most recognized brands in the world, including Coca-Cola, Spotify and IBM.
We caught up with her recently to talk about what she learnt leading teams at some of the largest event holding companies, such as UBM, and how RDC and Change The Stage are focused on revolutionizing the event and digital experience space.
About four years ago I had a call from Spotify to do an event for them, and it just felt like the right time to start RDC. I’ve been lucky because my previous roles allowed me to be very entrepreneurial, but with Spotify, I knew I wanted the chance to do the things I hadn’t been able to before. In the beginning, RDC offered full agency event production, but we saw whitespace around future-focused strategy and design. It’s about designing the overarching experience strategy and then coaching companies through it. We use a methodology called the anatomy of experience, and its focus is audience engagement, which is what we all want.
Early in the pandemic, the night before global exhibitions day, there was a lot of messaging in the events industry focused on all being in this together and how we’d come back stronger. What I was seeing was a vast difference in how people were experiencing the world. I realised how much responsibility the events industry has on representing audiences. And I felt really strongly and still do that this needs to change. If people don’t see people like them on stage, or hear people that sound like them, they’ll never feel empowered to do it too. Change the Stage is a pledge to elevate unrepresented voices in any way we can. The first step is benchmarking and then we’ll continue to move forward.
I felt like I had nothing to lose, so it made me stronger and bolder. I said what I thought needed to be said and chose to do the things that I believe are the right things. I guess it gave me a feeling of freedom.
It’s the same fundamental principles, but they’re certainly more urgent than they were. Instead of a slow crawl I think people are waking up to the fact that we need to focus on long-term sustainability over short-term profit. The pandemic made many of us in the industry realise that they need to change how audiences experience events in the future.
When I was about 24 I was creating very niche CIO roundtables around the world. I did an event at Wolfgang Puck’s LA restaurant, Spago. Wolfgang Puck came out to shake my hand and thank me for having the event at his restaurant. As well as being a little star struck, it was not lost on me the power of appreciating your customers. That was a lesson that stuck with me and helped fuel RDC's values.
Es Devlin, the stage set designer. She started off doing theatre sets, then she moved into big concert stage design. She looks at things from a different perspective and I think that no matter what industry you’re in, tapping into emotion and how you design for that is really interesting and inspiring.
Audiences don’t know what they don’t know. Who knew we wanted Netflix, for example, until it came along. For audiences, I’d love AR to be used much more. There has been talk of hologram technology for a while now, and it would be great to get that off the ground. Then with my event organiser hat on, I would say creating a more streamlined tech stack. At the moment, they can be really clunky.
I met Tim about six or seven years ago, when he was just starting Grip. His idea was a Tinder for events, which I thought sounded great. I was working on a big event at UBM at the time, and existing options were pretty stale, so I was looking for something to shake things up. Tim and I talked a lot about how we could improve audience experience and networking. And the UBM event worked really well. The ideas from Grip resulted in a lot more connections than we would normally have had. I was an early adopter and I certainly hope we can recommend Grip to many more of our clients in the future.
Trying to break through the noise while having bandwidth and resource constraints . T&E budgets are predicted to remain smaller which means people will attend fewer physical events in the future - not to mention every industry is saturated with virtual options. It's more important than ever to understand who you are designing for, their problems and the value your event brings them. That's a difficult task living in the "show cycle" mentality with tight innovation budgets.
It’s all of them and then some. At the moment, the future of events is just surviving. The true future is five to ten years I think. And that future includes AI, AR and the metaverse. Whether virtual, in-person or hybrid, events need to be linked and audiences need to have an experience, not just be sold to.
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