Make a Splash, Steal the Show: An Interview with Steve Randazzo, Expert in Experiential Marketing
04.20.2021  |  by Milton Cornwell

Steve Randazzo is the founder and president of Pro Motion Inc., an experiential marketing and event marketing agency located in Missouri. He has also been a leading expert helping Fortune 1000 companies that traditionally rely on trade shows and other events to adapt to the non-contact “COVID Economy.” We spoke with Steve recently about in-person and online experiences, and how wineries can approach them no matter what their budget.

You can listen to the full interview here or read the abridged version below the key takeaways:

Key takeaways from our interview:

  1. Experiences are better able to cut through the clutter and sustain our attention. Tasting rooms were the traditional way wineries built those experiences but with tasting rooms still limited in what they can do, wineries need to pivot to new types of outreach, events and experiences.
  2. Experiences can be virtual, too! New ways to reach customers were created during the pandemic, and the most successful brands will be the ones that creatively use a hybrid of both digital and in-person (tasting rooms, tasting events) experiences.
  3. The formula for successful events is simple: Make a splash, and “go where the ducks are” (i.e., show up where your consumers are). It might be time again to hit the road and show up where people are beginning to venture and visit.
  4. Look for opportunities to “steal the show,” that is, leverage someone else’s audience and capture their attention. Look for like brands and like industries to be the most impactful.
  5. Even if you are small and have a limited budget, there is a lot you can do. For example, explore local events where you can stand out or find partners that make a natural pairing, and do events together.

Milton Cornwell: Today, I’m joined by Steve Randazzo, an old colleague of mine who runs an experiential agency called Pro Motion, which has been around for over 25 years. They have helped build brands through events, traveling road shows, pop-up sampling programs, and a host of other programs and projects. They have worked with the likes of Anheuser Busch, Gatorade, HP, Bosch, Campbell’s, Disney, and many, many more. Steve is also an accomplished author, and his latest book, Brand Experiences: Building Connections in a Digitally Cluttered World, can be found on Amazon. 

So Steve, you have so much experience in brand building and creating memorable experiences for these brands. Can you tell us how you got into this line of work and explain what is generally considered experiential marketing?

Steve Randazzo: You know, how I got into it is probably a bit of a fluke. When I was in college, a vice-president in public relations from the Kansas City Royals came to my school and spoke, and I met with him afterwards. Fast-forward to about four months after I graduated, and I started there as a marketing assistant. So my very first duties were things like first-ball ceremonies, color guard ceremonies, giveaways at the ballpark…anything that happened inside that park as an event. And so my very first job out of college, I was doing events. I think I got really lucky that I found something that I love and I’m pretty good at it.

In the last 25 years, the event world has grown into experiences [and] what we’re doing today is so much better than what we were doing 25 years ago; 25 years ago, we would just give somebody a sample and go, “There it is, isn’t it great?” And now there’s so much more built into that experience.

Milton Cornwell: It’s the epitome of taking national programs and bringing them down to the local level for one-on-one interaction, isn’t it?

Steve Randazzo: For sure…it just depends on what the needs of the customer happen to be, and everything centers around that. Like you said, that one-on-one: Everything comes down to that. You have one person talking to one or a few people about the brand, sampling the brand, building an experience around the brand, whatever it happens to be. But what they are really doing is capturing attention to really cut through the clutter. 

Unfortunately, coming out of COVID the last 12 months, [there] has been more clutter in the marketplace than ever before. Once we get to early summer, I think those gates are going to open and people are going to run through them. We’re going back to the old normal. We’re all human. You know, we’re going to go back and do what we were doing before. And that’s getting out and engaging and going to concerts and sporting events and fairs and festivals and things of that nature.

Milton Cornwell: Is there one program that you all have been involved in that stands out among the others? Do you have a favorite?

Steve Randazzo: I get asked this a lot. We’ve done some really, really cool programs for Anheuser-Busch [and] we’ve done some really cool programs for Disney and won a national award for one of them. It’s like all those big companies are the ones that I guess stand out because, yeah, let’s face it, they’re bigger budgets. 

[But] the ones that really excite me are the ones where we can provide an “aha moment.” We did a program with a company that had these incredible wheelchairs built for quadriplegics. These wheelchairs are unbelievable and the first event I went to, there was one of their customers, a guy who was in an accident who told the story about the accident. And then he told the story of laying in bed for five years. And he would tell me about the moment his doctor said, “I want to introduce you to this wheelchair.” This guy had been ready to commit suicide laying in bed because he couldn’t move for over five years. This wheelchair gave him life. 

[Whenever I tell that story] I get chills. And we’d go out to the doctors, the other medical people and physical therapists and people like that, and we would put them in the wheelchair. They would have to interact with that wheelchair as if they were a quadriplegic. You start off with an aha moment. 

Those are the types of programs that I love…That program wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t a huge budget. But just to see that “aha” moment happen is something I’ll never forget.

Milton Cornwell: In the book you say, “Make a splash and go where the ducks are.” Can you give us an explanation of what you mean by this and how wineries could potentially do this in such a saturated market?

Steve Randazzo: The splashes are all about cutting through the clutter. It doesn’t have to be a huge splash where you’re spending millions of dollars…making a splash could be as simple as showing up somewhere with your prospect, having a sampling experience…

“Where the ducks are” comes into play because you want to go to places where your customers could be. Every brand has the same two needs. I don’t care if you’re a wine brand or a wine transportation and wholesale company, or if you’re an event marketing company: Every single brand has two needs. They want to keep every customer they have, and they want to get more customers. It’s as simple as that. So you go where your “ducks” are, where your consumers are, and engage them. Maybe they [end up liking] your product. And now they’re getting your newsletter, or they sign up for your wine of the month [subscription service]. You’re building an engagement and you’re building a relationship. I think coming out of COVID, that’s what more brands are going to do.

What I love about products that you can sample and consume is, if you’ve got a really great product to get people over that risk of buying a brand-new product, and you get to that trial, it is so much easier to close…If you have a good tasting product, if people like getting over that hurdle, the trial, actual conversion is so much easier.

Milton Cornwell: Well, as you know, many of the wineries use their tasting room as a way to reach potential customers. But with COVID and fires, [the tasting room strategy] is not nearly as successful as it used to be. And a lot of our wineries switched to virtual tastings…but that certainly can’t remain the only vehicle that they use. Do you have any recommendations on how brands can stay ahead and activate their markets versus passively waiting for visitors to come back as things open up?

Steve Randazzo: I love the idea of creating a virtual experience that people would pay for…so people will all go out and buy the same wines or the same bourbons or whatever, and [they’ll do a] tasting with somebody at the winery. So I don’t think virtual is going away. I think hybrid is going to be really the key for a while. Wineries have those winery tasting rooms and they have built those experiences based on live engagements; now I would be building in some type of digital experience that brings my brand alive and also provides the opportunity for people to consume my product.

If you can get people to your wine club, I would be really focusing on driving email engagement. Gathering as many of the right email addresses as possible. Because you want to continue to tell your story and get your story out to these people. You want them engaged with your brand. And I think that digital experience is something that’s going to continue to live on.

I know somebody in my office that just hired a chef from Spain to put together this food experience for her brother’s 40th birthday. So everybody in the family is going to be in different places that are all over the country. They’re going to go out and buy the same ingredients. And then the chef in Spain is going to teach them all how to make this great meal. And then they’ll all sit on Zoom and eat together because they can’t be together.

I would be doing the same thing. I would be building some type of experience that helps tell the story about my brand.

And as you know, there’s so much clutter in the wine industry. There’s so many brands today relative to 20 years ago…and now there’s so much heartbreak with the fires and COVID. [But some of a winery’s] story is going to be resiliency in the face of all of that.

Milton Cornwell: You recommend people “steal the show” in a very cluttered environment. Can you give some examples of how people can steal the show? 

Steve Randazzo: …Being able to “steal the show” gives you an opportunity to take advantage of other people’s consumers, other people’s population. I would look for opportunities to partner with like brands or like industries, where you can send your message through their emails in an effort to gain more attention, to have that opportunity, to steal that show. 

You know, there’s a lot of ways to get attention. It’s not just through building live experiences. You can steal the show and again, go where the ducks are, steal someone else’s population. You’re not actually stealing it, but you’re utilizing it in a way to draw more attention to you and bring more business to you. Building that tribe for each brand is just so important. How do you find those like-minded people? Where are they? I can physically go to them or I can go to them virtually or digitally. The more creative, the more strategic brands are going to do so much better.

Milton Cornwell: [Most small wineries] have relatively small marketing budgets…most of them aren’t like the large conglomerates. Do you have any suggestions or ways that they can creatively make their limited marketing dollars stretch as far as they possibly can?

Steve Randazzo: It’s so hard to stand out from a [digital or] social media standpoint. I would be looking for those small fairs and festivals around my area where I can utilize my staff, build some displays, and take my products out to sample (where it can be done legally). You want to get that impulse purchase.

…You want to go somewhere where you can stand out. If you’re the only wine being sampled at that fair or festival, guess what? All the attention is on you. And they’re going to remember. 

Milton Cornwell: What about wineries that potentially are looking at reallocating marketing dollars and putting more into new programs? Are there things that they could do to get involved with street teams and local ambassadors? Are there some other approaches that wineries should be considering, thinking “outside of the box” and going local?

Steve Randazzo: You know, there are a lot of compatible industries to wine…I would be looking to partner with those industries in an effort to really be able to stretch your marketing budget. So you go in together and put together an experience that pairs your wine with something else.

I think about Weber grills, doing fun events with wine and food on the grill. Makes total sense. I can tell you tons of times in the last 12 months that I can’t wait to run downstairs and grab a good bottle of wine from the wine cellar because I just prepared some really great filets on the grill. So Weber, maybe a perfect place to go, to create more bang for your buck and be able to hitch onto a much bigger budget and add value to a program like that.

Milton Cornwell: Great advice. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time today. And I’m sure our friends in the wine industry will have some great takeaways from your insights and your knowledge. I really appreciate you taking the time to be with us.

Steve Randazzo: Oh, happy to do it! Anytime you need anything, just give me a call.


Learn more about Steve and Pro Motion here.

If you would like to discuss logistics and creating the ultimate customer unboxing experience, please reach out to us!