Laura Mignott is a well known experiential leader who recently joined VMLY&R COMMERCE as global chief experiential officer, tasked with “supercharging the agency's commitment to designing for the future of hybrid community-driven engagement.” The role is a newly created position at the agency and one befitting of Laura’s experience as founder of award-winning specialty experiential marketing firm, DFlash. Since 2011, Laura served as CEO, driving the agency’s growth agenda and leading clients such as Netflix, Amazon Goodreads, Samsung, and more, through the industry’s evolution. Outside of work, Laura serves as host/creator of the acclaimed Reset Podcast and teacher on her ‘One Degree of Connection’ professional development course. She has been named 2021 AdClub Rockstar award winner and 2020 WiM Storyteller of the Year. Laura also sits on multiple boards and leadership committees, including the Project N95, Black Women Talk Tech, Fly Female Founders and more.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with her.
LBB> Experiential was one of the hardest-hit sectors of the advertising industry due to covid. Can you speak a bit about the main challenges you've encountered in the last two years – in your previous role and at VMLY&R COMMERCE – and how you dealt with them?
Laura> I think one of the main aspects people are not talking about as a challenge is the mental health aspects to how we create events in a post-covid world. We’re never doing another conference in a windowless ballroom with food choices of chicken or steak. For the better part of two years, people were trapped in their homes - so we have got to design spaces that people feel comfortable in. We’ve redesigned our events so that they are very open – on ground floors, giving people plenty of space to move and not feel constrained.
LBB> Considering your role as global chief experiential officer, what lessons have you learned during the pandemic that will stick with you and maybe you wouldn't have learned without the constraints of covid?
Laura> How flexible we can be. Not every meeting needs to be in person. Those events and meetings in person must count and have a real purpose for deeper connections.
LBB> Now that people are welcoming back IRL events, we’re beginning to see a blending of physical and digital (i.e., metaverse, NFTs, etc.). How do we take learnings from the pandemic and the rush to digital that we saw happen to create hybrid experiences?
Laura> Hybrid is here to stay. The more immersive tech experiences are getting better and better, and we should utilise them where they make sense for brands. Not every brand should jump into the metaverse today, but it could in the future. Our jobs are to be stewards of what makes sense for the brand’s goals in delivering against their real KPIs. We recently did a big series of events at the NCAA Final Four, where we interspersed items like QR code scavenger hunts and 3D interactive photo booths that were all designed to be interacted with IRL, as well as experienced online. The results were amazing. We had thousands of interactions and attendees loved it.
LBB> Speaking of VMLY&R COMMERCE – congratulations on the new gig! What was it about the agency and opportunity that tempted you to join?
Laura> Honestly, our CEO Beth Ann Kaminkow is the reason. In my business, my core goal is to make people feel good in the events I create, and she really made me feel valued and honoured in all our discussions - and our vision of a hybrid future fit like a glove. The opportunity to scale in a way I only dreamed of was also a huge factor and not only globally, but within the area of creative commerce pushing to ensure we are creating with conversion and growth as our KPI. And lastly, the chance to bring my awesome team with me – the people you surround yourself with in orchestrating the elements of a best-in-class experience are critical. Put all those together and it was a moment in my career that I had to say yes to.
LBB> Your new role is global – what are your thoughts on that aspect and how will you go about building a unified global experiential practice across the network?
Laura> The first few months have been about meeting as much of our global team in person as I can. I just returned from London and Dubai, which are our two largest experiential hubs, to sit down with our teams and understand the local nuances of how we deliver for the consumer in-market. We have a fantastic foundation across the globe and I want to build the strongest foundation and pillars so our teams can continue to thrive in all they do. In the end, our vision is to design culturally relevant events and experiences that convert for the NOW.
LBB> Prior to VMLY&R COMMERCE, you founded DFlash. Can you tell us more about what you learned in managing an experiential business? How did your work set up for what has been your journey to this new role?
Laura> My journey with DFlash wasn’t one I planned. It evolved as a right time and right moment business. We built a company that, at its core, designed experiences we wanted to go to – making people feel welcome and ensuring they never felt like they didn’t belong. Apparently, even to this day, giving people a fun and warm experience is still not the norm. We were a small but mighty agency, working with brands like Amazon and Netflix, building bespoke experiences.
LBB> How did you wind up in advertising and launching your own business in the first place? Was it a planned thing or more a happy accident?
Laura> It definitely was not planned. I got a job at a pharma-focused advertising agency right after I got my MBA. I then did the agency bounce around until I decided it might make sense to build my own since my experience at other agencies was not how I imagined them. It was very challenging being a Black woman in the advertising business and I vowed that I could do it better – and I did. Through a series of unexpected events, I started planning networking events that became the go-to in the early 2010s and quickly we started getting asked to replicate those experiences for brands. I also networked like crazy – meeting thousands of people at my events, other events and everywhere in between. I spent a lot of time building relationships – not being transactional, but just being genuinely curious about people. Those relationships led to some incredible referrals and helped build our business. Those relationships were the biggest lesson I learned while building DFlash – the importance of meeting people, getting to know them, and learning to build your curiosity like a muscle.
LBB> It seems like you have a lot going on outside of the 'day job' with a podcast, various consultant, board member, and lecturer roles at various organisations. Why are roles like this important for you to explore outside of your job?
Laura> Because in today’s world, it’s not about being one thing or just being defined by your job. I love people and getting to talk to new and interesting people on the podcast fuels me. The boards I sit on are important because I’m committed to making the world better for people who look like me as they are coming up in our business. It’s imperative to lift up others as you climb in business.
LBB> Also with that in mind, what are you looking for when hiring new creatives to your team? What does a great experiential creative need to have?
Laura> I’m looking for hybrids – people who have a great network, folks who want to work on a diverse team and thrive in those environments. I’m looking for nice people. I had this rule at my company for my speakers, partners, clients and team called the ‘No Jackass Rule’ – and it still holds today. We’re the embodiment of the ‘Welcome Home’ core value – I want everyone to feel welcome on our team and at our company, and really feel like they belong. That has already stood out for me at VMLY&R and the relationships and people I’ve been connecting with will only help to change the face of our industry.
LBB> Outside of work, what's inspiring you?
Laura> I’m loving the amazing creators, like Quinta Brunson, Issa Rae, Robin Thede. The way they are so unique in their storytelling, so inspiring.