AgencyEA Founder Talks MillerCoors and Clif Bar Wins, Why Clients Are ‘Rebelling Against the :30’

By Patrick Coffee 

Last month, you all heard about MillerCoors’ third agency switch in less than two years. But what about the brewing behemoth’s events marketing work?

AgencyEA, a 100-strong indie shop in Chicago, recently picked up that part of the business after a competitive review that included several other unnamed agencies. They won a two-year contract to handle event duties for the MillerCoors Distributor Convention, the annual gathering at which MC toasts its business partners around the country.


“We’re always looking to work with bigger brands that have perennial commitments to getting themselves out there to the public in various, experiential ways,” said AgencyEA CEO Fergus Rooney, who founded the company as Event Architects in 1999.

He explained that the agency will be designing and building the event space, which includes “pavilions” dedicated to each of MillerCoors’ (as many as 16) brands. Agencies will be familiar with the sort of setup in which attendees make the rounds and meet representatives for each brew.

“There’s lots of competition between the brands, and we have to highlight them with atmospheres that are reflective of their brand purpose,” said Rooney. There will, of course, also be digital elements integrated into the larger effort via AgencyEA’s in-house creative, digital and production departments.

The agency, whose most prominent client is Hilton but has worked with groups ranging from GE and Under Armour to the Obama administration, also recently won an ongoing contract with Clif Bar and managed that brand’s presence at last month’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.

That event involved the very sorts of things you would expect from the former kings of indie rock creative writing, as per the photos in this post: attendees could sample Clif products while swinging in hammocks, charging their smartphones via solar panel and exploring the world of temporary (but longer-lasting) tattoos. The event was co-sponsored by old school environmental advocacy organization The Alliance for the Great Lakes.

“That relationship is in the building phase,” Rooney told us.

He also shared some thoughts on the widely publicized shift toward experiential work that has inspired several years’ worth of competing headlines. “It’s not just people standing outside and giving you vouchers,” he said, calling that sort of basic man-on-the-street practice “what used to pass for experiential.”

“The brands we’re working with are really rebelling against the 30-second spot,” he said, adding, “More and more it becomes a bit redundant because we tend not to pay attention unless it’s very, very unique. With experiential marketing, which is very pervasive now because more brands are putting more money into it, you get to engage and create a memory for someone who relates the brand to a place and time … it leads to brand loyalty, but it can’t just be something for the sake of it.”

We can tell you’re skeptical.

Yet Rooney said that more and more corporate clients like Hilton are looking to “unconference” their events; he mentioned one recent gathering at which employees answered questionnaires about their well-being and work environments that might do wonders for the ad industry. “The feedback was most incredible,” he said, noting that attendees “went to a conference and no one quoted a statistic.”

He also told us he’s witnessed a big upsurge in experiential RFPs and requests for related in-house digital services. That may seem a bit self-serving, but we’ve heard the same sort of thing from several agencies in this space. And given the fact that clients like P&G are making a big deal about cutting their overall ad budgets (especially on the “largely ineffective” digital-first side), “traditional” creatives are probably right to be a little nervous.