The Participation Agency

LOS ANGELES The pair behind The Participation Agency thinks brands need an approach that goes beyond pricy Instagram backdrops if they want competitive marketing plans.

As the terms “influencer,” “curation” and “experiential” get batted around in marketing playbooks, it’s not earth-shattering news the strategies behind such tactics require greater innovation. The agency, started in 2011, dipped its toe in an immersive activation with Timeshare Backyard the same year it was founded. Timeshare Backyard took an 800-square-foot underutilized outdoor plot on the Lower East Side and spun it into a more traditional backyard space with barbecue grills, lawn chairs and hammocks all available for rent and integrating brands working with the agency.

“When we started the agency, experiential was still a very undefined world. It was used for trade shows and pop-ups,” said cofounder and chief executive officer Ruthie Schulder. “Now that people have come so far in their understanding and acceptance of what it is, we can keep pushing brands.”

The success of that project helped give the agency the confidence to continue with similar experiences.

The concept’s since given way to For Those Who Tour, a hybrid Airbnb and marketing play rolled into one and aimed at traveling musicians. The idea is to create a beautiful respite — with the help of partner brands — for musicians. They stay for free with the hope that they document their stay on social media, although it’s not required.

The PA is industry-agnostic when it comes to who it works with and they’re open to increasing work with fashion brands as it relates to For Those Who Tour, especially when considering the importance of onstage styles of artists. However, the brands would have to make sense, said cofounder and chief creative officer Jessica Resler.

The first For Those Who Tour bowed in El Paso, Tex. right after the election with another opened in Jersey City and the most recent of which was West Hollywood in October. All three cities have the Basecamp concept of For Those Who Tour, which provides for overnight stays, complete with West Elm and Purple Mattresses furniture and fridges stocked with Califia Farms and Dirty Lemon. A second concept under For Those Who Tour, dubbed Outpost, functions as a space for recording sessions or performances.

So far, the concept has worked well with more than 4.4 million media impressions in 2018 from the more than 1,200 bands traveling through the spaces. The agency said that’s resulted in $3 million in earned media value.

Plans call for the rollout of another Basecamp, located in Chicago, in the current quarter. The duo is also evaluating five other cities in addition to locations for projects outside of For Those Who Tour. Part of their strategy rests on going into emerging or lesser tapped markets.

“For us, in always wanting to think ahead of the industry and what’s going on, we were sitting back and really taking a look at all the projects that we’ve done. We were noticing how there just wasn’t a drive into the middle of the country. You have the same cities over and over and over again that have all the activations and the neighborhoods that have all the same things,” Resler said. “You end up talking to people in a really closed circle.”

Added Schulder: “There are so many pockets of this country where there’s such an excitement around what the youth are doing and there’s amazing entrepreneurship in places we don’t talk about. We’re seeing the same cities in our Instagram feeds. We also really just want to be a part of the placemaking story of all that.”

In other words, the agency continues to look at what it can do around stories with a purpose instead of scrawling inspirational words in calligraphy on a wall and calling that immersive.

“There’s only so many Instagram posts behind a neon wall you can do,” Resler said. “We’re really interested in how experience can become more custom and personal and maybe even one-to-one.”