Jack Bedwani has seen what makes the best brands in the world tick.
And he’s turned it into a string of successful events around the globe, from launching Hong Kong Luxury Week to Grammys afterparties in NYC. We discussed his career so far, and what it takes to make special events truly special.
Hi Jack, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m an Australian living in New York. The accent might be a dead giveaway. Part of the influx of Antipodean entrepreneurs that seem to be descending on the city, I know!
I am also the co-founder of the projects*, an experiential branding agency that we started in Sydney ten years ago.
What’s the projects* about?
We craft and deliver experiences that help brands get closer to popular culture, the heartbeat of how products move into people’s lives, becomes a part of how they experience the world. In a nutshell, we build brand love.
It’s grown so much in the last decade – we expanded into L.A. and London, and just recently set up shop in New York. Initially we came to NYC as a summer pop-up, just a toe in the water, and it went so well we’ve now opened an office here.
What drew you to the entrepreneurial side of events?
I have a thirst for popular culture – a natural curiosity about the worlds we can create through fashion, events, music, and technology. I think that helps me to stay really open to learning and expanding.
Being on the forefront of how brands intersect with the human experience is a very interesting thing. You get to understand makes them relevant and why we choose the things we do. I really love looking at how it all works and bringing it to life.
That, and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and been throwing parties and hosting events as a way to make a buck since I left school. They say do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, so I took that advice and turned the things I naturally wanted to do into a career.
What do you think helped you break in where others have failed, especially in those cities that are tough markets?
I think one of the secrets is to be able to keep up with the speed at which really great brands are moving – which is quickly!
The other is a willingness to get your hands dirty. So much of our industry is built on trust and trust is only ever earned. So I always encourage people looking for opportunities in our industry to do whatever it takes to just get in the door. Work for free, do an internship, once people can see what you are made of they are far more likely to continue to work with you. The projects* has won time and time again because we are so willing to go the distance and get our hands dirty doing so.
So is there any quote or motto you live by in your events career?
“Did anyone die?”
Often the event world can be a very high stress place. You’re constantly off-piste when it comes to the slippery nature of how things unfold in real life versus your best-case plans. Tempers flare, things go wrong, and expectations are always sky-high. And you never get a chance for a do-over because it’s all happening in real time.
So it’s important to keep things in perspective, because however stressful it might feel in that moment, it will pass. Solutions are always found. Things click into place. It’s almost always better than you thought it would be. In the end, it always works out. And if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end yet.
On the flip side, what’s the worst piece of popular professional advice you see in the event planning world?
This may be a hangover from my days in the fashion industry and producing runway shows, but it’s this: you don’t have to be an asshole to be good at your job.
Over the years I’ve dealt with a lot of egos and attitudes, and seen people in positions of power be not so nice to those that are just starting out. The truth is, the better you are, the more you can lead by example.
You don’t have to be an asshole to be good at your job.
And in our business, if you aren’t having a good time most of the time, something is wrong!
Speaking of having a good time, what events are you most proud of in your career?
Generally the ones where I get to do things I’ve never done before.
Working with Vanity Fair for the Oscars for many years was a highlight. It really put our LA business on the map, and let’s face it, I’m in the wrong industry if I didn’t enjoy being a part of that kind of Hollywood history.
Recently, the things that I’m most proud of professionally are working with clients that are using their power and sphere of influence to make a positive impact through their campaigns and events, or who are using the reach of new technology.
We worked with Chivas on a campaign called ‘The Venture’, which rewards social impact entrepreneurs with money to help them scale their businesses. Working with real change-makers, especially companies that walk-the-talk quite humbly, makes me proud.
Changing gears a bit, in life and in events, attention is sometimes the scarcest resource, especially when you’re not yet a known quantity. What do you think is the most important way to get people’s attention?
In our ‘swipe right’ culture, capturing attention is the holy grail for storytellers.
You can devise the slickest proposals and smartest strategies in the world, but the only way to really get people involved is to connect with your audience on a completely human, heart level and make them feel something.
Inspiring imagination. Stirring a sense of wonder. Feeling love and caring. Those are all human somethings.
The only way to really get people involved is to connect with your audience on a completely human, heart level and make them feel something.
It’s the reason we all can remember the lyrics to Under the Bridge by the Chili Peppers when it comes on the radio, even if you haven’t heard it in years. Or the way you feel when you remember the first time you stood in front of a Jackson Pollock at the MoMA. It’s a connection to a part of yourself.
That’s what we do when we craft experiences, whether that’s an event, a campaign or an activation; we’re looking for a way into the heart space of our audience.
What do you think is the key to creating authentic experiences at an event? And do you believe it can be done reliably without becoming formulaic?
Authenticity is achieved when a brand is doing things that only they have license to do. For brands that are doing events, it’s about staying true to the DNA of what makes your brand truly great.
That’s where your authenticity lies – it’s about being a true original. We focus on creating narratives that celebrate those points of difference. When you get it right, authenticity is a given.
How do you approach planning events that are becoming more international and being shared digitally around the world? What’s the cultural impact?
The impact digital and social media has had on culture is one of the most fascinating movements of our time, because it really has changed everything we know, and changed the way we move in the world.
Before the prolific rise of the Instagram-age, events were actually far simpler to produce. You were looking for a sensory connection. What did you see, taste, and touch? How did we create memories and experience so immersive that they stayed in your mind long after you left?
Those days are over. Now it’s all about how shareable each moment is. How you can create your own story or narrative within that experience, and share that moment with others. It’s a different beast.
This shift is prolific because it’s affecting the very foundations of our creative process, and not just for branding agencies or event producers.
Even the world’s best architects are now designing spaces with one singular question in mind. It’s not of “How will guests enjoy and move through the space?” but “How are guests going to be capturing and sharing this experience with their own audience?”
With these questions in mind, what attribute do you think is the mark of an outstanding event team?
Invisibility. The best event teams make the experience, seamless, effortless, and rhythmical, and they do so without being front and center. It’s crucial that it unfolds in a way that looks effortless and spontaneous to the person experiencing it, even though it’s far from that.
What gets you through the tough spots when things aren’t going the way they should?
It’s been a ride, and one that has been a steep learning curve at times.
Sometimes it’s seeing something through, no matter how many challenges you face. But it’s also having the guts to change course when you need to, no matter how humbling that might feel.
Therein lies the rub: the more you know, the less you know. So I’ve had to be open to new ways of doing things and really listening to others. There’s more strength required in that than people who aren’t in those situations tend to realize.
Finally, what’s your favorite thing about your job?
The projects* celebrates its 10th birthday in August this year. I can tell you now, the whole team is going to be popping bottles that we not only made it, but we did it whilst staying the closest of friends. That feels like a true achievement.
Congratulations on that, and thanks for your time, Jack.