Joe Rivers: Venturing Beyond Boundaries

Skift Take

Joe Rivers, director of experiences and partnerships for Czarnowski Collective, advocates taking risks to create impactful experiences.

Joe Rivers is the director of experiences and partnerships for Czarnowski Collective, a group of studios that have come together to provide event production, fabrication, and trade show agency services.

Rivers discusses his journey as an event professional, starting as a brand ambassador and tour manager before transitioning into business development.

He emphasizes the importance of experiential marketing and the value it brings to brands and agencies. Rivers also talks about event planning, production, and execution and the importance of engaging all five senses in experiential activations.

He shares examples of successful activations he has seen, such as the Tide experience at SXSW and Meow Wolf‘s immersive environments.

His travels also influence the experiences he creates as he has explored 29 countries and 36 states.

Rivers believes that events will become more focused on individual experiences and that brands will continue to hold their own events to create a stronger connection with their audience. He also discusses the impact of AI on the industry, the challenges of sustainability, and the importance of gratitude, patience, and adaptability in leadership.

Chance Led to Events Industry

Rivers connected with the events industry through serendipity. “When I graduated from college, I didn’t know what experiential events were,” says Rivers.

He landed a job as a brand ambassador for Budweiser, working with the Clydesdale horses. He also was a tour manager for Cupcake Vineyards Wine and manned a mobile bar with its wine on tap that he set up at food and music festivals.

“That’s what captivated my love of experiential, tying events and popups and retail, providing an emotional connection,” says Rivers.

In 2019, he transitioned into the business development side of events. “It was time to get off the road as a carny and come into the real world of B2B events,” he says.

The Importance of Why

“Bringing an experiential activation to life requires in-depth analysis. Have to focus on the why,” he says. He shares his experiences with others, highlighting activities that impress him and explaining why.

Tide Detergent’s activation caught his attention at this year’s SXSW. “I always like to understand what makes an experiential campaign or an activation truly immersive, how it engages all five senses,” he said.

That is what Tide did. “My sense of smell was immediately engaged by the cleanliness scent of Tide,” he said. A bar was created featuring Tide’s newest product, a fiber tile called Tide Evo. “You actually got to touch and feel. I used chili pepper sauce on a little piece of fabric that was placed in a glass of water with the product, and you got to see it work in real time. And it took that stain out of the fabric. And I thought to myself, what an easy, simplistic, interactive element to this popup. Yet it impacted me,” he explains.

Risk Can be a Good Thing

As the industry evolves, Rivers sees events to continue focusing on individual experiences. In addition, brands will increasingly create their own events.

An example is Tesla, which has owner events. “Attendees become brand ambassadors,” he says.

If he could change one thing in the industry, it would be risk-taking. “There’s a lot of times where something riskier is actually the thing that’ll be way more impactful,” he says. “Risk has a negative connotation but can be a good thing.”

According to Rivers, events should stir four emotions: “Love, fear, hope, and nostalgia.”

Gratitude is another emotion that has helped Rivers. “A mental shift of saying I have to do something to saying I get to do something is extremely important in leadership,” he says.