An Interview with Damian Bazadona, President of Situation Interactive

Last week I sat down for an interview with Damian Bazadona, contributor to Inc. magazine and president of Situation Interactive, a top experiential marketing firm.  The short form of the interview is posted here, on Inc.  Here is the entire discussion, in full form-

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Damian Bazadona: What is your job title?

Peter Mack: VP of Experience & Innovation

DB: So as VP of Experience & Innovation, what are your primary job responsibilities? 

PM: The way that I define my job on a daily, weekly, monthly basis is delivering new, mind-blowing shared experiences every weekend all year long to help people feel more connected and fulfilled. Most of my time is spent trying to determine the next big, different thing that we can do. A lot of my time goes into new obstacles. Sometimes it goes into course design—we take a lot of pride in our innovative obstacle and course designs. Sometimes it has to do with event innovation and the way that people assemble teams. But at the end of the day it’s always about delivering new, unconventional, and mind-blowing experiences.

DB: What makes your brand “see-it-to-believe-it?” 

The fact that you can actually see people literally having their lives changed right in front of you. I think that you get to see this cool aspect of Tough Mudder which is that people can overcome a lot more than they believe they can overcome.  Teamwork and camaraderie makes people much stronger, much more able, and much more capable than they think they are and to see people overcoming substantial obstacles in-person and to see the look on their face before and after is pretty amazing.

DB: From an entrepreneurial side for people wanting to get into the business, what would you say is the best thing about working in the experiential business? 

I’ve been in the experiential space my whole life. So I’d have to say that knowing- when done well- that great experiences bring people together. Whether it be the experience itself or the storytelling that follows. After a Tough Mudder, in barrooms around the world, in offices on Monday mornings, people are telling amazing stories of how they overcame something immense. Stories about the wonderful people they met. The crazy team costumes they saw on our course. Once you’ve delivered an amazing experience, the storytelling that comes afterwards just makes the experience that much better. You know, sitting and drinking a beer and talking about how I got over Everest or I jumped into a massive pool of ice water and I loved it or whatever it may be- that’s pretty cool.

DB: Do you think that there’s specific characteristics or traits that are needed to be successful in the experiential business? 

PM: Intuition and compassion. The ability to deeply care and understand what satisfies and fulfills others is not an easy thing to come by. I know it’s something that I work on all the time. I don’t think anyone’s perfect at it but the more able you are to open yourself to understanding others, the more deeply you can understand what fulfills them, what they’re desirous of. I think that that’s the key.  At the end of the day if you can’t figure out what makes people feel satisfied, fulfilled, and happy, you’re nowhere.

And I think when you look at the actual tactical delivery side– whether it’s checking someone into a hotel and putting them into a room that makes them feel great and giving them an excellent experience around the property or it’s a Tough Mudder where 15,000 people show up to do this life changing event. Whatever it is, you have to be someone who thrives in environments where you have a limited period of time, space, and captivity to deliver something special. It’s a perishable good and it’s usually really complex and detail oriented.

DB: Two part question: What is the biggest misconception about working in the experience business and what is the biggest misconception about Tough Mudder? 

In my mind, the biggest misconception about working in this business is that it’s easy to deliver an exceptional experience. I think it’s so simple but people who are truly passionate and good about delivering an exceptional, life-changing experience, they make it look easy.  And so lots of people believe that it’s easy to deliver these things but it’s not. It’s really, really hard. Very little that’s worthwhile in the experiential space is easy but the people who really thrive make it look simple.

And in terms of Tough Mudder, it’s not a misconception, but there is one thing that I don’t think most people realize about Tough Mudder. I think that there’s so much content from Tough Mudder–pictures, Facebook, our website, sharing through emails, people telling stories in barrooms, people telling stories in their office. They think about it as an obstacle run, on a muddy course in the outdoors. I don’t think that people, until they’ve done a Tough Mudder or been on site at a Tough Mudder, realize that it’s about so much more than the event itself. It’s about connections. It’s an aspirational movement that has to do with overcoming challenges, connecting to others, experiencing something truly memorable that’s both challenging and rewarding. So for example, in the entertainment space when a show makes someone laugh or connects them to other values or to other cultures and people, it does something much broader than entertains them for an hour or two, right? Well with Tough Mudder, when somebody experiences the fulfillment of overcoming something truly tough, that they didn’t think they could ever do– and with the help of someone they didn’t know they could do it with, maybe even someone they didn’t know previously, it connects them to such a broader value system.  And that’s what it’s all about.

DB: So this is a hard one. Define success and failure for yourself. 

I definitely define personal success as how many people I connect deeply with, how I can make myself feel fulfilled by connecting with others, how I can help myself change for the better by connecting with others, and how I can help others change for the better by connection with them. And I don’t think that my professional desires are disconnected from that at all. I think that in my professional role it’s how many people am I able to help deliver an experience that can changes them for the better, that can touch them, that can make them laugh, smile, feel satisfaction, enjoyment.

DB: How do you stay inspired?

PM: I mean, I hate to keep boiling it down to the same things but the people around me keep me inspired. I think Ne York City, by the way is a wonderful place to stay inspired.

DB: Why?

Well, I’ll tell you. And I think it’s an ironic thing for me to say because I’m someone who is just so connected to mountains and nature, but the people in NYC keep me inspired. The other day I was in the 14th Street subway station and the trains were moving slow and I realized it was because there were five or six subway workers on the tracks doing some track repairs, but the trains were still running. I don’t know how they do this, its so dangerous. Every time trains would come, the guys would get in between the tracks and wait for the trains to pass just holding their breath–sometimes two trains at once! And I stood and watched it for a few minutes and I just realized how wild it was because everyone was relying on the trains to get home from work to their families, their friends, whatever. And the trains just kept going by and these guys were working on the tracks, and these guys have families and friends at home, too.

So what I decided to do was in the middle of all of this as if it was a Broadway show, to just out of nowhere shout, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the NYC subway workers!” and start a round of applause.  So I did it and everyone—there were probably a hundred other people on the platform—looked down at them and started applauding and cheering.  Because it was so amazing what they were doing. But I don’t know where it came from. I was in a moment and I just decided to create an ovation for these people on the tracks and they were just guys who were working hard.  They smiled and bowed in pride.  And I don’t take any credit because I could have done this and if nobody clapped I would have just been the crazy guy on the subway platform, but every single person on the platform joined in. Everyone. We had this massive round of applause until the next set of trains came by.  Everyone was smiling and excited about it.  That’s inspiration.

If you want to open yourself to be inspired by people, there’s no better place to do it than New York.

DB: That’s a great answer.  It’s like life is a performance.

PM: Well I don’t even work in the performance space. I just knew that these people needed a round of applause; I’ve never done that before. I don’t consider myself to be someone who always appreciates public work, but it was just so cool. We were all doing it.  And everyone applauded. It was rousing—it was like Book of Mormon applause!

DB: Is there any book you consider “required reading” for working in the experiential space?

PM: My favorite book and a book that has often encouraged me in lots of different ways is Le Petit Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery.  It’s a classic French kids book; I say it’s a kids book, it’s not. It’s basically about human nature and how you should make decisions and choose what you should value and prioritize. That’s my go-to reading. I actually keep that book next to my bed. air max air max

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