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A Roundtable Discussion on the State of Red Carpet Events in a “Post-Covid” World

  • September 15, 2021

It’s been over a year and a half since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe and brought with it unprecedented changes. Like most industries, live experiences were forced to transform, with red carpet events being no exception. 

But as events start to make a comeback, it’s also become apparent that the world as we knew it has changed. From utilizing new forms of media to implementing safety procedures and protocols, the experiential and entertainment industries must continue innovating in order to stay ahead in this new era.

To breakdown how to approach red carpet events in a post-Covid world, we invited some of NVE’s own event experts to partake in an in-depth roundtable discussion:

  • Jason Immaraju, Creative Director
  • Boye Fajinmi, Senior Director of Culture Strategy & Media and Co-Founder & President of TheFutureParty
  • Katrina Jameson, Director of Creative Strategy
  • Brian Rubin, VP of Communications

Entertainment writer-reporter Amanda N’Duka, who has covered countless events, award shows and red carpets, rounded out the panel as moderator and kicked off the exchange.

Amanda N’Duka: Live Events was one of the biggest industries hit by the pandemic and I feel like there was a big shift that happened. How would you describe the state of red carpets? What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen?

Jason Immaraju: I think, first of all, the format has changed. Last year, we worked through a drive-through red carpet premiere. We worked through a format where we shipped step and repeat kits to the cast that they could use at home. The whole concept of what a premiere is has fundamentally changed.

It’s also becoming a bit more personalized. We’re bringing the world of the title or the show directly into the cast’s home and giving them a much more premium experience than the standard red carpet that we’ve seen in the past.

Brian Rubin: Right now, it’s an opportunity for brands to rethink how they’re approaching the red carpet in their premieres. Before the pandemic, we started seeing some slight adjustments, but the industry as a whole still needed more purpose when it came to the red carpet and making sure that both the media and the talent were getting something out of it.

We’ve seen an increase in social content on carpets and that trend only accelerated with the pandemic. Now, we can use technology to open up these opportunities to more outlets and think more creatively about what we’re getting out of the carpets onsite, too.

Katrina Jameson: One of the positive changes is that it’s forced brands to really think about who the red carpet is for and what moments they’re trying to create. Is this a moment for media? Is this a moment for fans? Is this a moment to celebrate the talent and the filmmakers?

With shipping those kits to cast at home, it was a fan celebration moment. They already had a lot of people that were invested in the show, so we were able to be more creative. We made the backdrop look like the title treatment and let the cast step into that. We were able to have more intimate conversations where it wasn’t the typical, “What are you wearing?” or “What is your character?” since, by that point, everyone knows those answers already.

We also got to play a bit more with content and asked ourselves, “How can social media be a red carpet? What does that look like as Instagram Stories? How can you integrate people into those conversations?”

Boye Fajinmi: One thing that we’re always talking about over here is this idea of the hybrid model, where you have a digital extension of the physical experience. Things like Instagram and Tik Tok or Clubhouse and Discord pose an opportunity to be integrated into the red carpet experience. That way you can reach an audience in a larger way beyond just the traditional red carpet moment.

Amanda: What were some of the challenges that you all faced, especially with having to rethink and reinvent the way things are happening?

Brian: From the client-side, it tends to be budget. It was something new that they haven’t accommodated before. They had to ultimately take what they produced for the carpet and turn it into a virtual solution in the middle of the pandemic. 

As an agency, overall, it was identifying the objectives for the client and finding the right platform to host the experience. Is it going to be interviews between media and talent? Is it fan-focused? How many participants do we want to allow? Is it going to be live-streamed or taped? 

Katrina: I would say another challenge that got amplified during all of this was the noise level. Everyone was having to go digital at one time and there was this fatigue of being on your screen. How, then, can we have something that’s compelling, that is going to create tune-in and intrigue and fandom and press stories and break through that? I think it’s something that we still all need to work on and push through to figure out ways to dig a little bit deeper with people. 

Amanda: Now that you’ve had that experience in the digital space, what were some of the advantages that you found in and using a digital model versus being in-person?

Katrina: If you do it right, there’s an opportunity for talent to be themselves, showcase their personality and be more relaxed than they might in a formal in-person, step and repeat scenario. It can be really magical because that’s what a lot of the fans connect with. That’s what gets good media nuggets. That’s what turns into moments that you wouldn’t have scripted.

It also gives us bigger audiences and lets us invite people that wouldn’t normally be there. With premieres, especially, that “coast mentality” and entertainment bubble can become very real if you don’t step out of it and think about how you can incorporate people that live all over the country and all over the world.

Amanda: When it is in-person, how do you go about designing an experience that still has the feel and glam of the red carpet while working within safety limitations?

Jason: It’s definitely a morphing thing that changes by the week. A lot of it has to do with just making everything bigger and wider. We’ve had to make all the pathways longer and space seating farther apart.

That has actually allowed us to give everyone their own little viewing pod and a better experience. There’s a lot of room for innovation moving forward with this, even after the pandemic, hopefully. We can rethink a lot of what we’ve already been doing.

Brian: What I think the standard will be is that safety is always going to be of the utmost concern to any brand. Ultimately, it sounds like we’re moving towards a proof of vaccination or a 48-hour negative test. Anything like that is certainly going to put everyone’s minds at ease just a little bit, especially if it’s also outside.

Amanda: The red carpet is all about moments: fashion moments, news moments, political moments, pregnancy moments and more. Do you feel like we will still be able to get these authentic red carpet moments with these strict rules in place?

Brian: I think we’re going to see an overall decrease in the number of those credentialed for carpets, which might reduce some of those moments. But, the opportunity here is that we’re going to be able to bring in more media at other points through virtual solutions. While the carpet may be limited due to safety, it’s on us to devise other ways to bring in more media and be more inclusive. 

Maybe someone that wouldn’t have been credentialed for the carpet could take part in a virtual press conference or junket two days before an event. In that way, we might see more coverage rather than less.

My question back to you, Amanda, do you see a difference in the interviews in virtual junkets that you’ve done versus being face-to-face on a carpet?

Amanda: No, not at all. I honestly feel like I’m getting the same type of responses that I get when I do red carpet interviews. There might be a difference, though, in the level of comfortability because you are in your own home and not necessarily face-to-face. A lot of the people that I interview say they actually prefer online or virtual to in-person. That could be a reason why it’s a little bit more free and open and the conversation flows a bit better.

Do you all feel like there’s a world where this hybrid model could work in the future, even without restrictions and a global pandemic over our heads?

Katrina: I think so. It really goes back to what we’re trying to achieve and who we’re trying to reach. Generally speaking, a lot of our clients now see digital as a must-have. It’s never going to go away completely. 

We’ll have to think about how we’re using digital, what stories we’re telling there versus what moments are in-person and how we can sew them together. We shouldn’t try to have either moment be the same. Where hybrid falls apart is when you try to do the same thing on two different platforms, instead of thinking about how to create something interesting for both groups. It’s not necessarily a 1:1 ratio.

Boye: Covid-19, for many industries and ecosystems, was just a great accelerator, pushing us to where we had planned or needed to go all along. In the case of a hybrid model, it’s kind of the natural evolution of where we’re going. The idea of a premiere definitely needs a physical presence, so I think that will always be there, but it’s ripe for innovation.

With the red carpet, a lot is going on, not just by what you might catch in an interview, but what’s happening on the carpet. The other day, we were talking about The Fiji Girl, which is a moment that’s very serendipitous and may be harder to manufacture digitally. So the challenge will be, “How can we create moments and have them be natural and organic? How can we provide that sort of equation so that more things like that can happen?”

Amanda: How, then, do you guys go about determining what has to be done in-person versus what is something that can be put on digitally?

Brian: I think it’s specific to the brand, the IP and the client, as well as what the experience and main objectives are. For me, a lot of what I work on with the award shows and the specials is tune-in: how do we get as much coverage and buzz in advance of a red carpet? And that’s where we’ll see an increase in virtual opportunities with media. Ultimately, we try to devise a strategy around what the objective is and let that be our leading insight more than anything else.

Amanda: What about creating visual content? What opportunities are there are for brands to step outside of the whole step and repeat and figure out different ways of doing things?

Katrina: I would love for them to step outside of step and repeat backdrop. When something has been working and has been a tradition for so long, it’s hard to imagine not doing it that way, but things very clearly have changed. With carpet design, what we’re trying to achieve and how brands are trying to show up is more than just a logo on the wall. 

Everything is about ethos and creating visual memories for people to think about. What is that picture that is worth sharing? What is going to get reshared and connect people back to that moment in time? I would love to see a world in which all of the brand moments get designed individually and relate back to that idea.

Jason: Whenever we build out the world in a more theatrical way, it helps the whole red carpet experience overall. When the cast and everyone involved in making this piece of art is back in that world again, they see those recognizable elements and it brings something out of them. When we pull inspiration from the world that so much care went into and draw that into the red carpet experience, it really amplifies things.

Brian: And I think the challenge there is budget. It’s getting clients around this idea of really elevating that experience for everybody, not just from the media side, but for talent to walk in and really feel like they are immersed in the IP of the show that they were in.

A lot of times it’s hard to convince clients to build out these worlds or take a risk and do something that could create stunning content and shareable moments on the carpet. But this is the time to just go for it. The old red carpet can certainly still happen, but no one’s going to fault someone for taking a leap. The brands that do will see a pretty huge increase in impressions, both on the media and social side.

Boye: Also, beyond the physical nature of the experience, there’s an opportunity to innovate on the digital side and with the people. One thing that I think about is the accessibility of who has access to the carpet and who can be there. 

Traditionally, from the media side, it is these larger-than-life established publications with the same audience. But how can we integrate VR or AR? Is there an opportunity to do Tik Tok dances on the red carpet and reach that audience? Should we pop into Clubhouse during an interview and let people digitally ask questions in real-time? Can we live-shop the clothes that people are wearing as they’re on the red carpet? What about getting a really big YouTuber to do an interview since some individuals have just as much influence as a major publication?

There are just so many digital opportunities and ways to get more diversity of thought and mind. 

Amanda: On the topic of innovation and doing things that have never been done before, what opportunities exist to take events into the next generation?

Katrina: There’s a real opportunity to connect back to the human element of who these talents are. That’s something that everyone is craving for. There’s something so magical about the simple task of asking different questions, of coming in really researched and having the celebrity light up, thinking, “Wow, they care. They found out this thing. No one asks me that.” That’s what creates interesting conversations for people and lets us see different sides of them. 

So, how can we set up the event digitally or physically to get more of that time carved out? Maybe we go away with the idea of the 10-second step and repeat? What is the new way of getting to know these people and how do we push both the clients and the media to come out with better stories?

Boye: That’s such a good thought and example. One thing that always rings to my mind as an opportunity is just engagement in general. This concept of the step and repeat is very one-way. Even the engagement in the interviews is just question-answer, question-answer.

There is magic when there’s interactivity. It’s an opportunity to create engagement beyond just a Q&A and a photo. When you invite the outside world into that engagement, how can they actually interact with the red carpet experience?

Jason: There’s a big opportunity with the venue, too. We’ve always seen red carpet premieres at a theater. It’s so cool, then, when we see red carpet premieres in the middle of nowhere or an unexpected location. It throws people off and makes them react to the film in a different way. Also, because of social distancing, just having fewer people in a remote venue or one that’s more intimate and unconventional is interesting, as well.

Boye: I want to piggyback off of that because the fashion industry does that so well, right? They’ve reinvented the runway over the years. The red carpet could take a page out of that book, especially since it’s a very similar concept of walking down and having people see you. Maybe it’s about taking that experience to larger-than-life locations and reinventing that runway. 

Brian: I think the Met Gala has been the one to really do it, as far as those fashion moments and red carpet arrivals. Again, it’s looking at the venue and how we can be really creative in making sure that talent feels special when they arrive. It’s not just a sidewalk and commotion and chaos. It’s really elegant and up to the standards of the production that we’re hosting.

Amanda: From my experience, being on the red carpet and talking to other press, not everybody gets to talk to the talent and, usually, the people that don’t get those interviews are those that come from more niche publications that are centered around Black voices, Latinx voices and Asian voices. That’s always been a criticism of the carpet.

Do you feel like this new age of innovation and opportunities can combat that issue and help it become a more inclusive experience for the press, as well?

Brian: Yeah, 100%. It’s important that we are being inclusive as possible, regardless of if it’s in person or if it’s virtual, but I do think that virtual capability does allow more outlets to be involved in the lead-up to these shows and have access to the talent.

Boye: Really, it just has to. We live in a day and age where our lives need diversity of thought. That’s what we consume so, from the publicists to the actual event producers, to the actors and actresses themselves, there’s no success without diversity. That’s definitely a one-way ticket to not being relevant.

Amanda: What would you say you’re most looking forward to in this new age?

Boye: I’m excited about the potential for distribution. Traditionally, it’s been editorial and very online. In my opinion, the red carpet is intellectual property and there’s an opportunity to treat that intellectual property as if you would a TV show or movie itself. 

If you look at how those things are being innovated and marketed, I’m excited to see how the same tools that people are using for those mediums can be applied to the red carpet. What do NFT’s look like? What does Tik Tok integration look like? VR? What about IP ownership rights to the photos themselves and how they’re distributed. To me, that seems really exciting. 

Jason: I’ve always been a fan of throwing tradition out the window, so this is actually an exciting time for me. I just love projects that totally rethink convention. Making an idea more universally understood by a variety of perspectives through the way it’s designed and distributed is super fascinating.

Brian: I’m excited about that risk to be creative, about rethinking how these red carpets function and redefining the purpose, especially when it comes to award shows. I’m excited to help be a part of that and help create those moments that are going to drive coverage and make the talent feel special when they arrive.

Katrina: For me, it’s the puzzle. Innovation always comes out of these moments where you get smashed between rocks and have to think of a problem in a totally different way. I’m looking forward to how we can challenge ourselves to be bold and think about everything in a different light than we might have last year or two years ago or 10 years ago. We can go in with fresh eyes and push ourselves to come up with really interesting things. Then, maybe that will inspire someone else and create a snowball effect for the future.

This discussion occurred on September 8th, 2021, and has been edited and condensed.