November 4

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EMRG Founder Talks Virtual Events and Production

By Mimi MacLean

November 4, 2021


Erica Maurer, Co-Founder of EMRG

Erica Maurer is the founder of EMRG, the leading event marketing company in New York and a trendsetter in virtual events and expos. Virtual events have become the new normal for businesses in 2021 and Erica has successfully hosted over 60 virtual events. Her career achievements have included Shark Tank investor interviews and over 100 million dollars generated through events.

Links to Find Erica and More About EMRG

LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE

Starting EMRG and Getting into the Events Industry

Mimi MacLean:
Erica, thank you so much for coming on today. I really appreciate it. The first thing I'd love to do is learn when you decided you were going to go out on your own and start your own company, EMRG, and I assume it's part of your initials of some sort. No, it's not at all, because it seems like the EM, I thought maybe it was.

Erica Maurer:
Oh, I know. Everyone says it all the time. My partner's Mario and I'm Erica, so obviously that's the first assumption, which makes complete sense. But it actually is Event Marketing Resource Group, and we just didn't think it sounded that great, so we bridged it together.

Mimi MacLean:
Oh, good. Well, good. You could also say it's your initials with … So you have a partner? 

Erica Maurer:
I have a business partner, yes.

Mimi MacLean:
Oh, good. So when did you ultimately decide to start your own? I assumed you had experience already in this industry before you started. 

Erica Maurer:
So I went to Columbia Business and got my business degree as well as a licensed therapist. And I thought that's what I wanted to do. And I realized that it wasn't, and so I just started to literally learn from every opportunity. I worked in doing fashion events. I worked at agencies. I just kind of wanted to get my hands wet on all different events and what it took to produce that from start to finish, as well as being able to understand all the business side and kind of bridge it. And that's kind of where that path led me. 

Mimi MacLean:
When you say you wanted to get your hands on, were you just working for somebody at that point? Or were you already organizing it yourself?

Erica Maurer:
So in grad school, I was able to do an internship, and part of that allowed me to do donor events, so we were able to do a lot of events for donors, learning how to solicit donations. How do you get a high attendance rate? What you need to do to facilitate the event side. But I realized I liked that, and that I knew I had a lot of different relationships and contacts, so I just started to leverage those and say, "Hey. Do you need help for Victoria's Secret Fashion Week? Or do you need help putting this event together? Do you need extra hands on the ground?" So I ultimately just said, "I'll do whatever," anything. No job was too small. Nothing was overlooked and so forth. And I kind of just immersed myself in doing that so that I could learn. And then once I learned all the pieces, I realized that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in charge and have my own business and kind of be able to apply all of those pieces together.

Mimi MacLean:
That's great. What year did you graduate at CBS? 

Erica Maurer:
2002.

Mimi MacLean:
I graduated in 2000, so that's great. It's a great place to go to school because you get to do the internships and stuff while you're there.

Erica Maurer:
Exactly.

Mimi MacLean:
Because you're right in the city. And so what ultimately made you decide to get a partner and to actually formalize having a company?

Erica Maurer:
So I was actually working. He was one of the bosses I had when I was doing these side jobs. And I realized that I really liked it, and so he had a partner at the time, and they wound up in essence splitting. And there was an opportunity, and I kind of segued in, and we kind of morphed the business from what it was, which was just basically events and nightlife, and kind of running different properties, to what it is today, which is a full service events, marketing, and production agency.

Mimi MacLean:
That's great. What has been the biggest struggle? Is it finding clients? Is it keeping the details together? What do you find is your biggest struggle day to day? 

Erica Maurer:
I think it's staff.

Mimi MacLean:
Yeah.

Erica Maurer:
I feel like people work differently these days, kind of like I grew up with it's whatever it takes, you're going to do. And even if it's above and beyond what you were supposed to do. That to me is something that seems to have a little bit of a disconnect between people now, maybe because there's so many apps that are out, that are like, "I'll do this or I'll do that." But really just building a core team is the most important thing. It's also the thing that you need to spend the most time in that's sometimes overlooked when you're building a business, and being able to service clients. It's not about how many clients you can get. It's how many clients can we get and keep? So we have this very long longitude of clients that keep coming back year after year. And I think that has to do with really caring and putting in the time to over deliver.

Mimi MacLean:
Now do you do that when you find the correct employee, staff, whatever? Is it through the interviewing process that you have to have a fine tune of who you're looking for? And is there also an extensive kind of training to make sure they're hitting your expectation? Do you have a standard operating procedure for that to make sure it gets done to the level that you want it to be?

Erica Maurer:
There's two parts. You're going to interview people and they're going to say what they think you want. And then there's actual practical, where you see that a lot of what they said is not true, but you already hired them, because that's kind of how it goes. And then you have to implement a lot of training. So depending on the level of how far off they are from what they described, there's a training process. How do you do intakes? How do you operate? How do you want people to be responding to emails coming in? What are those steps? And that does take a while. And some people are going to learn quicker than others. Yeah.

Mimi MacLean:
I think that's a common theme, especially now when it's just hard to get staff. Right? And so I think that's a huge common theme. And then there's just a theme that the younger generation kind of, they know they have more opportunities, and they're distracted. And they just ghost work and they don't show up, or everything's just delayed. It's definitely a different work ethic I think, than some of us have been used to growing up, that you just did what it took. 

Mimi MacLean:
I see you also have transitioned to doing more virtual events obviously during the pandemic, which is great because I think a lot of people were like, "Uh oh. I'm a party planner, or I'm an events planner. And now I have nothing to do." And so how did you make that transition? Were you already doing them before the pandemic? Or was that something completely new to you?

Erica Maurer:
Completely new.

Mimi MacLean:
Wow, okay.

Erica Maurer:
What happened was business, eight, nine figures, to zero.

Mimi MacLean:
Overnight.

Erica Maurer:
Governor says, "You can't bring staff into your office. It's illegal." You can't do X, Y, and Z, all the things that we did for what we did for our business. And all venues closed, so no space to host it. No one wants to be around other people, big huge issue, obviously dealing with global pandemic. So we literally were faced with a situation where we were like, "Well, if we don't adapt and adjust and advance, we won't be here. Right? 

Mimi MacLean:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Erica Maurer:
And that's the face that people had to experience. A lot of people didn't and just said, "I'm going to sit and wait," because no one thought it was going to be as long as it was and is.

Mimi MacLean:
No.

Erica Maurer:
And some people made that jump. And so my partner decided to immerse himself with a lot of education, and really kind of jump into that. I actually was hesitant and was like, "This sounds bizarre that we're going to take in person to virtual." I'm not a tech person. And I thought that it was going to pass quicker. It didn't. And thankfully, we did immerse ourselves. So he kind of opened up that door, and we started to go to clients and say, "Hey, Diligent, hey, Fiver, hey 1-800-FLOWERS," the people that we had already built that good core relationship with in the real world is what I call, before the pandemic, and say, "You guys need to do something. Are you willing to take the jump with us? And we'll create movies and kind of theater experiences where you're opening acts and welcoming people from kind of a virtual sense." 

Erica Maurer:
So that was kind of the approach that we took. We were fortunate that people also didn't want to be left behind, and they also knew that there was importance of community, bringing their staff together. People were remote all throughout different countries now. Right? Because people were stuck in different areas, working from different places. And so it gave us actually an interesting creative freedom and flexibility to reinvent or create something that hadn't been done. So Broadway was closed. Right? So we created concepts of bringing some Broadway stars, and we put together virtual experiences almost like a night at the theater. You couldn't go to the theater. So thinking of it in that way, as opposed to, hey, I'm going on a computer and I'm going to go into some chat room, and I'm going to chat with people. We wanted to create those in person experiences and really be able to offer it to everyone else. 

Mimi MacLean:
That's great. There was one that I went on that I think was a Tony Robbins thing. He was one of the first people that went live with his thing. And seeing his screen, the room with I don't know how many screens he had, where it was almost like a screen for every person.

Erica Maurer:
Like Zoom-zilla. Literally, that's what it's called. It's literally exactly what my business partner loves Tony Robbins, so same thing. So doing those engaging, you saw those boxes that were sent and the engagement aspects, and being able to see all the people. That took innovation. He even, for example, was not going to do anything. He literally stumbled on the team that actually developed everything for him by chance because he was talking to someone else, and they were like, "Oh, I'm building this studio." And he was like, "Oh, I don't want to come to your studio. I want to build my own." 

Mimi MacLean:
Well, all that's so expensive too. Right? But I guess it's relative because renting places and food is expensive, so you're just kind of shifting. 

Erica Maurer:
You're shifting.

Mimi MacLean:
What he would've spent here in person for that, it'd be interesting now rolling out going forward, going back to like you just talked about, how you put together a whole huge trade event, which is unbelievable, but how it's kind of hybrid. How do you go back and incorporate where you're back in person, so the people who want to go back in person? But now you can capture people that can't get there in person, but you're not just forgetting them because they can't get there, or they don't want to get there. So how do you kind of include them too? It's a whole new market. And it's going to be interesting to see how it rolls out.

Erica Maurer:
And that's good point because literally, you're coming from a year and eight months where people have been able to have access. And I use the word access because we're on Zoom right now. Right? We're connected and we're having access to each other. But before the pandemic hit, people only went to events really if they were local. So you weren't inviting your California office or your European office. You pretty much were picking and choosing. But what we've learned through the pandemic and through this virtual component is that you can incorporate both an in person experience and a virtual. Those aren't going to look the same, managing expectations, but you can offer different aspects to each, so they each feel special, as opposed to saying, "Well, if you can't afford to fly here, oh well, you can't come." 

Erica Maurer:
So giving out gift boxes, sending people kits that says, "Hey, have a cocktail virtually." Right? Doing some kind of performance that they can engage with or an illusionist that can pull up people on stage and allow them to see that excitement and camaraderie, having everyone's faces on the screen really opens it up. So I think it's something that is here to stay. And if companies aren't utilizing both, I think they're missing out on an opportunity that opens doors to many other things.

Mimi MacLean:
Right, right. You definitely have some notable clients. And you've had some celebrity people come and speak at your events. Have those been just difficult to find? Have they been personal connections? For people who are listening that are like, "Okay, I want to grow my business and I want to get to that caliber," do you have any insight for them?

Erica Maurer:
I think treat everybody as if they're going to be that big celebrity person because you never know who knows who, who knows another person that's going to connect you. Relationships are everything. I think strategic partnering is everything, finding the person that you know has access to X, Y, and Z, and then incorporating that, befriending people that you might have thought were potentially competitors. Because we all have our own unique selling proposition, and so if you approach things, every single thing that you do, you're going to have doors opening. And that's literally what happened was during the pandemic, the world closed. Right? And our community was pretty much halted. Events, they can't do it, right?

Erica Maurer:
So my partner and I were talking, we said, "Well, what can we do to support people?" Because people are calling and saying, "What are you doing?" We're like, "We're in the same situation you are." Right? But what we realized that there was a need. And when there's a need, there's always a solution. If you can provide a solution for people, then you can create community. Then you can create business growth. So if you do that, that kind of opens up doors. So we wound up doing a virtual event completely free for our entire community. We brought on people that talked about their experiences, only positive elements. We didn't really want to make it depressing.

Erica Maurer:
And we showed what people were experiencing and what they were doing to adapt. So now you're offering tools to people that can go around and apply that to their business. Those are the pieces that whether you're in a pandemic, virtual or in person, as long as you can always continue to give to your community and show that you're there and reliable, your business is going to grow. 

Mimi MacLean:
That's great. I love that. It's true, it's always about giving because you never know where it's going to take you. Right? And I liked how you said, "Treat everyone equally." That's huge. That's really important. Okay, you also talked about how you started during the pandemic, a women's organization, a community. So could you talk a little bit about that?

Erica Maurer:
Yes. So we had always talked about prior to the pandemic, about doing something that related to women entrepreneurs and giving people access. With the pandemic, we also were getting, we have a big network, we were getting increasing, "Hey, can you help me with my business? Or I feel stuck, or my mindset is not the same. I feel depressed because I'm not able to socialize." Everyone was experiencing different things. And so we thought there was a need, so we did a test pilot in December of last year. And we said, "Let's see if people are receptive to it." And we brought together 15 high level women. It was Kara Goldin, who's the founder of Hint Water.

Mimi MacLean:
Yeah, we interviewed her.

Erica Maurer:
Yeah, she's phenomenal. We brought different people with different expertise in the world of doing their own business, whether they were solo entrepreneurs, business people that sold their businesses, blah, blah, blah. So we brought together that, and we gave education. And we said, "What's their feedback?" And people really were receptive to it. So what we did is we do these series of events which are virtual, and we bring together high level speakers and really give people education for a certain amount of time, three days, seven days, 10 days. And we launched a women's entrepreneur program, which we had offered before for private clients, but we had never really done it in a group setting. And so we did that, and it helps people get back on track, helps them get insight turning a side hustle to their full-time. How do you transition? 

Erica Maurer:
So it allowed them to kind of have, like I say, the access to people that maybe they couldn't have, and be able to hear insight because you don't know until you know. Right? You can't learn if you're in a box. So how do you give people the ability to kind of learn from others?

Mimi MacLean:
That's true. So I don't know if you know this or not, but the statistic that only 1.7% of women who have their own companies ever reach $1 million in sales. Not to put you on the spot, but if you were to name a couple things, or one reason why you think some women … And also just in general, most business don't make it, so that aside. But if you were to say one reason why someone does reach that or becomes successful, some attribute, characteristic, or something that they're doing, what would it be?

Erica Maurer:
I think it's persistence. I think it's being kind and empathetic. And I go back to treating everybody as if … So people always joke to me and say, "Well, how come you took the time to call in a dinner reservation for two people? Is there revenue there?" No. Right? I did it because that call might be for somebody who's important in the business, like the CEO of Columbia Records, or so forth. Right? And that call will take care of them at that time, but they'll remember that. So it's always going above and beyond. And I find that people are more transactional, where they feel like I'm doing X and I'm getting this, and I that I think halts people's businesses.

Erica Maurer:
You have to think of it as forget about the dollars. It's not about today. It's: What will it be down the road? Will that person remember that you went above and beyond for them when you didn't have to? And they do, and you get referrals from them. And that's I think how our business kind of keeps growing, and it has exceeded what you just said in revenue wise, and I tend to believe that it's because of that. 

Mimi MacLean:
Have you ever read the book, The Go Giver? Oh, it's exactly what this is about.

Erica Maurer:
Oh, it is?

Mimi MacLean:
It's kind of like a parable. It's not a real life story. But it's a guy that writes a book, and it's kind of he talks about that. I think he's an … I read it so long ago, but he was an insurance salesman. And he talks about why one guy doesn't do well and one doesn't, and it all comes down to just always be giving and thinking about how you can give because that is going to serve you in the long run more than if you're in a take mindset.

Erica Maurer:
Yeah. I think that the take it mindset no longer works. I think it might've worked years ago, but people see through it.

Mimi MacLean:
People see through it totally.

Erica Maurer:
And that's I think the core thing is: What's your foundation? Some people are like, "I'm a 9:00 to 5:00 person," then you shouldn't be an entrepreneur. You shouldn't own your business. Right? Are you going to go above and beyond? Are you going to do that stuff to make people feel special and warm and remember you? And that's where the growth comes from. It's when you don't care about the dollar.

Mimi MacLean:
Yep. No, it's true. Now most of the events that you do in person, are they mostly in New York City, or do you do them around the world?

Erica Maurer:
It's around the world. I just came back from Boston for a three day charity event, so it really just depends on what the client's needs are. We'll have clients that say, "Hey, can you do an offsite retreat?" We're going to Miami. We're going to Arizona. We're going here. We're going there. And so we can do that. We are based in New York, but we can go wherever the desire and need is. 

Mimi MacLean:
That just to me seems so mind boggling, how you keep your finger on what's hip and new everywhere around the world. Do you have a travel agency or somebody who's helping you? Or is that what you guys do on your own as well?

Erica Maurer:
So we represent about 100 spaces in New York. A lot of the spaces do have other properties. So a lot of people in New York have Miami or California and other cities and so forth. But ultimately, it's okay to ask. So if I don't know, I'm going to go to someone who I think is that expert in that area, and I will make that ask. Can you help me? Can I partner with you? Can I cut you into this project to do A, B, and C? Or do the research on my own if I feel like I'm comfortable and just dive into it. 

Mimi MacLean:
Okay, so not to harp on a negative, but is there any time out of any events, because we all know things go wrong badly, fast, is there any event that you've been like, "Oh, my God. The place burned down," or whatever? And how do you overcome it? One time, one of my business ideas out of business school was working with photographers because this is a time there was no internet. There was no wedding list or whatever. So I was going around and trying to get wedding photographers to work with online and get their photos online and all that. So one of them, she was a premier wedding photographer. I think she charged $25,000 every wedding, even though it was 20 years ago. And I asked her that question once, and she was like, "Oh, my gosh. I had the film. It was in my pocket. And the wedding was just over, and I went to flush the toilet and they all fell down into the toilet and they went." She's like, "All the photos from the entire wedding were gone."

Erica Maurer:
How did she handle that?

Mimi MacLean:
I know. Right? She's like, went out, and she just had to apologize. And obviously, gave them the money back. But that was it, all the photos from the entire person's wedding that they can't get back were gone. I was like, "Oh, my God." So it would stress me to do events because I feel like there's just things that you're just always putting out fires.

Erica Maurer:
I think the main thing is, even when something goes wrong, is for no one to know because you're run of show, your back of house timeline, or BO for banquet event orders and so forth, no one sees them, except for a few people. And the majority are not clients. Right? They're usually your one point of contact, and then back of house. So as long as you can come up with a solution, and at the end, you can just fix it all. So something happens with one entrance, go through another. Right? Something happens with one setup, it backs up, come up with a solution. As long as you're always forward thinking like that, then I think that you'll never really have a problem. It's really when you panic. Right? 

Erica Maurer:
So I'll give you an example. We were in Boston this weekend doing a run/walk. And 7:30 at night, I get a text message. Hey, we need three wheelchairs. I'm like, "Three wheelchairs for what?" They're like, "For tomorrow's event. Starts at 8:00 AM." So it turned out that a few of the donors were bringing family members. They couldn't walk. They were sick. And we needed to get wheelchairs. So clearly, you can't rent wheelchairs at 7:30 at night on a Saturday. So I said, "You know what, I'm going to call the hospitals." It was like a joke, they all were like, "There's no way you're going to be able to cold call into a hospital and convince someone to give you three wheelchairs," and I did.

Erica Maurer:
It wasn't one hospital. It took three. And I said my spiel of why it was important, and how they weren't going to miss the wheelchairs for a few hours, and I was able to get it. So if you go with the mindset of, I can solve a problem, it might not be the path that you originally thought, then I believe you'll always land on your feet.

Mimi MacLean:
Yeah, it's totally true. You've just got to always believe it's going to work out. It's a game. How are you going to get there?

Erica Maurer:
Yeah, it's like a jigsaw puzzle.

Mimi MacLean:
Totally. Okay, so just to end, is there anything or any advice for other female entrepreneurs that are listening, who are either thinking about doing this, or starting their own company, or they're interesting throes of it, and they're like, "Well, why am I doing this?" 

Erica Maurer:
So I think that being an entrepreneur starting your own business is not for the weak. I think you have to recognize that it'll be 24/7 and be committed to understand that you'll be able to have breaks, but you have to go all in. And say to yourself, "Is that something that I want to embark on?" It's not for everybody. Right? It's okay to work for a good company and leave when you leave, and check off. So understanding who you are, so that you can make the right decisions for yourself. And know where your weaknesses are. So I don't like to edit stuff. I'm more in person. Right? 

Erica Maurer:
I don't like to do run of shows that are very tactical. I can speak it, but I don't like to get into those things, so I'm going to have a team around me that likes to do those pieces, and being aware of what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are, so that you're not sitting there driving yourself crazy. And it's okay if you can't afford to hire those people full-time. You don't have to. Everybody can be a strategic partner and provide value. And you just work out those structures. So just kind of understanding that umbrella would be really helpful. 

Mimi MacLean:
That's great. That's great. Well, thank you so much, Erica. I really appreciate your time. This has been great. 

Erica Maurer:
Thank you so much.

Mimi MacLean:
I've learned a lot. And I'm just enamored that you can pull off all of these. I think I'd be stressed every night. 

Erica Maurer:
Nope, you have to love it. Yeah, totally. If anyone has any questions, or wants to follow up on a question, I'm happy to share.

Mimi MacLean:
What's the name of your women's group if someone wants to join?

Erica Maurer:
Yeah. It's womeninsidernetwork.com.

Mimi MacLean:
Okay, perfect. Awesome. Thank you so much.

Erica Maurer:
Thank you. 

Mimi MacLean:
Thank you for joining us on The Badass CEO. To get your copy of The Top 10 Tips Every Entrepreneur Should Know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips. Also, please leave a review, as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them, so email me at mimi@thebadassceo.com. See you next week, and thank you for listening.

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