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MTV Networks' Leslie Leventman

Leslie Leventman
MTV Networks

Where she gets creative inspiration: "From my staff and from traveling."

Number of events she goes to in a week: Four.

What's in her CD player right now: Alicia Keys.

September 4, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

No doubt the biggest event of this week will be MTV's Video Music Awards (VMAs). And while hordes of screaming teenagers gather at Lincoln Center to watch as Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, 'NSync and U2 arrive at the ceremony at the Metropolitan Opera House, MTV's real V.I.P.s--its advertisers and marketing partners--will be heading to a pre-party at Avery Fisher Hall. And the woman behind that event is Leslie Leventman, MTV Networks' executive vice president of creative services, special events and travel management.

Despite MTV's raucous, rough-edged image, Leventman describes herself as a solidly message-minded marketer who is more concerned with communicating a focused idea than choosing flowers or trendy venues. And she has lots of brands to manage: With 10 full-time event staffers, Leventman oversees all of the marketing events put on by MTV, as well as the other channels that fall under the MTV Networks umbrella: VH1, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, TV Land, TNN and CMT. That's more than 150 events a year--mostly marketing events, plus some meetings, staff events, concerts and parties affiliated with industry trade shows and conventions. (Kathleen Flynn, MTV's vice president of production events, oversees the events broadcast on MTV, including the VMA ceremony.)

When we spoke with Leventman recently, she told us about the importance of creating an event environment where guests feel special, comfortable and--most importantly--that they've received a solid message about the brand of their host.

BiZBash: How important are special events to the overall marketing strategy of MTV Networks?

Leventman: They're very important. They're an integral part of our overall strategy, and our events are so much about experiencing our brands firsthand...Whether it's a licensing event, or a programming event for new shows, or a film release, or even our pro-social initiatives, or events that are sales-oriented--we try to create an experience where you get who we are, live. Whether it's the vibe, or the creative experience, or something musical--even if it's children seeing our Nickelodeon costumed characters face-to-face, it's about that unique exchange of being there personally.

How do you translate the brand into an experience?

We create environments--that's a very important part of what we do. And what we do [on television], we take and mirror that as a live experience so that you are actually walking through [a physical embodiment of that]. Our events are never a passive experience. We want you to be there surrounded by our creative energy.

Is that the difference between a no-frills cocktail party that's just held at a bar, versus a party with a lot of interactive experiences that are based on what you do?

Exactly. And it depends on what we're trying to accomplish. Some of what we do are parties, but I really try to characterize them as events.

What does that difference mean to you?

Whether it's promoting a show, or an image, or a talent, or a concept, there's always a purpose to an event. So you look at the purpose, and then the event works from that starting point. If we're doing a Nickelodeon event, and we're promoting Rugrats, for example, we want you to get the experience of Rugrats. If you're able to do that live, it becomes more real for the participant. Like I said, events should never be passive. They should energize you, they should stimulate you creatively, and make you feel like you're an insider. It should really be a memorable experience--somehow it bonds you with the product. A successful event in my mind is when at the end of it you really understand what's being promoted. And that balance is very fine. Sometimes you don't even understand how it was done, just that it worked.

At the end of an event, how do you measure that?

You can feel it when you're in the space. You can feel the energy. You can look at the attendees' expressions. You can see how long they linger, how long they mingle. One of the things that we are so sensitive to is that we don't want people to walk around aimlessly. There needs to be a purpose to it. That is something we carefully orchestrate. It may sound silly, but it's creating an energy, so we carefully plan the space, the decor. It should be an environment that feels accessible. I don't know if you've ever walked into an event and it didn't feel friendly, where you couldn't connect with it. An event that is accessible makes you feel that you have had a unique experience. It should also be something that is creative and fun.

What's the most important.phpect to the overall success of an event? The decor, the food, the gift bag?

I would say the environment is [key to] the overall success of the event. I wouldn't say it's the goodie bag or anything like that. If you are serving food, it's very important for it to be easy. It should be done in a way where things are accessible to you--whether it's the product, or getting a drink, or getting food.

But I would say that some of the most successful events we've ever done have been so overpacked. I remember doing an event down in South Beach. It was the launch of MTV Latino. We had anticipated 1,500 people would show up, and there were 3,000--I think we invited 1,000. It was so crowded, and obviously we didn't have enough food, but it was one of the most successful events we ever did, because there was such a welcoming, friendly energy. We really value our guests, and we really wanted them to have a good time. So it had a wonderful energy.

Be very welcoming. When you go to some of these events, and there's very high security at the front door that is angry about letting you in--that's not going to make for a welcoming start.

Those different elements we talked about--food, decor, gifts--do you find those interesting? Is it fun to look at menus and things, or would you rather concentrate on the marketing.phpects?

For me personally, it is about the creative and the branding. That's the most interesting. But of course working on the menu, doing all those things, adds to the excitement and intrigue--they add an accent to what you're doing.

How have the networks' special events changed during the more than 20 years you've been with the company?

At the beginning we did smaller parties--and pretty exclusive parties. I was here before we launched MTV. I came here in 1980 and worked on Nickelodeon and the Movie Channel [which is now organized under Showtime Networks, another subsidiary of MTV owner Viacom]. Just as our products have evolved, so have our events. Now we're a global company with global brands and they have a tremendous value to our audience and to our clients. And the scope has become much more important.

We have a responsibility to take risks. We did in the beginning, also, of course, but we need to continue to push the envelope creatively.

That must be harder now than it was 20 years ago.

Because we were making it up as we went along in the beginning, and it was great--and it's still great, and we're still evolving. But there's a certain expectation in terms of what we do creatively, because we're known for that. We really have to look at it upside down and inside out every time, and really challenge ourselves to make it unique. That's what makes the job so fulfilling and wonderful. And when the audience comes to our events, you get that sense that we've gone to the nth degree, and really made it a unique and unusual experience.

What's always top of mind is giving our guests the experience of our brands that they wouldn't get anywhere else. When you're at a show and you're watching a performance, that's one very special experience. When you're watching television, that's another experience. When you're at an event, that's another kind of experience. Often we'll have an event after one of our big programming shows. And a show will typically end on a crescendo--a huge number, a big artist, whatever--and so then our guests go from the show--ending on this wonderful high--and then they walk into our event. And so not only do we have to stay at that crescendo level, but we then have to give them something additional. That's always our biggest challenge.

How do you think events will change in the next year, considering the economy or other factors?

We take it one event at a time. With events you're always working with limited resources--you always want to do more than you have money for. So we'll continue to be innovative and do as much as we can with what we have to work with.

You mentioned being innovative. To do that, are you always looking for new vendors, or do you prefer to work with the same people who you know can deliver something different when you need it?

It depends. We're very loyal to our suppliers who deliver for us over and over, but we're always looking for new ideas and new talent.

Posted 09.04.01

Photo by Patrick McMullan

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