Nominations are now open for the 12th Annual EEAs!
It's time to make your mark. Nominations are now open for the 12th Annual Event Experience Awards!

Industry Innovators 2024: Helen Bassett

For the senior vice president, head of Live & Events, for Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, innovation is about being bold enough to push the boundaries of what's possible.

Last year at Cannes Lion, Bassett worked on Journal House, The Wall Street Journal’s activation that hosted networking and conversations around the intersection of media, technology, and culture.
Last year at Cannes Lion, Bassett worked on Journal House, The Wall Street Journal’s activation that hosted networking and conversations around the intersection of media, technology, and culture.
Photo: Courtesy of Dow Jones

Img 2920Photo: Courtesy of Dow JonesHelen Bassett is senior vice president, head of Live & Events, for Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. She's based in New York.

How she got her start: "I’ve always been fascinated by live performances and events. I grew up just outside of London and can remember vividly the anticipation of a trip to the theater for a special occasion, getting lost in a crowd to stop and watch buskers perform, or hoping that one day we’d catch the graffiti artists live in action as the train whipped through Vauxhall station. This fascination is coupled with the fact that I just really love a good story—read, spoken, watched, or performed.

For the majority of my early work experiences, you would find me backstage at theaters, art desks, and shoots with magazines, with a couple of stints at a local newspaper. That was all before I studied journalism and broadcasting at university. I'd love to tell you a romantic story from here on in, following this fascination and interest into the industry and to set out on my career, but in reality, it was much more coincidental than that. I'm a classic example of ‘right place, right time.’ And lucky, really, that I landed in something I was half decent at and enjoyed doing.

Luck and timing aside, the choice of industry has always been intentional. University opened the lid on the world of journalism and broadcasting, and I’ve since spent most of my career in media. My first stop was in marketing at one of the U.K.’s leading radio brands, where I learned the value of events and experiences when telling a brand story, the strategic or tactical role experiential can play in broader marketing campaigns, and the impact live experiences can have on an audience (trade or consumer).

Next stop was Sydney, spending time on both the agency and client side, a small hiatus from media to work on experiential and BTL campaigns for consumer brands and with an agency focused on not-for-profit clients. New experiences brought new learnings, from how to produce events ‘on the smell of an oily rag’ (as my old boss would say) to how personal and shared a live experience can be for a community—never more seemingly apparent than when bringing people together to champion purpose.

Fast-forward a few years, and I got the chance to move to New York and head up the events team for Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, growing and building a career in line with the ambitions that the business had for Live & Events. Today, my role goes beyond the imagination and creation of experiences; it’s really about partnering with the business to maximize the strategic role of live experiences and events to help drive business, build community, connect with audiences, and tell a brand story."

What innovation means to her: "Put through the lens of creating events and experiences, I'd say innovation is about being bold enough to push the boundaries of what's possible, and wise enough to keep an eye on what’s engaging and impactful for the brand behind it and the audience at the end of it. Looking beyond the expected, imagining new and thoughtful ways of connecting with audiences, all while taking great care of the brand that has trusted you to tell its story. There’s also a lot to be celebrated about carving our space for new ideas and thinking. I love it when the conversation starts with ‘What if…’

There's definitely a motivation to try and stay one step ahead, to re-imagine, to optimize, to continue to surprise and delight, to continuously think about how we can translate our journalism into live experiences that resonate. This involves a cycle of ideation, experimentation, and refinement.

I’m also personally driven by the trust given to us when doing all of this. There's something very visible about live events and experiences. Ready or not, here we come! And so an enormous amount of trust must be placed in the team of creators, producers, and imagineers who pull these experiences off. A big thank-you to the leaders, editors, brand owners, and clients who place their trust in us, let us articulate and represent their brand, and tell part of their story, for their audiences. That's a driving force for innovative thinking right there!"

What sets her work apart: "We’re committed to producing immersive and innovative experiences that reflect the integrity and creativity of our brand. Every detail is meticulously crafted to serve a purpose, tell a story, and engage the audience in that moment and beyond. We approach each event and experience with a clear vision, from understanding the business strategy and editorial purpose to considering the revenue-driving potential and brand value.

I would also call out our dedication to personalization, innovation, and sustainability. If we're asking people to spend valuable time with us, we want to ensure we create experiences that are not only valuable to the brand but to the individual. We want people to feel welcome, to feel connected, and to walk away feeling satisfied—and maybe even a little surprised—in the best possible way.

And, of course, we want to do it as responsibly as possible and continuously look for ways to take steps, big and small, toward increasing the sustainability of our events, whether that’s the materials we choose, how we manage travel, sourcing of local produce, or designing scenic and set pieces that live on beyond an event.

We learned a lot during the pandemic, from how to compete with nontraditional competitors to how to create a sense of a shared experience in a digital world to how to take content and experiences from stages to homes. And like everyone else, we had to think differently, make bold decisions, and try things that were beyond our comfort zone. We were fortunate that our stakeholders gave us this trust, and it paid off. Recognizing we needed to adapt to how these virtual audiences engaged with our content and each other, we designed two bespoke virtual reality experiences in the metaverse—The Field, a galaxy-inspired storytelling adventure, and Iconic Mints, a curated digital art gallery—that invited audiences around the world to connect with us at home and on the go.

I call this out because a number of these experiences and ways of thinking that we imagined during those couple of years continue to be part of our strategy today—optimized for an in-person and hybrid audience, and earning us accolades across the industry."

Bassett has helped re-imagine WSJ Tech Live.Bassett has helped re-imagine WSJ Tech Live.Photo: Courtesy of Dow Jones

Memorable moments: "Please don't make me choose! We have such a fun and diverse portfolio, and I’m honestly so proud of them all (and the brilliant teams behind them). Some I've inherited the opportunity to work on: WSJ Magazine’s annual Innovator Awards, our Journal House activations (Davos and Cannes). Some I've helped re-imagine: WSJ Tech Live and WSJ CEO Council. Others I've helped build from the ground up: The Future of Everything Festival, etc. But since you're asking, I'll call out The Future of Everything Festival as a memorable event in terms of being a hallmark of innovation and ambition. From its inception as a simple idea to its evolution into a tentpole event for The Wall Street Journal, the festival exemplifies our approach. It's a testament to how a seed of an idea can grow into a vibrant, industry-leading event.

And I'd say, what makes this one special is its ability to bring the WSJ brand to life in unexpected and engaging ways for audiences that reach beyond our traditional readers. It's more than just an event; it's a festivity of ideas, innovation, and inspiration. It reflects our ability to adapt and innovate, and bring together thought leaders, C-suite executives, young professionals, content creators, and more in a dynamic dialogue about what lies ahead. The festival exemplifies our dedication to not only upholding but elevating journalistic excellence through engaging, immersive experiences for attendees."

Her vision for the future of the event industry: "Looking ahead, I see the event industry becoming even more personalized, immersive, and technologically advanced, leveraging immersive technology like mixed reality, spatial technologies, and AI to create experiences that are not only engaging but also deeply resonant with audiences on a personal level. I also think our industry is shifting its practices to prioritize more sustainable measures, as we seek to minimize our environmental footprint while maximizing the impact of our stories and experiences.

At the core, however, is a belief that the essence of our work remains deeply human. It's about creating shared experiences that resonate on a personal level, that inspire and inform, and foster a sense of community and connection. My hope is that we never lose sight of this human element, and that we continue to innovate in ways that enrich, educate, and inspire. This balance between innovation and human, between digital and tangible, is what will propel the event industry into a new era of relevance and impact, making every experience not just seen or heard, but deeply felt."

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