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Industry Innovators 2024: TJ Hucka

The senior director of technology for experiential agency MAS sees tech as a purposeful and strategic tool to help evoke emotions.

TJ Hucka
TJ Hucka
Photo: Courtesy of MAS

TJ Hucka is the senior technology director for experiential agency MAS. He's based in Los Angeles.

How he got his start: "My career in live events unknowingly started as a freshman in college. At the time, I was studying sports management at Iowa State University. I landed my first job working in stadium operations for the Iowa Cubs, an AAA affiliate for the Chicago Cubs. After my time with the Iowa Cubs wrapped, I spent some time exploring the advertising and marketing industry, finding my niche in information technology (IT) and creative technology.

In 2013, my live event and creative technology worlds collided. I was presented with the opportunity to work on the inaugural Life Is Beautiful festival in Downtown Las Vegas. From that moment on, my next nine years were spent freelancing in a variety of event roles for different clients and agencies.

MAS quickly became one of the agencies I supported. In 2021—also known as the golden age of virtual events—I had the opportunity to join MAS full time and would be overseeing their digital and tech department. It was an easy yes! My first year at MAS, we won a Clio Award for YouTube’s Brandcast Delivered. Since my first year, my role has expanded to include digital and IRL experiences, leading the technical production and interactive efforts at MAS. It has been an incredible ride!"

What innovation means to him: "Innovation is everything in our industry, so a 'What if?' mindset is essential for pushing the creative boundaries. At MAS, innovation lives at the intersection where our creative and production teams meet together. We are always striving to do things better, bigger, and bolder. The unrelenting drive to innovate keeps us hungry for more.

In my role, I’m always thinking from a technical perspective. From that lens, I believe the key to the successful use of tech is to innovate through the audience's point of view and what we want them to feel. When used correctly, tech serves as a purposeful and strategic tool that can help evoke any emotion. Using a 'technology for technology's sake' mindset is a losing game. 

The event industry and its technology are constantly changing. The evolution of the industry is one of my favorite things about my role. No one day looks different, so I draw inspiration from everywhere I can. Whether that’s walking through an airport or attending another live event, I’m always looking around to see how processes are being carried out and trying to learn from what’s around me. I’ve got to be the most annoying person to go to a concert with, because half the time I’m analyzing and appreciating the production over watching the performer."

Memorable moments: "Developer Incubator for Google several years ago was an event that left a lasting impression on me and the team. The incubator program centered around developing a piece of software for social good, using AI as the backbone. Participants developed a thorough presentation and addressed hundreds of fellow employees, including Google’s CEO. At the end of the incubator, there was a celebration around all of the hard work the attendees had put into building their benevolent apps.

I realize that this might not sound exhilarating compared to other events I’ve been a part of, but the incubator consisted of young, fresh developers who had never conducted formal presentations before—let alone on a stage in front of Sundar Pichai, a renowned CEO in tech! Being able to coach and aid the developers as they built their apps (and confidence!) was incredible. How the earned skills translated onstage was incredible; the presentations were nailed, the event was a success, and I walked away with a rewarding experience I will never forget. 

Another event that comes to mind, like most, was the first live event after the pandemic. I’ll never forget the adrenaline of being back on site and having the opportunity to provide a space for bringing people together again."

His vision for the future of the event industry: "Ask any event techie: The future of our industry is ripe for disruption. Experiential marketing is 20 years old now! So we have to be asking ourselves: 'What's next?'

When I think of the future, I'm talking about a whole new ecosystem: primarily one that takes cues from the evolutionary gaming industry. Anyone can see that gaming technology is rapidly evolving, bringing highly anticipated fandom buzz and radical tech experiences to the everyday attendee. Our partners at Epic Games, Dell Alienware, and YouTube Gaming are using their platforms in meaningful ways that impact their audiences and create culture through strategic tech. Successful, revolutionary events have tech at the forefront in order to effectively reach target audiences. Oppositely, a dated 'immersive' moment that is attempted to be 'tech forward' at an otherwise standard event could ruin the experience for attendees."

What he's working on next: "We have a few iron-clad NDAs, but I’ll let you in on a few secrets! The team at MAS is always cooking up something state-of-the-art. From a technology perspective, we are consistently on the hunt for a new crop of startups, innovators, and international resources to showcase. We aren’t exclusive with the buzzwords in tech: AI, GPT, and whatnot! We aim to amp up the products we already have seen, finding a new, challenging use case for them.

This fall, we can anticipate powerful product launches and thrilling pop-ups from MAS all over the world, from Japan to NYC and more. AI continues to be top of mind for our tech clients, but you will start to see it being used in unexpected new ways—always through the lens of empowerment and creativity. Additionally, our offbeat work in the gaming world is allowing us to bring the power of the immersive tech industry to traditional brands in advanced and compelling ways this fall.

MAS is also focusing on the interplay between IRL events and sticky content for amplification of brand stories within the tech space. That’s about all I can say without getting in trouble—o you’ll just have to follow along @experiencemas to see what we do next!"

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This feature is sponsored by Encore, a full-service global event production partner invested in your success. We provide unmatched capabilities and a commitment to service excellence to ensure your event experiences connect and inspire.

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