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Experiential Everywhere: How This Firm Capitalizes on Company Culture to Create Memorable Moments

BizBash sat down with TENFOLD founder and CEO Rachel Friedman to talk about how financial firms are seeing the ROI in experiential design.

TENFOLD decked out Bank of America's regional headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, with artful nods to the city, including this map highlighting railroads and river connections. 'We used that as a metaphor for local community connections, which is a big part of what Bank of America is trying to push here with this office. Then, we found opportunities to even make it more hyperlocal,' Friedman said, explaining that elsewhere in the space, there are buckeye leaves inspired by the nearby Ohio State University that pay homage to the financial institution's involvement with local charities.
TENFOLD decked out Bank of America's regional headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, with artful nods to the city, including this map highlighting railroads and river connections. "We used that as a metaphor for local community connections, which is a big part of what Bank of America is trying to push here with this office. Then, we found opportunities to even make it more hyperlocal," Friedman said, explaining that elsewhere in the space, there are buckeye leaves inspired by the nearby Ohio State University that pay homage to the financial institution's involvement with local charities.
Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLD

When thinking of “experiential,” events that include immersive elements, brand promotion, and emotional connections may come to mind. However, there’s one event prof who’s bringing those same concepts to corporate office spaces—and getting buttoned-up firms like asset management giant BlackRock, Bank of America, and Nationwide Insurance, just to name a few, to embrace the ROI of experiential.

That experiential aficionado is Rachel Friedman, who is chief of Columbus, Ohio-based TENFOLD, which she founded a decade ago after seeing an opportunity to “leverage space as a medium to communicate and create this emotional connection between people and place… before ‘environmental branding’ or ‘experiential design’ really was a thing,” she told BizBash.Rachel Friedman, founder and CEO of TENFOLDRachel Friedman, founder and CEO of TENFOLDPhoto: Courtesy of TENFOLD

The subject of every installation TENFOLD creates? The client’s company culture. The concept was inspired by case studies Friedman read in grad school. “Especially in the merger and acquisition space, there are so many examples of companies on paper looking like they would be a perfect complementary fit, and then the deal doesn't work, ultimately, because the cultures were so different,” she said.

Thus, to build a customer base where most sales volume comes from corporations in the financial sector, TENFOLD scoured current events to “track whos building, who’s renovating, who’s moving, and other triggers like changes in leadership,” Friedman explained, noting that from there, it’s about “figuring out how I could find that one degree of separation—how I could get a warm introduction to somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody.” Thus, when the 21-person team saw that Larry Fink’s BlackRock was moving into an 850,000-square-foot space in Hudson Yards in New York City, they saw an opportunity.

Now, the company—which has upward of $10.5 trillion in assets under management—has a headquarters that speaks to its nearly four-decade history. Featured in what TENFOLD calls a “heritage installation,” trinkets on display include the menu Fink and former Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O'Neal signed back in 2006 to mark their verbal agreement that BlackRock would acquire the firm later that same year.

Transforming such meaningful moments in the company’s history into an experiential moment that can be shared with employees as well as current and prospective clients “speaks to when someone gives you their word [at BlackRock,] they mean it,” Friedman said.TENFOLD has fostered a client list rich in financial firms and banks by scouring real estate news to see what companies are moving spaces. That's exactly how they became involved with BlackRock—when it moved into a glistening, 850,000-square-foot space in New York City's Hudson Yards (pictured).TENFOLD has fostered a client list rich in financial firms and banks by scouring real estate news to see what companies are moving spaces. That's exactly how they became involved with BlackRock—when it moved into a glistening, 850,000-square-foot space in New York City's Hudson Yards (pictured).Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLDTENFOLD created a 'heritage installation' in BlackRock's office that nodded to important moments throughout its history. The display also features digital boards so it’s “really easy to switch out the messaging quarterly, monthly, annually, biannually,” noted Friedman.TENFOLD created a "heritage installation" in BlackRock's office that nodded to important moments throughout its history. The display also features digital boards so it’s “really easy to switch out the messaging quarterly, monthly, annually, biannually,” noted Friedman.Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLD

Keep reading for more details about TENFOLD’s experiential niche, plus read more about case studies from the culture strategy and creative firm…

What do companies ask for when they seek out TENFOLD’s experiential design services?
“Well, sometimes, they're not asking for anything. We have to educate our clients that they need us," Friedman explained. “That's something I've learned over my career: If I waited for clients to ask us—especially if you're an innovative firm [and] if you're pushing those boundaries of innovation—you have to educate and bring people along. They're often not asking for what we do, but like I said, there are generally triggers related to place and space, so what are some of the tangible, IRL, physical experiences that they're focused on?”

And because the “place” doesn’t always mean a corporate headquarters, TENFOLD “has also been doing some work in the retreat and/or conference space, where businesses and companies are bringing all their people together and trying to be more intentional about how they convene people.”

From there, TENFOLD handles the answers to: “What are they doing? Why are they convening? How can we create that to be a branded and an emotionally connected experience?” Friedman said. “We're taking the same principles that we apply in a physical environment that's more permanent, like a workplace, to a temporary workplace experience.”When not working with buttoned-up corporations, insurance firms, and the like, TENFOLD also creates eye-catching moments for brands like Little Words Project and popular prebiotic soda brand Olipop (pictured).When not working with buttoned-up corporations, insurance firms, and the like, TENFOLD also creates eye-catching moments for brands like Little Words Project and popular prebiotic soda brand Olipop (pictured).Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLD

Because TENFOLD works on experiential design, it seems like it would be difficult to have repeat customers. Is this true?
“We describe ourselves as an agency of activation, so that is really intentionally phrased to be a long-term partner with our clients. Culture is never a ‘set it and forget it’ thing. It's something that always needs to be nurtured,” Friedman said.

Thus, aside from utilizing “unique research methodologies by which we're able to go in and uncover at a deep level what's really going on within the company, and then using creative expression and communication as a way to manage that,” TENFOLD also looks for opportunities to be flexible with its design.

“There's always a strategy with respect to the life cycle of the content. So there are some installations that are evergreen,” which Friedman described as the moments that are “super foundational in terms of message, [such as] a piece of art that you're going to love now and love forever.”

“Then there are other elements of the storytelling that are more time bound, and that can range from digital displays that are super dynamic” and can be updated within a built-out environment. For example, BlackRock’s so-called “heritage installation” included digital displays so it’s “really easy to switch out the messaging quarterly, monthly, annually, biannually,” noted Friedman.Steven A. Cohen's Point72 teamed up with TENFOLD to transform this otherwise humdrum hallway into an experiential moment that allows employees as well as existing and prospective clients to learn about the asset management firm's mission.Steven A. Cohen's Point72 teamed up with TENFOLD to transform this otherwise humdrum hallway into an experiential moment that allows employees as well as existing and prospective clients to learn about the asset management firm's mission.Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLD

Tell us about another memorable experiential moment by TENFOLD.
Friedman immediately spoke of family-owned investor Pritzker Private Capital, which is based in Chicago. “We worked directly with Anthony Pritzker,” Friedman said. “He is someone that I would say is very, very attuned to culture and believes deeply in the importance of company culture.”

To bring that conviction into the equity firm’s space, just off the elevator is a display with real family photos of the Pritzkers through multiple generations alongside copy telling their story. For Pritzker himself, it was about creating an experience “not just for employees, but also for target acquisition companies who were going to be coming in and visiting with them. So for him, it was about, ‘How do we earn their trust quickly?’” Friedman explained.Pritzker Private Capital's Chicago headquarters is a case study in experiential design, telling the company's story as a family-run business from the moment guests step off the elevator. TENFOLD worked directly with CEO Anthony Pritzker to execute the design, Friedman said, proving the firm's commitment to company culture.Pritzker Private Capital's Chicago headquarters is a case study in experiential design, telling the company's story as a family-run business from the moment guests step off the elevator. TENFOLD worked directly with CEO Anthony Pritzker to execute the design, Friedman said, proving the firm's commitment to company culture.Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLD

In another experiential design moment, blinds at one end of a meeting room are actually boat oars. “This really artful installation also serves a functional purpose,” Friedman said, adding that if you look closely at the oars, there’s writing that speaks to Pritzker Private Capital’s mantra.

Keep scrolling to see other meaningful moments at Pritzker’s Chicago office…TENFOLD transformed the blinds at one end of Pritzker's meeting room into boat oars that each feature writing that speaks to the company's mantra.TENFOLD transformed the blinds at one end of Pritzker's meeting room into boat oars that each feature writing that speaks to the company's mantra.Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLDOn this wall, TENFOLD worked with Pritzker to tell the brand's story while craftily nodding to Chicago's iconic Wrigley Field.On this wall, TENFOLD worked with Pritzker to tell the brand's story while craftily nodding to Chicago's iconic Wrigley Field.Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLDExperiential design elements elsewhere throughout Pritzker's office also boast storytelling moments. With this backdrop of the company's front desk, for example, TENFOLD etched 'We are builders of businesses and community.'Experiential design elements elsewhere throughout Pritzker's office also boast storytelling moments. With this backdrop of the company's front desk, for example, TENFOLD etched "We are builders of businesses and community."Photo: Courtesy of TENFOLD

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