CatalystCreativ LLC CEO and founder Amanda Slavin is working to change how millennials connect with and experience a brand.
Along the way, her experience studio — at the intersection of event planning and branding — may be redefining marketing.
“Every time we work for a brand, we are essentially creating a curriculum for them to engage their internal employee, their consumer,” said Slavin, 29.
Many of Slavin’s thoughts on curriculum stem from her education background. She received her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. She also taught first grade.
Ideas that shaped Slavin’s master’s thesis have helped to shape her company’s practices and theories. Much of her work contains an educational element.
“Most of our experiences have a speaker series component or some type of element of an educational component,” Slavin said.
These components have a purpose — getting millennials to come and experience an event, and, more importantly, share that experience outside the event.
By sharing what they’ve learned, these millennials become ambassadors for a brand, a movement or a city.
The company has worked with big-name brands including Coca-Cola Co., Dell and the Global Ocean Commission. And Slavin was named one of Forbes magazine’s 2015 “30 under 30” honorees in marketing and advertising.
Locally, Slavin’s first client was Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project — a $350 million venture to revitalize downtown Las Vegas.
CatalystCreativ was also funded by the Downtown Project.
Slavin created Catalyst Week for the project 2½ years ago.
“What that looks like is really just creating these inspirational experiences that were completely free to the public, bringing in influencers from all over the world to come downtown and share their stories completely for free with anyone that wanted to attend,” Slavin said.
To date, the project has brought in 250 speakers and about 2,500 influencers downtown. Some of these names include actor-dancer-singer Harry Shum Jr. of TV’s “Glee” and best-selling author Simon Sinek.
Slavin has dubbed this accomplishment or service “community design.”
“For me, what we call a community design, we built a community of 2,500 people that are now supporters of Downtown Project, and that is a service,” Slavin said.
The event usually happens once a month, but is on hiatus for the summer. It is also getting overhauled.
“We know we’re still going to bring amazing people to downtown Vegas,” Slavin said. “We’re just figuring out in what format.”
Downtown Project public relations director Maria Phelan said CatalystCreativ has brought pluses to downtown.
“CatalystCreativ are great friends to Downtown Project,” Downtown Project public she said, “and they’ve brought many people (who otherwise may not have visited) to the area to experience downtown.”
LEARNING HER WAY
Slavin said she was new to bringing people together around an urban initiative. But she was looking for ways to combine her event marketing experience and her education background.
After teaching first grade, she spent several years as Paige Hospitality Group’s marketing and events director. Then she teamed with Hsieh.
Slavin blamed a slow education job market for prompting her move into events and marketing. But before then, Slavin had handled events in New York City — she’d done so during college to make extra money.
Slavin met Hsieh by chance while she was working at Summit Series, an entrepreneurs’ conference. Hsieh invited a few people from the conference to come to Las Vegas.
When Slavin arrived in town, Hsieh didn’t remember her at first, she recalled. His amnesia passed quickly though, and the two proceeded to collaborate.
Hsieh’s first offer didn’t strike Slavin right; she wasn’t interested in moving to Las Vegas. But her interest was piqued.
“I was really drawn to the opportunity to be a part of something that was bigger than I had really ever been a part of,” Slavin said. “I’d helped build a community around restaurants, but I’d not really helped galvanize a group of people around an urban initiative.”
So, six months after meeting Hsieh, Slavin came to Las Vegas to put her ideas to practice.
Today, Slavin and her team of nine remote employees designate Las Vegas as their headquarters. Nearly half of them live in Las Vegas, but live elsewhere across the country, in places such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York.
Travel is part of the job for CatalystCreativ’s employees; clients’ events could take place anywhere in the country.
You don’t have to be a millennial to land on CatalystCreativ’s radar.
“Some companies will hire us to invent creative ways to engage consumers,” Slavin said. “That consumer might not be a millennial.”
She said many people who aren’t not millennials are thinking them, sharing an interest in health, wellness and improving the world.
Slavin said one of her group’s goals, besides offering a great event experience, is getting people to share their offline experience online — amplifying the messages they heard.
This goal is not met by accident.
“We curate every single person in the room,” Slavin said. “We identify every single guest that should be there. We find speakers. We train the speakers. We prep the speakers.”
Slavin said CatalystCreativ is designing a learning section for the Life is Beautiful art and music festival, which will return to downtown Las Vegas this fall. CatalystCreativ will find, train and prep 40 speakers.
Slavin’s ideas extend to media. She was part of a founding seven-member advisory board for NPR’s Generation Listen program — a program to bring millennials deeper into NPR’s message.
“This approach really invited millennials in to build a platform with us,” said Danielle Deabler, NPR’s audience engagement and new ventures director. “It was a small effort and we weren’t really sure where it was going to go.”
There are about 18,000 in the Generation Listen community and 17 advisory board members, Deabler said.
The number of stations interested in the program is growing. Deabler said around 20 stations are starting programs; nine have started programs and installed advisory boards.
Slavin said CatalystCreativ can handle every element of an offline production, including graphic design, branding and websites.
The company also does online campaigns. Slavin said Catalyst is working to get Catalyst Week speakers’ words into the public there now. The projects were all filmed.
CatalystCreativ also does internal events.
“We also do internal experiences for employee engagement, helping executives learn how to engage their millennial employees as well as their millennial consumer,” Slavin said.
On top of that, the company is working on Catalyst Connect, a smartphone app that will launch in the next month in Las Vegas. The app will let people connect by searching similar interests and expertise and messaging and searching by location.
“Las Vegas is such a small town and a big town at the same time,” Slavin said. “It’s like an anomaly. I just want to make connection easier, having it be more of an inspiring way of connecting.”