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Episode 81 / December 18, 2023

From model and actor to experience-driven event producer with Eric Rutherford

In this episode, Eric Rutherford shares his journey from actor to event producer, discussing the importance of partnerships, tradition, and innovation in event design.

In this engaging episode of the Event Experience podcast, Eric Rutherford — Senior Producer at 15|40 Productions and former Director of Events at Hollywood Reporter — shares his fascinating journey from being an actor and model to becoming a celebrated event producer. He discusses his passion for creating impactful, emotional experiences through events and his transition into the industry, emphasizing the transformative power of bringing concepts to life.

Rutherford delves into his philosophy on partnerships in event production, highlighting the importance of collaboration, relationship-building, and being of service to others. He also touches on the balance between tradition and innovation in event design, advocating for a mix of tried-and-true methods with creative, forward-thinking approaches. Throughout the conversation, Rutherford’s enthusiasm for the craft of event production shines through, offering listeners a unique perspective on the art and business of creating memorable events.

Here’s what you’ll hear about in this conversation:

  • How Rutherford’s background in acting and modeling influenced his approach to event production, emphasizing creativity and emotional impact
  • How building strong partnerships and collaborations in the industry is crucial for creating successful events.
  • The importance of respecting traditional event formats while also pushing creative boundaries to keep events fresh and engaging

Mentioned in This Episode


[00:00:10] Rachel Moore: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo, the podcast where we bring the best and brightest Event Experience Leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s biggest events.

I’m Rachel Moore, your podcast host. 

Today’s guest pulled a 180, going from being in the spotlight in front of the camera all the way to the other side of the lens. Eric Rutherford, Senior Producer for 15|40 Productions — previously the Director of Events and Special Projects for Hollywood Reporter — shares his love for the craft of all things events in this discussion about the importance of partnerships, the balance between tradition and innovation in events, and his trajectory from actor and model to event producer. Join us as we flip the script on Event Experience!

[00:01:08] Rachel Moore: We’re talking with someone today who is a prior actor and model. So he is been on that side of the equation in events, but also delved into a love of photo. All of that brought our guest into production work. That should ring some bells for our large audience of event professionals and designers out there. Our guest has collabed with brands from Gap to Gucci. Also I see that Oprah Winfrey is in his background there too, which if you’re not stapled to your earbuds right now or haven’t been yet, you surely will be for the rest of our discussion.

[00:01:39] We’re also talking to the former director of events and special projects for Hollywood Reporter, and today his role is the senior producer in 1540 Productions. I’m really pleased to welcome Eric Rutherford to our guest spot on Event Experience. Welcome, Eric, to our microphones today.

[00:01:59] Eric Rutherford: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here. And I, I have to say, I’m like, I’m beaming. Like, I mean, who’s that person you were talking about? Thank you very much.

[00:02:08] Rachel Moore: You should be beaming. I’m beaming just saying it all. But Eric as I, as I just really briefly gave people a synopsis of your background, I definitely wanna hear about your role with 1540 Productions, because I know that’s a big deal, but yeah, what brings you to where you currently are in the whole realm of events?

The transition from actor and model to event producer

[00:02:25] Eric Rutherford: Well first I just wanna say it’s I love events and always have, you know, I love being able to create something out of nothing

[00:02:32] Rachel Moore: Mm-Hmm.

[00:02:33] Eric Rutherford: and to create something that actually has, uh, an emotional impact for people. To me it’s always something that has that extra bit of magic that I still get inspired by every single day.

[00:02:46] I came to the event business you know, as you mentioned, I started acting when I was very, very young. And moved to Hollywood to pursue the dream. While I was acting I had friends of mine that were in the event business and they said.

[00:03:02] Listen, why don’t you come in between acting roles? Why don’t you come and learn the business? You know, come and be a PA. I started working in the floral department and lugging the big vases. I worked with the caterer. I was a cater waiter for years and walking into a raw space and seeing something transform in your very eyes. And sometimes, you know, from the morning it’s an empty space or a dirt lot, and then by, you know, six o’clock that evening, you have created a village. You’ve created, you know, a a wedding ceremony. And I still get excited by that. 

[00:03:40] And so for me, beginning to learn about the event business, it touched a creativity in me. 

[00:03:46] And slowly I built a reputation in the business and my dream shifted.

[00:03:51] I was asked to come be a part of a team that started working with Oprah and, you know, I had the privilege and was very grateful to be a part of the team that opened her girls school in South Africa. And from that was doing tours, you know, with The Gap all over the United States. 

[00:04:06] The Hollywood Reporter reached out to me. It was right after they had done a rebrand and they said, we need some help. Listen, I like to be of service and I like to be helpful and to me that’s also one of the great things about an event. You are there to help others, right? You help there to help a bride and a groom achieve this dream, this this beautiful moment with their family.

[00:04:28] So I went to the Hollywood Reporter, I was there for a few years and. I should mention along the way Craig Waldman, the owner and founder of 1540 Productions, was a friend of mine from 25 plus years ago.

[00:04:43] We worked together at a different event company, I was craving a level of creativity that I wasn’t finding anymore, which we know sometimes in this business, it becomes about the business, right? It becomes about the functionality of it. 

[00:04:56] At 48 years old, all of a sudden I step back in front of the camera and I signed with a huge modeling influencer agency.

[00:05:03] And I did that for a number of years. . And as we all know, the pandemic hit and things shifted for all of us. 

[00:05:11] And so I was witnessing how people are adapting and I was checking in with Craig and friends of mine that are at the company. And for me, you know viewing brand partnerships and being able to bring my experience as an event producer to those brand partnerships, even though maybe I was the one that I was having the picture taken, really lent itself to me.

[00:05:28] And I said, listen, I’m willing to do anything, you know, the smallest or the biggest thing, you know, if I can help and that was about a year and a half ago and then it just made sense to open this chapter with 1540 and step in and bring all the experience that I’ve had, you know, both of, in front of and behind the camera, working both creatively and then as a business with brand partners. And now here we are, you know, in this, in the year 2023 and talking about events and where they are today.

[00:06:02] Rachel Moore: you Know, you’re mirroring what I think is the reason so many people get into events anyway, right? They get that inspiration, they see what’s possible, so I have a feeling you’re probably rejuvenating a lot of our listeners and it’s like, that’s. That’s why I got into this.. 

[00:06:18] I know we’re gonna talk about a few topics here. One of the things I heard as a consistent theme throughout you describing your career was partnerships. No one can be an island in this industry. You’re not gonna do it on your own. I’D love to dig into your kind of philosophy around the importance of partnerships and why they’re so important for event professionals.

The role of partnerships in successful event experiences

[00:06:39] Why are partnerships to you so key in in creating these experiences and these memories you’re making for people?

[00:06:47] Eric Rutherford: Well, partnership obviously can have many definitions and meanings. You know, for me, a partnership is about relationship and it’s building something. It’s, you know, when you go into a partnership, whether it’s with a brand or with a client, with a family, with a studio, you know you are coming together to help create something. Someone may have, I have an idea to do this, or I wanna get married doing this, or, we have a film that represents this.

[00:07:14] You are a partner in coming up with a concept, you know, and coming up with a way to activate it, you know, so that it has meaning. For those that will be attending and you know, you’re creating memories, but it also has a function of, in the sense of whether it’s brand building, whether it’s brand awareness, whether it’s getting press, whether it’s creating content where whatever the goal is, it is you as a partner to help your partner achieve that goal.

[00:07:47] Rachel Moore: Yeah. Going into an event together, you know, it’s, it’s really tearing down silos, isn’t it? Because there might be a particular entity or brand that’s like, we’re gonna do this, this thing, and then you’re over here doing your thing.

[00:07:59] But if you just connect the two or more, you’re gonna get so much more mileage and, and results out of it, right?

[00:08:05] Eric Rutherford: I think one of the greatest benefits that I have found, because I will say started at the bottom right. I started as a PA and I’ve experienced almost every aspect of what it is to put together an event. So for me, I bring that value and that importance to every meeting as a producer. To me, you know, it takes all of us to create success.

[00:08:32] You know, I remember. I was producing events and I’d done it for a number of years. It was for the Golden Globes. It was for one of the studios and you know, I, it was one of the first times I was producing on my own. I had a different role in the years past, and the client had asked me to step up in, into the producer role, which I gladly did.

[00:08:53] It was time for me to step up, so to speak to spread my wings you know, and it was a learning experience and I think you have to constantly be learning in this role and listen in every area of your life. And I remember stepping up and I remember within a matter of two days, I had every single department head, we’ll say every single vendor, you know, whether it was power or lighting or decor or catering or scenic or whatever it is all coming to me.

[00:09:20] And I won’t say that they were complaining or or necessarily venting, but they were saying how important their role was

[00:09:30] Rachel Moore: Mm.

[00:09:31] Eric Rutherford: and they all were saying the same thing. And at the end of the day, they are all important. Yet it’s all of them coming together that and you have to work together. And to me as a producer, that is one of the things that you have to be able to produce and manage ’cause everyone is as important. Everyone is a spoke in that wheel to help keep things moving forward and ultimately achieve the vision that you are looking to create for your client.

[00:10:03] Rachel Moore: Wow. You’re really exposing the fundamental nature of an event professional, someone who has to be that kind of master of ceremonies like you said, the cog in the wheel that we’re all the spokes feed into. That takes some mighty relational power. How did you develop that ability to navigate all that relationship in order to make these events you produce in excess, that that takes some mighty skills.

[00:10:31] Eric Rutherford: Listen, I wasn’t always very good at it. You know, we talk about relationships and partnerships just even in your life, right? And in that it benefits you to be a good listener, whether you’re listening to yourself, you’re listening to your client, you’re listening to your partner, your friend, your family, your other producers.

[00:10:56] Your vendor, your caterer, your bride, your studio head, your star, whomever it might be. Being able to take and not, not listening, waiting to talk, but listening so that you can hear what is being said, what’s being shared, what is being asked of you. Then for me, you, it allows you to take in that information, assess what they’re needing ’cause what I’ve also noticed oftentimes, you know, was sharing that all of those heads and all very, very talented people were coming to me saying what they were saying. And some of them really just needed to be heard.

[00:11:42] Some of them, there was a real issue or challenge in what they were saying, and that’s what needed to be heard and listen.

[00:11:50] And then, you know, you create an action or a plan to then move forward. But you know, I’ve had to develop that because I always believe you lead with kindness. And some guys or some people say, yeah, but the nice guy finishes last, or kindness only gets you so far, or, you’ve gotta be tough or you’ve gotta be firm.

[00:12:12] Yes, you, you need to get the job done. But I also believe. You can get the job done by treating people people nicely, by listening to people, by assessing what needs to get done and making those decisions. And that I’ve just developed along the way. And again, it’s, you know, it’s, and I’m also the first to admit like, I don’t know, something.

[00:12:36] I might be uncomfortable admitting it, but I’ll admit it. And that’s why I also like to surround myself with people who might be more talented than I am, or have more experience than I am, or have an insight that I’ve never thought about before. And then you bring those people together and then you create a level of success .

[00:12:54] I don’t think I know anybody that gets out of bed and just says, oh, I’m gonna be average today.

[00:13:01] Well, why get out of bed? To me, you’re always getting out of bed to be your best, to do your best to reach for excellence.

[00:13:11] You know, we were on a walkthrough and we walked into this space that I’d never been in before, and , I literally, I, I gasped out loud. I literally was like, like that. Because it was a pure joy of seeing something for the first time that I was found so beautiful, and also was incredibly grateful for that opportunity.

[00:13:36] I’m 56 years old and I’ve been around for a while. But I’m still very much young at heart and I still find the joy in this business. Even if something is , you know, you just wanna pound the wall or shake your head or or just curse out loud, right? And then you laugh about it, hopefully. 

[00:13:57] We were doing a load-in, you know, we had been approached by this new client and we were thrilled to be a part of it. But it was one of those things that usually you would’ve had three months to plan. And we had less than three weeks to do this.

[00:14:08] You know, and again, it was us.

[00:14:09] I’m such a firm believer of of service and, and, you know, even in the most challenging of times, or a client that keeps changing their mind or, or some mishap that happens, right? I always try to go back to being of service. Whether it’s for the client or for the person that’s in front of me, or for my crew mates or my team members, or whomever it might be, right?

[00:14:29] Because to me, that helps shift that emotion that you’re in and it goes back to center to why you’re here, you know? We had some challenges about this load-in, it was like three o’clock in the morning and I just remember and it was cold out and I remember looking up and I could see the moon between the buildings.

[00:14:49] And I was watching what we were doing, and we were a little behind, and it was frustrating, and you’re shivering and you’re hungry, and I just burst out laughing because I found the joy in it, and I feel very strongly that as a producer. As a coworker, as a teammate, right, but particularly as a producer who is stepping into a lead role, it’s part of your responsibility to lift other people up, to encourage people, to support them, to say thank you to, you know, share your appreciation. But has such big meaning to say thank you, or to smile at someone, or to take a moment and check in with them. Like, how are you doing?

[00:15:40] Rachel Moore: We’ll be right back with more Event Experience after the break.

[00:15:47] Chaviva Gordon-Bennett: Event enthusiasts, are you hungry for the latest event trends and insights? 

Pop open your laptop, pull up your favorite browser, and head to bizzabo.com/blog — that’s B-I-Z-Z-A-B-O dot com slash blog — for fresh perspectives and expert takes on what’s shaping the world of events. Plus, subscribe to get blog updates sent to your inbox every two weeks and never miss an article. 

Do more that matters with Bizzabo.

Tradition vs. innovation in modern event design

[00:16:29] Rachel Moore: I’m gonna cycle back to something you alluded to earlier a couple of times. I know you were talking about weddings, you know, and, and helping put those on which ties right in with the word traditional, right? Do you feel like the word traditional, does that still describe events today?

[00:16:45] Or have we skated away from more traditional and are we succeeding with things that are a little bit untraditional when it comes to event design?

[00:16:54] Eric Rutherford: That word, it can be very loaded. Right. Everyone wants to be young and cool, or that’s what gets picked up, right? Whether it’s in the media or on social media, or on TikTok or whatever magazine, whatever you’re reading, you wanna be cool, hip, wherever.

[00:17:12] Certainly in this industry, like you’re always, what’s the next thing or what’s the next activation or what’s the next, you know, photo op, and how are we engaging with our audience. Oftentimes that whole idea of tradition, what has worked in the past, gets pushed aside, or it needs to be thrown away or put up on the shelf or, or not looked at, or it’s not seen its value.

[00:17:34] And you know, I like to look at something we’ll say that is traditional. Does it still serve a purpose? Do you still get something out of it? You know, talking about a trade show. Is it wonderful to bring people together in an industry where you’re in person and you’re experiencing and seeing and touching and tasting and building those relationships, not, it’s not just on Zoom or through email or text or wherever.

[00:18:03] Yeah. I think there’s value in that. You know, I also think people trip themselves up when they are trying to reinvent the wheel. I think with tradition, you have to respect the experience of what that means and what that’s done. And for some people, they don’t want something hanging from the ceiling upside down, hologram AI or whatever, right? Again, it’s about listening and what is gonna be most impactful. 

[00:18:36] Two, there are some people that do want that. They wanna see something different. Because they are either bored or they’ve learned it already, or that’s not what they’re looking for. So, to me, I don’t think it’s about throwing it away.

[00:18:49] I think it’s about continuing to evolve, but also having a respect for what has worked in the past.

[00:18:54] You know, one of the things that I’ve committed to this year, and I was listening to Gary V, he was speaking at an event conference that I ended up doing a fireside chat for as well. You know, he says, everyone’s looking to me for advice.

[00:19:08] Everyone’s looking to me how to be better or do something different, or, you know, they look at me and look at his success and like, I should be doing what he’s doing. And so he got up there and he goes, I’m gonna tell you three things that you should be doing, and I’m gonna tell you 95% of you aren’t gonna do them.

[00:19:22] And you could feel the stillness in the crowd, because basically he was picking the mirror up and looking it back at the people in the crowd, because everyone’s, Hey, gimme the answer, gimme the answer, gimme the answer. He goes like, I’m gonna give you the answer and I know you’re not gonna do it.

[00:19:39] He goes, you’re not gonna do it because it makes you uncomfortable, or you’re gonna start doing it and then you’re gonna stop.

[00:19:48] I’ve tasked myself with being uncomfortable because I want to grow more. I want to learn more. I want to try things that I maybe I haven’t done before, or I’ve tried maybe once and then didn’t do it because I was uncomfortable.

Pushing creative boundaries in the events industry

[00:20:07] Rachel Moore: Do you feel that we’re pushing creative boundaries enough? And is there anything that you’ve seen lately? You’re like, oh man, that, that right there. Would love to hear anything you, you, you think about that.

[00:20:19] Eric Rutherford: I don’t think we’re pushing the creative boundaries enough.

[00:20:22] And I, I say that because, listen, any of you listening, us chatting here, think about what you saw a year ago. Think about what you saw five years ago. Then 10. Now again, maybe some of you haven’t been in the business for 10 years, but then 20, I look at what I experienced and yes, some of the things are still the same we’ll say, and maybe they’re produced better, but there’s also stuff that I’ve never, I had never seen before. You know, whether it’s how you capture content on a red carpet. Or a fan experience, you know, and how you engage with those fans and pull them in or tie it into a TV show or, you know, or anything like that.

[00:21:07] We are evolving creatively, but we, there still is more to come. You know, 10 years ago, none of this existed.

[00:21:13] Rachel Moore: Right.

[00:21:15] Eric Rutherford: You should always be looking for some way to expand beyond what you’re already doing. Like, you know, even at 1540. , we’re always looking to, how can we raise the bar? ‘ I know I’m very biased, but I do feel we’re one of the best in the industry and we’ve been that way for many, many years and we continue to raise the bar and we take great pride in what we do..

[00:21:40] We’re getting ready to do a, a premiere in a few days and it’s for one of my favorite directors, Ava Duvarney, and, and it’s for film she’s talking about. And she was an interview and they were talking about how they found this person to sing on the soundtrack, and she heard this person singing on their Instagram page.

[00:21:59] A friend of a friend had shared that, like, have you heard this person? She ended up reaching out to them. We’ve done the same thing. Like, you know, you find a new chef or someone who’s doing incredible artwork or, you know, or murals or, or, you know the beautiful tablecloths or floral arrangements or balloon creations or, you know, or, or content capture or something along those lines.

[00:22:25] Reach out, you know, work with those people that inspire you because also what I would say is, love beautiful things. We love creating beautiful settings. Right. But to me it’s also the story behind it. 

[00:22:36] Rachel Moore: Absolutely. 

[00:22:38] I’ve got a couple of get to know you questions, Eric, because we, we do know about you a little bit, but we wanna dig a little bit deeper. So can you name an item that you forgot for a work event that caused you some panic?

[00:22:51] Eric Rutherford: Yes, my pants.

[00:22:53] Rachel Moore: Alright, that’s a new one.

[00:22:54] Eric Rutherford: Yeah, there was a situation like, you know, oftentimes, you know, you’re in your setup clothes and then you’ve gotta change into your suit or your, you know, whatever it is, your, your outfit and I forgot my pants.

[00:23:08] Rachel Moore: Oh, no. Is there anything you’re listening to, watching or reading these days that you cannot put down and it doesn’t have to be events related?

[00:23:17] Eric Rutherford: You know, right now it just so happens there’s a show on Showtime called Fellow Travelers and I know a couple of the people, I know the director, I know some of the producers and writers, and I all know some of the cast. I’m enthralled by what they’ve created. Watching these actors and the costumer and what they’ve created and their different decades and, you know, it’s a very powerful and sensitive time in the, in the US that they’re focusing on.

[00:23:45] It’s something that has stayed with me, I think in as much . Because of the people involved with it.

[00:23:51] Rachel Moore: Beautiful. Is there a particular social post or a piece of media or possibly a hot take about events that you found interesting lately?

[00:24:00] Eric Rutherford: Ooh, good one.

[00:24:03] I have to say Eli, who does our social at 1540, he has really upped the game for us and for event social. I think it’s so hard to sometimes to capture a feeling, and what he’s been able to do is capture the feeling from our events and whether it’s the lodge that we’re recently doing for Paramount or you know, or we’re getting ready to do it for another premiere or something like that. He is able to capture all that content, put it, edit it together, and then put it out there. And it’s, it’s really like even now, like he’ll, he just sent me something to look at and I’m like, oh my God. And I was part of it. 

[00:24:40] Rachel Moore: That’s awesome. Where can our listeners find and follow you online?

[00:24:44] Eric Rutherford: You can find me as Mr. Rutherford on Instagram as well as TikTok Twitter / X. Yeah, that’s the best place to find me. Yeah.

[00:24:56] And also 1540. 

[00:25:05] Rachel Moore: We’ve baked in a great SkillUp segment for this episode, as Eric reminds us that the cookie cutter approach isn’t what the events industry needs.    

[00:25:16] ​ Eric Rutherford: So, you know what I would say regards to the event industry, like 2024, alright, I need to do something different.

Yes. Continue to evolve, but also don’t lose sight of who you are and why you’ve been successful up until this point. Because there’s many, many, many different event producers. And the reason for that is they all bring something special. They all bring something slightly different because it’s their experience.

It’s their creativity. It’s your creativity. I have met hundreds of other producers that have found incredible success in this industry. They bring something so unique to this. Now, could I still produce an event like they, you know, and get we, could we all be successful? Yes. But what is, what’s different about us all is what’s makes us special.

[00:26:18] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Eric Rutherford for joining us on Event Experience, and thank YOU for listening. 

If you’re enjoying this show, we’d love to hear it!

Connect with us on social and subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you’re listening. Also, don’t forget to share the show with your colleagues and friends. 

You can find transcripts of each episode and key takeaways on bizzabo.com/podcasts.

On behalf of the team, thank you. We’ll gather again soon for a new episode of Event Experience.

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