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Episode 76 / November 6, 2023

Crafting captivating events with industry veteran Yvonne McNair

Hear event leader Yvonne McNair discuss the evolution of the events industry, the challenges and adaptations that arose over the past few years, and her optimistic predictions for the industry’s future.

In this episode, we sit down with Yvonne McNair, the Chief Experience Officer and Founder of Captivate Marketing Group. A two-time Emmy-nominated event producer with 20 years of experience in the events industry, McNair shares her journey from the music industry to establishing her own business. 

McNair — one of our 2022 Top Event Experience Leaders — is known as a powerhouse behind the scenes, closing deals and sculpting entertainment — one exquisite experience at a time. She has worked with some of the biggest names and brands in the entertainment industry, from grassroots organizations to Fortune 500 companies to A-List artists.

Tune in to hear McNair share her thoughts about the impact of 2023 on the events industry, the challenges posed by the pandemic, and the evolution of events during her storied career. Yvonne also touches on her experiences producing concerts and festivals, the influence of technology on events, and her hopes for the industry’s future.

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

  • The evolution of events, the rise in event technology, and the power of social and digital channels 
  • How the pandemic forced event professionals to think outside the box and adapt to new ways of executing events and creating contingency plans
  • The need for creativity and innovation to ensure the most impactful audience engagement and experiences

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. 

This week we grabbed some time with Yvonne McNair, Chief Experience Officer and Founder of Captivate Marketing Group. Yvonne is a two-time Emmy-nominated event producer with an immense love of the music industry, and we discuss her journey in starting her own business, how year of 2023 impacted events, and her hopes and predictions for the future of the industry. With over 15 years of working on events, Yvonne is a guest who brings true Event Experience to the podcast.

[00:01:02] Rachel Moore: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo. We’re back with another podcast episode and we are talking to yet another expert in the events industry, and we are gonna run through all kinds of experiences. We’re gonna talk about our particular expert’s takes on what we’ve seen this year. Today I am talking to a veteran. All right. So our guest today, she has been the Chief Experience Officer and founder of Captivate Marketing Group for, I had to do the math, 15 years. And so I am so pleased to welcome Yvonne McNair to the podcast. Yvonne, thank you for joining me over microphones today.

[00:01:42] Yvonne McNair: No, thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

Yvonne McNair’s Journey in Events

[00:01:45] Rachel Moore: You know, we talk to people of all walks in the event industry, you know, they have all kinds of backgrounds. But, 15 years I have to ask you, that segues into our obvious next question. Can you share with our audience a bit more about you starting this business and your role there.

[00:02:01] Would just love to hear the whole lowdown.

[00:02:02] Yvonne McNair: Absolutely. So I’ve actually been in the events industry for over 20 years. I hate saying that. 

[00:02:07] Rachel Moore: It’s awesome. 

Risks of Starting an Event Business

[00:02:08] Yvonne McNair: It feels so crazy to say, but I’ve been in the events industry for over 20 years. I actually started working in the music industry and doing PR and quickly realized that that was not for me.

[00:02:19] You know, you work so hard to get the interviews and then people don’t show up or, you know, all kinds of things happen. But I loved the music industry and really wanted to stay connected, and so I found my path to be concerts. I became a PA and I mean, I did everything I had to do to like learn the concert business and learn how to produce concerts. And from there, you know, I started working at different entertainment agencies and, people kept saying like, do you do this on the side? Do you do this on the side? And also just feeling like when I left corporate I was a VP, but I just felt like there wasn’t anywhere else for me to go.

[00:02:52] And so decided to take a risk. I tried twice. The first time didn’t go so well ’cause I just decided one day that I wasn’t being valued and I got up out my cubicle and I just kind of left and I didn’t have a solid plan and so I had to go back to corporate America.

[00:03:08] And then after that, you know, had a plan and as people started asking me if I was doing it on the side, I started building clients. And, you know, a lot of my clients I was taking for little money and just to start building my portfolio and just becoming known in the industry. And so here I am, you know, 15 years later I guess that, I guess it worked the second time. I produce all types of events and I work with, you know, corporations, brands, artists, and nonprofit organizations.

Differences in Event Production

[00:03:35] Rachel Moore: I don’t get out as much these days as I used to, but I just think immediately of the Taylor Swift tour, and then all these amazing productions or U2 at the Globe in Las Vegas. If I look at that versus like a three day trade show or something like that. Do you find that that’s a big transition from producing a full concert over to like a more traditional trade show? Is there a lot of difference?

[00:03:58] Yvonne McNair: Yeah, there is, because you know what on a large production like that and I do large scale concerts, not Taylor Swift, but you know, when you look at those productions, there’s a lot of people in the crew that work on those productions.

[00:04:08] And then obviously they’re really large audience that are, you know, coming to see those productions. And you’re moving from town to town where you’re not in one venue for a long period of time. So there’s a lot that goes into it because you have to build the set each time, you know that you move into a different city.

[00:04:23] So there’s a lot that goes into concerts, but I love it because it’s very fast paced and you know, I find myself, when I’m not like, moving in a million directions, I feel very bored almost like, what am I doing in my life? So I just love all of the components and then seeing the people respond to what’s being delivered in the concert and the music space.

[00:04:42] Rachel Moore: I think that’s an amazing thing that you just shared as well about a first try at kind of having your own business.

[00:04:48] You did it such, in such a smart way to say, you’ve got a full-time job and on the side you’re building these clients.

[00:04:55] How difficult was that on a scale of one to 10?

[00:04:57] Yvonne McNair: Oh God, can I go past 10? Because it was extremely difficult because I’m working my regular job and then, you know, in the evenings I’m taking calls and meetings and stuff like that. But you know, my entire life has kind of been made up like that because, you know, I had my son very early.

[00:05:12] So when I was going to school, I was working and then going to school at night and I got three degrees going to school like that. So for me, you know, sacrifice is not something I’m scared of and not able to do. But I would work my full-time job and then I would, you know, work on events in the evenings.

[00:05:27] And it just started building actually really quickly. But what I didn’t know was how to run a business. I knew how to produce events, but I didn’t know how to run a business. And I think a lot of times people know that they want to run a business but don’t know the tools to run a business.

[00:05:41] So I’ve become a student, constantly learning new ways to keep scaling my business because you know, as the world changes, you have to change as well. 

Event Technology Transformation

[00:05:47] Rachel Moore:  So Captivate, you’ve run that business for 15 years. I know we’re gonna talk in a little bit about a single year, this year, and the things we’ve seen this year. How has that transitioned events from 15 years ago to now. 

[00:06:01] Yvonne McNair: Obviously improved technology, you know just systems, you know, it’s so much easier. You know, 15 years ago we didn’t have the social media the way we do. We didn’t have, you know, all of those tools. I’ve always been resourceful. But now it’s like so many tools that you can find out there and, and so many more companies and vendors that you could work with, you know, than there were 15 years ago.

[00:06:21] It’s easier, I don’t wanna say it’s easy to run an events business, but it’s easier because there are so many tools for you in terms of like registration or tickets, you know, in terms of how you, track surveys and things. Like, it’s just so much easier now. 

[00:06:34] And then just from a marketing standpoint, you know, I use social media a lot. You know, I don’t do much print where 15 years ago, you know, everything was about printing an invitation and putting it in the mail and stuff like that.

[00:06:45] And everything is digital now. It’s so rare when someone wants to print and mail something. I’m like, really? Okay. So it just makes it so much easier and efficient with the technology that has come about in the past 15 years.

Looking Back: The State of Events in 2023

[00:06:57] Rachel Moore: Well, let’s get into the year of 2023. All right. First I would like to let you talk a little bit about the events you’ve helped produce this year and execute. And then we can segue more into the entire landscape of events for this particular year. How has 2023 gone for you? Talk to us about your year. 

[00:07:17] Yvonne McNair: You know, 2023 has actually been a very interesting year for me. I think people are a little scared because everyone was talking recessions, so I have not seen brands spending as much money as they did in 2022. When we came back, I feel like 2022, people really were getting back into doing the events and not as worried about COVID and things like that.

[00:07:34] So I felt that I had bigger budgets last year. So it’s been a little interesting for me this year where, you know, last year I actually did 150 events in the year, which is actually crazy to me.

[00:07:44] And I felt like I was in the event Olympics because I was just like, this one, this one, this one. But I haven’t felt that this year, I mean, I’ve had bigger things, but not as many things. And so I think that brands just kind of pulled back a little bit and they were a little more conservative in their spending for 2023.

[00:08:00] Rachel Moore: We’ve had some really good interviews too on the podcast, and not just this year, but you’re seeing some real innovative ideas of how to create connection when maybe you’re not spending the big budget as much, right? Have you seen some of that or even used some of that yourself, where it’s like, let’s be creative with our use of dollars since we don’t have as much as we would normally.

[00:08:21] Yvonne McNair: I mean that’s been a big thing this year is being more creative to get the same impact and the same engagement with the consumer. So yeah, a lot of that has taken place. This year there’s more of a social media component. Some are still, you know, hybrid.

[00:08:34] Where we’re not flying people in, you know, we’re recording them in advance and playing them within the, you know, the award show and things like that. So, you know, I’ve had to be creative. After, you know, the pandemic, I was like, I don’t wanna do anything virtual again. But I still had to do some virtual stuff this year just because, you know, budgets, we weren’t spending the same amounts to bring everyone in, you know, for a show or, you know things like that.

[00:08:55] Just scaled down. So I’m hoping that 2024 people feel more comfortable, you know and are spending the dollars that they used to spend because, I mean, as we know, being in the event space events are, you know, an amazing way to engage with consumers on all different levels.

[00:09:09] I love events and so I’m hoping that, you know, brands are feeling better about next year.

[00:09:15] Rachel Moore: Well, how did you feel? Let’s dive in here So, events this year how did you feel like when you were taking in events yourself what were some of the takeaways? Were there any things on any experiences or activations that really just jumped out to you saying, Ooh, or Ugh, or anything like that?

[00:09:33] What are some examples?

[00:09:34] Yvonne McNair: You know I’ve worked on the Grammys and the way that they have transitioned in terms of the audience, you know, some of these award shows they’re doing it very differently. And I don’t know if you noticed where they used to have just like theater seating for the whole venue and now they have like little tables in the front cocktail tables where they have, you know, the people that are actually going up on stage, which was basically based on COVID because they were scaling things down during COVID where they were just having like the important people in the room. So, you know, saw a lot of that this year. And I think that that’s going to remain. I don’t think that they’re gonna go back to the traditional way of just having theater seating.

[00:10:07] Rachel Moore: That’s interesting, too, that you brought up about the covid, you know, where the little tables at the Grammys came forward from Covid. Did you feel like Covid was still a big weighty presence, or has it been lessening year to year, including this year?

[00:10:22] Yvonne McNair: It’s been lessening. I, I think it would be so hard for people to go back to like, everybody’s wearing masks and, you know, socially distanced. ‘Cause when people were over it, I felt people were just over it and they wanted to be back together and they wanted to be outside. But there are some changes that you still see.

Key Learnings from the Pandemic

[00:10:37] We only thought of it one way, and then when Covid hit, we had to think very differently and we had to be more creative. And that’s the one thing I’ll say. What the pandemic caused for me in particular is to be more creative and to think so much more outside of the box, which I thought I was doing.

[00:10:51] But it’s like, you know, I was doing, you know virtual concerts where I was shooting in empty venues because it was like I wanted to give people the feel of like what they had before. So where I would’ve never thought of that before, you know? ‘Cause I don’t know if you remember everybody started performing on their couch.

[00:11:06] And it was like, well that doesn’t really feel like a show, you know? So it’s like just thinking differently. And so there’s so many things that I learned during that time that I’m still using because it really translated very well, which I would would’ve never thought of that, you know, have we not have that moment to, you know, be forced to think differently.

[00:11:23] Rachel Moore: That’s something that we’ve kind of noticed as well, some people saying where there’s a little bit more forgiveness in even as event designers like yourself are being more creative, maybe the audience got a little more creative in how they’re ingesting and participating, right? 

[00:11:37] Yvonne McNair: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. For sure. Because that felt so different, because there’s a different energy when you’re just doing an acoustic set on your couch. It feels very different when you are able to have your full band, you know, on a stage. You know, I had produced something with Patti LaBelle and it was like her first time in Philadelphia being back on the stage when I produced it.

[00:11:56] And it was so good. She felt so good ’cause she was like, it almost feels like, you know, before. So it just gave a different energy and it translated really well for the audience where they became more engaged and excited because they could feel the energy. It’s hard to do that when you’re just, you know, sitting on the couch.

Event Attendee Engagement

[00:12:13] Rachel Moore: Such a great point, and now you’ve got my brain kind of going in into high gear here because we’re so focused on the audience, right? And, rightly so.

[00:12:21] That’s who we want to take in the content, the experience. But that matters as much to your speaker or performer to have a feeling like I got the energy and even, you know, we’re, we’re meeting that need as much as we can in with the environment we’re given, but it really does matter from, you know, couch to stage.

[00:12:41] Yvonne McNair: Absolutely, Energy is so important and if you look at, you know, not to keep talking about award shows, but I love them so much is how they started putting fans up front. Because you know, at a point it was just like, you know, regular industry people were like, yes, great performance, but fans, you know, are really giving you that energy and it feels so different.

[00:12:59] So it comes across different when you’re watching it on tv. So I do think that there are just, you know, ways that we can change the way we think about things and the way that we present things to our audiences that, you know, get them more engaged and more, you know, responsive to what we’re doing.

[00:13:15] Rachel Moore: So as a lover of award shows, do you have a favorite?

[00:13:18] Yvonne McNair: I do, I, I’m gonna say it’s the Grammys and I would say it’s the Grammys only because they focus on all types of music, not one type of music. And so you’re able to see who’s at the top of each genre of music. And so I feel where some people are like, well, I don’t like country, or I don’t like this.

[00:13:34] But these are people you should know because they’re at the top of their game. And so that’s why I love it because I feel like it exposes, you know, anyone who’s watching to people who are outside what they would normally see. And you know, I’ve become fans of people, you know, just by seeing them when they’re on those different shows, if you just stick to one thing where it’s one type of music, you know, you just not exposed to it.

[00:13:54] So I do, I do love what the Grammy delivers because, you know, there’s all types of music and it’s usually the top of the top.

[00:14:01] Rachel Moore: Let’s get into prediction mode a little a little bit. So we’re in the latter half of October, 2023.

[00:14:07] What do you think lies ahead for 2024, like realistically?

[00:14:12] And then what are you hoping for? And we know budget is one of them.

[00:14:15] Yvonne McNair: Right. Yes. I’m definitely hoping for budgets. I mean, I think this was an interesting year for a lot of, I don’t know if you saw a lot of festivals and concerts that were outdoor were and canceled and had a lot of challenges because of weather. So this was a really interesting year. Weather where like in New York, it was like the rainiest season ever.

[00:14:32] I don’t know where you are, but in New York, it was like they said, this was the rainiest year in a hundred years. And so literally every weekend it was raining. So there were so many things that were canceled. So I’m hoping that we have better weather because I do love, you know, outdoor concerts.

[00:14:46] I do love outdoor festivals, so I’m hoping that next year, you know, will be better from that perspective. Because I think that that also, it just brings such a sense of community at those types of events that are very different from indoor events. So my hopes and predictions for next year is one, I’m predicting that people will, you know continue to spend more, you know, next year or, or start spending more next year because they’ll feel more comfortable with doing so.

[00:15:10] And I’m just hoping that, you know, we do have more outside events because I think this was a challenge for so many. 

[00:15:16] Track 1: Yeah. I think Burning Man had a very unfortunate situation. 

[00:15:19] Yvonne McNair: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s so hard when you work so long and then it’s like, weather, you know? So I hope that, you know, for next year that we’ll see better weather and that, you know, we’ll see more, you know, big artists going out on tour next year as well.

[00:15:33] This was an interesting year though, because like with Taylor, you had Taylor, you had Beyonce, you had Drake. It kinda actually affected some of the smaller shows because everybody was spending bigger dollars. I don’t think any of those three will be on tour next year since this was their touring season.

[00:15:46] But, you know, we’ll be able to see, you know, a lot of artists succeed as well through the, through the season next year.

[00:15:53] Rachel Moore: If you could produce a concert for anybody who would you wanna produce their, their concert tour for?

[00:15:59] Yvonne McNair: Beyonce

[00:16:00] Rachel Moore: Great answer. I mean, that that is the answer. is it not? 

[00:16:03] Yvonne McNair: Yes. A hundred percent Beyonce. Oh. But I would say Beyonce or Taylor. Because both of those women broke records this year changed the economy this year. And you know, I just think like for two women who are very different in, you know, their style of music and stuff like that to do what they did this year, I think is amazing.

[00:16:20] So I, I’d have to say either one of them would be would be great.

[00:16:24] Rachel Moore: I’ve heard the joke, which maybe it’s not a joke. This could be real. That each of those women is their own line item on the GDP. Economy infusion was ridiculous.

[00:16:33] Yvonne McNair: Absolutely. I think it’s true. 

[00:16:35] Rachel Moore: We’re gonna segue into some questions that are gonna let our audience know a little bit more about you. Can you name an item that you forgot for a work event that caused some panic?

[00:16:46] Yvonne McNair: Absolutely . Last year I produced a fashion show outside and it was raining like crazy and literally like all week, the weather was like, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Thursday it was a hundred percent rain, so I had to load in the night before ’cause we had to tent it, everything. I mean it was pouring.

[00:17:08] So the whole day it was just like rain. I was fighting with the rain. I felt like, you know, the newscaster where they’re out in the rain, braving the rain and the weather is just, it was just crazy. So there was an awards portion during the fashion show and we get to the awards and I realized I left the awards in my car.

[00:17:26] Parked down the street because I didn’t want the boxes to get wet and everything like that. And as the person started speaking, I realized it. I got up and I ran. I ran to my car, ran, I mean they had started speaking. I run back, I have the awards and I just go to the stage and I put my hand out with the award so they could grab the award.

[00:17:50] And so I ran there. I ran back and I was like, and I used to be a runner, and I was like, well, I still got it ’cause I got to my car back before they finished. But I had forgotten the awards. I was trying to keep them safe and I completely forgot to pull ’em out for the, for the show. But fortunately I could still run and I got it.

[00:18:07] And we were . Nobody knew the difference.

[00:18:09] Rachel Moore: Impressed, so impressed. Also, don’t feel bad. I’ve interviewed at least one other person this year for this podcast, who has said that they forgot the award. So it happens. 

[00:18:19] I 

[00:18:20] Yvonne McNair: was just like, how could I do that of all things, but in my mind I was just like, I don’t wanna, I don’t want them to get messed up all day. 

[00:18:26] Rachel Moore: Is there anything that you’re listening to, reading or watching right now that you cannot put down?

[00:18:33] Yvonne McNair: Okay, so I am reading, I am reading a couple books. I read a couple books at at the same time. And I’m a Peloton user and so I’m reading the latest book by Alex Toussant, which is really good because he has an incredible story of like always being out kicked outta school. And now he’s like the successful, you know, Peloton instructor.

[00:18:55] So I’m, I’m reading that and I’m actually reading ’cause I’m always trying to learn and this year I’ve actually produced a few documentaries and so I wanna get more into and get more into it. So I’m reading books on production. I’ve produced three documentaries and they’ve all done really well.

[00:19:10] So I was like, well imagine . if I, you know, really focus in on it. So I can’t put it down right now.

[00:19:17] Rachel Moore: Which documentaries? Drop names here.

[00:19:19] Yvonne McNair: Yeah, right now I have on it aired on we TV and as well as All Black, but Michael Bivens, who is in New Edition it’s called The Hustle of @617MikeBiv, and it aired August 24th and it was number one on all platforms. And so it’s, it’s doing very well. It aired on WeTV October 5th, and so it’s doing real well.

[00:19:40] So it’s, it’s still streaming right now on all platforms and I’m super excited about it.

[00:19:45] I’m excited to, you know, kind of add that to my resume so it goes back to keep learning.

Yvonne’s Favorite Books, Resources, and More.

[00:19:51] Rachel Moore: Is there a particular social post or a piece of media or maybe a hot take out there about events that you found interesting lately?

[00:19:59] Yvonne McNair: Hmm. Well, obviously I follow Biz Bash, which I’m sure if you don’t know Biz Bash as an event professional, you should. But I always follow, I always follow their posts and, you know, get their email newsletter ’cause they have so many amazing tips and they also, you know, feature so many amazing events.

[00:20:16] So you’re able to, you know, see what other people are doing, your peers. And so that is one that I really pay a lot of attention to is Biz Bash.

[00:20:24] Rachel Moore: Finally, where can our listeners find and follow you online?

[00:20:28] Yvonne McNair: Absolutely that is easy on Instagram. I do a lot on Instagram, so it’s YvonnieMcNairCMG is the initials for my company. And then on LinkedIn, it’s just Yvonne McNair. So on all other platforms, Yvonne McNair.

[00:20:49] Rachel Moore: In our SkillUp segment, Yvonne has advice for eventprofs which, by listening to this podcast, you’re doing right this minute!

[00:20:58] Yvonne McNair: I’m a student of the events industry, you know, I keep learning. I’m not, I don’t think I know everything. And I keep learning, you know, I take courses all the time. People are like, you’re such a nerd. I read a lot, you know, and, and I talk to younger people, you know to see what’s coming out and what people are looking forward to.

[00:21:00] So I would just say keep learning. I think that’s the best way to skill up, is keep learning and not thinking, you know, everything. Even if you’re a veteran in the industry, there’s always something you can learn.

[00:21:24] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Yvonne McNair 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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