In our series, 10 Minutes With, we introduce some of our senior executives and get their take on how the media and technology landscape is changing.
Michael Verlatti is a doer, seller, problem solver, entrepreneur, impassioned live experience creator, event junkie, operations expert, and preacher of the do/think balance. He brings twenty years of NASCAR event activation experience and serves as Executive Director in command of ISM’s operations across the US. In this post, Verlatti talks about event day logistics, digital disruption in live event advertising and his success mantra.
What is it that you do at ISM?
Verlatti: I oversee the logistics, activation and execution behind ISM’s live event deployments across our expanding networks. I have a fantastic staff who make our operational efforts a seamless, successful experience. I’m also heavily involved in building out company processes. Our operations function requires business-wide collaboration so I inherently have to work with stakeholders across all of our departments, and I am always focused on making sure our projects are valuable as well as profitable for the business.
What path did you take to get to the place you are now in your career?
Verlatti: I was never a good student. I didn’t go to college. Your typical screw up. I was fortunate to have traveled a lot with my dad, who worked for NASCAR, and at age 15, I became a NASCAR inspector. I ran a race team at 18 and worked my way into a director role for NASCAR series operations at Daytona. Because of my upbringing in the sport, I taught the execs the sport of auto racing, and they taught me about the business side. Soon I was running opening ceremonies, victory lane ceremonies and selling sponsorships for NASCAR’s Prize Money & Decal Program.
In 2001, I joined JHE Production Group as employee number seven where I produced events, booked acts, managed staging and ultimately built a robust event production division. We produced Red Hot Chili Peppers shows, stunt shows, hosted dignitary events with the likes of George W. Bush. The focus was on experiential activation and consumer interaction. We built, sold and managed the Sprint/Nextel entitlement sponsorship for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It was there that I became an expert in mobile marketing experiences.
I started Traction Event Labs, a special event production company focused on NASCAR, in 2015. The focus at Traction was high end hospitality experiences like the NASCAR garage bar and grill and the Battle of Bristol — the largest college football game in the world — at Bristol Motor Speedway. We hosted Virginia Tech v. Tennessee in 2016 and ran all of the in-house VIP hospitality at the event.
ISM brought me on board in 2017 to bring their deployments to the next level. Like any growing business, they were making some simple missteps that, with my extensive experience, I was able to correct course on. Now, I have been tasked with running all of their mixed-use networks across the US. I oversee everything from planning to implementation, and I like to think that I am an expert at stepping over any logistical hurdles that come my way.
What does an ISM live event look like for you?
Verlatti: I typically visit the venue in advance to walk out the deployment. I set screen locations, check the connectivity and make sure there are no issues. On load-in day, I arrive as early as possible to ensure that our equipment is arriving intact and being positioned properly. I make sure that all of our hardware and software is set up to specification and accounted for in our various systems. Part of my role is also to understand what’s going through venue operator’s head. I always want to get ahead of them before there is an issue that can arise.
During the event, I’m the coach that’s seeing what’s happening on the field and adjusting things as needed. If there is an issue, I’m the one to resolve it. We are continually checking the screens and making sure the content is being delivered and data is flowing through. At NASCAR events, this means making sure unit power levels are ok – and at other deployments, it’s making sure our units are generating enough solar power. Aside from these operational necessities, we stay out of the way and let the other areas of our team do what they do.
We have perfected and documented our process to point where each new deployment has limited surprises, and of course, we celebrate each successful deployment as a team – often times with our beers for breakfast tradition.
What about the ISM technology is unique and disruptive to live event advertising?
Verlatti: For me it’s about measurement. We build data metric smart screen deployments that have contextual advertising capabilities. We are able to give brands actionable analytics and insights. Because of our camera technology, we can capture data on exactly how many people are viewing content and for how long. We can provide demographic data. Nobody else in the market is doing this at sports and entertainment venues and in the way we are able to do it.
As traditional ad dollars continue to move away from TV and go to experiential, there have been limited ways of measuring engagement. We are on the leading edge in this space, and we are working to be able to showcase to brands what the viewer journey consists of, before and after an engagement. We are building a dynamic network that drives consumer action through engaging content and technology, and this will allow us to track leads and more accurately measure conversion. This simplifies the ROI equation and makes buying experiential advertising a no brainer.
What was the most memorable event that you attended? Produced?
Verlatti: Super Bowl XLVII at MetLife Stadium was amazing to attend. As for events I produced, there was the First in Flight Centennial Celebration in Kitty Hawk, NC where I worked alongside a team of producers to activate a seven day festival of flight. I was the stage manager with guests including John Travolta, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Chuck Yeager and President George W. Bush. Overall, the best live event I produced would have to be the Daytona 500 Opening Ceremonies.
How do you measure success?
Verlatti: I believe that in this business you have to deliver a high level of service with a very low impact. This means that, to be successful at live events, third party vendors and partners like ISM must move as quietly and respectfully as possible. Don’t leave a mark, don’t be a drag on the staff. Keep operations as seamless as possible.
As I mentioned, I am a doer. I believe in the do/think balance. This is where my employees are encouraged to be DOING 80% of the time and THINKING 20% of the time. Too much thinking means too little doing, and if you aren’t doing enough, you are going to get left behind.