RedPeg CEO Brad Nierenberg on why gaming is the hottest marketing trend right now

RedPeg CEO Brad Nierenberg founded RedPeg, an experiential marketing agency that runs on the “work hard, play hard” mentality. You can tell that Nierenberg achieved this mission just by looking at the company’s website, where each employee is shown with a “memento,” which something special to them- think a passport or their adorable dog. Ladders spoke with Nierenberg to hear about the hottest marketing trend, RedPeg’s recent expansion into Dubai, and the company’s vibrant culture.

Separate from the work it does, RedPeg seems to not take itself too seriously, allowing employees to express themselves for who they are. Is that something you’ve wanted to instill since the company’s founding in 1995?

“Absolutely. As an idealistic 28-year old, I wanted to create a company that I wanted to work for, a real ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos that encouraged everyone to be themselves while contributing to the business with proactive solutions for clients as well as the agency. At the time it was clear that my previous employers didn’t share this same thinking.

I suppose the notion of authenticity had always been an important part of what I was striving for, and thankfully, at RedPeg, we’ve achieved that time and again. We’ve created a culture and an environment that allows everyone to step outside of their role, get to know each other better, promote empathy, create trust, deliver great results, and have fun.”

How has philanthropy played into your career and into RedPeg?

“To be honest, philanthropy has always been part of my professional career. Years ago I was working at a bar in Georgetown where we created events to raise money for the Leukemia Society. Fast forward while working at another agency where we supported fundraising initiatives for Multiple Sclerosis. The idea was to recruit companies and restaurants to buy and compete with go-carts. I realize this sounds nuts but in New York alone, we had more than 70 companies buy cars. At the time I couldn’t have known how important this aspect of my life and in turn RedPeg’s, would become.

In 1994, I received news from my best friend that his two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with an aggressive spinal cord tumor. Idly sitting by and doing nothing wasn’t an option, so I capitalized on what I and RedPeg do best – creating memorable experiences, which in this case, could provide a lifetime of impact. As a result, Chance for Life was born. Now in its 15th year, we’ve raised $6.5MM gross for pediatric cancer research that goes directly to our partners at Children’s National and Alex’s Lemonade Stand. I’m thrilled to announce that we are now an official foundation and 501(c)3, extending our reach beyond our annual amateur poker tournament, which is a part taste/part entertainment experience, and a complete celebration of life.

I firmly believe that an event where people actively contribute their time on top of their money and create priceless memories with friends is a great way to communicate a charity’s mission, goals, and challenges. In today’s busy world, this may be one of a handful of occasions where you have people’s attention for that length of time.”

Over the past 25 years, how has your vision and purpose for the company changed?

“I’d love to say that with maturity, hindsight (and patience!) my vision and purpose have changed dramatically, but the truth is, it hasn’t. If anything, I’ve become even more convinced that what I set out to achieve 25 years ago has truly stood the test of time: create an experiential marketing agency where I would want to work, surrounded by smart, engaged and creative people who genuinely care about the brands we work with, and ultimately, the individuals who interact with us. Adding Chance for Life to the RedPeg mix has simply been an extension of who we are and the things that we care about. For me, this is a clear proof point that a cause the whole company can rally around drives results and culture.”

What’s the hottest marketing trend to keep an eye on right now?

“Hands down it’s gaming, which is so much more than a sport – it’s an entertainment channel, and possibly the most powerful one that brands need to understand now, not tomorrow. At least 2/3 of the country spends its time gaming, almost 50% daily. Between July 22nd to July 28th of this year, gamers on Twitch watched 24.8 million hours of Fortnite. That’s a lot of time spent for consumers on gaming, and in turn, a great opportunity for brands.

As technology evolves and bandwidth increases, the gaming experience will continue its extraordinary growth, cannibalizing other entertainment channels and eclipsing traditional sport as we know it. Has hockey, football or soccer become exponentially better in experience the past three years? No, it hasn’t—but gaming has.

We got into gaming around seven years ago, convinced that this was going to be a huge growth area for brands, and in turn, RedPeg as an agency that understood how to create and deliver brand experiences that people care about. Since then we’ve launched 14 different games, won awards, brought some of the biggest brands into the gaming space, and executed events on behalf of endemic and non-endemics who want to engage with a tech-savvy and highly fickle audience.”

Can you tell us about the company’s expansion to Dubai?

“This is one of those ‘stars were aligned’ moments.

At the end of 2017, we were approached by one of the leading independent media houses in Dubai. The founder and CEO (and now our partner) had built up an expansive marketing and media rights portfolio across malls and OOH locations across the region. His team was increasingly being asked by brands to provide experiential solutions instead of purely digital ones, but experiential wasn’t a core part of their offering. After several meetings and on-the-ground research to determine the scale of the opportunity, we agreed to create our first overseas joint venture. I’m thrilled to report that RedPeg Middle East officially launched in December 2018. Since then our multi-cultural team has grown to six people and we’ve won several pitches for global brands. Unfortunately, we’re unable to share this information publicly but as they say, ‘watch this space’ for some upcoming announcements.”

Can you explain the differences between “brand engagement marketing” and traditional marketing?

“If you look at traditional marketing, it’s primarily about talking at the consumer—just a one-way dialogue where brands are pumping out non targeted messages. Now think about our name, RedPeg. It’s inspired by the children’s game Battleship. Traditional marketing (print, radio, TV) is a reach game or shot-gun approach. You’re going to reach a lot of the wrong consumers (like white pegs). These are the consumers that have no possibility of buying your product—wrong age, wrong audience, wrong time, wrong message. It’s just a big miss. The red pegs, however (and in this analogy, brand engagement) is about being focused on the right place at the right time and hitting the mark with the right experience.

So yes, we believe that brand engagement is much more strategic and encourages a two-way dialogue between a brand and its audiences. At the end of the day, we’re all consumers and much more sophisticated than ever before, especially in today’s experience economy. A great change is afoot since experiential marketing is growing. Brands are looking for much more measurable, meaningful impact. Why would brands continue to spend their money on traditional marketing tactics when experiences can have a greater impact?”

How has RedPeg incorporated new technology into projects? Did you see a learning curve when trying to do so?

“From the beginning, we’ve always had a fighter mentality and sought out new technology to provide more enhanced solutions for our brand partners whether that was VR, AR, Beacon technology… In fact, last year, we hired our first Chief Innovation Officer to help drive our creative thinking even further. This was a big appointment for a medium-sized agency but one that we believe in given the importance of technology in partnership with the human touch.

I wouldn’t say that there’s been a big learning curve per se but rather a confirmation of the obvious: technology needs to enhance an experience and sometimes is the experience, but we believe it shouldn’t happen in isolation. We see this every day – one without the other is imbalanced and risky.”

How would you describe RedPeg’s company culture? What makes it special?

“Our culture is palpable. The moment anyone walks through our front door you can see it, feel it, taste it and definitely want to be part of it!

To put this into context, our Office Manager has one hand-written wall (floor to ceiling) that maps out the upcoming 30 days so that none of our team activities are forgotten. I’ve included a few examples here, but this is just a fraction of what we do and I believe one of the driving forces for what makes RedPeg, RedPeg.

We’ve got Pegsgiving, our company version of Thanksgiving, dog Fridays, a Culture of Growth cost-savings initiative where employees are broken into teams to generate the most savings week to week (and are rewarded for those savings), Three Amigos lunches (three employees from different departments are randomly selected to go for lunch, courtesy of RedPeg), trivia contests, happy hours, birthday celebrations – the list is endless! By actively providing experiences such as these, we encourage our employees to get to know each other beyond the normal workday while making the office a lot of fun.

But even with what we provide the team, it’s our employees who have created some of the most memorable RedPeg traditions. For example, one Pegster implemented a margarita-making contest to celebrate national margarita day. Someone else started our own biggest loser challenge to encourage everyone to get into shape – to this day I don’t know how anyone loses weight with the amount of food we eat, but somehow, we do. 

We know that people are our lifeblood and that investment is priceless.”

What advice would you give to someone interviewing at RedPeg?

“Be prepared to share what makes you, you, special. Tell us what you’re going to bring to the organization, what you’re hoping to learn from others and be confident that working in an agency that retains its entrepreneurial spirit sits well with you as it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. We’ve got one team member who has worked at RedPeg since day one, others who have been with us for 10 years and new folks joining regularly. It’s a great place to work, learn, try, experience, laugh and of course, deliver award-winning creative solutions that help our clients drive their businesses forward. We sum all of that up in five words: let’s make it mean more. I believe we do this every day.”