Natalie Stone, Marketing Events Manager & Producer at Google
MEET NATALIE STONE
From collaborations with Reebok and Beats By Dre to events for Google, Natalie Stone is an unstoppable creative force. Though Natalie is originally from DC, she has lived all over the world and most recently landed in San Francisco. This mover and shaker is passionate about building community and bringing people together, but that’s not all. Natalie is making waves in experiential marketing and event production, and strives to create custom immersive experiences for her clients.
Natalie’s passion is contagious! Read on to catch the bug.
LET’S DO THIS
LDT: What path led you to San Francisco?
NS: In total honesty, I fell in love with someone that lived in California.
But it was really for love.
LDT: How did you end up working at Google?
NS: It’s a long path. I think what’s interesting is I actually thought I was going to be a professor of English Literature.
I was in school. I started dating this guy that lived at Dave Matthew’s band’s studio. When I was in college I lived with him. They needed someone to buy groceries for the house. I was like sure, sure… I was living at this studio. I bought groceries. I was like, this is fun and it works with school.
I got into grad school. I went to UC Boulder. I was like, I’m going to keep working in the music industry because I can work at festivals during the summer and do this job at night. This will be how I pay for myself.
I got an internship at High Fidelity. I was doing promotions at the Fox Theatre. I had three jobs and I was in grad school. So many of them were “make your own schedule” and I had every summer off so I could work at Red Rocks and things.
Long story short, I graduated from school. I decided I needed to take a break before I got my PhD. The first job I got was touring with Devotchka. Then I toured with STS9. I basically did that because it was the first job that was offered to me.
Then I fell in love and I always worked decor/design, A/R [Artist Relations], that freelancer role… and I got this opportunity to move out here and work as an assistant of this women.
It didn’t work out. It was a really a sad experience for me. It left me really jaded about the music industry. I felt like women weren’t as supportive of each other at that point. This was a woman I looked up to and it didn’t work out. I had never lost a job. I had never had a job not work out for me. It was pretty heartbreaking and I needed to pay for San Francisco.
I was looking around on Craigslist. There was a part-time producer job for a couple weeks at an experiential agency. I was really lucky and the person interviewing me loved both of the bands I had worked for. I was finishing a tour and routing a tour for an experiential program for Nintendo doing pop-ups – these little activations for families and kids to play the game. It was something I was capable of doing because I had been routing tours before. They liked me.
It turns out the skills that you have in producing in one field are often very transferrable to another field.
I worked on Nintendo for a couple of months, then they offered me a full-time job. Then they got the client, Beats By Dre. It was right when they were launching and doing artist partnerships, and building that brand, and doing Coachella, and doing all these activations involving concert and music… I had the most experience with that, so I got this awesome client and then from there, my career took off.
There was this agency called Venables. They are an amazing agency – they just won the highest honor in advertising, the Grand Prize Award at the Cannes Lion Grand Prix, and they recruited me. They basically offered me double my salary, and at that point, I was getting grossly underpaid. I didn’t realize you make that much more when you leave music and become a brand producer.
It was a traditional ad agency. These agencies are realizing experiential and event is a new way of marketing that is rising. Basically, when someone launches a commercial versus an experience, the consumer is 70% more likely to connect with the brand.
I started working on work for Audi and Reebok. It was interesting because I was really pitching a lot of work then. I was learning more about social and content creation. I started seeing how much events and social were tied together. It was this two year period where I was so blessed to be around all these creative people and learn what it’s about to be truly creative. And what being a creative meant. And really honoring that work. It was super cool.
Right before I left MKTG, I had done one Google project. I had bonded with that team. Google called me and they were like, “Hey, we’re looking for someone to come on and be a freelance producer for a few months.”
They were trying to build experiential. My team was more events, B2B conferences, and now they’re trying to build more marketing and brand activation. I was a good choice for them and they recruited me. Then I came on full-time.
It was always this thing where all these skills that I thought weren’t important ended up becoming important. My attachment to creativity from grad school and being a writer led me to work with creatives in a way that many producers don’t. I did merch for the band that I worked for, in the beginning, then it led me to be able to understand staffing for this big thing.
All these little tricks that you pick up, all of a sudden you’re using all of them. Everything you learn falls into place.
I always would still work one gig at a festival. I would still do A/R for one of the stages at Outside Lands. I always did little side creative projects throughout all of this. And now I’m starting to bring all those people together.
All those relationships are so important. That’s what I offer this company. I’m not from the tech world, I’m from this creative industry.
LDT: What is a typical day in your life?
NS: So it always changes… That’s the thing I like about my job, it’s always different. I’m always working on something different.
I’m trying to get rovers into this event that I’m doing in Austin. I’m dealing with customs to get these moon rovers in.
We booked this amazing headliner, LCD Soundsystem, and then the project shifted so we did an interactive VR project, Dance Tonite. We’re doing crazy integration that’s involving machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Day-to-day, I think it’s about connecting people. Understanding there are people smarter than you, and empowering them.
I think it’s also about a shit ton of emails. A shit ton of spreadsheets and meetings.
Here at Google, I’m in all these meetings… They believe in 30-minute meetings, so I have 16 meetings a day. It’s about connecting the dots and connecting the people.
I travel a lot, I’m on-site and at events. It’s 16-hour days. I’m not on the agency side anymore, I’m on the client side. It’s about empowering your agency to do great work and managing Google craziness.
We don’t have a product we’re selling. We’ll collaborate with another team and help them bring to life what their priorities are. It’s really about managing their craziness sometimes. It’s crazy here. Everything is crazy here.
That’s the thing, Google is very siloed. Sometimes there’s one team that doesn’t know what the other team is doing. Often we’re just trying to connect the dots. The headliner we’re working with is amazing. There were three separate teams that wanted to work with the band, and they were talking to the band separately. It was a coincidence that I was like, let’s combine our resources and talk together.
LDT: What is your rose? Thorn? I.e. what frustrates or challenges you in your work? And what is the most valuable, exciting part?
NS: I think just being able to be creative.
I think in the music industry, I supported other people’s creativity. And now doing experiential marketing and the work I do, I have a lot of opportunities to be creative. I’m working on this evening’s event for IO and I’m creating ball pits and giant boom boxes.
It’s such an amazing opportunity to create events that inspire, not just to sell products. You’re building brand love. How do you build brand love? It’s inspiring people.
I really don’t love administrative work. I don’t love excel spreadsheets. I don’t like that detail-oriented, scope of work, process work. And there’s a lot of legal processes here. Legal is my enemy at this point.
LDT: What do you feel most proud about in your current role?
NS: Last year I was the head of IO’s event. There was one night I was really proud of, we basically took this big risk.
We took this tech conference and said, we’re not going to be at this conference center. We’re going to be outside and turn it into a festival. We’re going to use the nighttime feel, like Burning Man. I brought all these people that I had met at Burning Man, friends of mine were playing… It was so cool. It felt like this amalgamation of all the people I had met.
And going back to them the way they had given back to me over the years.
LDT: What is your target audience? Who do you mainly work with?
NS: It depends. It’s always changing. Sometimes it’s a 40-50 year-old businessman at a B2B conference. And sometimes it’s developers, influencers, and thought leaders. My audience changes.
LDT: What is your outlet from work?
NS: I do a lot of yoga. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane: yoga and meditation.
I always have a side project. Some sort of passion project that’s creative or counter-culture, involving music and art. I say art and working with artists. And always having some sort of passion project out of the corporate world.
I like this – pushing events, looking forward. I don’t believe in the alcohol culture of events now. I think we can push that further into more interesting ways and expressions. If there is alcohol at your event, it could be an experience of alcohol and where it came from. I feel like that opportunity exists with cannabis – there are other ways for people to connect than just being fucked up. Trying to shift that a little bit is interesting to me.
LDT: How do you maintain work-life balance?
NS: I think passion projects, even though that ends up being work-work.
I do stop responding to emails at a certain point at night. I think it’s really important to not always respond. When I work with people that are more junior and they respond to email at any given time… that actually undervalues you and makes your time less appreciated.
I took three months off. I had been working so hard since I was a kid. I traveled the world. I was in South America, and I was in India, and it was transformative.
Now I’m back here at Google and I love it. But now I’m thinking, what can my life look like? Where I don’t work all the time? What does it look like? Is it entrepreneurship? Is it freelancing, because you make a lot more money than full-time and have more freedom to pick your projects?
That was a transformative to me, to realize I didn’t have work-life balance. Once I had the spaciousness to be present and see who I am at work. It’s me, I’m not defined by my job.
I’m just trying to adapt now and create a life for myself that is outside of the confines of a 9 to… let’s be real – 7 or 8 sometimes midnight job.
My community. And having them respond to me with so much love and support. And being vulnerable. This is the first time I’m saying this is my thing. I’m trying to launch that in October. I’m doing beta events between now and then.
I think just figuring out a way to open up my life a little bit. And not have my success be defined by the corporate ladder and the amount of money I’m making. I think that’s what next for me, even if it’s not clear what it will look like.
I look back to myself as a child. I didn’t realize this was what I wanted to do. I would re-decorate and design the dollhouse. And I would plan little parties. In this way, there was a part of me that feels connected as a child. I knew what I loved, and I was doing that. And now I’m coming back to it, in a really weird circular way.
LDT: What do you want to do next? What is your next goal or initiative?
NS: Launching this new Harvest Moon project, that’s what I’m doing.
LDT: What kind of connections are you looking to make or need?
NS: I don’t know. I mean, I think I’m always interested in artists. People that are looking for a forum and a way to create, and might need brand sponsorship for that, or need a venue to do it in.
I’ve been reaching out to entrepreneurs specifically, that work in the cannabis space. But now I’m focusing on entrepreneurs and understanding how you did it. How it works. And the sacrifices they’ve made.
I’m pretty open. I’ve found if I identify what I really wanted and pursued that, it would actually be limiting. It’s almost what comes to me is what I need. I don’t realize it in advance.
Sometimes in San Francisco, people meet people and then they’re like what do you do? I respect that and get it, but sometimes I want to connect with people and not know what they do. I don’t always want to be connecting because people can give me things, and I can give them things.
I’m trying to honor more true connections that are more like, “Hi! I like you. Your smile is great.”
LDT: How do you think your market or industry is going to change in the next 5 years? 10 years?
NS: I think it’s growing a lot. I think in the world of marketing, experiential marketing is growing really quickly. I think it’s moving away from just event planning, or someone who is a producer moving away from events to experiential art installations. I think that shift is happening specifically in the world of marketing.
In terms of festivals and things, it’s changing in terms of music and alcohol culture. People want more in the event world. That’s being pushed forward in a lot of different ways.
People are looking for new ways to connect and be inspired. I see festivals as a space where that happens.
I think it needs to be more sustainable. There’s a lot of waste.
I think that cannabis is changing how that’s going to look, in terms of festivals and events. It’s an interesting thing to think about. There’s wine, and alcohol, and food, and now there’s this new thing that’s a little underground, that’s coming out of the woodwork.
I must sound like a raging stoner, but I’m not. I think this is something major that’s happening. It’s on the sides of buses. It’s like cannabis has arrived and I’m like, what’s happening…?
There’s definitely something happening.
LDT: Who or what kind of people would you like to read an interview from on Let’s Do This?
NS: I think entrepreneurs are interesting – out-of-the-box entrepreneurs. I think musicians are interesting because I think there is a lot of risk in that industry.
I think if you could get in touch with someone who is doing something alternative, in the consciousness and wellness space could be interesting.
Each interview on Let’s Do This features a guest question from a previous collaborator. This question comes from Laurie Kirby, the Co-President of Fest Forums, a festival conference for food, beverage, music, and film festival industry leaders that takes place bi-annually in Santa Barbara, California, and New York City.
Laurie Kirby: Who is the person who has served as your greatest influence, that you go to to make the right decisions?
NS: I don’t go to her a lot, but I will have to say the first person that hired me. Tia, who hired me to move into experiential marketing. She’s now a producer at Apple and she does Apple’s biggest events.
She saw something in me. I didn’t necessarily fit the confines of what she was looking for. She saw something, to hire me and push me forward to recognize my own talent.
This is hard to say… this is a weird one, but my ex-partner was a graphic designer. We worked together at the beginning of our careers at this experiential agency. He really allowed me to sit over his shoulder and tell him what I liked and didn’t. He showed me how to understand my voice and work with creatives to get the best work out of them. We’re no longer together but he’s still the person I have design my logo. To this day anytime we are doing a project where we can use each other’s skillsets, we do. I go to him to be my eyes. There was a tarot card reader and she said you guys are not going to end up together but you will still always be together in a business perspective.
LDT: What’s your question for next interview? What do you want to know?
NS: What’s the most vulnerable thing you’ve done in your career?
LET’S DO THIS! STOP, COLLABORATE & LISTEN
If you’re interested in a future collaboration or learning more about Natalie Stone, you can connect and follow her journey using the links below.