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The Flavor Kitchen, a Q&A with Justin Connell

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The Flavor Kitchen, a Q&A with Justin Connell

Last week The Marketing Arm’s event practice pulled off one of their most ambitious activations yet with the wrap up of the Frito Lay Flavor Kitchen in New York City. The promotional event involved a near takeover of Times Square, where a fully functional test kitchen way was staged high off the ground. There tourists and  New Yorkers alike watched live demonstrations of local and  celebrity chefs, including Top Chef Host Padma Lakshmi, hard at work two stories above the crowds. To date the program has resulted in over 375 million impressions and  has brought Frito Lay to almost 2 million likes on Facebook. We caught up with Director of Account Operations Justin Connell to find out how the team was able to make the idea for the event a reality.

What was required to build on top of the Hard Rock marquee?

A lot of planning to start off with…We started working on this project in December. Once we were given approval from the client we began discussions with our “permitting people” in NYC. Any event done in NYC requires tons of approval from City Hall. We required building permits, Land mark Society permits, sound permits, filming permits, event permits and  even food cart permits to name a few. We also worked with our vendors who managed the marquee to setup the live stream and  signage during the week.

For building purposes we worked with a local engineer who has done a few events at the Hard Rock and  we collectively developed a plan for the build. It required risers on top of the marquee, electrical power strong enough to operate all the necessary lighting as well as run a stove top, microwave and  miscellaneous kitchen appliances. We worked with carpenters and  had them build the kitchen we had designed internally. All of the items had to be placed with a crane and  then assembled and  powered once onstage.

How high up is it?

2 stories above the sidewalk.

How big is the area? Square footage?

The marquee itself was about 30’w x 14’ deep but due to city restrictions we could only install a stage that was 8’ x 24’.

What’s included up there?

We had a full kitchen counter set which included 12’ of counter space, a full sized oven, microwave and  induction cooktop.

How long did it take?

The load in took a little over 9 hours.

When did the build-out take place?

We started the load in at 930p on Sunday night and  were “show-ready” at 645a Monday morning, about 15 minutes before the first satellite media tour kicked off with Padma.

What’s Times Square like at 3 in the morning?

Surreal. The vast majority of the electronic billboards stay on all night which is great b/c you don’t have to use work lights at all. The Reuters and  NASDAQ signs power down from about 3a – 5a which is really the only part that makes it feel like night time. There are some interesting people that walk around at that hour and  some are sweet enough to yell at you and  then sing you a song….we assumed that they were not sane.

How many men did it take?

There were 3 TMA staffers including myself, Greg Bertram and  Taylor Brooks that were there for the load in. Outside of that we had 1 engineer, 3 carpenters and  6 labor staffers which all were required by the city to be union certified.

Who from TMA was involved in the design/build-out?

From the events side it was myself, Alison Delzell, Greg Bertram and  Taylor Brooks. Megan Leitner and  her team managed the creative and  promotions piece.

What if it rains/storms?

As a contingency we provided a 10’ x 20’ seamless tent to cover the set. We designed and  fabricated custom boxes and  weights for it to rest on and  fasten to in case of high winds. Tuesday and  Wednesday called for storms so we set it up each morning as a precaution and  it worked perfectly. If storms reached over 37mph we would strike the set immediately and  evacuate everyone from the marquee. If storms suddenly approached we were prepared to cut the canopy and  backdrop so that the entire tent didn’t go flying down Broadway.

How do people/guests/workers get on and  off the marquee? What kind of access is there?

There is a spiral staircase inside the Hard Rock that takes you to a small production loft. From there, a door was cut out of a window years ago to provide access to the marquee. All consumers that were brought to the stage required credentials and  had to sign a waiver.

How long does/did the program run on top of the marquee?

5 days – from 11a – 4p each day with the exception of the first day which ran from 7a – 4p.

From an event production stand point, what other “unique” locations have you worked from?

Iraq was pretty unique. I’ve done a few activations on Military Island  in Times Square, Nellis Air Force Base, Fremont Street in Vegas (the old strip), the US Military Academy at West Point, and  even an event in Plano, TX. On top of a marquee in Times Square was probably the most unique to date.

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