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Say Something! Experiential Unites Brands, Artists and Audiences at 29Rooms

Reimagined for its fourth consecutive year and Chicago debut, Refinery29’s 29Rooms inspired, engaged and enchanted huge crowds in a massive warehouse in West Town this past weekend. The pop-up has toured New York and California, but this summer is the first time it has graced the midwest with its special blend of quirky and confessional themed spaces. Refinery29, the digital media company for smart, stylish and tech-savvy women, kicked off the inaugural 29Rooms in 2015 to fuel imagination, conversation and self-expression in curious audiences of all backgrounds and gender identities.

Last year, EA and Savage Smyth journeyed to New York to experience the “funhouse of style, culture and technology,” but this summer, we jumped in a quick Uber and headed west. Inspired by 29Room’s unique mix of brands, artists and empowering messaging, we compiled our top experiential insights.

Collaborate locally.

Teaming up with local artists, entertainers and experts helps your event authentically resonate with attendees. Refinery29 included several Chicago artists and performers in this incarnation of the pop-up. Shani Crowe, an artist who works and lives in Chicago’s south side, created “Rest in Power, Rest in Peace” as a cathartic experience and commentary on gun violence in the city. The gilded throne was a shrine to honor those who’ve been killed by gunfire, but also served as a space for visitors to write messages to lost loved ones.

Chicago footworking crew, The Era, performed intermittently throughout the three-hour time slot, attracting crowds with their hypnotic dancing and contagious energy. And  the warehouse was adorned with a mural of a woman and man, wrapped in vivid color, by Avalon Park native and artist Max Sansing. 29Rooms took full advantage of Chicago’s vibrant community of artists and performers, which wasn’t lost on local attendees.

Event Pro Tip: Do the research (i.e. check out social channels and influencers) to find local artists for your next activation.

Make the message central to the experience.

Each of the 29 rooms in the venue were artfully themed and marked with signage that unpacked the deeper meaning behind these big ideas. Signs included information about any collaborating artists or brands, hashtags and handles for social media posts and imbued the activities in the rooms with greater meaning. In one room, “Shred It,” the sign at the door instructed attendees to turn their burdens into art.

The room, filled with white shredded paper, featured stations to reflect, write and then shred the past using hand-cranked pasta makers. “The Future is Female” room invited attendees to take out frustrations on punching bags covered with phrases like, “there is power in what you say” while wearing gloves covered in slogans like, “words have power.” Another installation encouraged participants to paint their hopes and dreams for the city on a massive structure of glowing, white lanterns.

Event Pro Tip: Tying your theme to the activities in your event enhances the overall experience, creating cohesion and ensuring  attendees have their own personal interaction with the elements.

Tell real stories in real voices.

29Rooms championed conversation by starting the dialogue with attendees at multiple touch points. Different rooms played with storytelling in various ways, from listening to stories through headphones in an enclosed, womb-like tent to reading messages on the stalls of a room turned into a gender-neutral bathroom. The brand, Plan B, had one of the most successful activations featuring storytelling. Attendees stepped into neon-lighted phone booths and consulted a hanging directory to dial up actual stories, told in the voices of different women, about their experience using Plan B. These accounts were personal, detailed and felt incredibly organic.

Event Pro Tip: Consider implementing storytelling components at your next event to highlight ordinary people experiencing your brand in their own words.   

Lighten up!

Creating spaces for audiences to engage in meaningful conversations can get heavy, so craft intentional opportunities for attendees to be silly and just have fun. This is a great chance to involve brands in quirky and goofy ways. For all the rooms dedicated to political or controversial topics, 29Rooms offered plenty of spaces to laugh and play. Clinique hosted a bouncy room full of clear, plastic balloons that featured positive, approachable messages about beauty. Attendees jumped for joy while giggling, snapping pics and tossing balls to one another.

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Samsung highlighted their Galaxy S9 in a backdrop lined with pastel-painted fans where attendees captured slow-mo videos in the aptly named, “Windy City” room. Larabar offered guests a charming, branded photo op on a cruiser bike decked out with pinwheels and brightly-colored decorations.

Event Pro Tip: Make sure to provide audiences with spaces to relax and play in the midst of more cerebral or information-dense activities and panels.

Refinery29’s 29Rooms promoted conversations — whether on social channels, between friends or in personal reflection — through hands-on, relevant activations. This pop-up got the audience talking, doing and making their own meaning out of 29 unique and impactful spaces. That’s saying something.  


Want to leverage shareworthy spaces to elevate your next event? Download EA’s best practices for transforming ordinary venues into engaging, dynamic environments.