Bringing Back Broadway: Situation's Peter Yagecic on How the Company Embraces New Tech, Hybrid Events & More

The first company that we're spotlighting has been around 2 years longer than BroadwayWorld - Situation.

By: May. 19, 2022

Bringing Back Broadway: Situation's Peter Yagecic on How the Company Embraces New Tech, Hybrid Events & More Today we're kicking off a new series at BroadwayWorld, celebrating some of those in various parts of the industry who not only helped reopen theatres last fall, but who also devoted time during the worst of the pandemic to ensure that they were building back better. The first company that we're spotlighting has been around two years longer than BroadwayWorld - Situation.

Founded in 2001 by Damian Bazadona, the company, which has offices in New York City and London, formed the Situation Group in 2021- a collective of digital-first marketing and advertising agencies that help brands build passionate communities and move them to action.

Today, the Situation Group consists of four core entities: Situation, Town Hall, The Studio, and Situation Project... What ties them all together is not just media and technology experience, but a passion for new technologies, transformation, the power of the arts and communities.

First up - Peter Yagecic, Executive Director of Technical Projects who during the pandemic was in charge of all virtual and streaming events and leads the company's drive into new frontiers like the Metaverse and beyond.

Let's start with YOUR beginning. Where were you born and raised?

I am an East Coast native. I was born and raised in Philadelphia. Right before high school, my family moved to the Midwest. We moved to a suburb of Chicago... just in time to get the Philadelphia accent beat out of me with the midwestern accent! I can still slide back into the Philly accent occasionally though. I went to college and high school in Illinois, then worked in Florida for a little bit to start my professional career, down at Walt Disney World, as an Entertainment Stage Technician. After about two years of that, I came up to New York and I've been here ever since.

How many years ago was that?

I graduated from college in '98. So, 24 years ago.

How long have you been at Situation?

I started at Situation officially in May of 2010. I'm just about to hit my 12-year mark, my dozen years. But before that, I used to be the Director of Technology for Blue Man Group. Blue Man was a client of Situation, so I've known Damian since, probably, 2006 or 2007. After I left Blue Man Group, I had my own technology consulting business for a couple of years. Then an opportunity came up to join the agency, and I've been here ever since.

Have you always been in Situation's technical department?

I started as the Director of Technology when I came in in 2010. I was overseeing the in-house Web Development team and Project Management teams at the time. My current title is Executive Director of Technical Projects. I still work very closely with both of those teams in the day-to-day, but I've been able to expand a little bit more into innovation, research, vendor relations, and researching the technologies that we use on behalf of our clients.

That can be exploring things like the metaverse and NFTs. What are people doing with them in the industry? How should we be thinking about them for our clients? Also, privacy issues. I wear a lot of different hats. Basically, if we're trying to figure out something new that the industry is excited about or interested in, I'm usually the tip of the spear to figure out what it is and to try to help us understand how we can use it (or not use it), on behalf of our clients. We ask the questions like "What are the things that we think are solid bets?" and "what are the things we think might need a little more time to cook?"

Have you figured out NFTs or the Metaverse for Broadway?

Let's talk again in a couple months. We're very excited by the enthusiasm around both of those. Obviously, as an advertising agency we have close relations with a lot of companies that are putting a lot of energy and time into figuring them out. We know that in the history of every technology that has revolutionized our industry, there was a time when everybody looked at it, scratched their head, and said, "I have no idea what that's for."

Not everything is going to be a homerun, but we are champions of innovation. We want to celebrate when people come up with new ways to do things that solve problems, or allow collaboration that never was possible before, or make things easier and better for the people that come to our websites, consume our ads, or go to our client's shows. We are enthusiastic supporters, while realizing that the timeline of when things actually mature and are ready for primetime is different for every product.

Where do you come down on the side of, "Let's tiptoe into this. It's good to be first to market. Even if we know it's not really going to move the needle, it will teach us something to use next time"? Or is it more about, "If this isn't going to help sell tickets today, let's worry about the things that sell tickets today"?

It's a good question. Different clients have different tolerances for being the first. At a different point in the life cycle for a show client, they may need to focus all of their energy on building up ticket sales and on getting word-of-mouth out there. We've been lucky enough to have some clients that we've worked with for over a decade, who've been running that entire time. I think (to figure out) the time to have the conversation around innovation and trying something new, you have to have a sixth sense for when a client is ready for that conversation.

We try to lead more than we're pulled, and we try to make space in our agency to have conversations around interesting and innovative technologies - even if we're not sure what we're going to do with them yet. And, we try to share those with our clients. We've at least 'sown the seed', so when they are ready for that conversation, or if they're looking for something that's going to be 'new and innovative', there's a foundation that's already been laid for that.

Bringing Back Broadway: Situation's Peter Yagecic on How the Company Embraces New Tech, Hybrid Events & More

For emerging tech that we're now hearing about like NFTs or the metaverse, would you tend to bring that to a long-running show like Wicked before somebody new?

We try to be a place for our clients to ask questions about something and there's no stupid question. We may not lead by saying, "We think NFTs are the perfect thing for show X." But, if somebody reads a story in the New York Times about "MARK CUBAN gave away NFTs to everybody who bought a ticket to a Mavs game," we want to know about that. If our clients come and ask us, "Hey, what's this all about?" We know what it is and we have a foundation.

We like to try to be the place where thoughtful conversations happen. If we don't know the answer, we want to go out and find the answer. Since we serve as a 'digital first 'agency; our clients expect that of us from every touchpoint. There's some of us that spend more time in the weeds of technology than others. But, everybody is fair game at a digital agency to get a question like "what do you guys think of this?" We want everyone under our roof to feel comfortable saying, "If I don't know what it is, I know who I can direct that question to, and we can have a deeper conversation about it."

We absolutely have a point of view of things, and we watch a lot of how other entertainment brands are using, specifically, NFTs in this space. We're watching what Ticketmaster's doing, we're watching what the NFL and the NBA are doing. We're nerds about the 'bringing passionate communities together' space. That can mean anything from the ticketing experience to the website experience, to the mobile app experience. When people are doing cool stuff, we have internal Zoom channels where we just drop in links and say, "Check this out. This is really cool." We open those doors to everybody in the agency. Technology doesn't live with one, two, or three people. Everybody sees cool stuff, as a consumer of live entertainment, that they think is neat. We try to make sure that we always have a place to capture those.

What are you working on now that has you most excited, as far as new technology is concerned?

We've done a lot of work to amp up our virtual event capabilities. We're continuing to constantly learn what makes a good virtual event, and now, more and more, a good hybrid event. Even before the pandemic, we were always live streaming and eventizing moments for our clients. That was always a part of our 'bag of tricks'. We've had exposure to those tools, those technologies, and the companies that are making those possible: Facebook, YouTube, etc. and were always comfortable with that.

When the pandemic hit, for a good long period of time, that was the only mechanism by which we could produce where people could come together, if not physically, virtually. Everybody uses this word, but we 'pivoted' a good chunk of our team to this. We put the skills that we had into overdrive, and we produced a lot of events. There were some months where we had five events in a week and two on Saturday. We learned a ton, and we refined our processes and our opinions. We looked at different technology partners. We learned how to ask the right questions to get at, what was going to be the right mix of the tech stack to successfully produce an event?

And what sort of learnings did that yield?

There's rarely a one-size-fits-all tool, or solution, that hits every single piece of it. There's registration, there's production, there's the virtual audience platform that you're using, there's the donation tools that are usually part of it. As much as sometimes companies come to the table and say, "We do everything!" I have yet to find one that does everything great, but there's great pieces from a lot of them. So, there's figuring out, how do we ask the right questions about what is important to our clients? How do we give ourselves enough runway and time to bring back some options and demo them with them? And, then how do we make sure that we have redundancy built in for nailing it and executing it really well?

Many people were learning these same tools and techniques at the same time, and we went to a bunch of virtual events. When they went well, we cheered and we celebrated and we said, "How did they do that?" And when they didn't go well, we were suffering along with them, because we imagined ourselves in their position. "Oh my God. I know exactly what the communication looks like on the back end right now and I'm really sympathetic to that team." I think virtual and hybrid events will forever be a larger piece of what we do than it necessarily was before March of 2020, which is great.

Will we be attending Situation Events soon in the Metaverse?

That's going to have logical extensions into the metaverse. I think as people figure out and put on headsets, enter virtual areas and virtual realities, and can do things with one another across the country and across the world, that's the logical extension. Is somebody going to want to strap a headset on for two or three hours? No, probably not. But, there absolutely could be opportunities to engage passionate audiences for a shorter period of time. Eventually that technology is going to get better, lighter, cheaper, and faster, and it's going to play a piece of it.

I remember back in the days of Google Glass, Damian had a saying, "It's coming. Now what?" This stuff is coming, and we try to have an answer for the 'now what' question. The thing is nobody knows the timeline. It's also fun. It's fun and exciting to find times to nerd out. We have a small group of people within the agency who hang out in the metaverse from time to time. As time permits, we meet up in our virtual office workroom. In fact, one of our agency events, we did a teaser where Damian did the intro from our metaverse office.

We want our clients to know we have a familiarity with these things. We're playing with them first and foremost, and if they want to join in that conversation, we're excited to help hold their hand as part of that.

How did that fit into your growth and the agency's during that period?

Well, as luck would have it, for me personally, it was about 50% of what my focus was. As an agency, in the last year, we announced a restructure and a reorganization of Situation (previously Situation Interactive), under the umbrella of The Situation Group. We launched our sister agency, called Town Hall, which focuses on non-profits and higher education. We were reorganizing ourselves, which took a little bit of everybody in the agency focusing on that, to figure out exactly how we were going to staff and structure it.

As we were transitioning into that role, I was the Account Director for one of our higher education clients. I helped to staff and migrate that to Town Hall and hire some new staff around that. I was working on some account stuff on one side and then some virtual event stuff on the other side. I was not bored. For me, that's how I like to be. When you're dealing with so much uncertainty, I really like to have something to focus on. I may have taken on a little more than I could chew, but that's a great situation to be in. We made it through, and we came out the other side with a whole new set of skills.

I think the restructure and the reorganization has been so great, because we've been able to bring on so many new voices and new faces, and really specialize in some of those areas that our sister agencies now focus on and just go even deeper. We've hired a lot of people and brought a lot of new people onboard. As someone who's been here for a dozen years, I feel like one of the 'old men on the mountain top'. But, I can help paint the picture of "This is the path of why we do things this way." We're always open to find new ways to do it, but just as one of those institutional knowledge repositories, I'm happy to play that role.

How much of the playbook to help Broadway reopen specifically was pre-pandemic strategies vs. trying new things for the strange time of shows re-opening in the Fall of 2021?

That's a really great question and I'll answer it in a little bit of a roundabout way. I think some of the things that we were really excited by as an agency prior to the pandemic, kind of paused a bit on reopening and now we're starting to see grow again. But really, the relationship of our clients, shows, and producers with their fans, and understanding that relationship. It's driven from a lot of things. We looked at inspiration like football leagues in the UK that have these massive fan bases. What kind of relationship do those leagues have to those fans? How do they advocate, and understand them, and create spaces for them to really get them to be so passionate about those brands?

We were looking at technologies, like CRM platforms. Most CRM platforms start in the B-to-B world, to advocate closing business and finding new clients. Really the evolution of B-to-C, business to consumer CRMs came later to allow brands to really have a more 360 degree view of that person. Not just as a ticket buyer, but someone who signed up for a mailing list, or who might advocate for them on social media?

We've also been working with great partners like Telecharge, to create new ways to enrich the data that we have around people that sign up for mailing lists... and that was a big focus of what we were doing before the pandemic.

How did tools, like the new CRMs and this enhanced view of the fan behavior, help to get a long-running show back up and running?

The pandemic unlocked some of the way things have been done on Broadway for 20 years. "This is the way it always has to be done and these are the folks who have this data, and these are the folks who don't have this data." It really unlocked a sense of cooperation that I've never seen in my dozen years working in the industry. I think that was for the better. People turned to the technologists and said, "How do we make it work? How do we survive this? How can we put these messages out?"

As we were saying at the beginning of this, there's a core group of people that love the arts and are tech nerds like we are, and we talk to one another. We've been able to figure out new things that would've been impossible before the pandemic. Now, everything's open for conversation and dialogue, which is exciting. As a technologist, that's what you want. You want to find ways for stuff to talk to one another, while you're respecting the boundaries that need to be respected.

How do you handle the pressure of that? I find at BroadwayWorld, the more advanced our technology gets, the more reliant we become on it, and more parts of the business that depend on it... those of us that are involved in picking and setting up that technology suddenly have a little more pressure on us. What is that like in your world?

It can be stressful. There are predictable stressful times for our agency, especially around technology. Everything around Tonys, which we're rolling into now- Tony night, Tony nominations. If you're just talking about sheer number of people that are coming to a website because there's a huge national moment, there's some predictability around that. There's Tony nominations, Tony wins, and then Thanksgiving every year, Thanksgiving morning. Many people in our office have worked every Thanksgiving ever since we've opened our doors. Our clients have their biggest moments on nights, weekends, and holidays. That's just the nature of the gig.

As an example, we've had clients who have had very big moments. In 2014, we were lucky enough to work with the New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee. That was when New York and New Jersey were hosting the Super Bowl. It was the first cold-weather Super Bowl in 50 years. The role of the host committee was to be the party planner, essentially, for the region. Their website (which we built for them) had to be the destination to go to if anything happened. It could be a blizzard, could be a terrorist attack. But, that's where everybody was going to go if we needed to communicate some information.

That was a really great project that, at its core, we understood that it needed to be bulletproof. It had to impact every decision we made. How long did the pages take to load? How many servers do we have in the cluster for redundancy? What's our DNS strategy? What's our bot mitigation strategy? The best thing you could do is, if you understand the assignment early on, like everything else, this is what this needs to do, then you can really help to make sure you're making decisions that aren't going to be counter to the core mission of it. That's always a process and it takes a lot of dialogue.

What we try to really understand at the end of the day is what's going to be the biggest problem that we can avoid? Let's direct enough resources to make sure that the technology there is redundant and secure, and there's always a plan B.

That goes for the virtual events that we do as well. Every time we stream something to a platform, we've always got a stream running to a 'plan B' route. Sometimes, our clients don't even know about it. It's that, "Oh my God. This website that is public, free, and free to stream to... it just isn't working right now." And, that happens. "Nope. We've got you, client. Send them to this link. Here it is over here." We learned early on to always make sure that goes into our planning and our process. Because the 99 times you don't need it, you feel good. And the one time you do, you look like a rockstar.

Looking forward now, over the next year or six months, what's the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity? Which sometimes in tech can be the same thing...

I think the understanding of the average person for how their data is used, and what their data footprint looks like, it's been rising steadily and it's continuing to. There are things happening all around the world and legislation, that we need to make sure we're aware of, taking seriously, and thinking about. We are one component of a team that is ultimately owning a relationship with lots of different fans. It's making sure that we have processes in place.

This is just one example... We may send an email blast on behalf of our clients. But, that may not be the only source of email that goes out to the fans. It may be from the venue owner, it can be from the ticketer, it can be from partners. At the end of the day, somebody may come out to us and say, "I don't wish to hear from you anymore," or, "I want you to tell me how you got my information." There's no one place that exists, but we respect those requests deeply and we want to be the one to help try to figure it out. Even if it's not something we do.

We just came out of a meeting this morning where we were taking a look at, like the rest of the world, the environmental impact of the things that we do. There's a lot of people having conversations about Net Zero Operations. There are people looking at that from the agency world now too. How do we make sure we are clear ourselves around all the things we are doing, and can be doing, to be better citizens and actors in that world? That's a great opportunity and we're starting to see that come up when we respond to RFPs for clients, or for gigs. People want to work at organizations that match their core principles and the things they believe in. Other companies want to work with partner companies that share those beliefs as well. Just making sure we have a space to have those dialogues around how we're thinking about that, how we're being consistent, and putting our money where our mouth is. Those are exciting opportunities that are coming too.

And then there's the cool tech stuff. We've talked about it. I'm really interested. We have a great relationship with Meta, as a digital partner. We've spent a lot of ad dollars there, and also with Google. We're a Google Premier Partner and we take that relationship super seriously. One of the perks is we get to hear what they're thinking, where they're going and the bets that they're doing. We did a whole series of events during the pandemic, and we're continuing to do them, with representatives from Google telling our audience base what the trends are and where things are going. We take those relationships super seriously and we love to hear about what bets they're making. Obviously, Meta is making a huge investment in the metaverse. That's exciting.

It's really about enthusiasm. It's so easy to be jaded, roll your eyes about certain things that you hear, in any space, whether it's NFTs or the metaverse, because there's so much hype about it. I get that, but at the end of the day, you want to find those people who are really enthusiastically trying to make something and trying to build something. You want to be able to support them. That's fun to kind of play the game of 'what if' because by the time something does catch fire, then you're familiar with it. Similar to what our experience with virtual events was. We knew what we were doing there, when the time everybody came knocking and said, "How do we do this?" we said, "We got you."