July 23, 2018

How Produce UK turned event planning into an art form

Produce UK creates attention-grabbing events for high-profile brands that go far beyond the ordinary. Here’s how they get their larger-than-life ideas off the ground.

From a piano concert lit by 44 note-responsive pendant lamps, to a dumpster transformed into a gallery space, Produce UK is committed to creating events that offer ‘a bedazzlement of the senses.’

The artistic placemaking and event-making agency creates jaw-dropping experiences for world-class brands including Adidas, Hem and Hyundai.  

ProduceUK’s Catherine Borowski

The business was launched ten years ago by director Catherine Borowski. “I’d recognized the need for a truly artistic agency that blends fantastic experiences for brands and developers with an understanding of space, place and creativity,” Borowski says. “We’ve got an amazing team of creative talent; conceptual artists, producers, placemakers, thinkers, designers and art directors.”

By also including singers, accessory designers, artists, a life coach, a composer and helicopter pilot on the team, Borowski ensures the talent they use remains in-house, and part of the unique Produce UK world.

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Events that make an impact

In March 2017, one of Produce UK’s most ambitious projects to date — SKIP Gallery — took form. Since launch, the gallery has held six exhibitions in its dumpster art space, and collaborated with some of the UK’s most prominent modern artists, including David Shrigley, Ben Eine and Gavin Turk.

Describing her brand as “fiercely independent, nimble and brave as hell,” Borowski’s work is a visual feast, sparking conversation and turning design into an experience that can be shared. “Our clients love working with us and we make them look good,” Borowski laughs.

Produce’s name is as simple as their M.O. — “We produce stuff,” Borowski says — but the feats she and her team dreams up are anything but. When they’re not cramming artistic spaces into dumpsters, they dream up and execute their projects on an grand scale.

Collaborations include a fully immersive seasonal pop-up in the shape of a giant, LED-lit slide at London’s Wembley Park, a ‘football fandome’ featuring a 91-meter, 360° wrap-around screen, and Borowski’s favorite event to date — the UK launch of RuPaul’s Drag Race for truTV.

“We put on a live runway show judged by RuPaul himself, who flew over for the finale,” Borowski says. “I’m a huge fan, and in person he’s  generous, fierce, kind and as sharp as a knife.”

Inside the mind of a project

So what’s the process that leads to the ideas that make Produce UK stand so far out from the crowd?

“Our team of artists and creatives is always tuned into new emerging movements, trends, styles and production techniques,’ Borowski says. “Our criteria are to light up the imaginations of our clients, visitors and guests, and make something so visually sumptuous, the world feels compelled to share it on Instagram.

“We like to immerse ourselves in the client brand or space, whether that’s over coffee or a site tour, and get under the skin of our client to understand what makes them tick.” The resulting brainstorming sessions can be held anywhere, “from on top of a dumpster to the back of an Uber,” Borowski says.

The business’s placemaking arm taps into what she describes as “an obsession with non-places and office spaces,” turning eclectic public spaces into temporary sites for experiential events and exchanges.

“Our placemaking practice informs our event-making projects,” Borowski explains. “By drawing on all our resources, we create full 360 degree strategies, from concept to delivery. “Placemaking is the process of looking at public spaces from a holistic perspective, with the goal of amplifying the presence of a location in a way that’s relevant to its unique characteristics.

“In a nutshell, we create destinations and places that people go want to go to and hang out at.”

Marketing that stands out

In a business landscape that’s crowded with creativity, marketing is crucial to the brand’s success. “It’s essential that we conduct marketing the Produce UK way, and strive to be brave and creative,” Borowski says.

By exploring an eclectic variety of avenues, Produce UK have made sure they’ve got the presence to attract the large-scale products their creatives thrive on.

“Our tactics include researching and presenting a bi-monthly Trend Report, and having a strong presence on social media,” Borowski says. “We’ve also launched Place:Labs, which is a quarterly forum where people who work across different spaces can come together. We describe it as ‘a place lab to inspire the future.’”

This strategy includes Borowski’s Business Cards, which are as stand-out as her projects. “We’ve got the Luxe Business Cards on 600gsm, and boy are they fabulous,” she says. “I love the thickness and the weight — they scream ‘premium and considered.’”

As with most things related to Borowski’s business, her Business Cards have become a talking point. “Everyone loves our cards,” she says. “Every time I hand one out I receive comments on the thickness and requests for the contact details of our printers. I was recently in Japan, the nation of the business card, and even there I received amazing reactions.”

So what advice does Borowski have for anyone starting out in event planning? “Think outside the box. Be brave. Be a problem solver, not a problem creator.

“Keep your humor high and your smile big — it will open doors for you with clients and suppliers. Say thank you. Treat everyone brilliantly — from the lighting techs, location cleaners and designers through to the clients.”

The benefits of being excellent

So what advice does Borowski have for anyone starting out in event planning? “Think outside the box. Be brave. Be a problem solver, not a problem creator.

“Keep your humor high and your smile big — it will open doors for you with clients and suppliers. Say thank you. Treat everyone brilliantly — from the lighting techs, location cleaners and designers through to the clients.”

Borowski practices what she preaches, and is committed to supporting her 95%-female workforce. “That ratio was more by accident than design, but we offer very flexible working hours and recognise that everyone has a life outside of work,” she says.

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