Cara Kleinhaut had a job many of us would consider dreamy. She worked for years as an in-house producer at Sony Music Entertainment, and before that as an assistant tour manager to music icon Mariah Carey. But something in her drove her to break out on her own.
So, in 2001, she launched Caravent—now rebranded as AGENC Experiential and Digital Marketing. And in the 15 years since the agency launched, it has grown from an event production company into an internationally recognized, full-service, integrated agency. AGENC has created award-winning live experiences, and led strategy and dynamic campaigns for some of our favorite brands, including Target, Dior, L’Oreal, Conde Nast Publications, Hearst Publications (Elle) and Pandora.
With offices in New York City and Los Angeles, AGENC works with top brands in the United States and worldwide—creating award-winning live experiences and sharing compelling digital stories. Read on to learn more about how Cara keeps her work fresh, what she hopes to teach her daughters and what makes job candidates stand out.
I want to show my two young daughters they can become anything they set their minds to.
Prior to launching AGENC, what was your career path?
I was an in-house event producer for Sony Music Entertainment in New York City, where I honed my skills in event production and design. I worked on all their big events—from the annual Grammy party to record release parties and worldwide conventions.
We have to ask: What was it like working with Mariah Carey?
She was at the height of her career at that time, and it was an amazing experience to see true celebrity up close. A role like that is a lot more work than you might think. Keeping up the demands of that pace of life and work is extremely challenging. It gave me a great respect for all the work that goes into being—and staying—on top.
What led you to launching your own company? How did you do it?
In the early 2000’s the whole music business was changing, and I knew I loved producing events and had become good at it! I realized I had a skill I could take to other industries. The Musicians’ Assistance Program (now part of The Grammy Foundation) gave me a shot to produce its annual gala. The event was called The MAP Awards, a 500-person sit-down dinner and live musical program/awards show. That year it starred the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bonnie Raitt. After I was given that opportunity, I made sure the event was a great success and worked to build up a portfolio of clients from there. You just need that first shot—and to nail it!
What does a day in your life entail? How do you prioritize your day?
There are so many hours in the day, so it all comes down to priorities. With 20 full-time employees, a roster full of name-brand clients, and also a husband and two kids with active schedules, we live by our Google calendars. Also, my assistant is literally my right hand really helps me keep everything organized. I want to be sure I’m making myself available to my team, clients, family and school community as well (where I volunteer).
It’s a crazy juggling act that all us working women do. I should not be singled out as special here as most women juggle careers and kids, as well as being a good community member. I’m actually luckier than most as I have my husband who is not only my business partner but also my life partner in every way. We split all the parenting duties. Additionally, my parents and mother-in-law are active participants in our lives, and we also have the resources for a full-time nanny, who has been with us for 12 years. So, in other words, like the great former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton once said, it takes a village. Those words are so true to me. I can’t do any of this by myself.
How does your company stay relevant and provide fresh ideas to your global clients?
To stay current and relevant I believe we must evolve our scope of services to serve our clients as media and our industry changes. We pay very close attention to greater cultural trends in consumer behavior, media, arts and digital communication. I’m personally obsessed with absorbing and actively participating in the plethora of blogs, conferences and thought leadership readily available in these areas.
We stay very current—ahead of the curve. That has led us to our evolution to AGENC from Caravents, to specifically meet the new needs of our clients. Our clients are major brands who are looking to bring new products to consumers (most luxury lifestyle) and reach them in the most effective, dynamic way possible. Our rebrand represents a disruption in the traditional PR model.
We believe that through dynamic live experience and an impactful digital presence on key platforms—mixed with influencer pairing—we can speak directly to the right audience and brand affinity faster and more effectively. Traditional PR always will have its place, but the way we reach consumers has totally shifted. The message needs authenticity. We now see experiential agencies in the role of “anchor” agency, which is where we are very competitive today.
What do you believe is the key to creating successful live experiences that will be shared?
First, if we want the live experience to be socially shared, it must be designed specifically with that in mind. We have to light and design a digital journey from the moment a guest arrives, through every major touch point, and it has to be done authentically. The overall event has to be immersive, make an impact and inspire guests to share.
What challenges keep you away at night?
All of our challenges right now are what I call quality problems—how to manage growth, make sure everyone is being mentored properly and thinking about what kind of bosses and leaders we are being. While we are so busy getting the work done, we want to ensure we are providing an enriching and rewarding environment to all the talented people show up each day and give their all at AGENC.
What also keeps me up at night is the divided state of our country. I want to show my two young daughters they can become anything they set their minds to. This election was a hard one for us.
What qualities do you look for in those you hire to be a part of your team?
We always say we hire character. Skills can be taught, but what we can’t teach is good character, manners, and a great attitude and work ethic. The have to come to our front door with that. Everything else we can teach them, as long as they are teachable—meaning open minded.
What career advice do you have to share with our readers?
Keep trying, and don’t get discouraged. You will get rejected, and that is part of the process. It helps you refine your skills and get better. Just look at rejection as part of the process of becoming great.
I’d love to grab coffee with: Michelle Obama.
My favorite purse is: My Chloe Marcie bag.
My go-to outfit is: A black Diane Von Furstenberg dress.
My favorite dinner spot is: Depends on the city! In New York City, I still love Indochine.
I can’t live without: My family.
My favorite way to unwind is: Dance class, going to the farmer’s market and photography.
I feel my best when: I can be present for those around me. I feel like my attention is pulled in too many directions often, and I have to get better at staying focused on exactly where I am in a given moment.