Stephane Battaille & Maya Guice: Industry professionals exploring new outlets
Interviews by Martin Palicki & Judith Rubin
From project management to management
Stephane Battaille joined Belgium-based company Alterface in 2008. Over the past twelve years he has held several roles within the company, most recently assuming the role of CEO from company founder Benoit Cornet. His project management and technical experience have informed his progression into this executive role.
What brought you to work for Alterface initially?
I was working as a research engineer at the University of Louvain La Neuve, in the same University lab where the core system of Alterface, the Salto Software, was created.
A few years after Alterface’s creation, still in start-up mode, the company needed to have a project manager to work on their growing projects. With my background in electromechanics and computers I was able to embrace the many technical aspects that compose an interactive media based ride. At this pioneering stage of interactive attractions, project management required a deep hands-on approach as almost every element of the rides had to be invented.
What has kept you with Alterface for so long?
I was hooked on Alterface from day one! To be able to conceive and produce cutting edge systems designed to entertain people remains a passion ever since. Working with a large pool of talented and deeply passionate people in their different fields is what keeps it exciting over the years. The influx of colleagues has allowed me to change roles over the years, moving from project management to technical team management, then operation organization and finally company strategy.
What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
Dragon Wild Shooting (2013) at Lotte World has been one of my fondest experiences ( it was also my last project as project manager). I personally learned so much during the different phases of the project in the contact of the extraordinary team that The Hettema Group had assembled. On top of the great working experience, for me the end result is a hidden gem in terms of guest experience.
Maus au Chocolat (2011) at Phantasialand (top of page, courtesy Alterface) is one of my proudest personal achievements, as it was a major technical achievement for Alterface at that time.
What do you hope to accomplish as CEO?
Throughout my time at Alterface, I have felt the extraordinary potential of Alterface and this team. There are so many ideas that we would like to implement. My goal as a CEO is to create an environment in the company that promotes creativity but provides enough scalability so we can realize all the projects we have in mind.
The industry is in a strange time now…what do you think the short-term future looks like from your viewpoint in Belgium?
It is difficult to comprehend what things will look like and what the short-term and long-term impacts on our industry will be. What is certain for me is that people will continue to need escape from normal life and that themed entertainment will continue to create amazing experiences in many forms. It will take more time to get there as I am afraid that the impact of COVID will remain for quite a long time.
We are now seeing our customers requesting more and more deviceless interactivity. Having started the company focusing on deviceless interactivity, human detection and gesture recognition systems, this is quite interesting to return to our roots, but with the experience we gained over the years in creating many different interactive systems. For us, the technology or device itself is not important, the only focus should remain to design an application which is intuitive, straightforward and engaging for the user.
Relevance and authenticity
A quick glance at the resume for Maya Guice (like “nice,” but with a G) and one can’t help but notice the breadth and depth of her experience in marketing, communications and business management. Her career has taken her from Los Angeles to Europe, and now back to southern California as she takes on the role of Marketing Director for BRC Imagination Arts, soon to celebrate its 40th year in business.
What attracted you to BRC?
Many people with my mixed professional background land in the experience business having never heard of it before. I can say that I had the same experience, discovering BRC almost by accident. As soon as I started to dig into BRC’s work, however, I realized that I was very familiar with many of BRC’s projects. I was immediately intrigued and impressed – who wouldn’t want to work for a company that translates brand and cultural stories into transformative, human experiences!?
Although marketing has become my core focus, I’m a generalist at heart. I always look for a role that allows me to grow while adding value. So when looking for new marketing opportunities, I was really looking for something that would allow me to touch all aspects of marketing, including social media, content production, PR, and events. As soon as I read BRC’s job description for Marketing Director, I knew that this would be the perfect role for me, balancing creativity with business acumen, and communications with analytics.
I’ve also discovered that I share a lot of BRC’s values – sustainability, collective advancement, transformation, creative excellence – and have found a job that allows me to have an impact on the world: every experience and attraction is an opportunity to tell stories that bring people together and inspire a more peaceful, sustainable and hopeful world. Suffice to say that this has proved to be an incredible fit.
You’ve lived and worked in the US and Europe. What have you observed in these different places with how the entertainment world is evolving?
A Los Angeles native, I’ve lived in both London and Berlin. I’m always shocked at how entrenched American culture is in Europe and all over the world, really. That said, I think that while many trends in entertainment still emerge from the US, the internet has democratized access to content creation and distribution tools, effectively blurring the lines between professional and amateur entertainment. Internet connectivity and infrastructure continues to improve all over the world and the ability to influence and entertain is now fair game.
I also believe that experiences are not only the future of entertainment but the leisure industry as a whole. Whether you’re sharing a piece of history, driving fan engagement, selling a bottle of scotch, or marketing a TV show, the ability to create a truly authentic, emotional and immersive guest experience has become the new measure of cultural relevance and resultant success. For this reason, what has generally been considered a marketing problem is now acknowledged as a business problem. This is why we’re seeing so many companies begin to dip their toe in the experience and immersive entertainment space.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter what business or region you’re in, or what communities you serve, the brands that prioritize their customer’s dreams and desires are the ones that will survive. Good brand experiences celebrate the corporation; great brand experiences celebrate their guests. This will always be true.
In what ways do you think experience designers can impact the arts and cultural spaces?
I spent about 90% of my teens and early twenties in the dance studio, so I am very familiar with the obstacles encountered by not only dancers but performing artists in general. In college, I self-designed a performing arts administration major and have a very specific memory of reading an article that highlighted the problem of the performing arts’ diminishing audience. One issue that the author pointed out is that it’s very hard to innovate and digitalize the performing arts experience: you sit in a theater and watch a show. The raw experience of seeing a performer pour their guts out on stage is almost impossible to duplicate online.
I think that experience designers bring a very unique perspective to what constitutes a show and can help the arts community think beyond the proscenium stage. How might we use technology to make performances multi-sensory? How might we create deeper fan engagement? How might we be entrepreneurial?
BRC has done incredible work in the culture sector, helping museums, venues and attractions adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset. We help these cultural organizations create experience platforms that can accommodate a variety of interchanging entertainment formats, whether it’s a masterclass, immersive experience, or live performance. This strategy has helped the cultural institutions we work with adopt an ‘always on’ mentality and feel better prepared to survive the present shutdown. For instance, despite the hiatus of live performances at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the tour experience still makes it possible for fans to safely visit the “mother church” of country music.
How is the art of marketing changing during this pandemic? How should companies be marketing themselves?
When the pandemic hit I think many marketers asked themselves: Should we carry on or hit the pause button? If we don’t acknowledge the virus will we appear completely tone-deaf? If we do, are we shamelessly inserting ourselves into the moment?
The pandemic has caused everyone to carefully reconsider what matters most, with a new appreciation for the people and communities closest to us. Purpose has taken center stage. Marketers will need to lean in close and listen to the new expectations and the needs their customers have not only right now, but after the pandemic. What new stories are emerging and how are they being told? What values have emerged as most important? The marketers who are listening to and prioritizing the needs of their customers will always be in the best position to respond.
As someone new to this industry, what is your perspective on BRC and what they have accomplished over the past 40 years?
After I was hired I had a call with BRC Executive Creative Director and Vice President, Christian Lachel. He started to walk me through the company’s more recent projects and I was stunned into silence. While I thought I had a good idea of BRC’s work, I quickly realized that BRC’s capabilities and expertise surpassed even my wildest expectations! I continue to be blown away by the scale and scope of what BRC has been able to accomplish over the past 40 years on an almost daily basis.
I had the luxury of spending my first month at BRC digging through the digital archives and became very familiar with BRC’s portfolio. BRC is very unique in their ability to masterfully blend storytelling, creative technology, business intelligence, imagination, and heart to create some of the most incredible attractions and experiences in the world. Projects that opened 30+ years ago are still engaging and culturally relevant today. This speaks to BRC’s core competence in storytelling and the team’s ability to artfully craft peak human experiences. I can’t wait until it’s safe to travel again so that I can experience this incredible work firsthand.
I was also surprised to meet so many BRC employees who had been on the team for 25+ years. A week after I started, Vice President and Executive Producer Marci Carlin celebrated her 35th anniversary with the company. BRC has a powerful culture of family. The experience and attractions business requires long, demanding hours, so this culture and a high degree of trust are critical to fostering tight and highly collaborative teams.
Tell us about the rebranding effort you will be leading at BRC.
Well, I can’t disclose too much at the moment! Suffice to say that it will be an inspiring new chapter for BRC. 2021 is our 40th anniversary year and there will be no shortage of exciting news coming out throughout the year.