Cultural Event Strategist

Michael Fragoso

Written by The World's Best Events

Michael Fragoso is an NYC-based event planner, obsessed with cultural strategy and keeping his pulse on what’s next. A true millennial multi-hyphenate, Michael has worked everywhere from Prada to Surface Magazine, PR agencies to experiential marketing firms, expanding his network to cross continents—no small feat for someone still under the age of 30. He now acts as a manager of Global Entertainment & Experiential Marketing at Marriott International, working on a team that oversees events for 10 lifestyle brands, representing more than 800 hotels in 40 countries.

Tell us how it all started.

I was working at an amazing PR agency, THINK, based here in NYC. I was looking for ways to get our clients at the time more “influencers” (we called them bloggers then…) a much more stellar attendance for their events and activations and decided that the best way to do it was to infiltrate the scene.

I came up with my first ever party at the time, a weekly event called “Les Garcons” at a very exclusive nightclub at the time, Le Baron. The NYTimes got word of it and wrote a profile on me and the party, and my career in events really took off from there.

I was lucky enough to land a job at experiential marketing firm ExtraExtra Creative, a division on Paper Magazine. I learned under a stellar and creative team how to provide excellent consumer experiences and live event strategy for clients such as American Express, Target, DreamWorks, and Old Navy.

After that, I caught the nightlife bug again and went to work with the Bungalow 8 legend herself, Amy Sacco. Amy still is one of the biggest influences on my life, someone who has a huge heart and knows how to work a room. I was honored to learn from her and got the experience of doing pop-ups at every major film festival around the world. She taught me nearly everything I know, and I believe ’til this day she probably should have been in politics; her ability to work a room is beyond!

Once my late nights began to take their toll, I went back into publishing, working on special projects with the renowned art and architecture publisher Surface Magazine. I worked directly with our cover subjects and partners on unique live collaborations, such as a series of talks with Phillips Auction House and a special collaboration with artist Jenny Holzer for her AIDS memorial, where we created installations on LGBT historic sites around NYC. The work there was challenging but rewarding, and I was involved in everything from building a dome in the back of Faena for Art Basel to the last dinner ever thrown in the home of the late Azzedine Alaïa (the night Kim Kardashian got robbed, no less!).

From there, everything really took off and my career in hospitality was more or less grounded. I was approached with an opportunity to establish programming and experience for a relatively unknown brand at the time, Moxy in NYC. Now under my epic boss Diana Pavlov, I’ve had the ability to work on live experiences for 10 brands: Westin, Le Meridien, Renaissance, Tribute Portfolio, Autograph Collection, Design, Moxy, AC, Aloft, and Element Hotels, representing more than 800 hotels in 40 countries. In 2019, we had a combined reach of nearly 4.1 billion press impressions and did events on every continent except Antarctica.

Can you give an example of something that’s been particularly successful?

We recently opened Moxy Chelsea in New York, and the event itself (which The World’s Best Events covered through the eyes of Caroline Vreeland) was particularly successful because we were the first hotel brand to utilize ASMR for a live consumer experience. Guests experienced this via the in-room, on-screen “ASMR Bedtime Stories” – and this was the vehicle for telling a way bigger story about the brand. It made me proud because we later found out the event and the in-property experience became a joke on Late Night with Seth Meyers. By taking a trend and turning it into something totally unexpected, the event was particularly successful.

What is a typical day for Michael like?

Sadly, there is no such thing as typical with events. A lot of people think our industry is glamorous, but truly it’s often brutal hours, crazy physical demands, and only for those who really have a dynamic passion for throwing experiences.

Your event strategy? Tell us how you approach your events.

This varies so much. The best way, no matter the event, is to start with the guest. Who are they? What makes them tick? What did they do before getting to your event? How can you be the most hospitable to them and anticipate their needs? How do you get them to remember the event long after it’s been done? Who’s coming?

From there, you can build the other KPIs into the mix, such as the message of the brand you’re doing the event for, or the flow or sequence of the event itself.

Ultimately, no matter your budget, event size, or reason for throwing an event, the guest is the most important, as is their experience. You can throw the best party in the whole world, with the biggest talent and celebrities in the mix—but if it’s raining and you don’t have umbrellas on-hand or someone to take coats, you may as well just call it quits. 🙂

What’s next?

I have a passion for finding a way to throw waste-free events or events with a reuse/recycle component. People are craving it and it’s just the right thing to do. I also think that especially in the hospitality industry that hotels are becoming collaborative environments in their public spaces and will continue to throw public facing events to create and cultivate new brand love.

Who is the ultimate guest?

The ultimate guest is someone who attends an event and never takes enough time to notice one thing in particular. The ultimate guest’s experience is seamless from start to finish, and in the end no matter what brand you do it for, they’ll remember you for taking care of them. I also do love when someone asks about who our vendors may be; “Who did those flowers!” is one of the best questions an event professional can be asked…

What do you do in terms of catering and drinks?

This has varied all throughout my career and the brands I’ve worked on. It’s important to know everyone’s dietary restrictions beforehand and plan accordingly. Some trends I’ve noticed and been incorporating as standards are staying local with ingredients where possible, and ensuring there are actually wonderful non-alcoholic options, ALWAYS.

How do you organize your guest lists?

Usually by categories: press, influencers, VIPs, and so on. It’s important to know who will manage certain portions of the crowd, especially for large events.

Tell us about a project you’re particularly proud of.

Aside from the Moxy Chelsea project mentioned above, I was really proud of the programming I put on at Surface Magazine for the Faena Art Basel x Surface Mag events a few years ago. We essentially built a dome on the beach and programmed it with a series of talks, which varied wildly, from Yvonne Force Villareal to Virgil Abloh. On the last day, we worked with a video artist to create live visuals while our panelists hosted a party to celebrate the week’s programming. It was an honor to be able to have created an incubator of ideas and collaborations, ending it with a celebration and culmination of new friends and exciting ideas. Take a look at it here.

How has social media changed your life?

I used to love it. Now I hate it. I believe it used to be a place filled with ideas, fun, inspiration, and friends. Now it’s a bit bland and my feed looks the same.

What makes a great event? 

Aside from a seamless experience for attendees, this is a no brainer: an amazing team working on the project. It’s rare that the world’s best events get done by one person. I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for the collaboration of countless professionals from various disciplines – PR, marketing, design, production, strategy, experiential, floral, food & beverage, etc. – who came together for a few short moments to combine their expertise to produce a moment in time we hope people will remember for the rest of their lives.