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Meet Anthony Hickson of Imagination

Today we’d like to introduce you to Anthony Hickson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Anthony. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m an Australian who’s spent the past 6.5 years living in LA. I reside here with my wife, Kate (a fellow Aussie) and my three children India (5), Harry (3) and Mia (0), all of whom were born here. We live in Redondo Beach and are proud to call Los Angeles our home.

I’ve worked in the creative industries for nearly 20-years, and I’m currently the Director of Imagination’s Immersive Studio – a conceptual design and immersive media production studio within Imagination.

At high school, I was always torn between creative (making things) and business (the economics of making things). In college (Sydney, Australia) I initially explored the creative path, gaining a bachelor’s degree in design (Visual Communications) from the University of Technology Sydney, before working as a video editor and graphic designer.

Whilst I enjoyed telling stories through moving pictures (mostly branded content, TVCs and corporate videos), after several years of being stuck in a dark edit suite, at what I then considered the tail end of the creative process, I decided to go back to college (this time in London, UK) to broaden my horizon and explore my other interest area of business. There I completed an MBA at Imperial College London, specializing in marketing.

On the back of this, I strived to fuse my creative and business education. Initially, I was involved in a start-up production company developing advertiser-funded televisions shows. This was at a time when regulations were changing, allowing advertisers to more explicitly engage audiences through broadcast branded content. Our approach was different to other producers in that we focused on the extension of the entertainment IP into other areas as a core part of our offering. In one instance we conceived a reality tv show where celebrities designed fashion products, but we went so far as to work through the production pipeline so that those products would be available in-store immediately after the show aired. Whilst the business was not ultimately successful, it taught me a lot and gave me a greater self-confidence that I could achieve whatever I set my mind too.

Following that, I returned to my native Australia where I joined an experiential agency who created content and digital experiences for live events. I had previously worked in experiential in my role as an editor/designer, and whilst I had initially fallen into this space, I quickly fell in love with it, in particular the ability to create experiences that you could witness people interacting and engaging with live. At this stage, I had morphed into a producer, which allowed me to keep a hand in the creative side of things but also focus on the broad mechanics of how things actually came together. Working in a small company, I was fortunate to wear many hats, and my role encompassed not only producing, but account management, and business development. Whilst I never professed to be a sales guy, there was something inherently authentic when the people conceiving and selling the ideas, were also the ones that knew exactly how the sausage was made.

At this point, I was in my late 20s and had spent much of my career going back and forth between my native Australia and what I considered my second home in London, so I was ready for a change in scenery. In late 2013 I was given the opportunity to transfer to Los Angeles with my then employer.

Whilst LA was not my first choice city to live in the United States (like many other people, I fancied living in NY at some point), it quickly grew on me. Living by the beach in the South Bay was not dissimilar to the Sydney lifestyle, and the great weather and (mostly) laid back nature of the beach cities was something my wife and I slid easily into.

From a work point of view, I found it an incredible change coming from the relatively small Australian market to the much larger US market. Access to decision-makers was much easier, and budgets were bigger, so it gave me access to do bigger, bolder and more innovative things in the live experience space.

As I was enjoying the work side of LA-living, my wife and I enjoyed the arrival of our first child (India) and second child (Harry), helping us further embrace the family-friendly ways of the South Bay, and forging a strong friendship network here.

In 2019 after seven years with my previous employer, I changed jobs, joining leading global experience agency, Imagination, to lead the company’s US Immersive Studio. Building upon my experience in live events and technology-infused storytelling, I was tasked with reinforcing the company’s creative, content and technology capabilities, whilst establishing a presence on the West Coast. Working from an office space in Hermosa Beach, I now spend much of my time supporting our existing North American client base, whilst forging new opportunities in LA and on the West Coast.

In February 2020, our 3rd child (daughter, Mia) joined us to complete our family.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Of course, there have been struggles and challenges along the way, but my journey has been smooth in a relative sense.

From a career point of view, I’ve always been torn about finding what I really want to do and what I’m good at and balancing that with what I’m really passionate about. The experiential and event space have certainly provided this for me. The tactile nature of experiences is so powerful, and it’s so rewarding to witness the fruits of your labour being experienced and enjoyed.

I have found that I need variety in my jobs though. I much prefer wearing multiple hats and being a somewhat jack-of-all-trades, as it keeps different parts of my brain and personality stimulated.

At the moment, I work remotely. I’m employed by our Detroit office but am based in LA. Whilst I don’t miss the politics of working in an office, it took some getting used to not having the comradery of my teammates being around. With that said, the workspace I’m based in, Unita, provides a creative community that helps fill that gap.

From a personal point of view, it’s hard living so far away from family and friends, especially when you have young kids. Fortunately, we have a lot of family visit us and we try to go back home every 18-24 months for a visit.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Imagination – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Imagination is a global experience agency. We design and deliver integrated live, physical and digital experiences, which change how people think, feel and act.

Imagination originates from the West End theater world in London, and so storytelling has underpinned what we’ve done for over 50 years. We’re independent. We’re global. Our name is our differentiator. It instructs a reputation to uphold. We literally have to deliver “imagination” into all our client’s work. We currently have 13 offices around the world.

We believe in the power of experience to deepen relationships, change perceptions and encourage action. Brands today are valued more by the experiences they offer, not just the product or messages they convey. We are storytellers for the experience age.

We’re proud to be called upon for the impossible, the ambitious, the unknown. Imagination has delivered some of the most exciting experiences around the world, including:

● The original Guinness storehouse in Dublin (Ireland’s most visited attraction)
● Sydney’s New Year’s Eve (we’ve partnered with the City of Sydney for eight years to help more than 1.5 million people around Sydney Harbour, and 1 billion watching globally, ring in the New Year)
● The launch of Ford’s all-electric Mustang Mach E
● Detroit’s first Michigan Central Winter Festival

Whilst we’re driven by the creative, technology and innovation are fused within our culture. From an experience point of view, the holy grail is to infuse the stories we tell with technology so that it feels magical. Ultimately we want to transport audiences into a place where they lose themselves in a story. These are stories that mean something for the audience and the brand.

In my role leading the Imagination’s US Immersive Studio, I’m specifically focused on how we leverage content, technology and digital tools in physical spaces to create such magical, all-encompassing sensory experiences.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
As mentioned, Imagination has been around for a long time, but we’re relatively new on the West Coast, so we’re excited about cementing our presence here and connecting with like-minded brands and people looking to push the boundaries of experiential marketing and consumer engagement.

Because of our unique approach of storytelling that blends physical and digital worlds, we think the most exciting thing at the moment is what we call the “Convergence of Capability”. Individually there are a bunch of great technologies out there that are starting to move past the “hype curve” (i.e., 5G, Extended Reality (VR, AR, MR), AI and Voice, Real-time capture and Real-time Rendering).

These technologies are often considered quite separately from each other, but we are excited about how they can be combined together to deliver uber experiences.

We believe the next generation of immersive experiences will soon approach a level that’s indistinguishable from magic. Where experiences will be so real, and so immersive that audiences will want to spend more time in them than away from them. This is where brands have the opportunity to extend their offering past tangible elements like products and services. We love what companies like Disney and Universal have been doing for decades. The immersive worlds and experiences they create often transcend the original film format, becoming something altogether more powerful.

In the current Covid-19 climate the appetite for engaging, entertaining and meaningful virtual experiences is also a high priority for many brands. Because of our grounding in content and technology, we feel we’re well placed to respond to these opportunities and help create new and innovative ways of communicating with virtual audiences and bringing these experiences to life.

From a personal point of view, LA is very much home for the foreseeable future. Our children were all born here and we have a strong affinity with Redondo, Hermosa, Manhattan Beaches and the South Bay. We’ve made so many great friends in this town, and we’re thankful and grateful for our life.

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