How Justin Lefkovitch Brought a Love of Magic to Media
Reinventions profiles people who've made big pivots. Meet Justin Lefkovitch, who, through entertainment and marketing, is living his own interpretation of a Harry Potter kinda life.
Where were you before?
People often joke with me that I have lived so many different lives in my 33 years. Each one of my life experiences has contributed to who I am today and led to the founding of Mirrored Media 11-plus years ago.
From a very young age growing up in Los Angeles, I was always fascinated by suspending disbelief and using magic as a storytelling tool to build a narrative. At the age of 13, I joined the Academy of Magical Arts, headquartered at the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, as a performing junior member. The junior program is a collection of the top amateur performers under 21 from around the world.
I became a regular on the touring circuit, performed in the "Future Stars of the World" shows, and fine-tuned my craft of creating a narrative and changing someone's perspective. My illusions were used as a delivery tool for the overall narrative, creating a show versus just a performance. Truly showing my age, my show in those days was called "Dating for Dummies," all about how to "get the girl."
I went to college at Pepperdine University, largely to stay close to the network I had built in the world of magic. But while at school, I began to fall in love with other elements of the entertainment industry, especially marketing. During this time, I was lucky enough to meet singer-songwriter Ray Kennedy, most notably of the Beach Boys, and I sort of fell into becoming his manager. I loved the business side of music and experienced the inner workings of brand partnerships. I helped produce a charity show with Ray, KISS, REO Speedwagon and Aerosmith, and was hooked to the rush of creating a live event. I noticed a missing link between brands and the artists they wanted to work with, and it sparked an idea.
To bridge the gap between brands and bands, I envisioned a creative agency that would use the same type of storytelling and narrative-based methods I applied to my magic show to deliver a memorable and shareable standout experience for the client, artist and fans. Most important, I wanted to be able to not only develop the creative, but execute and produce the experience as well, creating a win-win for everyone, which was not something traditional creative agencies had done.
I've also had a lifelong passion for animals, having grown up around Siegfried and Roy. I became a board member for Project Survival Cat Haven, which specializes in the preservation, conservation and education for and about big cat species throughout the world.
I also dabbled in the world of circus, and recently got to bring a childhood dream to life as a Cirque du Soleil music and creative consultant for the charity show "One Night for One Drop," which helped benefit those without access to clean water throughout the world.
Needless to say, I've worn a lot of hats in my three-plus decades on this earth!
What triggered your reinvention(s)?
I had a bit of a reality check in college. I realized that while I had passion for the art of magic and the creative process for innovative concepts, I wasn't as passionate about performing. I was more excited about creating a narrative and getting to watch the audience as I played with their perspective. While going to school for marketing, I realized I could apply the same storytelling concepts I used in magic to other creative outlets. It took years of discovery but I shifted those concepts to a marketing angle, and out of that shift, the idea for Mirrored Media was born.
What did the first steps look like?
I made it to the finals of a business plan competition at Pepperdine, which first signaled that I may actually have a viable idea. After a chance meeting with world-renowned film composer Hans Zimmer and his partner Steve Kofsky, along with angel investor Vaden Saunders, I presented my vision to them and they bought in. Hans and Steve emptied out a broom closet in their Santa Monica campus and invited me in to start my business and work toward a proof of concept.
Roughly 11 years ago, I began by producing some small events for MTV and Extreme Music for Hype Night, which helped me get my feet wet in the world of events. But my big break came from a pitch for the brand new Acura ILX launch.
My pitch included many of the core ideas that Mirrored Media is based on, with experiential music elements, projection mapping, shareable content and other stunning visual creative. Once we got the bid, I frantically began hiring people and figuring out a way to actually execute this massive project I was now responsible for. It was insanely overwhelming, but not only did I pull it off, it remains one of my most proud executions in the 10-year history of Mirrored.
What was one hard obstacle to overcome?
While I had plenty of creative drive and experience, I was less savvy on the business side of things. Without working at an agency before starting Mirrored Media, I had to learn many of the intricacies of being an entrepreneur and traditional agency practices on the fly, including budget steering, timelines, account management, payment cycles, and more.
While I was figuring out how to execute large-scale campaigns, I was working through the challenges of the financial side, which was definitely my biggest learning curve. I was having to front many costs for campaigns with so much uncertainty around client payment cycles and how that process worked. I vividly remember being on a tour at the very beginning of Mirrored, brought to tears in a stairwell because I had no idea how we were going to pay our vendors and staff the next day. But like everything else along my journey, I found a solution because I believed I could.
What was easier than you thought?
The creative process came pretty naturally to me. Initially, I feared that I would get caught up in a cycle of repeating concepts to different clients. However, I realized that we were often catering to a millennial target audience, so as a millennial myself, I envisioned creative concepts that I would want to experience. I never limited myself creatively, and that helped me expand to different verticals of clients and executions. It became easier and easier to cater to each individual client and project without thinking about practicality first.
What's something you learned along the way that other people, hoping to do something similar, should know?
Just because it's your first time doing something, it doesn't mean you can't succeed. Expect to hear "no" more than "yes." From the beginning, I would get tasked with an objective that was totally new or foreign to me, and I didn't let it phase me. I dove in head first and figured out a way. Try everything. Take risks.
I also learned that you can never underestimate the power of a strong network. As cliché as it sounds, you should never stop building and expanding on your network. By forming relationships with like-minded peers, you will always have a support system in place to get you through any situation. Recently during the pandemic, I helped form the Experiential Guild of America with some of my current and former "competitors," who have now become some of my closest allies.
Did anyone or anything inspire you along the way?
I continue to be inspired every day, and I actually find that all of the people from my past "lives" are catalysts to my success now. I find inspiration from former colleagues from the worlds of magic, theater, music, performance art, and more that drive me to create immersive experiences that keep people in-world.
Growing up around the Magic Castle, I had the opportunity to have close relationships with renowned creatives like Neil Patrick Harris and Derek DelGaudio, both of whom are amazing examples of people who developed narrative experiences from their passions. Delgaudio's methods of creating experiences through magic have been especially inspiring for me.
Though I have never worked with her, artist and stage designer Es Devlin has done some incredible things blending music, design, and unique materials to create a narrative-based experience that works both in-person and visually via photo and video pieces.
Additionally, Walt Disney has long been an inspiration of mine, but more recently, my business partners and mentors are a constant source of encouragement and support, including Hans Zimmer, former head of Disney Interactive Steve McBeth, and Steve Kofsky.
What has this fundamentally changed for you?
The shift from performer to manager to creative agency owner has brought with it a substantial lifestyle change—mostly in the form of less and less free time—but also a host of benefits. Even though I am running an agency, I get to stay within the worlds of entertainment that I love so much. I'm still a Magic Castle member and I remain in touch both personally and professionally with many of those people. I have often hired my Cirque friends to perform at events I produce, and I still work alongside my music industry and management contacts every day in one way or another. I have been able to remain enveloped in the world I love but in a different context. I actually find it a bit empowering because I can now hire and work with many of the same people who inspired me over a decade ago along my journey.
Through my reinvention, I have also been lucky enough to have multiple perspectives on the agency/client/brand relationship. Having worked as a talent manager, I've seen first-hand the inconsistencies in communication styles between agencies and musicians. When working with musicians, artists, actors, and other entertainers, I am able to see things from their perspectives that others aren't able to see, allowing me to have a clear approach from both sides.
As Mirrored Media has grown, the influencer world has exploded. Because of my experience as a grassroots manager, I have been able to help aspiring influencers on the rise and developed trusted relationships with them, as I am able to help bridge the inherent gap between brands and influencers.
Do you think you could go back/do you want to?
Yes, but with a caveat. The path I have chosen allows me to remain in the worlds I love so much, which means I'm not really looking back as much as I am moving forward. I'm still part of each of those communities, but can devote myself full-time to this company I've built.
I love taking clients and friends to the Magic Castle, Cirque performances, concerts, and exclusive experiences. I even incorporate magic into many of the things I do now. We recently had a company happy hour with a client that turned into me doing magic via Zoom for our clients. It was a little reminder that while I may be fully devoted to Mirrored Media, all of the things I've loved in my past are still very much a part of it. Sure, I sometimes miss doing more magic shows, but knowing how much time and dedication it takes to craft those narratives, it's just not in the cards right now (pun intended).
But in the end, I love the journey I'm on right now, and thankfully I get to integrate all of my previous lives into what I do now. We've really just scratched the surface of what Mirrored Media can become.
Tell us your reinvention song.
"Already Home" by Jay-Z. So much of it speaks to the challenges you face as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. I especially love the lyric:
And as for the critics, tell me I don't get it
Everybody can tell you how to do it, they never did it
There will always be someone feeding you negativity and coming up with reasons why your ideas won't work. But you have to persevere, trust your gut, and believe in yourself. Especially if you are taking a risk and doing something different. Nobody ever changed the world by playing it safe.
The old adage always rings true: There are 40 million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.
How would you define yourself now?
While my primary role is founder/CEO of Mirrored Media, I remain active in a handful of other endeavors. I'm a board member for Project Survival Cat Haven, an amateur circus performer, and quasi-professional magician. But at the end of the day, I am a creative at my core.
Recently I am most proud of leading Mirrored Media's pivot to a heavy focus on producing digital content. Pre-pandemic, digital was a fraction of our business, but now we have installed a premium digital content studio in the office and continue to produce digital streams, panels, virtual conferences, and other content that will help expand our business long after the pandemic is over. We bring the same immersive experiential approach to digital content that we do for in-person events. We continue to expand and reinvent our creative methods for all kinds of clients and I love being able to bring that narrative-based storytelling approach to all of our clients and guests.