by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | January 01, 2014
TechCrunch: Events become a profit center
TechCrunch Disrupt, where ideas for new companies and products with a technological bent are presented, has become one of Silicon Valley's most eagerly anticipated events. It was launched in 2007 by TechCrunch, a news website focused on technology, at its San Francisco headquarters. The show grew so big -- more than 3,000 registered to attend last year's September event -- it had to be moved to the San Francisco Design Center. In October 2013, the first European edition was held in Berlin, with just as many tech-minded attendees each paying more than 1,000 euros (nearly US$1,400) for a chance to present their start-up ideas.

Interviewed on-site in Berlin by Time magazine, Ned Desmond, chief operating officer of TechCrunch, said creating an event business was a significant strategic move for the company. "Right out of the gate, it was very successful and profitable," he noted. "Events are a perfect fit for our market." - C.A.S.
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In 2010, Caroline Waxler was just months into the job as director of digital content for hip style/shopping magazine Lucky when she decided to shake things up a bit. She conceptualized and launched the publication's first-ever branded event -- the Lucky Fashion and Beautify Blogger Conference, or Lucky FABB. It proved to be a game-changer.

The one-day gathering, held in New York City, brought together some 250 fashion bloggers -- by invitation only -- who got the chance to mingle with the creative minds behind iconic brands such as Coach, Bergdorf Goodman and J.Crew. The frenzy of blogosphere buzz that followed the event added some serious muscle to the publication's online presence and image. It also created a huge new revenue stream for parent company Condé Nast and set off a stampede among other consumer publications, from Bloomberg Businessweek to Town & Country, eager to follow suit and launch their own high-profile branded events.  

"We wanted more attention from the bloggers, so I said, let's create a conference and invite them, and they paid to come," says Waxler. "Our sponsors were in the same boat as us. They really wanted to meet our attendees and introduce them personally to their products, so they immediately jumped onboard the idea. It was over-subscribed from the get-go and generated a lot of revenue."

The Lucky FABB conference has since morphed into a twice-yearly event and one of the hottest tickets on both coasts, with attendees shelling out $300 and more to rub elbows with designer powerhouses and get the inside scoop -- not to mention outrageous swag -- on the latest fashion and beauty trends before they hit the stores.

Since November 2012, Waxler has been festival director for New York City's hugely popular four-day annual Internet Week, celebrating Internet-based business and culture. The event drew some 45,000 attendees to 250 different related gatherings across the city last May. And just last month, she launched her own event company, Harkness Hall. Its client list already includes a heady number of Fortune 500 publication clients eager for advice on creating branding strategy, not to mention the ongoing Internet Week.

"Live events is where media is going right now," notes Waxler. "Both traditional print and digital publications want to connect and interact with their readers. Yes, they all have comment sections, and yes, they all send out tweets. But there is no better way to touch readers than to get to know them at a live event."

The lure of live
The same year Waxler launched the Lucky FABB conference, Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and, most recently, The Daily Beast, kicked off her hugely successful Women in the World summit at Lincoln Center in New York City. Last September, Brown stunned the publishing world when she announced she was leaving The Daily Beast to form her own event company, Tina Brown Live Media, and taking the celebrity-studded Women in the World with her.  

"It has been wonderful to grow the Women in the World summit into such a powerful independent brand within The Daily Beast, and now it will be even more exciting to see how it can expand and develop," Brown said in an official press release.

The above events, and the dozens like it that have proliferated in recent years, are based on a simple business model: When marketers and the people they want to reach get together, it's mutually beneficial. And, when attendance is by invitation only, and the agenda features truly creative and innovative people to headline panels and lead discussions, the power -- and profits -- are magnified.

In the past two years alone, the numbers of media companies staging live events to extend their brand reach has grown exponentially. And, while these gatherings might not yet command the revenue generating power of a TED conference (the 2014 iteration cost $7,400 to attend, sold out months in advance and has a waiting list of thousands), they provide a new, reliable source of revenue that has become increasingly critical, especially as traditional print advertising revenues wane.