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Media and Meetings

Why major publishing companies are bolstering their events business

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.

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.

Wired: Health hits the right note
In May 2012, Condé Nast's Wired magazine announced to much hype that it was launching the Wired Live Expo. The gathering would showcase what was next in the worlds of science, technology, music, fashion, cars and more. It was predicted to draw 50,000 attendees to the Washington D.C. Convention Center the following November. But two months later, Wired pulled the plug on the event because exhibitors were unwilling to commit.

Just one week later, Wired announced a new event, the Wired Health Conference: Living by the Numbers, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The invite-only conference, designed to bring leaders in health care, science and technology together, proved so successful that the company held another sold-out conference last November at the Andaz Wall Street hotel in New York City, and more will follow. - C.A.S.

"Live events are a powerful business model," says Adam Japko, president of Norcross, Ga.-based DigitalSherpa, an Internet marketing firm that has launched several conferences in the past year. Japko plans to keep adding more vertical content and social media marketing events, because they generate revenue and profit. "All of our events are for bloggers and manufactures that want to meet them," he notes. "The opportunity to meet in real life the people you connect with on a daily basis online is priceless. If I can bring 250 decision makers together and charge my sponsors $50,000, that's a powerful model."

In 2011, The New York Times organized one branded conference; just two years later, it held 16. Fortune magazine, which is expanding its Most Powerful Women Summit globally, says revenue from live events is increasing at a rate of about 60 percent annually. And last October, Hearst Magazines held a gathering at its New York City headquarters to announce it would be launching several new live events for its publications, including two Cosmopolitan-branded conferences in 2014, Cosmo Live and Cosmo for Latinas Live, each of which aims to draw upward of 2,000 attendees. Also jumping into the fray is Town & Country, which will host its first Philanthropy Summit in New York City this April.

For its part, Bloomberg Businessweek magazine hosted its first annual Bloomberg Businessweek Design conference last January, a sold-out, one-day event held in San Francisco that drew some 250 top business leaders and creative designers together to "discuss ways design makes the world better, smarter and more innovative," according to conference literature. Coverage of select sessions was made available across several Bloomberg platforms, including Bloomberg TV, Businessweek.com, as well as the company's presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Such goings-on are prime fodder for deliberation at the Vail Roundtable, a 21-year-old annual think-tank conference for media leaders where total attendance is limited to just 65, and the $1,795 registration fee buys participants a chance to debate, discuss and share case studies on strategies for surviving in a digital age.

At the August 2012 gathering in the Colorado ski mecca, a panel led by Jason Taylor, president of the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Tennessee, was dedicated to the topic of how live events not only increase a media brand's market share, but have the potential to be a huge money maker. Taylor revealed that his paper's events division had gone from zero dollars four years previously to generating an anticipated $6 million in 2013, by launching a series of live events ranging from bridal, home and landscape fairs to senior expos, all targeted at corresponding segments of the paper's readership.

Fully 40 percent of the newspaper industry's revenue now comes from nonadvertising sources, including event marketing, according to a recent study conducted by the Arlington, Va.-based Newspaper Association. The American Newspaper Media Industry Revenue Profile 2012 (naa.org), released April 2013, is based on detailed data provided by 300 publications.

The next step: global
Revenue isn't the only upside to live events. They generate brand awareness and social media chatter, which leads to greater readership and ultimately brand extension across multiple platforms -- not to mention multiple time zones.

Condé Nast Traveler, already a household name in the leisure travel world, is the perfect example of a traditional print publication looking to extend its brand image overseas to newly emerging luxury markets. In October 2013, two years after debuting the publication in Russia, management announced plans to launch an exclusive luxury travel fair in Moscow in March 2014. Condé Nast Traveler, which has seven editions globally (and an eighth, in the Middle East, in the works) plans to roll out several more luxury fairs around the world.

In announcing the launch, Nicholas Coleridge, president of Condé Nast International, called it "the start of something completely new: a business-to-business event bringing travel service professionals together with high-end consumers to discuss and discover new ideas and ways of doing business."

Northstar: Face-to-face rules
M&C parent company Northstar Travel Media has long recognized the value of face-to-face events; the very concept is the foundation of its brands. In the Northstar Meetings Group alone, which includes M&C, Successful Meetings, MeetingNews and Incentive, the number of branded face-to-face events has grown from 10 to 15 since 2010, and event revenue increased by 118 percent during that same period. "Our ability to build connections is our strength," notes Angela Cox, CMP, group director of meetings and events. "The formal and informal networking that occurs is our strength. Our events have the personality of our brands." For details, see mcmag.com/events. - Loren G. Edelstein

For her part, Tina Brown has announced plans to expand the Women in the World summit onto a global platform. Last year, she road-tested the event in Brazil and currently is working to hold one in India.

Also taking her women's lifestyle conference global is Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post. In June 2013, some 340 invited guests, including actress Candice Bergen, senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and Democratic Sen. Clair McCaskill of Missouri, squeezed into Huffington's apartment in New York City's trendy downtown Tribeca neighborhood for the inaugural The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power. Panelists held forth on topics ranging from "Managing a Frenetic Life" to "Wellness and the Bottom Line."

Three weeks later, the conference moved to London. The Huffington Post plans to host three additional events this spring, including one in Germany, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning publication soon will be launching. Currently on the drawing board are new regional editions -- along with Third Metric gatherings -- in Brazil, India and South Korea.

Making it work
Launching an event, says Caroline Waxler, is a little like throwing a party for several hundred people you don't know, and then holding your breath and wondering if anyone will show up. In her role at Harkness Hall, Waxler helps client media companies create events by matching them with partners and sponsors that complement their brand. While she works with a small group of colleagues, she's a strong believer in reaching out to third parties, especially in areas such as logistics. "I contract with the right people, and that makes me stronger in my role," she says. "Sometimes, the clients you are working with have the people you need in-house, and that's a huge plus."

Similarly, Tina Brown organizes her Women in the World summit with a core unit of planners and outsources the technology aspects of the events.

Condé Nast Traveler knows well the value of using local resources overseas, and its inaugural luxury travel fair in the Russian capital is being shepherded by Moscow-based event director Viktor Dimitrov.

For Internet Week, which launched six years ago in conjunction with the City of New York to showcase the Big Apple as a premier technology destination, the focus has shifted as the event has grown, from a community-based cultural gathering to one where business deals take place on the spot. Even more exciting, says Waxler, is the increasing number of international attendees Internet Week is attracting. Last year's event drew people from dozens of countries, including Brazil, Peru and Sweden.

"As we move more and more of our lives online, there is a simultaneous counter-movement to be physically and mentally present," says Waxler. "That's the increasing appeal of live events, which I think is only going to get more important."