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LOS ANGELES After four successful years in New York, New York magazine’s Vulture Festival expanded to the west coast for the first time this year. Held from November 18 to 19 at various locations around Los Angeles, the new iteration brought together thousands of pop-culture fanatics to see a discussion with The Disaster Artist stars James and Dave Franco, a political conversation with Sarah Silverman and columnist Frank Rich, a Clone High reunion, and more.
“We reached a point where we felt really comfortable with how the New York festival was growing, and we knew there was interest from sponsors, talent, and consumers in expanding,” explained Jesse David Fox, a senior editor at Vulture—New York’s entertainment news arm—who curated content for the festival. “We realized that a lot of people live in Los Angeles who we’d want at our festival, so [expanding to L.A.] was really a no-brainer.”
Fox did note, however, that being in Los Angeles—and in the fall, as opposed to the May event in New York—caused some inherent changes. “I do think there was a bit more of an eye towards film because we were in L.A. and because we’re in awards season,” he said. “That was very much intentional, to have it be a complement to awards season—as opposed to the New York event, which is held closer to Upfronts and is naturally more television-focused.”
The move to California, and subsequent venue changes, also caused the festival to take on a different vibe. While the New York event is primarily held in a raw space in Manhattan, organizers wanted to bring a more star-studded, historical feel to the Los Angeles edition. Most panels were held at the iconic Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, with various sponsor activations happening throughout the pool area, outdoor bars, and in the Marilyn Monroe suite.
Planners also wanted to take advantage of being in a new city. The magazine's art critic, Jerry Saltz, took attendees on a tour of the Broad museum, while TBS show Search Party organized a scavenger hunt around the city. Other panels were held at the London West Hollywood and the Upright Citizens Brigade theater.
While attendees could buy a ticket to access the entire weekend of programming, most opted to pick and choose various events to attend; many panels cost as little as $25. Regardless of how many panels guests bought tickets to, the New York experiential team—which produced and designed the festival—wanted to make every attendee feel like a V.I.P.
“We moved guests to V.I.P. seating whenever we could, and we made sure every guest had time to hang out in the lounge [area at the Hollywood Roosevelt] and that they walked away with photos and fun gifts,” explained Pam Norwood, general manager of experiential marketing for New York. “We also had an amazing DJ lineup throughout the weekend to set the tone, and everyone who attended a session got a complimentary cocktail at the bar.”
Sponsors also tried to make guests feel like V.I.P.s. JetBlue surprised random fans with special front-row seating—in cushy airplane seats—and AT&T had a photo booth that embedded guests’ faces alongside the festival’s talent. “We loved putting guests in the middle of the action,” said Norwood.
The lounge was activated by AT&T, which had the largest footprint on the festival. In addition to creating a blue carpet and lounge seating in its trademark white and blue colors, the brand offered charging stations and a signature cocktail. AT&T also promoted its relationship with DirecTV and DirecTV Now by screening episodes of new shows on plasma screens outside. Other lounge highlights included a branded ping-pong table, hedges spelling out the word “Vulture,” and DJ sets by Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest.
Organizers began planning the Los Angeles event soon after the third edition of the New York festival, in 2016. “It was important for me, on the curatorial side, to plan them simultaneously and have rolling conversations with talent and sponsors,” explained Fox. “When someone said they were unavailable for New York, we could offer them L.A.”
While future editions in Los Angeles are still being discussed, Norwood and Fox both hope that the festival can continue to expand. “As we're a web-only property, [Vulture Festival] is really our way to connect with people, to be a physical thing they can touch and live in,” said Fox. “It’s about creating community. You want people to enjoy the brand and be around other people who enjoy the brand. It’s a different sort of connection than you get by just knowing that they shared an article on Twitter. People are more complicated than that, and we want to have a more rich relationship with them.”