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How Magazines Are Rethinking Their Events

As print advertising declines, publishers are looking to new event models for added revenue.

New York magazine's Vulture Festival was profitable in its first year. It included a pop culture trivia game with cast members from Orange Is the New Black, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and New Girl.
New York magazine's Vulture Festival was profitable in its first year. It included a pop culture trivia game with cast members from Orange Is the New Black, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and New Girl.
Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for New York Magazine

This is the third column by Chad Kaydo (@ChadKaydo), BizBash’s former editor in chief and the founder and editor of The X Letter, a website and newsletter about experiences, brands, and culture. Chad’s column appears biweekly.

Travel & Leisure hosted two events in New York last week.

Neither looked much like its best-known gathering, the World’s Best Awards party. For that lavish annual spectacle, the magazine has built an African safari tent camp on the Hudson River and wooden decks over the Lincoln Center reflecting pool.

But you don’t see that kind of publishing blowout so often these days.

On June 4 Travel & Leisure and its Time Inc. siblings Food & Wine and Departures put on an evening of panels at the New Museum about marketing to the next generation of affluent consumers, sponsored by Celebrity Cruises.

On June 5 the magazine produced EuroPop, a showcase for the European Travel Commission to promote 23 destinations at tables offering local dishes and travel information.

While Travel & Leisure has long hosted a mix of large and small events to promote its own brand as well as its marketing partners, last week’s events showed slight shifts in the magazine’s approach.

“What made them different is that they are all about content,” says Pamela Norwood, Travel & Leisure’s vice president and associate publisher of marketing. They also had different business plans.

The Celebrity Cruises event followed the more traditional model: an event hosted for no charge, as “added value” for a big advertiser. For EuroPop, the travel commission paid the magazine a fee to produce the event—something that never would have happened just a few years ago. “It used to be strictly added value, but the scale has changed so much that we really need to charge fees now,” Norwood says. “Every publishing company is looking at ways to drive incremental revenue.”

You can probably guess why publishers are looking for extra cash. Last week PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted consumer magazine print ad revenue would continue to decline this year; overall revenue will be flat. Travel & Leisure parent Time Inc., the largest United States magazine publisher, has seen revenue decline for 22 of the past 24 quarters, and it spun off from Time Warner and started trading as a separate stock on Monday.

(Norwood says Travel & Leisure’s ad numbers are up from last year, and event fees are still a small part of its revenue: She estimates that the magazine charges clients fees for only 10 percent of its events.)

As publishers search for new revenue streams, many media brands are launching ambitious new events and changing the way they approach advertisers who sponsor them and readers who attend.

Last week Wired announced a project called Wired by Design, a “live magazine” with planned appearances by Yahoo C.E.O. Marissa Meyer, chef David Chang, and designer Yves Behar. Invitations are $4,500.

Today, Northside Media, the publisher of The L Magazine and Brooklyn magazine, kicks off the fifth annual Northside Festival, with concerts, film screenings, an Innovation Conference, and a trade show—it has been described as a Brooklyn-based mini South by Southwest.

In May New York magazine hosted its first Vulture Festival, two days of panels, performances, and screenings built around the magazine’s culture site, Vulture.

Also in May Crain Communications, publisher of Ad Age and Crain’s New York Business, produced Internet Week New York for the second time. It bought a stake in the event in 2012.

These events do what magazines have always done—deliver stories and marketing messages to a specific audience—but they also show how publishers are experimenting with different platforms and business models. Here are some of the ways publishers are rethinking what their events can achieve.

1. Events can be profitable revenue streams.
“Here at New York it is our intention going into these events that they be profitable enterprises,” says New York publisher Larry Burstein. The magazine, which is independently owned, also puts on a wedding showcase and Taste of New York, a restaurant tasting event. Burstein says both are profitable and growing.

For the first Vulture Festival, all sponsors—including Fiji, Stella Artois, and Joe Fresh—paid to participate. “We were profitable in the first year,” Burstein says. “We will definitely do it next year.” For now, events make up only a single-digit percentage of the company’s revenue, but Burstein expects to continue looking at new models.

Fairchild Fashion Media, the Condé Nast division that publishes Women’s Wear Daily and other retail trades, earns a profit from its Fairchild Summits. The 2014 WWD Beauty CEO Summit in May was the biggest in its 10-year history, and Fairchild launched new events in Los Angeles and London in the past year.

“While we don't disclose percentage of total revenue, the Summits division is a significant revenue contributor to Fairchild and an integral part of our business,” says Fairchild chief marketing officer Melissa Brecher. All sponsorships are paid, not added value.

2. Events can be content platforms.
I've already written about how content is a major trend in events right now. Conferences and other kinds of events let editors use their sources and storytelling skills in new ways, develop assets that can be used in print and online, and even make news in other outlets.

Fairchild offers on-demand video from its summits for attending executives to share with their teams back at the office.

Vulture posted stories and videos from its festival—and got plenty of media attention when Solange performed just days after her videotaped elevator fight with brother-in-law Jay Z.

3. Events can win over new advertisers.
Burstein says New York was already talking to Persol about advertising, but the sunglasses brand didn’t commit until it heard the Vulture Festival pitch. “When you put something very concrete like this on the table, it helps their understanding of what New York and Vulture have to offer,” he says.

4. Events can get additional money from existing advertisers.
While some advertisers need to be weaned from expecting to get event sponsorships as added value, Burstein says New York advertisers now expect bundled deals with costs attached to digital, print, and event elements. 

5. Events can be powerful marketing tools.
Over cocktails before the Celebrity Cruises panels last week, Travel & Leisure publisher Jay Meyer said advertisers are looking for more events. One reason: Travel and hospitality brands are selling experiences, and events let them give attendees a taste of that experience.

While you’re unlikely to hear a publishing executive say live experiences are better promotional vehicles than magazine ads, events do allow publishers to deliver product samples and brand experiences directly to consumers. Vulture Festival sponsors Eli, Fiji, and Stella Artois wanted to get their coffee, water, and beer in the hands of the pop culture enthusiast attendees. The Viceroy Hotel wanted the talent appearing on panels to stay at the property.

Burstein says those opportunities are leading magazines to explore more new options: “It is about the power of events, and how they can bring the concept we go out with every day to life in a very tangible way.”

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