Q&A: How 'Teen Vogue' Is Shaking Up the Traditional Conference Format

Erica Boeke, the vice president of experiences for Condé Nast’s experiential arm, discusses how the inaugural Teen Vogue Summit's message will live beyond the two-day event in Los Angeles.

By Claire Hoffman October 23, 2017, 7:00 AM EDT

Photo: Andrew Noel for Teen Vogue/23 Stories

Teen Vogue has recently garnered national attention for its smart, frank discussions on politics. So the timing was right for the Condé Nast property to expand beyond the pages and into live events. But the inaugural Teen Vogue Summit, to be held December 1 to 2 in Los Angeles, will be anything but a traditional conference.

In addition to a series of workplace immersions, hands-on workshops, creative brand partnerships, and eclectic speakers, the brand is taking some untraditional steps to make the content accessible to a wide variety of people. Five mini summits—dubbed “meet-ups”—will take place around the country this fall before the main event, and Teen Vogue will also give away free summit tickets to 50 applicants.

Erica Boeke, the vice president of experiences for 23 Stories—Condé Nast’s experiential arm—gave BizBash a sneak peek at the inaugural gathering.

First of all, how exactly does 23 Stories fit into Condé Nast?
23 Stories has always been our in-house agency, but it was primarily focused on branded content. But recently, with the acquisition of [experiential agency] Pop2Life and [technology platform] Ribyt in March, it’s really allowed us to broaden our perspective. The cool thing about 23 Stories is that we have a creative team composed of editors—so when you put the lens of really amazing Condé Nast editors on events, you suddenly are starting to have different types of events and different products to offer both consumers and sponsors. … When you bring that editorial perspective to events it’s really when the magic happens.

So how did the idea for the Teen Vogue Summit come about?
Teen Vogue is the quintessential “next-gen” brand, and it is really looking at different ways to express its content. It’s very socially driven, so experiential is just a natural way to go with Teen Vogue. We’ve experimented with a few small brand events at [the Condé Nast offices], and we were really blown away by the excitement from a consumer perspective. … As much as everyone is on their screens and on their phones, I think there is a such a desire for people to be together. 

The interesting thing about Teen Vogue is it shows that a young woman—or boy, or femme, all young people—can be completely multi-dimensional. The magic of the brand is that people can be passionate about style and politics. We love that it runs the gamut. So to create an event surrounding a lot of those interests is really exciting for consumers.

Prior to the December summit, you’re hosting a series of smaller events in Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Austin, and New York. What was the thinking there?
The meet-ups are mini summits, with a little bit of programming, fun icebreakers, a video booth where you talk about how you want to change the world, and short mentoring sessions. Each meet-up has a different personality and a different group of speakers; for example, the Chicago one [which took place on Friday] featured actress and screenwriter Lena Waithe, and we had some really great activism conversations.

Toms Shoes came on as a big partner, and they have some great locations around the country with large programming spaces. So that helped dictate the cities we are going to. It was very important to the Teen Vogue team to spread out across the country as much as possible and have access points for all different types of people who feel passionate about the brand. So we’re all over social, we offer the meet-ups for just $35 [a ticket], we’ll be streaming a lot of key moments for those who can’t make it to Los Angeles.

For the main event, Teen Vogue is underwriting ticket and travel costs for 50 attendees. Can you explain that process?
Tickets to the summit itself range from $299 to $549, so we knew there were going to be a lot of people out there who wanted to experience it but couldn’t. So, with some of our corporate partners and in partnership with a charity called Step Up, we offered 50 spots in what we’re calling a “fellowship” for the summit. We had about 450 applicants, and Step Up will be helping us choose the winners. It was really important that the messaging and content was available to as many types of people as possible. 

“It was very important to have access points for all different types of people who feel passionate about Teen Vogue.”

What type of audience do you expect to draw?
Our average attendee age will likely be around 22 or 23. But even at the Los Angeles meet-up [on October 12], we had a mom there with her 7-year-old, we had a high school student who was starting her own fashion line, we had a group of college students. We also had some young professionals, and people in their late 20s or early 30s who were drawn by the political conversation. It’s more of a mindset [than an age]—that kind of young millennial, Gen Z audience. They’re looking for mission and meaning in every area of their life.

And how did you choose the content and speakers for the meet-ups and the summit?
When we launched the hub of the summit, we asked for feedback and we got around 3,000 responses in the first couple weeks. Teen Vogue really has a two-way communication with attendees, so we said, “We’re doing this summit, we know where and when it is, but tell us what you want to see and hear.” We created a couple word clouds from their answers to see what was popping up in terms of content and speakers, and that really allowed us to inform the program. We built it out based on the feedback.

Walk me through the schedule for the December summit.
We're focusing on three tracks: activism, innovation, and mission-based retail or “fashion with a purpose.” So that gives us a lot of great touch points to create incredible content.

The first day will start and end at the Toms headquarters in Los Angles, and it’s a day of work immersions. We’re breaking the audience up into six or seven groups of 50 people each, and we’re taking them behind the scenes of incredible companies throughout the city like Girlboss Media, Giphy Studios, and Instagram. We’re going to Media Arts Lab, which is Apple’s agency of record; they have a pro-bono client called the One Love Foundation that is devoted to preventing sexual assault. We’re also taking groups behind the scenes at Toms, which is amazing—not only is Toms changing the world through retail, but its headquarters also has two slides! All these companies create their culture and products to really fulfill their missions, and it’s so inspiring [for the young people] to see the different ways people create.

We’ll start the day with a nice breakfast and self-care moment, and end the day with a celebration of the 21 Under 21, an annual list Teen Vogue does celebrating young game changers. Toms will be presenting some of those honorees with checks from its Social Entrepreneurship Fund. It’s a really awesome day that I think will inspire everyone in attendance.

Then, day two takes place at 72andSunny’s headquarters; they’re a really cool creative agency that shares our mission. This will be your more traditional summit. We’ve got a couple of great keynotes, with [Teen Vogue editor in chief] Elaine Welteroth speaking as well as actress and activist Amandla Stenberg, director Ava DuVernay, actress and artist Rowan Blanchard, and more. We wanted to have voices from entertainment, fashion, politics, and activism, so we’ve got an incredible array of speakers and inspiration.

We’ll also have hands-on workshops, where attendees will actually be creating and talking about the importance of art in everything they do, and we’ll have mentor moments. I think just having these young people really listen to how others have forged the way will be super inspiring and exactly what they wanted out of the event.

In addition to Toms and Step Up, which other partners are you working with?
A lot of the traditional event sponsorships are not what Gen Z and millennials want. Those generations are very comfortable with brands, but they don’t want the typical logo on a step-and-repeat. We wanted to bring on partners that have similar missions to us, like Toms. We wanted to find these like-minded partners that really get it and get this audience.

I mentioned 72andSunny, which was a great partner because creativity is their mission; their space is this sprawling campus-like venue with lockers that just felt perfect for this group. LifeWtr is another partner—they have a huge focus on art and creativity, so we’re doing the art workshops with them. PBteen will be bringing in a ton of their furniture, so we’ll have amazing seating vignettes, bean bags, and pillows that have a sort of activism vibe. Playstation will be there to discuss its new focus on girls in gaming. Google Pixel will be there as our streaming partner. And we’re working with all these brands to make sure there are a lot of great social moments throughout the meet-ups and the summit. Good social can turn everyone who attends into a brand ambassador.

So everyone is bringing something really unique that enhances the vibe. We keep going back to that user experience. What is going to make this the coolest event these young people have ever been to?

See photos from 'Teen Vogue's Los Angeles meet-up

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