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It’s a Wrap: Key Takeaways from FestForums and XLIVE


It’s the end of the year, a time to look back at the wins, losses, innovations, and lessons learned within the live events industry. For those of us that made it out to a few key industry conferences, including FestForums in Santa Barbara and XLIVE in Las Vegas, we all had a chance to share insights, discuss experiences, and look at what’s ahead for 2018. Whether you made it to either, both, or neither of the conferences, here’s a look at some of the key takeaways I gleaned that I’d like to share; the topics and areas of focus that will be on my radar going into next year.

Good is the New Cool (FestForums):

Afdhel Aziz delivered the final presentation of the FestForum conference just prior to the Coen Brothers interview with T Bone Burnett. As an award-winning brand marketer for P&G, Heineken, and Nokia, and former Director of Absolut Labs, Aziz has orchestrated and experienced many an activation in the biz and marketing world. His message to the audience coincided with his new book, “Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn,” which presents why it’s essential for brands to operate with a sense of purpose.

After leading and completing the worldwide New Year’s Eve live broadcast for Nokia, which took place in five countries and featured superstars like Rihanna and John Legend, and overcoming unheard obstacles like hurricane winds and a riot, he felt “Nothing. I should have been feeling joy that we pulled off this ridiculously complicated thing.” He couldn’t help wondering if he’d just blown $30 million dollars of Nokia’s money, and if it was for egoic reasons. “For my own vanity. What if I had spent that $30 million dollars on something that made a difference to society? It haunts me to this day, and it’s part of the reason I decided to write this book.” 

Aziz outlined how business, and especially the music business, in partnership with culture, can be a force for good. Aziz highlighted examples of how this socially-centered approach has seen success with brands like Warby Parker, who to date has donated over 2 million pairs of glasses to people in need across the globe. He presented statistics showing how the target audience for festivals, music, and concerts really do care where brands stand socially and ethically in the world, and how Etsy, Patagonia, and Ben & Jerry’s operate with a combination of “Commerce, Culture, and Conscience.” From the book, Aziz states, “We believe we are witnessing a seismic shift in popular culture–one where doing ‘Good’ has become its own form of ‘Cool,’ creating a unique opportunity for brands, nonprofits, and artists to learn from each other and work together.”

For David Beame, global director, events and experiences for Global Citizen, “Hunger relief has been in our DNA from day 1,” he stated during the session on Purposeful Festivals. To date, their organization, working in partnership with NGOs and corporate brand partners, have produced live events, launched grassroots and digital campaigns, all resulting in raising billions of financial aid that has impacted the lives of over a billion people.


Evolving the Festival Experience While Building Fan Brand Loyalty (XLIVE):

I’ve known Tucker Gumber, aka The Festival Guy, for a number of years now, mainly from having attended these live events conferences, and one thing is for sure: he’s very dedicated to the art of enjoying festivals. That’s what drove him to dedicate many years of his time, money, and sweat equity to launching his company, FestEvo, and two books – The Festival Throwers Bible and The Festival Goer’s Guide – targeted at all the stakeholders, from the festival throwers themselves and performing artists, to the fans, sponsors, and the vendors that make festival going better and easier.

Tucker’s session at XLIVE was packed as he went slide by slide, offering tips to the festival organizing audience from the perspective of a person who has traveled the world and experienced the highs and lows of being a festival fan. The goal was to get across all the ways festival organizations can design their festival so fans will delight in the experience and return year after year, pointing out that competition has only grown,

“You’re one bad festival away from not selling tickets for the next year. This year’s festival is your marketing for next year.”

Some of the basics that may be overlooked include ensuring there are many free water stations, not only for convenience but also for fan safety (especially as climate change patterns increase the summer heat), along with shade and places to sit and rest. In the category of “small and cheap can go a long way,” having lighting in the porta potties is a must, otherwise, things can get, shall we say, messy, and that’s what “nightmares are made of.” Keeping your festival clean is as simple as having numerous trashcans available. If a festival goer takes plenty of time to get to the site and is met with horrible traffic and hours to get in, chances are they won’t be back. If a festival is known for having really long lines or difficulty getting around the grounds, bad news will travel. See art installations as your festival’s billboard, providing increased opportunities for social media UGC (user generated content) to drive free brand awareness and fan engagement.

One of the key points, critical to operational awareness was to be a fan at your own festival, acting like a secret shopper by getting out of the operations trailer or backstage and actually walk the grounds, seeing how the crowd is flowing, go into the porta potties, and get into the audience and hear the sound. This enables the tweaking and fixing of issues during the festival versus reading about it on social media after the fact.

Tucker also pointed out the need for the Festival Goers Guide, which is a benefit to both festival fans and the promoter by providing music fans with tips on festival etiquette, something that is lacking in the space. Etiquette exists in sports like bowling, skiing, and golf, and because festival going is a group experience, there should be a set of guidelines we can all abide by that permeates respect for one another so everyone has a good time.

Check out the newly launched FestEvo app, a first-of-its-kind, must-have app for both die-hard and newbie festival fans that enables you to see current AND past festival lineups (amazing!), actually listen to those performing artists via your favorite streaming platform, and then rank them, which provides feedback and exposure for those artists. This earns you FestEvo Membership Reward “props” (similar to frequent flyer miles) you can use to get discounts on festival gear sold on‘s online store, entry into contests and raffles, and ways to fest for free. There’s also a community element, enabling you to socially connect with old and new friends so you don’t miss those festival connections. The cost to join FestEvo starts at only $10 annually and includes the festival goers guidebook.

Check out “Festival Thrower’s Bible – Sponsorship Best Practices,” with the sponsorship chapter provided by yours truly.


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Sponsorships and Delighting Audiences (FestForums):

The Kaaboo Festival has taken sponsorship activations to the next level to cultivate relationships with their audience year-round by creating fun social media and email marketing campaigns, such as a partnership with Kettle Chips to celebrate National Potato Chip day. Brands are always looking for ways to converse with their audiences, but can’t always do that directly with any success. Would you rather open an email from American Express, expecting that it’s a bill, or from Kaaboo? “How many people really want to follow your credit card bank online?” Chris Racan, vice president of business development for Kaaboo, asked rhetorically. “[The brand] found really cool ways to get themselves integrated [with their audience] by planning with us. The idea is to take a brand that’s so not sexy or cool and making it really cool,” including experiential campaigns and creative ways of enabling a brand to weave themselves into music fan memories.

By delivering live streaming to over 2 million viewers, Racan’s team were able to anonymously capture that user data and remarket to those viewers, promoting campaigns such as a chance to win Kaaboo tickets, sponsored by Toyota. Those campaigns were then designed to drive actual foot traffic into dealerships in addition to digital traffic to the sponsor’s website. By using tracking pixels, they can see the user journey’s path and attribution, generating valuable insights reporting for both their internal team and for brand partners. Brian McCue, director of sales and sponsorships at Winmo, also shared how his company connects organizations like Kaaboo with brand marketing decision-makers, helping to bring those sponsorship deals together.



Data! Data! Data! (XLIVE):

The topic of data continues to be a hot one in any industry, and during XLIVE there were a few key conversations that proved progress has been made, enabling stakeholders to more efficiently glean actionable insights to effect change and impact success.

The first was Umbel’s Data & Analytics Workshop, which delivered three presentations, each with unique perspectives on how data is being used in the live events space to accomplish various KPIs for their clients. Customer Marketing Manager for Umbel, Jarrett Nobles, presented how their client, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), was manually attempting to merge data from Mailchimp and Ticketmaster to cultivate their audience and create campaigns. Post-Umbel implementation, TIFF was able to easily launch 31 activations, resulting in 15,433 new TIFF fans added to their database, with a 75% opt-in rate for providing social data on preferences and affinities, including film, actors, food, and brands. Their weekly newsletter also grew by over 1,000 as did their pre-sale ticket revenue, reaching $228,000. 

During the session I moderated, Live Streaming Best Practices for Promoters and Brands, Eddie Vaca, founder and CEO of AmpLive, described how his company amplifies webcasts in successful ways by utilizing data sets across their 300 publishers while enabling brand sponsors to know who’s viewing the content. “We’re collecting all that viewer data in real time. We present that back in a form the brand can easily digest and take action against.” One example would be, targeting a millennial audience, but only females in specific cities. “The brand really loves the content, yes. But what they really like is turning that viewer into a customer.”

Daniel Gibbs, director of visual media for C3 Presents, jumped in, “What’s really valuable too is we can share it with an artist,” so if his team sees that viewership peaked during a certain song within the live stream set, they can let that artist know the song really resonated with fans.

Taking it a step further, Vaca pointed out how Live Nation uses live streaming specifically to collect viewer data to sell more tickets, using the attribution model example: a New York-based viewer is watching the webcast of Beyonce’s show in taking place in Los Angeles. That viewer is then  served up an ad to see Queen Bey’s show when it comes to New York. “Live Nation is one of the best marketers and re-marketers in the entertainment space that I’ve ever seen,” he stated.

Speaking of Live Nation, Matt Belkin, business development, media and sponsorship at Live Nation, was explaining during the Ultimate Fan Experiences session, how the organization is implementing fan-oriented technology initiatives after years of acquisitions of both venue and event properties. In Live Nation’s 30 amphitheaters, “Fans need to connect. If they can’t connect, they can’t have in-seat ordering,” which led them to installing fan-facing Wi-Fi in all those venues. No doubt there are now more opportunities for data collection and analytics of those fans and their F&B preferences.

During the same session, Anika Grant, director of client services for Essence Festival, explained how they used data to determine hot-button interests, such as beauty, of their fans in order to best align beauty-centered sponsors to weave into the festival experience. In her position as director of digital strategy at the Country Music Association, Meryl Johnson discussed how their digital data capture and analysis enables brands to understand the country music consumer. “We’re also trying to understand how that country consumer crosses over so that we can create more opportunities in the mainstream. That includes creating more opportunities with brands,” said Johnson.


After the New Year and the holiday hangover has waned, I’ll be diving into the progress of other key areas in the live events space, including the integration of AR and VR in brand activation, fan engagement, and content creation (especially excited to see Magic Leap’s Litewear hit the shelves), the potential impact of blockchain-based event management platforms, and having many more discussions with the industry’s leaders and innovators. Until then, Happy Holidays to everyone – and subscribe to TheConnected.Buzz weekly newsletter!


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