Event Marketer Magazine was founded in 2002 to serve the information needs of strategic brand-side event marketers and agency executives across the spectrum of face-to-face marketing-including mobile marketing, mall marketing, street events, trade shows, corporate events, proprietary events, virtual events, buzz marketing, p.r. campaigns, sponsorships, business-to-business events and press events.
Meeting rooms equipped for one-on-one meetings was a key element of the brand’s booth strategy.
Toronto-based Collision attracts over 25,000 of the world’s largest buyers and sellers of technology each year, making it a prime setting for tech brands to share the perks of their products with a captive audience. For Engineer.ai, a startup that helps entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life through customized software, North America’s fastest-growing tech conference, this year May 21-24, was an ideal place to exhibit its Builder tool to drive on-site sales. The brand’s strategy ultimately proved to be a success, enabling over 20 platform builds, which add up to more than $1 million in revenue.
Engineer.ai’s Builder product breaks projects into small “building blocks” of reusable AI-powered software features that are customized by a human engineer, giving just about anyone the ability to realize an idea, whether it’s a social app or e-commerce platform, without learning how to code. Playing off of the building blocks concept at Collision, the brand erected a colorful two-story booth featuring modular cubes to facilitate a variety of brand-customer interactions.
Given that Engineer.ai is just over a year old, mass communication was key to its on-site strategy. To that end, the brand built four touch screens into the façade of its booth and held live demos just outside it to draw in passersby. (The brand’s primary sponsorship of Collision’s Pitch startup competition also helped increase visibility.)
“Oftentimes, we’ve found that people might be a little bit timid walking around a conference room floor,” says Lauren Crist, U.S. marketing and communications lead at Engineer.ai. “But the moment we asked them, ‘Have you ever had an idea that you’re looking to build or bring to life,’ everybody said ‘yes.’ So, having those live demos and touch screens externally-facing has really given us a good platform to showcase what we can do for someone early on.”
In addition to brand awareness, cultivating intimate conversations and individual sales meetings was also a chief priority for Engineer.ai. To encourage attendees to schedule one-on-one meetings ahead of the conference, the brand directed them to a microsite where they could pre-book a spec meeting with a product expert. The strategy helped Engineer.ai line up over 50 consultations before the start of the event. On-site, its booth design further promoted individual interactions via two open meeting spaces and five private meeting rooms equipped with computers and screens where brand experts helped customers develop and “spec out” their customized platforms.
“Everyone wants to talk to an expert and be heard, and the power of the product is that they’re able to see, in real time, the cost associated with that and the actual process, so everything’s guaranteed,” says Crist. “Events have been a super powerful way for us to convey that in the digital age where there’s a lot of content online, searching and finding different solutions can be difficult, especially for the audience we’re looking to go after. So, this has been a really powerful channel for us.” Agency: Mirrored Media, Santa Monica, CA.
The booth’s building blocks theme played on the functionality of Engineer.ai’s Builder product.
Live attendees could access a product experience center featuring over 550 Samsung products.
There is a lot at stake with product launch events and, perhaps, a little more so for the biannual Samsung Unpacked. A few fun facts: This year, there were more than 1.5-times the audience that the Oscars pull in viewing the Samsung Unpacked live-stream as it unfolded. That’s 44 million people tuning in virtually throughout the world. And then there were the 3,000 attendees from the media within the event venue, this year at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium arena in San Francisco. Samsung Unpacked 2019 coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Samsung Galaxy phone, and there were more products launched at this flagship event than in any other year (agencyEA, Chicago, handled).
“While the delivery of new product information is at its core, Unpacked is much more than just a straightforward product introduction—it’s an impactful brand showcase,” says John Jeon, senior event producer at Cheil Worldwide, Samsung’s internal marketing group. And so, Samsung needed to provide the live-stream viewers with “an equal to, if not better than” experience than those physically present. “Samsung has a global reach and we wanted to cater to remote viewers in as many locations as possible,” Jeon says.
Here, five insights behind Samsung Unpacked and producing launch events with the physical, and virtual, audience in mind.
According to Jeon, confidentiality is key to building anticipation among members of the media and among brand partners. “To create the ideal product launch experience, no audience members (in-person or online) should be able to predict what’s next. Everything—from the actual products and their attributes to the key show moments and presentation content—is unexpected,” says Jeon.
To help generate buzz, the brand custom-designed invitations and teaser images on Samsung’s social media channels and website. When the physical attendees arrived on-site, they saw generic Samsung Unpacked and Galaxy branding and signage—but during the show, all of the signage was flipped to graphics that revealed the new products launched during the event. So, as attendees exited the auditorium, they had an additional touchpoint in 12-foot-tall imagery of the new Samsung products.
2. Pre-production was a big deal.
The production team included a full content management crew, managers of all the visual and graphic assets, script managers (one for every presenter) and more. There was an offline rehearsal room, too, complete with a teleprompter. And then there were rehearsals for filming, as crews worked out angles for product demos and for the 12 different cameras leveraged for the show, footage that would be live-streamed and edited for on-demand viewing. For the live-stream, the team leveraged multiple streaming platforms, including YouTube, Brightcov and Samsung.com.
3. It was all about the staging and screens.
Big and bold tech specs are a requirement for content to be impactful from the stage on through to the second-screen experience for the audiences viewing the event worldwide. The Samsung Unpacked stage included five different LED-paneled screens (60-feet-long by 40-feet-wide); a main hero screen that stood more than 43-feet-high and 114-feet-long. There were 484 individually rigged kinetic globes that were scripted and time-coded to music. In recognition of the Galaxy’s 10th anniversary and the launch of the Galaxy S10, the kinetic lights formed into the number 10 following the flagship product’s unveiling to create impact.
And with a rigged canopy screen and walkable LED floor, the stage was constructed to replicate the “unfolding” of the foldable phone (Galaxy Fold)—“it enveloped attendees and truly immersed them in the Samsung brand,” according to Jeon.
“Press and media won’t be sharing details exclusively about the Samsung products—they will be sharing their launch experience,” says Jeon. “It’s important that show moments reflect the innovative nature of the Samsung Galaxy product line. From the state design to the inclusion of kinetic lights, to the larger than life signage and branding, our media audience had plenty of strong photo opportunities.”
With a rigged canopy screen and walkable LED floor, the stage was constructed to replicate the “unfolding” of the Galaxy Fold.
4. The show had twists and turns.
This was the longest Unpacked show that Samsung has executed yet. Typically, product reveals account for about 60 minutes of show time. This year, that timing rose to 90 minutes due to the sheer number of products Samsung needed to reveal. Within that timeframe, there were more than 1,000 production cues the team managed—more than double the standard for a corporate show.
A video director helped storyboard the live-stream experience, taking into account what the brand had done in the past and how the venue was set up, and then, determining how to maximize the various viewpoints available. Camera angles, production moments and bold imagery helped differentiate the experience for live and virtual audiences.
5. Time to play with the products.
Once the show wrapped in the arena, live attendees then had access to a product experience center, where there were more than 550 Samsung Galaxy products on display, from phones to earbuds. Members of the media could touch and feel all of the devices, conduct live interviews and speak with product experts. Additional Samsung partners and members of the public were also invited to this experiential portion of the event, elevating the energy and conversation surrounding Unpacked.
And speaking of conversation, all in, there were 14.3 million live-stream viewers in the U.S. alone (on top of the 44 million live-stream viewers across the globe). There were more than four million views of the official event replay (and counting), and Samsung scored the No. 9 spot in the top trending hashtags worldwide during the period for #GalaxyFold. And that’s a wrap.
Art, in all of its forms, can be a powerful engagement tool. It evokes emotion, inspires creativity and often educates observers in one way or another. Event marketers have been cleverly incorporating art-based engagements into their events for years, but a recent crop of brands is turning art itself into the experience, rather than treating it as an add-on. Here’s a look.
To celebrate its newly designed meeting space, Art Square, Boston’s Copley Square Hotel in June unveiled the pop-up Art Square Gallery, an annex of the meeting space and a place where local artists can showcase their work as part of the brand’s summer event series. The gallery is open to hotel patrons and the public at large.
Kicking things off was a solo show dubbed “Ocean Life” by Nedret Andre, whose seagrass-inspired art will be on display through September. Each piece is aimed at raising awareness of how organisms utilize seagrass to survive.
Two events hosted by Andre are also part of the pop-up program. At an event on June 13, Tay Evans, a biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and Annisquam River Marine Fisheries Station, discussed the current threat to seagrass and the conservation efforts around it, while Andre discussed how her work conveys the significance of those habitats. Following presentations, attendees enjoyed a light reception.
On July 18, Andre will present a printmaking and painting workshop, along with a presentation by Julie Simpson, coastal aquatic ecologist with the MIT Sea Grant College Program, who will address the importance of the seagrass ecosystem.
Photo courtesy: Nedret Andre
For Thorne, a supplement and at-home health test brand, illustrating to consumers how complex their bodies are is a challenge. To solve for that pain point, the company in June activated a biometric art installation in New York City dubbed “The Frontier Within.” The experience was intended to get consumers thinking more about how to keep their bodies properly functioning, and, of course, where supplements might come in handy.
The activation centered on a gigantic screen, which attendees stood in front of while their vitals were measured and ultimately turned into an artful, personalized visual display. As each participant breathed in and out, for instance, the data visualization grew brighter. Attendees also had their heart rates and skin glands monitored, with the on-screen display shifting colors in response. Along the journey, equipped with headphones, they were guided by the voice of a young boy who narrated the experience. Ultimately, the collective data on each individual’s vital signs was transformed into a digital art display designed to demonstrate just how complex the human body’s systems are. Participants could also create a selfie Boomerang based on their data.
In a nearby room, Thorne rounded out the activation with an artful exhibit of its products and digital displays of the nervous, circulatory and respiratory systems. A digital version of the “Frontier Within” experience is also available for those who missed the live event. Agencies: Droga5, New York City; Marshmallow Laser Feast, London.
The MGallery Hotel Collection launched a 24-hour interactive art installation in Manhattan on June 3 to drum up organic word-of-mouth buzz surrounding the acquisition of 21c Museum Hotels. Highlighting the “art of the stay,” the activation centered on a pop-up hotel room encased in glass that was transformed into a “Masterpiece Suite” by muralist Aaron De La Cruz.
De La Cruz began with the ultimate blank canvas—a stark white hotel room installation, with everything from the bedding and flooring, to the lampshades and walls, to décor elements, painted white from top to bottom. The artist was tasked with blanketing every inch of the room in vibrant color and his signature designs in 24 hours.
As the artist worked his magic, MGallery invited a group of industry VIPs, hand-picked influencers and media to an evening cocktail party to get an exclusive view of the transformation. The event featured an appearance by The Haiku Guys donning luxury pajama sets and whipping up customized poems for attendees on the spot using a vintage typewriter, one of MGallery’s brand markers.
Other components of the campaign included mysterious wild postings displayed across 20 locations around New York City in the lead-up to the activation, and a new “Paint Your Passport” package timed to the installation. Partakers will visit all eight 21c Museum Hotels, gaining insider access to one of the largest contemporary art collections in the country. Agency: LFB Media Group, New York City.
Photo courtesy: Sean Smith
In the late ’70s, Keith Haring painted an original mural on a New York City wall as a gift to the community, establishing what has come to be known as the Houston Bowery Wall Mural. In June, the proprietors of the wall, Goldman Properties (and its subsidiary, Goldman Global Arts) enlisted Manhattan-based Queen Andrea as the next artist to take over the coveted canvas. Her mural, “Believe,” was designed to celebrate the diversity and vibrancy of urban life. The work was completed June 4 and will be on display through September.
This latest Mural Wall installation is presented by Citi as part of its continued relationship with Goldman Global Arts. The partnership includes a design developed by Queen Andrea and curated by Goldman that will adorn 300 Citi Bikes and 25 Citi Bike kiosks across New York through October. Citi also offered 50 limited-edition, artist-signed prints on June 4, following the completion of the mural.
To introduce its limited-edition batch of Midsummer Solstice to new consumers, Hendrick’s Gin activated a floral pop-up installation at Pershing Square Café adjacent to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, June 5-7. In addition to sampling bars offering two different gin cocktails, photo moments overflowing in flowers of all colors and sizes were the main attraction.
Recruitment was the brand’s primary business goal, according to Hendrick’s brand manager Jena Fanelli. “People can sometimes find gin a little unapproachable. So, we’re trying to beat that barrier and show them that Hendrick’s is a very light and beautiful tasting liquid,” she says.
Another important part of the strategy was upping the theatrical element, a common tactic in the brand’s experiential efforts. At last year’s Panorama Music Festival, for instance, actors engaged consumers purchasing cocktails at its three-story, Edwardian-era structure by juggling cucumbers and blowing kisses to them.
“We try to bring theater to everything we do. Something that we say a lot at Hendricks is ‘trial plus theater equals advocacy.’ So, it’s about blowing this up and bringing the brand world to life,” says Fanelli.
This latest Hendrick’s expression launched in the U.S. in May was distilled with roses and cucumbers, and the brand bet on it appealing to a wider swath of consumers. “We wanted to bring something exciting and new to the masses. And for new occasions, too, that Hendrick’s may not have always been looked at for, like brunches, summertime cocktailing picnics, rooftops, things like that,” Fanelli says.
The façade of Pershing Square, situated directly across from Grand Central Terminal, offered the event’s first photo op. Lilacs and greenery hung from the café sign and a bench draped in flowers below provided a photo moment. So did a large green hedge shaped like a Hendrick’s bottle next to it that was covered in more flowers.
When consumers entered the café, they were escorted to the patio area. Attendees could register ahead of time on Eventbrite, but walk-ins were accepted as well. At check-in, attendees received tokens for two samples, totaling 3.5 ounces. Beyond that, they could continue to drink cocktails at the indoor bar, which served one of the cocktails being offered on the patio.
The cocktail samples were the “Midsummer Spritz,” comprised of Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice, elderflower liqueur and soda water, and the “Salty Dog,” with Midsummer Solstice, grapefruit juice and salt. Attendees could garnish their own cocktails with cucumber, lemon, edible flowers or grapefruit, which were hanging in trees beside the bar. Other photo ops included a phone booth and a patio swing.
There was also a make-your-own flower arrangement station, in partnership with Bloomsybox. Attendees could pick three stems, some of which made up the actual bouquets for purchase from Bloomsybox. Then, a florist playfully named “Baron Von Blooming” wrapped the flowers and discussed their meaning with attendees. A card handed out with the bouquet provided more information on Midsummer Solstice, including the names of a few shops nearby where the gin could be purchased. The card also provided details on the Bloomsybox service.
Adding a bit of theater to the experience were two “vine” characters on stilts that appeared to be trees or giant flower installations when still—frightening and delighting more than a few attendees. Agency: Momentum Worldwide, New York City.
The event featured local influencers in art, music, food and beverage from each city.
Launching a new flight route is a big deal for an airline, and marketing the different reasons why the destinations matter and should be linked is an important part of the process. In launching its new route from Los Angeles to Manchester, England, Virgin Atlantic hosted the LAxMAN influencer event that featured influencers in art, music, food and beverage from each city to activate what makes the destinations unique. The event on Sunrise Street in L.A. on June 20 was topped off by an appearance from Sir Richard Branson himself, founder of Virgin Group. Because it happened to be the 35th anniversary of the birth of Virgin Atlantic as well.
Attendees began the “journey” with a Virgin Atlantic flight crew, where they received a guide for the evening. First up was a stop at the bar where influential mixologists from L.A. and Manchester, Devon Tarby and Joe Schofield, created L.A.-inspired cocktails like the “Juice Cleanse” and the “Traffic Jam,” and Manchester inspired cocktails, like the “VP&T” and the “William Wallace,” and then LAxMAN inspired cocktails like “Hollywoodland” and “Cottonopolis.”
Next up, they noshed on culinary creations by chefs from both sides of the pond, including Donal Skehan of L.A., who whipped up a Thai-style roast sweet potato and cilantro salad and Bulgogi pork tacos with kimchi and gochujang mayo; and Adam Reid of Manchester, who served up “tater’ash” with mushroom catsup on rye and butter poached cod. The two the collaborated on a mashup of culinary styles from each market, like salt baked celeries mash with spiced coconut cream and yellowtail crudo with avocado crema, smoked bacon and horseradish.
While enjoying their drinks and food, attendees could watch a live art show by Mister Toledo, an L.A.-based artist who known for his dynamic murals, and Guy McKinley, a Manchester-based illustrator, concept artist and painter.
For a break from the activity, attendees could step into the beauty of Northern England in a sensorial lounge, complete with faux grass covering all the surfaces, including the lounge furniture, and a projected imagery of the landscape on the wall with sound. They could discover their travel personalities at trip itinerary stations and make a stop at a DIY patch station to give their travel gear some Virgin Atlantic flair and have a monogrammed luggage tag made.
All event attendees received a chance to win two round-trip tickets and three nights’ accommodations to explore the scenery of Manchester, following a nonstop Virgin Atlantic flight, of course.
“When we do route launches, we try to find ways of celebrating what makes both cities great, and the reason for that route and the things that we’re trying to communicate, so for this there is an opportunity to really drive awareness of what makes Manchester this vibrant cultural center and that was the key focus on this event,” says Heather Howells, head of marketing and communications, NORAM, Virgin Atlantic. “Manchester is a hub for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship and we know that there’s a lot opportunity to connect Manchester businesses with L.A. businesses. Additionally, it’s just a rich destination for people that are looking for leisure holidays with a great food and music scene.” Agency: Inspira Marketing Group, Norwalk, CT.
For a break from the activity, attendees could step into the beauty of Northern England in a sensorial lounge.
With the meteoric rise of business opportunities in esports, brands are jockeying for a piece of the action with sponsorships, experiences and, in the case of Miller Lite, a beer can you can play video games with. Miller Lite introduced a 10-button “Cantroller,” crafted with a flexible circuit board, Bluetooth technology and a three-hour (rechargeable) battery life. But the only way for consumers to win one was by beating actor and television host Eric Andre at Street Fighter V with the Cantroller at a special event on June 12 during E3 in Los Angeles.
And yes, the Cantrollers do contain actual beer. And yes, they can be refrigerated.
“We were thinking about the innovation that we did around the Cantroller, and we thought what’s the right place for us to reach people and talk about this in a way we knew would be relevant,” says Justine Stauffer, senior marketing manager at Miller Lite. “What better way to connect with this gaming community than in a place where we know there’s going to be a lot of conversation and anticipation—at E3.”
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With 40 percent of gamers drinking beer while they play, Stauffer says the timing of the Cantroller campaign at E3 was even more relevant with the start of summer, when people tend to be drinking more light beer. “From an occasion standpoint, too, it made sense,” she says.
The event on Hope Street, steps from E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, featured signage teasing the event on the façade of the building. Inside, there was neon fluorescent signage, a candy station and popcorn station with toppings to fuel up as well as a dj. And on the main stage was casual gaming seating and a big-screen that displayed activity by attendees who took turns battling each other in Street Fighter V. Attendees with the highest scores were then invited every hour over the four-hour period to compete against Andre to win that Cantroller. The entire event was live-streamed on Miller Lite’s newly launched Twitch channel.
“This was an opportunity for us to launch our Twitch channel, and we’d never really done that before or really housed any content on there, but this gave us an opportunity to introduce it and we were pleasantly surprised at the number of people that stayed tuned-in for the full event,” Stauffer says. The average viewing time on Twitch was 20 minutes, she added.
As Andre battled his first consumer challenger, he suddenly opened the Cantroller he was using, causing beer to spill out. “It was brilliant because all of the comments on Twitch were, ‘There’s actually beer inside!’ So, it legitimized it in a way that we weren’t anticipating. The Cantroller created a lot of fun conversation on the platform, for sure,” Stauffer says. Agencies: Jack Morton Worldwide, Chicago; DDB, Chicago; ICF Next. Cantroller Partner: Unit9.
With approximately 140 universities offering formalized esports programs today (not to mention the scholarships that have followed), the collegiate esports industry is gaining some serious traction. And with that, new event competitions and support structures for the demo are being formed. Take ESPN’s creation of the first College Esports Championship in March, and recently, Riot Games, publisher of League of Legends, formed the Riot Scholastic Association of America (RSAA), a governing body for Riot’s college and high school esports activity. Among its goals are to develop a more inclusive student community and provide continued support for scholastic esports.
We spoke with Kurt Melcher, executive director of esports at Intersport, who serves on RSAA’s and Esports Business Summit’s advisory boards, about the role collegiate and high school esports plays in the industry’s growth, promoting inclusivity and brand sponsorship.
Event Marketer: What role have you played in the collegiate esports ecosystem?
Kurt Melcher, executive director of esports at Intersport
Kurt Melcher: In 2014, as an athletic director at [Robert Morris] University, I ideated a way to bring esports to our athletic department, onboarding it as a full sport and providing support to it the same way as our baseball, basketball and football team would have. We built a facility, hired a full staff and provided scholarships for 35 of the best student League of Legends players around the world. Now in 2019, there are 140 universities that have formalized esports programs at their schools and are providing support and scholarship for a variety of different titles.
EM: How is collegiate esports is changing the industry?
KM: I think higher education, all up, can be really impactful for the industry. From high school to college—and we’re seeing the college side formalize and organize a little bit faster than the high school space, but I think that will trickle down—the impact will provide opportunities for students that are passionate about games to be able to continue playing and grow as a player in specific titles. Now I’m sure a lot of players have pro aspirations, but I don’t think that’s the end goal [of collegiate esports]. The end goal is to provide the educational opportunities for those students, and matching a passion point of theirs to help them grow to be positive, functional members of society.
We’ve left this segment, this student demographic, in the dark for a long time. Providing relevant opportunities will help grow the industry, because then you’re going to have a better professional, and that will then filter in a number of different ways in the industry. Esports is just the medium to help grow that student. So, if they graduate from university and say they played Overwatch on a scholarship for four years and they’re passionate about the industry, maybe [going] pro as a player isn’t their way, but maybe they can join a team and be involved in either coaching or administrating the team. Maybe if they graduate with a marketing degree or sports management, they could work at Blizzard on the Overwatch League. There’s a variety of different ways, as this industry grows at a massive scale, that I think we should, as educators, prepare the students as best we can to be functional elements within the industry.
EM: So, it’s about offering them career advice within the esports field, because that’s never existed before.
KM: Right. It helps support the industry but it also helps provide a maturation process for the industry. From ages 18 to 21 are really important developmental years for students. And up until just a couple of years ago, there wasn’t a construct for someone that was passionate about esports or competitive video games other than, say, going into game design or trying a sports management set of courses. Addressing esports and video games in core curricular opportunities, and matching with the competitive elements of play in an athletic construct, will bolster and provide stability to esports all up.
EM: How do you see brand partnerships shaping up?
KM: I see brand sponsorship becoming more integrated. What we have seen in the beginning is a brand saying well, okay, we sort of get this, let me just put our logo on a jersey or on a website and see what happens. But I think for it to be impactful and relevant for esports, deeper integrations are more meaningful. So, creating custom content and thinking outside of the box of traditional spots and dots are what we’ll see in the longer term for more traditional non-endemic brands.
EM: Do you have any thoughts on how the industry could embrace diversity on a broader scale?
KM: This is where the higher ed platform for esports can be really impactful to the space. Because, to your point, everyone in the industry recognizes that diversity is problematic for esports as it exists right now. And from pro all the way down, everyone says, “we identify this problem, we really want to fix it,” but there’s no tools or levers available to do so other than the will and the want. So, I think creating those tool sets in the educational realm, where you will have administrators and adults in the room that are able to carry out those tools and levers and implement them, will be the space that can really potentially engender a lot of positive change in inclusion and diversity and gender equality in esports. It’ll never happen if we just allow it to happen on its own. In online environments it’s really difficult to try to foster positive change. The education space is where that can be impactful.
EM: What game are you either playing or most interested in right now?
KM: There’s a small game called Enter the Gungeon which I’ve been completely obsessed with and can’t leave. And there’s an update out today, so it will probably just further my time suck into that game. It’s so hard, but it’s so great. It’s not an esport title or anything, but it’s from this great small publisher. It’s taken up a large share of my life.
Let us take you on a photo tour of the French Riviera, Cannes Lions-style. That’s right, we resisted the urge to take one million photos of the French Riviera’s magical blue waters and, instead, present to you the branded spaces we encountered during the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity’s five-day run, June 17-21. While a handful of brands leaned into experiential with branded beach spaces at this year’s festival, others occupied beachside cabanas for high-level meetings, standalone builds along the boulevard or portions of the main conference building, the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. Check out this photo tour of the spaces, from Snapchat’s artist collab to Adobe’s creativity activation to Pinterest’s playland.
Cocktail Classic touchpoints include sampling engagements, entertainment, trivia and celebrity appearances.
What began as a man with “a bar and a dream” has evolved into an annual, nationwide event series celebrating the legacy of LGBTQ bartenders and gay bars as safe spaces and social centers for the LGBTQ community. Indeed, the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic bartending competition was dreamed up by Stoli’s national LGBT ambassador, Patrik Gallineaux, six years ago and in 2019 grew to entail 14 cities in the U.S. and Canada, sampling engagements, entertainment, competitions, celebrity appearances, a significant charitable component and a whole lot of positive vibes. This year’s theme? “Visibility: Making it Loud and Clear.”
The logistical planning around the Cocktail Classic is literally a year-round job. This year’s competition kicked off over the winter in Dallas. The event was filmed and will appear on the upcoming season of “The Real Housewives of Dallas” (a star of the show, LeeAnne Locken, often serves as a Cocktail Classic co-host). The contest was followed by one to two competitions per week in various cities before culminating in the Pride Week Finale celebration in Key West, FL, from June 4–10. And these aren’t your garden variety cocktail presentations, but rather scripted, “extremely organized proscenium stage experiences,” according to Gallineaux.
Stoli fans were invited to attend the free public events and leverage this year’s new text-to-vote option to support their favorite bartenders on-site. From an engagement perspective, the competitions served up a variety of touchpoints. The first 100 people who RSVP’d and checked into an event, for example, were given a Stoli drink ticket and a wristband with a voting tab and immediately guided to a sampling table where each of the competing bartenders’ cocktails was on hand for a blind tasting experience. A list of the ingredients in each beverage was also on display for participants to check out. From there, they cast the very first votes of the evening by placing their voting tab in a numbered box that represented the bartender who created their favorite cocktail. The brand would then pump up the crowd, often with a confetti cannon included, and the competition got underway. Following the competition, samples, t-shirt giveaways and trivia were offered.
The contests themselves were spectacles in their own right, with a variety of co-hosts and a panel of celebrity judges taking the stage in addition to bartenders. As far as scoring the competition goes, 50 percent was based on the competitors’ hand-crafted cocktails. The other half was based on the bartenders’ ability to artistically showcase this year’s theme, “Visibility: Making it Loud and Clear.” Accordingly, each bartender incorporated an element of their presentation to represent a person, place, film, song or movement that shined a spotlight on something in the community that was previously unseen. Judges also factored in the competitors’ creativity and knowledge.
“We’re authentically creating experiences for our community of hardworking bartenders and our consumers that get the chance to participate in these experiences where they can enjoy themselves, remember why our LGBT community is so important, and the creativity that we have had to showcase and adapt to survive,” says Gallineaux.
All 14 regional winners were flown to Key West for the Pride Week Finale, a whirlwind of parties, dinners and entertainment in addition to two elimination events. And it’s not just bartenders and their families who head to Florida. The Cocktail Classic has inspired its own cult following of fans who travel south to participate in the finale. In fact, thanks to the Cocktail Classic, it was a record-breaking year for tourism in Key West, which grew from roughly 50 percent occupancy at LGBTQ hotels and guest houses to 100 percent occupancy.
Ultimately, Sam Benedict was crowned champion of the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic and served as the 2019 Key West Pride Parade Honorary Grand Marshal. Upon returning home, he was honored with a special celebration, and received a three-day trip for two to a Stoli Vodka event of his choosing. What’s more, Stoli each year donates $10,000 to a local LGBTQ charity of the champion’s choosing, while the Key West Business Guild offers an additional $5,000 for a Key West charity. The second-place winner gets $5,000 for a home town charity of their choosing, as well as $5,000 for a Key West organization. Benedict donated to Gays Against Guns and Habitat for Humanity Key West.
“It’s important to celebrate and educate about gay bars as the original community centers and safe spaces,” says Gallineaux. “And it’s incredibly relevant right now as we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Of course, back then, there was still fear of oppression and police raids… So, we’re reminding people at every event what Stonewall was and why we celebrate it, while uplifting our bartenders.” Agency: SoHo Experiential, New York City.
More Scenes from the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic:
Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda brings a whole new meaning to the word “stunt.” He has traversed Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon on a high wire—without a safety net and before a live television audience. And just last month, on the evening of June 23, Wallenda took his high-wire artistry to the Big Apple and walked from One Times Square to Two Times Square on a ¾-inch wire 25 stories above the ground with his sister Lijana, who had been badly injured from a fall during their group high-wire rehearsal just one year ago.
The special aired on ABC and was jointly produced by iDEKO, which handled the permitting, logistics and safety, and Dick Clark Productions, which ran the broadcast and production. Pulling it off was a monstrous challenge and a logistical beast. We spoke with the agencies behind the production to gain a few behind-the-scenes insights on what went down. Or, rather, up.
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Begin planning very early.
Planning ahead for a marketing stunt is a no brainer. But when dealing with a stunt of this magnitude that involves so many stakeholders, departments and agencies—in this case, the police department, the buildings department, the fire department, the Times Square Alliance and the Department of Labor (to name a few)—it’s monumentally important to leave enough time for planning.
“When you are working on a project with so many moving pieces and it is wrought with risk and safety, you want to have as much time as possible,” says iDEKO ceo Evan Corn. “We had to connect with so many people, including all of the buildings that line Times Square, explain the project, work through all of their concerns, revisions, and then, ultimately, create contracts.”
Partner with local experts.
Partnering with local agencies on the ground is a key component in any event planner’s toolbox. But in the case of iDEKO and Dick Clark, the experience and history the teams had made a huge difference. For instance, iDEKO’s Corn had previously worked for the City of New York as the inaugural executive director of the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management, created by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help coordinate necessary approvals from all of the agencies involved. That specialized knowledge helped inform the process. Likewise, Dick Clark Productions has been producing the “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” show for decades. The resulting relationship with the Times Square Alliance, a key stakeholder, was instrumental in conversations with the various agencies. Moreover, there was overlap between the crews of both productions, thereby enhancing expertise working in Times Square.
Don’t skimp on safety and security.
For the Times Square high-wire stunt, Wallenda and his sister wore harnesses, per New York City regulations. It’s just one of the many safety elements required for the production that not only mitigate risk but help build the case for the stunt to be approved in the first place.
“When you’re doing these large-scale projects, you really can’t skimp on things like safety and security,” says Corn. “You need to be thinking about that in a big way, because that’s what the city’s focus will be on.”
Immerse consumers in the content.
Don’t forget to involve your audience in the most intimate way possible. Despite being 25 stories off the ground, the show was, in fact, quite intimate. This was achieved through the use of audio and video. Viewers of the broadcast were able to hear the Wallendas speaking to the host and, most importantly, to each other. Viewers gained a window into the family affair through their conversations—including a couple of hair-raising scares—as well as camera views of what the Wallendas were actually seeing 25 stories above the pavement.
From a technical standpoint, it takes a tech village.
“We had three different tech managers who were working on all different elements between the video piece of it and the audio piece,” says Linda Gierahn, evp-production at Dick Clark Productions. “It was very challenging in the sense that we had our hosts talking to Nik and his sister Lijana. That part of it made the walk so much more appealing to the viewers because they were able to see what was going through their heads at that time.”
Photo courtesy: Brad Barket/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions