Seizing the Eventage

Partnering is one of those apt but glib terms that make sensible people cringe. But when all three legs of the marketing triangle — retailers, publishers, and advertisers — partner in a marketing event at a retail location, it’s beautiful.

We can loosely define an event as a planned happening that carries a sense of occasion. To retailers, event marketing is a sacred opportunity to imprint the store’s name in the consumer’s mind as the place to go for fun, excitement, razzle-dazzle, service — and, oh, by the way, did we say fun? The idea is to make the store a destination!

When publishers produce these events, the branding gets applied with superglue. Even the most prosaic of publications wears an implied cloak of wisdom regarding its field and has a cadre of experts (editors and contributors) who have credibility. That reader cred can easily attach to the event — i.e., to the store and the participating advertisers.

Advertisers benefit from publisher events in several ways. First of all, the advertiser does not pay for the right to participate. The publisher foots the bill and does the heavy lifting. That doesn’t mean there are no expenses for the advertiser and that the brand can’t have input in the planning. But it remains somebody else’s show.

The magazine hypes the event (and the advertisers) in its pages. The festivities give the advertiser a chance to interact with the consumer and heighten the relationship. Excitement for and about the product swirls around the consumer right where he or she can make a purchase. Does life get any better?

Bring the pages to life
There are two important things to know about these events. First, they work remarkably well. For example, Condé Nast’s Lucky magazine reports that one of its “wallet” events earned a 60% increase in sales of the advertiser’s product on the day of the event (more about this later). Second, it’s remarkable how underutilized this promotional tool really is.

The concept of in-store marketing is scarcely new or revolutionary. We’ve seen and even been assailed by such wonders as food samplings, book signings, CD-release parties, celebrity spokesperson personal appearances, slice-’em-dice-’em machine demos, upscale department store perfume-spraying college grads, and tie-in events between mass market merchants and their vendors, among others. All have merit. All have value.

Here’s what’s new: We are seeing more and more retailers embrace the intertwined notions of “retail as show business” and “retail as media.” At the same time, publishers facing a highly competitive and confusing marketplace are trying to enhance their importance to readers and advertisers. What better way than to build from their relationships with their readers?

Granted, there are some magazines where if you read them at night, you won’t respect them in the morning. But by and large, selecting and reading a magazine tends to be a self-affirming, relationship-forming experience. Extending the relationship between a magazine and its reader to a retail store and an advertiser is (dare we invoke Martha Stewart?) a good thing, and potentially a great thing.

Put “retail as show business/media” together with a magazine’s desire to bind itself even closer to its readers and advertisers, and you have events that start with the publisher. (We can anticipate that at some point an advertiser or even a retailer may gently demand that a publisher come up with something. Did anybody say Wal-mart?) The publishers coordinate and provide signage, promotion, and expert presenters or celebrities. Retailers provide the venue and some promotion. Advertisers provide product-related samples, information, and/or coupons. Right now, as we have noted, publishers do not expect advertisers to pay for participation. Instead, publishers see advertiser inclusion as a “value-added” service for advertisers who purchase a certain quantity of pages. (Nobody cares to specify what that quantity might be.)

A good picture of the varieties of event marketing can be seen in the experiences of three publications, Seventeen, Vegetarian Times, and Lucky.

Seventeen scores with readers
Primedia’s Seventeen offers several types of events — e.g., trend alerts, pre-prom, and back-to-school. Perhaps its most ambitious effort is the ongoing “Get Discovered” promotion. This includes a fashion show, dancing, a “meet the editor” opportunity, shopping incentives, etc. Readers are encouraged to … well, here’s how Seventeen puts it:

“Want to star in one of Seventeen’s biggest fashion tours ever? Seventeen is putting real girls and guys on stage at some of our favorite malls across the country. Try out at these “Get Discovered” model calls for your chance to appear in our Trend Tour fashion shows. Share the spotlight with some of our favorite bands who will be performing live and signing autographs. Plus, score tons of free goodies from our sponsors!”

Seventeen merchandising director Danielle Neumann says, “We make it as turnkey as possible. We do everything from writing the invitation to ordering the clothes to filling the goody bags, doing press releases and radio spots, getting security officers when there’s a band, dealing with bands, dealing with celebrities. We’re a full-service marketing agency for our client. Some retailers like to be hands-on; some have an events staff and some don’t.”

Participating retailers include JCPenney, Filene’s, Steve Madden, and Macy’s. Promotion includes invitations, email blasts, radio spots, newspaper ads, media interviews, and press releases. Readers can also learn about events in the magazine’s “Check It Out” pages and online at

Neumann adds that some events are single-sponsored. And yes, these things work. “Advertiser and retailer get increased sales and increased awareness through the event, the pages of the magazine, the website, and mass mailings,” says Neumann. “It’s amazing to have exposure with 14 million readers and put your product in the hands of the readers and have contact with readers in the event and in-store program.”

One sample testimonial comes from the Bloomingdale’s PR director in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, who says, “It’s an amazing sight to see 600-plus girls in the junior department, following a Seventeen event. The lines at the dressing rooms and registers were incredible.…The whole event formula was geared to stimulate sales, traffic, and excitement ... and boy did it work!” Oh, to be 17 and have discretionary income again.

Vegetarian Times puts on appetizing events
Vegetarian Times obviously does not have Primedia’s resources, but it does stage some fine cooking and cookware demonstrations around the country.

Susan Tauster, group publisher of Vegetarian Times and Better Nutrition, says that her company stages events ranging from a standard grocery store demo in a supermarket such as a Whole Foods Market to promoting a book with food samplings at Borders to demonstrating a small appliance at Williams Sonoma.

For food demos, the magazine’s executive chef, Greg Wenger, works with the store. (“We promote his presence in advance,” said Tauster) Advertising partners include Eden Foods, Colavita, Silk soy milk and Morinu Tofu. Organic products are showcased around the chef, and coupons are distributed. When Vegetarian Times partnered with pressure cooker manufacturer Fagor USA, one of the magazine’s culinary school partners prepared food at The Kitchen Store and a free cookbook was distributed. The magazine supplied the chef, branded recipe cards, and food partners.

Vegetarian Times does promotion however and whenever it can. This often includes sending a notice of the event and an invitation to subscribers within a five-mile radius. Tauster adds, “We obviously rely on the store to help us in-store and through its newsletters.”

Tauster looks forward to 2003 and “doing something on a little grander scale than usual.” She hopes “to capitalize on the organic movement’s Organic Harvest Month,” which blooms in early autumn. She couldn’t provide details, but would “love to see more of the major market appliances participate.”

Only good fortune for Lucky
And then there’s Condé Nast’s Lucky, a magazine that celebrates shopping. It offers events such as “Get Intimate with Jockey.” As the magazine’s website puts it, “Join Lucky’s merchandising editor as she showcases the new Almost Nothing Bra collection by Jockey. Enjoy personal shopping consultations, and with any Jockey bra purchase you’ll receive an exclusive Lucky gift. Plus, one guest will get the chance to win a Lucky gift bag!”

Though not without means, Lucky actually favors a guerrilla marketing approach. In “The Lucky Day Wallet Drop,” brightly colored wallets are dropped throughout the partnering store, according to Lucky executive creative services director Margot Brunelle. Emblazoned across the wallet’s exterior is the happy message “This Is Your Lucky Day.” Stuck in the wallet flaps are up to eight coupons resembling credit cards.

“Exclusive drops have been hosted for Liz Claiborne, Polo Jeans, Benetton, and Kenneth Cole,” says Brunelle. “We also do multi-vendor wallet drops. Partners included Doll House, New York & Company, Puma, Maybelline, Hugo Boss/Clarins, to name a few. The advertisers get the powerful Lucky endorsement, which at retail is a great rub. Past wallet drops have shown significant sales results for our advertisers.”

What’s on the horizon
We can — or at least should — expect to see more publisher-instigated retail event marketing. Publishers need to retain existing readers and capture new eyeballs; stimulate retail sales; and, oh yes, keep and enlarge their pool of advertisers. With lower margins and greater competition, retailers need more buzz. These events do give advertisers a chance to get up close and personal with their customers. Moreover, it helps them target specific markets (region, age, gender, lifestyle) in a very focused manner. The Vegetarian Times’ dream of mainstream appliance manufacturers’ appearing in its pages and events may not exactly come to pass, but surely some smart advertisers of the mainstream persuasion will see the marketing “health benefits” of obtaining some extra veggie cred.

Venues can vary to include not only supermarkets and mass merchants, but also specialty stores (which already do events with vendors), booksellers (Borders and Barnes & Noble have meeting spaces in place), and independent newsstands. Generally speaking, the newsstands and booksellers do not stock the likely advertisers’ merchandise. But they are all in locations where there is a high volume of shopping available.

Magazines typically do not market directly to consumers. Moreover, such efforts do take thought, planning, and resources. Still, you would think that with such a win-win-win rosy glow, we’d see more events staged by magazines in cooperation with their partners.

Welcome to promotion in the age of cross-marketing.

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