Inside Live Nation's in-house shop
Live Nation, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based event promoter and venue operator behemoth, has been quietly building its in-house team into a 400-person global engine that helps brands show up in the live-music space.
The parent of Ticketmaster owns the festivals Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Governors Ball in New York, Austin City Limits in Texas and Lollapalooza in Chicago. Live Nation now has some presence in 42 countries, with the in-house team extending to around 40 of those, according to Russell Wallach, president of Live Nation Media & Sponsorship (the in-house team).
“There’s not another platform like this in the music space or really anywhere in live entertainment,” Wallach claimed in a recent interview with Ad Age.
Live Nation has never had an external agency of record and its in-house team appears to operate more like those found inside tech giants like Google or Facebook.
Wallach said that over the past eight years, his division has grown from a team of 125 working primarily in sales and media. Today, the team houses brand strategy, creative, a design team that Wallach said has created products for brands and helped bring them to retail, public relations, measurement and insights, and an innovation studio that works in AR, VR and other emerging technologies.
“Every year, we keep adding skill sets and capabilities to our team so we can continue to be the most-valuable partner to brands,” he said. “We have brand strategists and creatives who we’ve hired out of agencies and brands.”
Wallach said Live Nation uses its pool of consumer data and insights to help guide brands, not only on activating at its events but even in how to show up on social media. A Live Nation global study last year, for example, found that fans don’t like when brands “just parachute in.”
“I think 10 years ago, brands just wanted to show up with their inflatables and balloons,” Wallach said. “They wanted blimps. It was just throwing their brands in the middle of something.”
He said he’s seeing an increasing number of brands “looking for ways to enhance the experience for fans.”
“That’s a great way we work closely with brands,” he said, “in thinking about bringing the experience to life in an authentic way.”
Live Nation also has an online soundboard of music fans by whom brands are able run ideas and gain feedback on the advertising they plan to do at a particular event or venue, according to Wallach.
What may work for a camping festival won’t necessarily work for a 1,000-person concert hall.
At the recent Governors Ball Musical Festival (May 31 - June 2), attendees could go to footwear maker Asics’s booth to get a pair of customized sneakers and take a stop at the “neon-laced” photo booth set up there as well. At the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (June 13 - 16) the brand will promote the annual “Roo Run” and have trainers in the campsite to host fitness and yoga classes.
“In some cases you might want to be more subtle, in some cases more bold and in certain cases you might want to take more risk,” Wallach said.
While Live Nation still works with brands’ external agency partners on activations and marketing efforts, Wallach said about 50 percent of activations at events are now done by the in-house team.
The Live Nation team worked with The Marketing Arm, the agency behind a State Farm activation that appeared at Governors Ball and will be present at other festivals this year, in which the insurance company provided education to guests (likely there for the drum sets that they could play at their will) on how to take positive action in its “Neighborhood of Good” tiny homes. For actions taken, State Farm committed to donating funds to Notes for Notes, a nonprofit that brings free music education to young people.
Wallach said he’s seeing a rising interest from brands wanting to partner with Live Nation; he also claimed the reach of Instagram posts from fans (which he called “influencers in their own right") at activations “far exceed what a brand might get for a 30-second spot.”
According to Agency EA’s recent 2019 Experiential Marketing Trend Report, 67 percent of B2B brand-side marketers plan to grow their experiential budgets within the year, a 17 percent increase from 2018. The report found 75 percent of marketers surveyed “agree that experiential has proven to be the most successful tactic of their various marketing strategies,” which is a 14 percent rise from 2018.
According to Wallach, brands come to Live Nation primarily for four reasons: to drive brand affinity, to create brand loyalty, to get consumers engaged with products and to use events as B2B opportunities.
Still, in his view, Wallach said the “best marketers are our fans.”