Amid Layoffs, Refinery29 Focuses on Expanding Events

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Refinery29 is expanding its 29 Rooms event.
Refinery29 is expanding its 29 Rooms event. Credit: Getty for Refinery29

Tough times for media companies might be one of 2017's biggest understatements—the last few months have chronicled the downsizing of Buzzfeed, Mashable, ESPN and Conde Nast. Last week, Refinery29, the 12-year-old digital site, said it is laying off 34 employees, or seven percent of its staff. Executives at the New York-based company said the downsizing will allow the brand to focus on "growth engines." One of those engines is 29 Rooms, the three-year-old themed event installation, according to Piera Gelardi, co-founder and executive creative director of Refinery29.

"Live entertainment has been a big growth area for us," says Gelardi, noting that the company is "evolving the business from digital advertising to becoming a diversified media company."

Indeed, earlier this month, Refinery29 took 29 Rooms beyond its New York roots to Los Angeles for the first time. Next year, the event, which is a multi-day series of art installations and activations with nonprofits, artists and brands, will expand to San Francisco and Chicago before returning to New York and Los Angeles. The company also monetized the event for the first time this year by charging attendees an admission fee of $19; an evening VIP experience ticket cost LA participants $85.

Gelardi says the New York event grew from 5,000 attendees in 2015 to 20,000 this past fall; Los Angeles attracted 25,000. In the activation, 20 rooms are created by nonprofits and artists while the final nine come from paid brands, such as Adidas, Netflix and Shea Moisture. In Netflix's recent installation, consumers could stand under different crowns as part of a themed event promoting the company's "The Crown," for example.

Gelardi says the ratio of sponsored rooms won't change next year, but that Refinery29 will offer more ways for other brands to participate, such as sponsoring drinks or creating wall installations.

"We're looking to continue to evolve and expand the ways brands can get involved," she says. Gelardi declined to say how much each brand pays to participate or how much Refinery29 makes from the events.

Since its 2005 founding, Refinery29 has raised a total of $125.4 million in venture capital funding; it last secured $45 million in a round led by Turner Broadcasting in August of 2016, according to Crunchbase, which tracks business and trends.

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