So successful, in fact that the magazine expects some 25,000 people to converge on its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters in May for an event that not only will promote the magazine and its advertisers, but also will make a profit for Sunset.
Eager to join the growing number of lifestyle magazines creating real-life extensions of their pages through events, Sunset in the mid-1990s explored various options including a series of "Taste of Sunset" epicurean events held for readers at convention centers. The endeavors enjoyed only modest success.
Then last year, the monthly held what it thought was a one-time event on the grounds of its 11-acre headquarters to commemorate a century of publishing. And with that project, Sunset hit on a winning blueprint for an annual event.
ASKED TO REPEAT EVENT
"Our 'Centennial Celebration' was intended to be a one-time event, but we got such an incredible turnout and such positive reactions, including a lot of handwritten letters and notes asking for us to repeat the event, that we decided to do it again," said Sunset President-CEO Steve Seabolt.
Sunset will reprise the event -- to be called the 'Celebration Weekend" -- May 15 and 16.
Last year's event drew nearly 25,000 people over two days in April on the strength of a few ads in the magazine and some local print and radio advertising, Mr. Seabolt said. For the 1999 event Sunset is prepared for a bigger turnout, though it's again charging admission of $8 per adult.
Several additional features and sponsors are part of the 1999 celebration, with the goal of getting readers together with Sunset editors and providing hands-on opportunities for the magazine's advertisers to demonstrate and sample products in food, wine, gardening and decorating.
The location has several built-in conveniences including the magazine's four test kitchens and its group of test gardens for giving cooking and gardening demonstrations. Sunset also is harnessing the manpower of the entire 120-person Sunset Publishing Corp. to help staff the event.
In keeping with Sunset's regional focus on 13 Western states, many of its sponsors are headquartered in the West or offer products primarily distributed in the region.
New sponsors this year include C&H Sugar, See's Candies, Robert Mondavi Winery and Legoland, the theme park Lego Systems is opening this month in Carlsbad, Calif.
Other sponsors include General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet, HomeBase, Land O' Lakes butter, Mervyn's California, Safeway, United Airlines and Weber-Stephen Products Co.'s Weber grills.
A sponsor slot costs $45,000, and each sponsor also is required to run advertising in Sunset. In addition, Sunset insisted that each sponsor come up with something that was truly unique and interactive "so there's no chance of repeating ourselves," said Beth Faso, Sunset's marketing programs director.
Newcomer Legoland is providing a major kids' activity zone at the event, including replicating aspects of the theme park and allowing kids to build a gigantic castle made of Lego building blocks.
COOKIES, BREADS & GRILLS
Land O'Lakes is developing a creative cookie decorating area for kids, and Safeway is expected to present a miniature store-bakery to showcase its "artisan" breads. See's Candies will provide unlimited samples of new products; Weber will provide samples of grilled food. Chefs from cable channel Food Network's "Too Hot Tamales" will promote cookware for Mervyn's stores.
Chevrolet will present its new Impala model against a backdrop allowing attendees to have their photos taken in "back roads" scenery. HomeBase will provide demonstrations of do-it-yourself wall texturing with paints. United Airlines will promote destinations.
Chefs from 12 top local restaurants will cook for attendees, who will sip wine samples from Mondavi. Sunset also is providing a rock climbing wall and a virtual hang-gliding experience plus a driving range for golfers; a fitness tent will show people how to include fitness in their busy schedules with suggestions for California activities.
EXPECTS TO MAKE A PROFIT
The magazine expects to make a profit on the event, but it also has a great deal of value in promoting the Sunset brand and driving subscriptions, Mr. Seabolt said, adding, "All the staff members wear name badges and readers want to share ideas with us, so we all get a lot out of it."
With an all-time high circulation of 1.42 million, Sunset is "bigger than Time on the West Coast," Mr. Seabolt said. Recent growth has been fueled by consumers' interest in regional activities and passion for their homes and gardens.
"For many magazines, having a national presence is crucial, but we seem to benefit from our emphasis on this region, because people want specifics about local foods, plants and activities," he said. "Giving them that kind of