‘The economics of experiential are really attractive’: How Eater is expanding its events business

Like all publishers, Vox Media is looking to events as a way to diversify revenue.

Its food site Eater has spent the past year bulking up its experiential offerings, ranging from evening wine and book clubs to a daylong summit that capitalized on its eight-year-old “Young Guns” franchise of up-and-coming talent in the food world. In total, Eater has already hosted, or been a part of, over 50 events for Vox Media this year, including launching 11 new event programs and series for its brand in 2019 alone. 

The business models for Eater events vary. Eater Talks, a local restaurant industry discussion series that launched in London and now takes place in various cities, sells tickets around the $20 mark to complement its partnership with the Ace Hotel, where the series is held. The Eater Young Guns Summit, which took place in New York this past July, saw roughly 900 attendees at $60 per ticket. Sponsors for that event included Grey Goose Vodka. Some ticket prices for Eater events are as low as $10, like the upcoming Eater Book Club. 

Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt said the relatively low ticket price allow the events to be accessible to a younger audience; particularly for the Summit since up-and-comers from the food and dining industry is the demographic that Young Guns is aimed at. 

“It’s been a project this year to see if [ticket sales] is a real business for us,” she said. “And sometimes having a ticket gets someone’s buy-in — it’s less about the money and more about having an audience that’s going to show up and is more willing to be engaged.”

The events are all executed by Vox Media Experiential team, which is currently made up of 10 staffers but is in the process of growing, in collaboration with Eater’s editorial team and who looks to their audience for new ideas.

According to vp of experiential marketing Vanessa Fontanez, every event that Vox Media puts on is brought to sponsors, though Eater would not disclose how much revenue its events business would generate this year.

“It’s a growing key, core line of business,” said Fontanez, in large part due to the face-to-face sponsorship opportunities that experiential allows for. “With these offerings, we’re able to go to a partner and say that this is a unique opportunity that we can bring to you, and we can ensure that that partnership feels very authentic and thoughtful.”

Kludt sees the opportunity to expand this franchise even further in 2020 with more dinners — this August, Eater put on a trio of pop-up dinners with Young Guns chefs — but also with workshops since workshops and demos were a popular element of this year’s Summit. 

But because Eater’s events tend to have a quick sell-out rate — such as the Wine Club, priced at $40 per ticket, which sold out within an hour — it’s a signal to Kludt that Eater should continue ticketing its events, even if that’s not the primary revenue driver. 

Todd Krizelman, CEO and founder of MediaRadar, which recently launched MediaRadar Events to track brands’ spending on experiential, said that even three years ago, it wasn’t in the business plans for most publishers to invest heavily in growing their experiential divisions. However, these companies are now making big hires and are creating entire events teams. 

“It used to be the belief that [media companies] would make their major claim to success through digital investments,” said Krizelman. “But now there is a recognition that these events are working,” because this platform allows brands to demonstrate their ability to be compelling and drive emotional responses from audiences on a face-to-face level, which advertisers love. 

Right now, Fontanez said that between consumer-facing, B2B and branded activations, the company is producing three or more events per month. However, with the recent acquisition of New York Media, the events portfolio will increase even more, including involvement in next year’s tentpole events such as Vulture Fest.

“We have a small team, so there’s a certain capacity issue that we’re going to be dealing with,” said Kludt. “But as long as we have the bandwidth, we’re going to keep trying to put on these events.”

A previous version of this story stated that Vox Media would be involved with this year’s Vulture Fest. The company will begin working on New York Media events in 2020


More in Media

YouTube is under fire again, this time over child protection

Adalytics Research asks, ‘Are YouTube advertisers inadvertently harvesting data from millions of children?’

Illustration of a puzzle that spells out the word 'media.'

Media Briefing: Publishers pump up per-subscriber revenue amid ad revenue declines

Publishers’ Q2 earnings reveal digital advertising is still in a tight spot, but digital subscriptions are picking up steam.

Lessons for AI from the ad-tech era: ‘We’re living in a memory-less world’

Experts reflect how the failures of social media and online advertising can help the industry improve the next era of innovation.