When the Kevin Lyman Group, known for the Vans Warped Tour summer concert series, was approached about hosting a non-profit event to de-stigmatize mental illness, the team was all onboard. Little did they know a pandemic would jeopardize this venture and the way the company operates in the future.
We spoke to Kate Truscott, general manager at KL Group about how her team pivoted to host the all-online event; sponsors, speakers and all.
KL Group’s 320 Festival was scheduled to feature on-site panels, experts, artists, and thought-provoking conversations as an outdoor vendor/indoor panel one-day event in May. However, as the team planned for a large group of attendees inside a large L.A. theater, the world had other plans.
“(Coronavirus) happened and took away our event. So we kind of it took a minute, we had to sit on our hands for a while and wait to see,” Kate said.
The idea for the mental-health-focused 320 Festival came from Talinda Bennington, widow of singer and Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, whose 2017 suicide shook the music community. She approached Kevin Lyman about creating a live event focused on mental health and together they put together the festival – virtually.
With the help of Kevin Lyman’s USC students, the team threw a pre-party as a kickoff to the real thing one day before the government of California shut down group events. ‘320 Conversations’ was live-streamed to Youtube and hosted by Ken Jeong on March 9. The live stream received 200,000 views and around 1,000 attendees at Bovard auditorium in LA.
“If this little baby version that we did already has a huge number of views, imagine what the whole thing will do,” Kate said.
From there the team planned their all-online event, extending their panel to 90, their musical guest count to 26 and including speakers from New Zealand and Europe that would have otherwise not been able to attend. Since their production costs went down significantly, Kate could focus on securing sponsorships.
With time against the team, Kate leaned into Winmo’s decision-maker contact information and new sponsorship insight to connect with brands.
Brand marketing and spend freezes affected the team’s ability to obtain some of their regular sponsorships. But, the events numbers from their previous kick-off party spoke for themselves.
Through a no-nonsense approach in her outreach, Kate explained to her sponsorship prospects how important pivoting their business model is in response to the changes we have seen with COVID-19.
“I have a very, very straightforward approach. It’s almost like, I believe in fighting weird with weird like this situation is weird,” Kate said.
Her outreach humanized the situation and her data backed up the team’s requests for corporate partners.
Panelists and artists were sent t-shirts and items for product placement during their time on-screen. The brands that made the leap were able to capitalize on the opportunity to advertise at 320 Festival and reach over 250,000 people.
“All we could ask for were big numbers, you know… It wasn’t about being flashy or showy. It was about using the message,” Kate said.
Afterward, KL Group and the brands they worked with saw the importance of having a flexible, human approach to sponsorship deals.
Like many other event companies, they are not sure what comes next. Kate believes there will have to be a change as events will have to dial back, but finding the right balance is key.
“It feels like that first wave of being frozen in fear is starting to get starting to pass. And we’re getting to a place now where companies are starting to realize, OK, we really are figuring this out.”