Special Events
The Art of the Lounge: Corporate Hospitality at Arts Festivals

The Art of the Lounge: Corporate Hospitality at Arts Festivals

Corporate-branded lounges must be created with care, so they make a splash without drowning in commercialism

The customer base is there, the press is there—and so many brands want to be there, too. "There" is a red-hot festival, where a heady mix of lively activities and a committed audience can be an irresistible lure for brands looking to engage with consumers.

Corporate sponsors tread a fine line, however. Many festivals—particularly cultural events such as arts and music festivals—got their start as counterculture events. Brands that push too hard risk alienating the very audience they want to win over.

The Sundance Film Festival, for example, started more than 30 years ago as a low-budget alternative to mainstream Hollywood. It has grown, however, into a celebrity-studded event that big brands don't dare miss.

Los Angeles-based Chic Events has created the lounge for magazine Entertainment Weekly at Sundance for several years, and keeping the lounge from looking overly commercial "is definitely a concern," notes Chic founder Rachel Hollis.

Instead of ham-handed branding, "EW focuses more on a beautiful event space than one that screams their logo," Hollis explains. "The clean, modern, beautifully designed space is as much a branding statement for them as any signage would be."

AFR Furniture Rental & Event Furnishings, headquartered in Pennsauken, N.J., just contributed to lounges at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, which ended last week.

THE POWER OF PILLOWS

Corporate lounges are created to "bring a VIP feel to the event," notes AFR southeast general manager Greg Zalkin. "There is a move in general not to plaster these areas with the brand. Clients want to be classy and tasteful with their brand. They almost want it to be a bit more the subliminal that their brand is the sponsor. This is why pillows and table graphics work well; they get the message across about the brand, but don’t have to be everywhere and in your face."

Another player at Bonnaroo 2011 was Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Precision Event Group, which created a lounge for cable channel Current.

"With a grass-roots audience at the festival, authenticity was of primary concern," notes Precision founder Jason Wanderer. "Therefore, minimal branding, a focus on content, 100 bean bag chairs to lounge on, and the ability to engage at your own pace was key." In the Current lounge, guests could watch Current programming, check their email and "'bathe' in the brand experience," Wanderer says.

One big plus: The Current lounge was air-conditioned, a welcome respite from the heat.

"Never underestimate the draw of air-conditioning," Wanderer says.

See the full story in the July-August issue of Special Events.

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