Nick Kozak for the Toronto Star
Case Studies

Brands wary of music club’s marketing, but Toronto-based Young Lions Music Club’s events need sponsorship for profits

Bobby Kimberley makes his living connecting people.

In 2011, he quit his job with a music artist development agency to start Young Lions Music Club – a marketing agency that doubles as a throwback to fan clubs of old, bringing like-minded music fans together for concerts, DJ nights and a slew of music-related events.

The club focuses on unique experiences. Members enjoy access to events such as celebrity DJ sets – the latest featured Andy Rourke, of The Smiths fame, on a 500-person Lake Ontario dance party cruise – and meticulously themed parties, the last of which involved reenactments of scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, with music and photo opportunities inspired by the film.

The events not only bring in revenue; they also allow YLMC to act as a marketing agency for bands and brands who want to be front-row centre with the coveted demographic of cash-flush young music lovers. And, thanks to information the club collects when members sign up, Kimberley knows all the key details about his more than 850 (and rising) members – from age to tastes to location. He uses this knowledge as a tool to attract sponsors.

But while membership continues to grow through word-of-mouth, Kimberley is having trouble expanding the business by getting brands to partner with YLMC for future events. While adventurous, youth-conscious companies such as Red Bull and Scion have ongoing relationships with YLMC, having spent anywhere from $500 to $10,000 on sponsorships, other businesses are wary of partnering with Kimberley’s young venture and new approach to marketing. Without the sponsorships, he simply isn’t making enough money to grow.

“People are afraid of something that isn’t 100 per cent proven,” he says.

When Kimberley approached the Toronto International Film Festival this summer about his Shining-themed party, they were happy to connect him with sponsors. In early September, he held a viewing of the movie in a loft space on Adelaide St. W. Blue carpet was laid out from the street to the elevators, where a dozen women in tiny blue dresses stood waiting among a sea of Skyy Vodka bottles for a TIFF party upstairs.

Despite the help from TIFF, Kimberley had failed to sign any deals with sponsors. The Skyy party wasn’t his — its location in the same building was just coincidence.

He still netted a profit from the Shining event, about $400 after $3,500 in costs. A dedicated membership that consistently shows up at events means the company always comes out in the black – although usually only to the tune of around $1,000.

Sponsorship would help massively to increase this margin, and prevent situations like one that occurred last winter, when Kimberley threw a party in the Burroughes Building on Queen St. W. It cost $12,000 and yet, despite selling out, netted a total of only $150 in profit.

“We made more money returning the beer empties than we did from actual bar sales,” he says.

Alan Kay, a consultant with The Glasgow Group and a former senior advertising and marketing communications executive, says landing brands is all about getting inside their heads.

“To get into the budgets, you have to know their business first,” he says. “You can’t make any assumptions about their target audience if you don’t know the client’s business.”

Luckily for Kimberley, one of the benefits of offering a YLMC membership – which comes with a personalized card that offers discounts to local businesses, as well as a handwritten thank-you note welcoming members to the club – is knowing exactly who goes to his events.

“We’re trying to be the access point to a music community for artists and brands,” Kimberley says.  By quantifying the club’s members, he can reach out to the brands that want to connect with that audience.

Kay says the company’s data collection is its most valuable tool. Collecting membership information lets Kimberley pull out subsets that align with his target brands’ audiences. By throwing a party with a guestlist full of potential clients, he makes the offering much more attractive to sponsors.

“The beauty of these events is that the sponsorship activation can take any number of avenues,” Kimberley says. “We could have our muralist build the brand into what she’s doing. We can have consumers actually using the product; for example, new mobile and communication technologies could fit perfectly into the futuristic feel of 2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Kimberley believes this model will be the differentiator that brings in the clients he’s looking for, but the events themselves are the basis for his long-term strategy to win brands, throw more parties, and boosthis membership.

At the moment Kimberley is the company’s only full-time employee, and he’d like to grow and hire staff to run events, manage artists, and perhaps expand operations to new cities. He also has his heart set on opening an official YLMC event venue.

He just has to show his potential sponsors what they’re missing out on first.

EXPERT VIEWS

As Interviewed by: Tom Henheffer

YLMC is unique, and profitable after just a year in business. That’s great, but the company needs to start making some real money. Firstly, they should change the website. It’s aesthetically pleasing, but primarily dedicated to upcoming events — it doesn’t really go into any detail about what they do, or the fact that YLMC is a marketing agency. The web presence needs to put forward a professional image and show brands how a sponsorship can benefit them. Now, the fact that Kimberley collects so much data is great, and it’s helped him land some adventurous, youth-oriented brands. Growing his social media presence and detailing events to drive membership — and increase that wealth of data — will be key, but he also needs to show larger, more conservative companies how they relate to his audience. I’d recommend he do some research to find out what his ideal partners are looking for in a sponsorship, then approach them with pre-packaged deals that illustrate the benefits of partnering. If he gets this right, the fact that he has a new business model might cease to matter.

by Tisha Rattos - Rogers

Kimberley has an interesting, very local concept that has already managed to attract major brands. His company offers experiential events and works to connect brands with the audiences they want to reach. However, his value proposition may need to be re-considered as it could be the reason why he’s having a hard time attracting more sponsors. Kimberley needs to find out exactly who his target market is, what they want, where they communicate and how to get them talking about his company. Collecting member information is important, but with membership in the hundreds, I think the club may be too small to attract major brands. If Kimberley can get numbers in the tens of thousands, then he may have an audience that the Skyy Vodkas of the world might be interested in tapping. To get there he’ll have to make membership more attractive — how can he go beyond events? Do members want deals and coupons, or access to pre-release music? If he continues without finding a way to ramp up, he’ll hold some nice events, but the business won’t be scalable.  

by Mike Feaver - RBC

Kimberley needs to decide who his clients are — the club members to whom he’s delivering the special experiences, or the artists and brands trying to reach those members. Is he selling artists to the fans, or fans to the artists? By trying to do both he’s failing to serve either well, and creating problems for himself and the business. Personally I think he’s best suited to concentrate on the fans and spend his time creating those unique events instead of trying to market artists and sell a lot of sponsorships. If he can build a cohesive, dedicated following that he understands well and is consistently able to impress, the membership will grow quickly because people will tell their friends: word of mouth and social media will spread the news fast. This approach will grow the club organically, creating a larger fan base — one that’s more appealing to bands and brands. Sponsorships will then become easier to find, and Kimberley can get the additional revenue streams he needs to build profits without the risk of alienating fans.

by Theo Peredis - York U

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