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.