I’m blasting the car stereo as I speed away from Calgary, Alberta and into the great Canadian Rockies. A sight to behold if you have never experienced this approach into this wildest, loneliest and grandest of mountain ranges in North America.
Nails polished. Hair saloned. Bag packed. I get a break from home life, responsibilities and regular routine for 72 blissful hours. I am headed into the great wide open. I am headed towards: The Gathering.
The Gathering is an annual coming together of the world’s most coveted brands and those who want to learn secrets and wisdom from the leading marketing gurus. I went to the very first The Gathering back in 2014 on a whim, and I have attended ever since. It’s that good. And now I consider it an annual pilgrimage and chance to learn from the finest marketing minds out there today.
I sat down with The Gathering’s co-founder, Ryan Gill, and The Gathering’s Managing Director, Greg Damus, to talk marketing, music, and the risks and rewards that come with event planning.
AKS: Gentlemen. Thanks for making time for me today. I know you are on the road 50 percent of the year, scouting brands and thought leaders to bring into The Gathering fold for next year. How’s the search going?
RG: It’s hard to believe that The Gathering 2017 took place back in February. I enjoy taking some time to reflect, but what I really feel is, “Holy shit! Only a few months to go until The Gathering next year!”
AKS: Time flies. Are you having fun?
RG: I think so. Most days anyways. 2018 won’t be our first rodeo. In fact, it will be our fifth, but that crushing pressure of feeling responsible for 900+ people never goes away.
AKS: I’ve never been responsible for even 10+ people in my career, but I’ll take your word for it.
RG: Really, what is more valuable than a person giving his or her time to be a part of something? That truth is what drives me. Terrifies me into creating the best goddamn experience any marketing professional or individual seeking enlightenment may ever hope for.
What is more valuable than a person giving his or her time to be a part of something? That truth is what drives me. Motivates me. (Ryan Gill)
AKS: I can’t say I’d ever feel bold enough to take on so much responsibility.
RG: I think I’m just wired that way. Risk scares me but it also motivates me. I don’t lead a quiet, conventional life. So, yes, I take on risk. But I’ve also got Greg Damus, Managing Director of The Gathering and world-class smart-ass, in my corner.
GD: Hey. Thanks for that introduction?
AKS: Greg, let me ask you—when you think about The Gathering 2017, what comes to mind?
GD: Honestly, I’m happy with the outcome, but if I am to truly talk openly, I was totally floored by how much work there was left to be done by the time the event actually rolled around. As much prep as you think you’ve done, you have to expect the unexpected.
As much prep for an event as you think you’ve done, you have to expect the unexpected. (Greg Damus)
RG: I think he imagined cracking open his first beer as the guests started checking in.
GD: Ha. Yeah, something like that. I don’t think I’ve cracked open that beer yet.
AKS: Greg, your lack of, shall we say, beauty rest aside, what is your post-game analysis of the event?
GD: Statistically, we saw the best year ever. We reported the highest revenues and ticket sales since The Gathering started in 2014. And for 2018, we’ve already doubled the sale of alumni passes. It’s tangible stuff like that that makes me feel like we’re doing the right things. Like we’re on the right track. It’s encouraging and reminds me that all the hard work is worth it.
In 2017, we reported the highest revenues and ticket sales since The Gathering started. Tangible stuff like that that makes me feel like we’re doing the right things. (Greg Damus)
RG: Absolutely! And speaking as the Numbers Guy, you gotta have a tough stomach for investing and carrying debt in order to fund the first years as you wait for a new idea to grow and take hold. I know that those numbers are finally starting to tip in our favor.
GD: Exactly. And we’re also shifting some of our actions to make sure we’re delivering value beyond the three days of the event. We don’t need to offer everything under the sun, but we need to constantly be thinking about honing the experience.
AKS: For sure. I’d like to pivot and reflect on The Gathering/Music portion of the summit. What can you tell our readers about that part of the event?
GD: The Gathering/Music debuted in 2016. It was a giant test, and we didn’t know what to expect, at all. I can confidently and happily say that The Gathering/Music this year was better all around.
AKS: Can you elaborate?
GD: For starters, the production value was far better. We got the numbers right on how much to invest in the actual event production and planning. And we were able to bring in bigger name talent, too, like The Sam Roberts Band and Bob Moses. That definitely hyped up the event and gave it some necessary street cred.
RG: You know how I feel about the bloated, immoral music industry. I’ve ranted about it before.
GD: Really? Not sure I’ve heard your take on that.
AKS: (I’ll supply some audio description; Greg is sarcastically grinning)
RG: Yeah, man. And I also think that taking on tons of full-time employees and overhead is the wave of the future for marketing agencies.
AKS: (Now I see sarcastic eye rolling, this time from Ryan)
RG: Anyway, my point is that I’m happy we’ve been able to move in a positive direction with The Gathering/Music. Bands need it. And so do brands.
AKS: Can either of you report on any band/brand love connections that sparked during this year’s event?
GD: I can! Alberta-based band, The Wisers, headed by frontman Chad Thomas, made significant inroads with online humor publication, The Chive. Following on the heels of The Gathering, The Wisers headed to The Chive’s headquarters in Austin, Texas during the SXSW music festival and collaborated on a cool little project that featured The Wisers on The Chive’s social channels. I know The Gathering/Music helped make that connection happen.
RG: These organic fusions between brands and bands is what it’s all about. I can’t wait to hear more stories like this in the years to come.
Organic fusions between brands and bands is what it’s all about. I can’t wait to hear more success stories in the years to come. (Ryan Gill)
GD: Me too.
AKS: How do you expect The Gathering/Music to morph in the upcoming years?
GD: I anticipate that it will expand its footprint and we will host festivals in Lake Louise and Canmore, in addition to Banff. But above all, the concept will remain the same—to create intimate settings where bands and brands can co-mingle and strike up meaningful professional relationships. And, by circumventing the music industry machine of talent managers, booking agents, etc., we talk directly to the artists and get big-name acts to play in these small, unique settings.
RG: Attendees departed this year’s The Gathering high on the whole experience. The excitement is already building for this coveted event of 2018.
AKS: Sounds like the dream is happening.
GD: It really is. It’s beginning to feel like the train has left the station.
Stay tuned for more news on The Gathering 2018. Early Bird passes are on sale now for The Gathering/Summit. Register today and see you in February!