From Michelle Obama and Mr. Brainwash to small-business street lessons and lotsa beer, Toronto hosted so many awesome events this year. Hats off to all the companies, charities, organizing staff, planning teams, venues, sponsors, and suppliers that keep the city’s event scene humming, year-after-year.
Here’s our annual behind-the-scenes spotlight on how six stand-out events in the 6ix pulled off their successful 2019 occasions:
Beer Lovers Celebrate
Event: Canada’s favourite beverage is fêted annually at Toronto’s Festival of Beer, which held its 23rd edition July 26-28, 2019 at Bandshell Park, Exhibition Place. The Beer Store is the event’s presenting sponsor.
By The #s: 3 days. Approximately 40,000 attendees. 100 breweries featuring over 400 local and international brews. 14 vendors. 2 live entertainment stages with 14 big-name acts.
In Essence: The festival’s popularity has evolved along with the boom in the craft brewing scene, keeping pace with consumers’ elevated taste for unique suds and authentic beer-food experiences. For the 10th year, Bandshell Park transformed into a beer utopia, with big beer brands hoisting pints alongside independent brewing artisans for a hoppy smorgasbord of tastings, activities and games. Bodacious Wines, Palm Bay sparkling vodka, and Fireside Cannabis were among the non-beer options. Local chefs, like Craig Harding (La Palma and Constantine) and Matt Basile of Fidel Gastro’s, along with other food vendors, such as Queen Margherita Pizza, Heirloom Toronto, and Chen Chen’s Nashville Hot Chicken, served upscale grub. Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation’s Bandshell Stage was the festival’s centre piece. Twisted Tea sponsored the Complete Country stage.
Vendors of Note: The festival has long-standing relationships with several suppliers who sit down with the planning team months ahead of the event to work out a thorough on-site plan. They include Varsity Tents, Nature’s Call, Ashen White, Moduloc, SecurTrust, and AdSpec.
Challenge: As the festival has grown, so have increased wait times for guests to enter the event. Organizers countered the issue by adding more staff for information, extra security to check people’s belongings faster, and additional entry points to help speed up the process. The improvements were made by listening to guest feedback, especially via social media.
Nailed It!: The 2019 edition enjoyed record-breaking attendance thanks to a rejigged floor plan that accommodated more guests and a ticket sell out. Renowned brewers from Grand Rapids Michigan, the beer region featured in this year’s TFOB Spotlight, were a huge hit, selling out by the event’s end.
Planning Insight: “Plan ahead to catch challenges before they happen, but guaranteed, a new one will arise. Good event planners quickly assess, find a solution, then move forward. It’s like they say in the sport of boxing, ‘Never admire your own punch because your opponent will have two more that come flying back at you.’ Take the challenges as they come, move on to the next one, and don’t overthink it. ” ~ Davide De Laurentiis, Marketing & Communications Manager, Toronto’s Festival of Beer
Tech Fest Success
Event: Elevate Tech Festival, the fastest-growing tech and innovation festival in the world, took over downtown Toronto for its third annual event Sept. 20-26, 2019.
By The #s: 1 week. 20,000 guests. 16 festival stages. 36 venues. 350+ speakers, 57% of which were women-identified — unheard of for a technology event!
Theme: With its mission to unite world innovators, the festival plays out day into night through a series of keynote lectures, networking sessions, digital application demonstrations, and evening entertainment. This year’s theme, “moonshot” thinking – encouraging anything is possible-style dialogue — celebrated the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, and was embodied by Elevate’s co-chair, astronaut Chris Hadfield. The theme was interwoven throughout sessions, with the moon prominent in festival branding and videos at the various topic-themed stages. Keynotes and fireside chats by world-thought leaders, a funding-pitch competition for startups, and an investor networking session were just a few of the programming highlights. A festival pass also gave attendees access to nighttime activations and entertainment at venues in a three-block stretch of King St. West.
Vendors of Note: Over 30 vendor partners played host, including the main stage at Meridian Hall, along with events staged at MaRS Discovery District, Telus Innovation Centre, the Design Exchange, and more. Solotech provided audio-visual support, Force1Six looked after activations as well as a-v, and Staffy was the hospitality contractor.
Challenge: Providing opportunities for festival guests to connect directly with speakers. This year, the planning team piloted the “Elevate Bookstore” with support by Indigo. Author signing events, from Chris Hadfield to Dax Da Silva, proved to be a great platform to facilitate direct interaction between guests and speakers.
Nailed it!: Creating an extraordinary speaker line-up. The fireside-conversation session between former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama and Claudette McGowan, BMO’s Chief Information Officer, was a phenomenal draw, with every attendee leaving with a copy of Obama’s autobiography Becoming. Chris Hadfield was also a session favourite, taking audiences from a keynote and fireside conversation to a live performance of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
Planning Insight: “Dreaming big, which is moonshot thinking in a nutshell, is how Elevate secures prominent names like Michelle Obama. It will be our continued mantra to growing the festival year over year.” ~ Razor Suleman, Co-founder and CEO, Elevate Tech Festival
Brand Activation Pop-up
Event: From Oct. 21 – 25, 2019 of Small Business Week, Scotiabank hosted Path to Impact, an art installation that showcased the journey of small business owners via an outdoor pop-up space at King and Spadina.
By The #s: 5 days. 5 installation pieces. More than 1,700 visitors.
Theme: Inspired by the path it takes to build a business, the installation pinpointed key moments of a business owner’s journey, the good and the bad, including “The Big Idea,” “Curveballs,” “Doubt & Isolation,” “Closing Doors,” and finally, “Impact.” The eye-catching, oversized art structures were inspired by contemporary urban playgrounds and street architecture, and were designed to encourage people to interact with the space. Scotiabank’s new, colourful brand identity was the foundation for the installation’s bright, bold colour palette, which brought the concept to another level of playfulness. Eye-opening statistics woven into each piece of the installation were collected by a research team.
Vendors of Note: Narrative’s creative team was behind the artful pop-up concept, handling everything from décor, design and event production to PR, signage and video. Astound Group Inc. was responsible for the build of the installation pieces, audiovisual production and lighting. Cotton Candy Staffing‘s brand ambassadors ensured smooth on-site operations, Quantum Coffee supplied hot beverages to visitors, and event photography was handled by Sarjoun Faour. Sentinel Security Plus provided 24-hour security for the space.
Challenge: The weather. Rain on the second day slowed foot traffic. That’s the risk of any outdoor event, however, but one worth taking to ensure the installation was located in a high-traffic space that was easily discoverable by the general public.
Nailed It!: Visitor interaction with the installation’s final section, The Impact Arch, proved extremely rewarding. In this area, people were asked to write down who they have impacted or would like to impact with their business. The responses, including “marginalized clients,” “women around the world,” “veterans,” and “patients and families,” were both powerful and hopeful.
Planning Insight: “Experiential moments are here to stay. When executing a traditional campaign, there is real value in amplifying a real-life experience that draws people in and breaks through the clutter. That’s what we did with Path to Impact.” ~ Gigi Rabnett, Event Producer, Narrative
Empowering Youth Gala
Event: On Oct. 17th 2019, Right To Play hosted the Heroes Gala at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, its annual signature fundraising event and the largest charity benefit that the organization hosts globally.
By The #s: 1 night. 10 pre-event silent auction days. 1,200 attendees. $2.64 million raised.
Theme: The event brings together community leaders who invest their time and talents to protect, educate and empower vulnerable children in 14 countries around the world including Canada. Raptors star Pascal Siakam, Right To Play Athlete Ambassador, and Dean Connor, CEO, Sun Life, the event’s title sponsor, were among the heroes honoured. The theme #tonightwerise was represented by an expanding interstellar plexus design that symbolized the multi-faceted global network of Right To Play. This black and gold creative was amplified throughout the evening, inspiring looks like the shimmery golden carpet entrance, interactive cocktail reception, gourmet sit-down dinner and awards show. The visual was also woven into key guest engagement areas like the feature bar, sparkling digital photo booth, and an interactive play-zone, where attendees were invited to participate in various forms of play. Siakam autographed black and metallic basketballs for the highest bidders.
Vendors of Note: Event management company Hala Inc. worked alongside the Right To Play team to produce an evening that integrated authentic images and videos that showcased the charity’s work both domestically and globally. ICON Digital Productions Inc helped dress the space with creative signage and marketing collateral, while GTA Selfies and Abbey Road Entertainment created a playful and engaging reception space that invited guests to bring out their “inner child.” Hitmen Drummers led attendees from the reception area to the elegantly designed dining space, culminating in an opening performance featuring the voice of the child, with Bach Children’s Chorus and BMG recording artist Rachael Bawn. Cirque du Soleil curated an aerial performance that symbolized youth rising with hope and possibility, and Canadian singing legend Jim Cuddy headlined the after party.
Challenge: Along with 18 Right To Play ambassadors, this year’s event saw two world champion athletes, Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu and basketball champion Siakam support the gala. It was a brilliant coup from a PR perspective in raising the profile of the gala. Their photos were the most shared image of Right To Play and #tonightwerise was the top three trending topics in Toronto on Twitter that night. The challenge was managing their experience as guests with the attendees who all wanted to get celebrity selfies.
Nailed It!: Leveraging technology to make the event more donor-centric. This year’s event featured an e-auction using Givergy, which expanded the event beyond the one night in the ballroom. By launching the auction online 10 days out, and making it available on mobile, the event engaged a broader audience while offering something enticing for all donor levels to participate in the gala. All items sold and the e-auction was a great success.
Planning Insight: “Our goal is to create a memorable event that connects our guests to the meaningful work we do, to inspire everyone to rise together and join the global movement of youth empowerment. We designed moments of impact throughout the evening that ignited the five senses in a powerful story of hope.” ~ Tanya Phillipps, Events and Sponsorship, Right To Play Canada
New Street-art Festival
Event: Yorkville Murals, a new annual cultural event celebrating contemporary muralism and public art, held Sept. 12-14, 2019 inside the courtyard of 99 Yorkville Avenue, and neighbouring Yorkville spaces.
By The #s: 2,000 attendees over 3 days. 9 murals. 9 artists. 1 block party. 1 gallery exhibition. 1 panel discussion. 1 movie screening. 270,000+ Facebook & Instagram reach. 30 million + media impressions.
In Essence: Appealing to both art lovers as well as Torontonians and tourists, the festival transformed the Yorkville courtyard into a paradise of colourful public art, becoming a social hub for elevated cultural experiences. The concept — to make the city an art destination — came from Charles Khabouth, CEO, INK Entertainment, and featured local and international artists, including RISK, Ben Johnston, Mr. Brainwash, Whatisadam (WIA), creating graffiti murals that will remain in place for a year. Programming included live outdoor DJs by La Haute Society, outdoor sculptures by WIA, Laurence Vallieres, and KWEST, plus a light installation by Ghost Atelier. There was also an artist meet and greet, art-lounge dining hosted at local restaurants, an art panel on public art, and a documentary movie screening.
Vendors of Note: The event brought together Yorkville businesses and organizations as festival partners, including INK Entertainment, Sofia Restaurant & Bar, Taglialatella Galleries, Aston Martin, Christian Louboutin, Spaces, Cumberland Private Wealth, Annex Hotel, The Hazelton Hotel, OCAD University, and the Bloor-Yorkville BIA. Romeo’s Gin was also a partner.
Challenge: As a first-time event, the risk of the unknown was surmounted by meticulous planning and programming, excellent media coverage, and awesome partners who went above and beyond in ensuring the event was a success. Planning for Yorkville Murals 2020 is underway, with an eye to drawing in more partners and local businesses to expand the festival’s footprint.
Nailed It!: Media coverage was phenomenal. CBC aired a segment on Yorkville Murals, highlighting the cultural progression of street art and how the festival supports Canada’s contemporary art community. Several artists created murals in advance, drawing street attention to the upcoming event. A few artists even hosted exhibition launches to promote their work and involvement in the festival.
Planning Insight: “Recognize the strengths of your team and partners and use that to enhance your event.” ~ Charles Khabouth, CEO, INK Entertainment
“We had the privilege of working with some amazing local and international partners that believed in our vision of paying homage to Yorkville’s history as an art hub. Through our shared creativity and collaboration, we were able to grow Yorkville Murals into the festival we envisioned. We look forward to watching the festival grow in the years to come with the support of our valued partners.” ~ Alan Ganev, Director, Taglialatella Galleries Toronto & Yorkville Murals
A Smashing Must-attend
By The #s: 1 night. 4th annual fundraiser. 300 guests.
Theme: Hosted by the museum’s Young Patron Circle, this year’s theme, Nourish, was a celebration of self-care and connection, featuring playful art installations, delectable food and drinks, and good conversation. The VIP portion of the evening kicked off with a Power Breath meditation experience led by MINDSET brain gym, followed by drop-in meditation sessions throughout the night. Contemporary art installations inspired by the theme included a dreamy digital landscape by Diana Lynn VanderMeulen, ceramic diffuser sculptures by Ness Lee, and a series of three-chambered ceramic cups by Jon Sasaki that encouraged partygoers to connect with one another. Guests mingled and danced to everything from classic hip-hop and R&B to electro and house courtesy of DJ Dre Ngozi. At the end of the night, everyone left with a self-care swag bag provided by media partner The Kit, which included vegan cosmetics, healthful snacks, and more.
Vendors of Note: The Food Dudes created a menu of flavourful and inventive bites that nourished guests throughout the evening. Food was paired with refreshing drinks courtesy of Collective Arts Brewing, Dillion’s Distillers, Astoria Wines, Lifford Wine & Spirits, and Campo Viejo. Show-stopping arrangements by Kenilworth Floral gave the space a sense of energy and occasion.
Challenge: Ensuring that an event’s purpose is not overshadowed by the party. This year, collaborating closely with the artists from the outset to ensure that clay was prominently featured helped highlight what makes the Gardiner Museum unique, and the event special.
Nailed It!: Co-Effect created a unique design concept that merged the party’s theme and the museum’s focus on clay perfectly. After a day shooting in the Gardiner’s ceramics studios, the result was an eye-catching campaign that featured vibrant images of summery objects dripping with clay slip. This set a fun and youthful tone for the evening.
Planning Insight: “Working with a committee that’s actively engaged and passionate about the organization’s mission is key. These are the people that will be helping to get the word out, selling tickets, and tapping into their personal networks. It’s important to invite their feedback and work with them to ensure that they feel excited about the event and proud of their involvement.” ~ Sophie Vayro, Senior Manager, Development, Gardiner Museum