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What do the US soccer team LA Galaxy, Wembley Arena and the Qatar National Convention Centre have in common? They are all part of global sports and entertainment company AEG, which owns or operates more than 100 venues worldwide. Its venues and events feature some of the world’s biggest superstars and attract millions of fans.
The crowds that packed the Barclaycard British Summer Time event, hosted by AEG Live and The Royal Parks in London’s Hyde Park in July, dancing to bands such as The Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi, were there in part because of Kimberly Kriss, AEG Europe’s senior vice-president of marketing, who joined the company in May 2012.
Kriss joined AEG from Interbrand and has experience in FMCG, property, retail and sport, a useful combination in her role of marketing various assets and focusing on AEG’s customers.
“The common thread throughout [my career] is you really need to understand who your customers are and then try to sell to them more often, in more places, but also continue to be relevant to them,” she says.
Beyond the dazzling lights of the stage, a steely focus on data is emerging in the company, which will help AEG to know its clients better, such as O2, the sponsor of the arena in London’s Greenwich, find out more about the people attending events.
AEG Europe is in the process of building a global database, in order to develop a deeper understanding of its customers and build a single customer view.
“What we’re going to start doing, across the board, is to be more targeted and relevant with the information we’re providing to our customers. One of the things we’ll be doing in 2014 is developing digital strategies that work for us, not only in the UK, but across the globe.
I said, ’forget that, that’s so fluffy’. Marketers are losing their seat at the table because they’re not putting the science into what they do
“We’re going to understand who our visitors are and what their needs and preferences are. Not only does that help us when we’re marketing a live event, but it also helps our brands and sponsors market to them too,” explains Kriss.
“Whether a sports team or a venue, we want them to be utilising the same tools and analysis, so that it’s easy to compare things.
From that global database we aim to develop online marketing dashboards so that we can automate a lot of what we’re doing. We’re probably only a few months away from achieving that.”
Kriss set up her marketing team from scratch last year and instead of making the usual hires such as a brand manager, head of PR and head of advertising, she went another way.
“I said ‘forget that, that’s so fluffy’. Marketers are losing their seat at the table because they’re not putting the science into what they do. There’s no rigour,” she explains.
Knowing that there would be a heavy focus on data and digital expertise, she hired a head of digital, a head of CRM, a business analyst and a head of activation.
“Anything else we need, we can use agency support.” She now leads a lean team of five, who work across all the company’s venues and assets in Europe [see AEG – a breakdown].
The company expanded into Europe in 2005, and Kriss, having worked at companies such as PepsiCo and Reebok, relishes the fact that AEG is privately owned (by billionaire Philip Anschutz). “It was almost a start-up from an existing company,” says Kriss. “The company is independently owned so you don’t have to worry about a board and shareholders. It means that decisions are a bit easier, there’s less red tape.”
Kriss’s marketing remit includes the O2 Arena, the Eventim Apollo and most recently Wembley Arena, following the company’s clearance by the Competition Commission to run the iconic London venue last month with owner Quintain Estates and Development. The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, also in AEG Europe’s portfolio, and a venue for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, opened last month after a reported £16.5m deal with SSE for the naming rights.
“Our department is almost an agency within an organisation,” explains Kriss. “It provides support to all the venues and assets that we own, manage or consult for. Every day is different.”
The team’s biggest challenge, says Kriss is how to ”imbed AEG as a leader, as a customer champion, as a sought-after partner in Europe, when it does not have as much heritage as it does in the US.”
Until now, the US and European offices have been run separately but Kriss believes they have missed a trick because of this strategy. “As I’ve been building the European marketing team and our expertise, knowledge base and skills have continued to grow, we have started to work more closely with the US team because we have more to share.” The global database will be one way in which the two regions can share knowledge.
The company has made two big moves in the UK. First, a bid for Wembley Arena by AEG Facilities and second, AEG Live winning a five-year tender last November with The Royal Parks to deliver Hyde Park’s summer events, previously held by competitor Live Nation.
More than a quarter of our tickets are being bought on mobilr and 35% of our web traffic is one mobile
“We don’t want to call it a festival because there are so many festivals that they have a bit of a stigma,” explains Kriss. “We like to consider it a live event that has something for everyone.” The team thought carefully about a name for its first Hyde Park event and looked for a space it could own.
“Hyde Park has tremendous cachet, history and heritage. We thought about how can we celebrate that and put a mark in the British calendar.”
It also needed a catchy acronym that would work for AEG’s global audience, says Kriss.
“When I worked at Interbrand, naming was a big part of what we did. A lot of names have different meanings in different cultures and communities.”
The team chose British Summer Time. “Because social media is so big for us and millennials are a key target, we wanted a name with a catchy acronym that was memorable like BST.”
Kriss has ambitions to make BST rival the popularity of the hip Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, another AEG Live event that takes place annually in California.
“That’s an aspirational brand for us. Digital [marketing] is really important for Coachella. People go online and start tweeting and talking about it even before the line-up is announced. People pass the word onto others; it has built itself organically. That is what we would really like to do.”
Barclaycard has signed up as headline sponsor for the length of BST’s fiver-year tender. “We wanted to align ourselves with a sponsor that is innovative, understands its target consumer and wants music and live entertainment as a pillar of its brand.
“Often, live events change their sponsors every year and that’s confusing for consumers. We wanted a sponsor that would make the same commitment as we made.”
The first year’s event has gone very well with around 345,000 attending, says Kriss, aided by the weather and a stellar line-up that included Lionel Richie and Jennifer Lopez, but there is still work to be done for next year’s BST.
“One of the things we didn’t do enough of was digital activation. We need to do more in building the brand. We didn’t build the brand the first year because there were so many other things to do.
“What type of consumers were coming to the event? What would their reaction be? What else are they interested in? We spent our first year on PR. Year two is spent on building that brand.”
Kriss runs a tight ship and even a potential PR and revenue disaster, such as headliner Elton John having to pull out of one of the days of the event at the last minute due to appendicitis, did not faze her team. They announced via social media that all ticket holders would get a refund but that they could still come to the event and enjoy the other acts and entertainment.
“We had additional [free] tickets available and in less than two hours they had all gone. From a revenue standpoint because attendees didn’t spend money on their ticket, they spent money on food, drink and bought merchandise at the event instead.”
Next year’s plans are already under way. “We’re looking at the people in our database who came to BST and are working hard to reach out to them and tell them first about the new line-up when tickets go on sale, to develop a strong relationship and community with our current consumers.”
The team will look to its customers to pass the word on to their friends about AEG events. “You have to be careful with millennials. Brands say ‘we’ve already got these people in our database, great, let’s go out to these people who we don’t have yet’. But that’s a waste of time and money.
“Working with the current people you have, to go out and influence these other people is so much more effective than working with people who have never met your brand before. Millennials love to share information, they love to influence and they really long for a sense of community.
“By 2017, millennials are going to have more spending power than any other generation. We really need to focus on that group. Whether it’s our blogging, tweets or Facebook, we’re really letting them drive that.”
Digital initiatives include plans to generate real-time marketing opportunities for sponsors by rolling out Wi-Fi networks across AEG’s venues, which could offer attendees exclusive content during gigs.
However, despite bringing innovation to the sector, there have been fears that the company’s growing dominance could lead to higher ticket prices, by reducing competition in the live entertainment sector.
Kriss says the company has made moves to try to give consumers choice in their spending. For example, tickets for The Rolling Stones at this year’s BST ranged from £95 to £295. “There are different tiers of tickets for all our events to ensure that fans can get access to the gigs that they want at the tier that’s going to work for them.”
In October 2012, the company launched AXS, its new ticketing platform. “AXS was the missing link in the customer journey and it has given us our competitive edge. We developed AXS to allow us to understand that fan journey in even greater detail and ‘own’ a part of that process.”
Features include the option of reserving tickets for a set period of time without having to pay for them, so fans guarantee tickets for their friends. “It allows fans to be in control of what they want to spend and when. That’s the reason we did a deal with StubHub as well.”
Ecommerce site StubHub is the official ticket re-seller for the O2 Arena. “It allows fans to buy a ticket in the secondary marketplace that’s safe and secure and authenticated,” explains Kriss.
Mobile is a big growth area and an AXS mobile app will launch this year. “More than a quarter of our tickets are being bought on mobile and over 35 per cent of our web traffic is on mobile. A bump in that once we launch the app is going to be tremendous and we’re going to see that continue to rise,” says Kriss. “If you’re not mobile ready, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of business.”
Kriss champions an omnichannel approach and believes that multichannel planning is a thing of the past. “I don’t get caught up in those buzzwords but I appreciate it because multichannel planning was about using a checklist for all the platforms, saying ‘I’m doing this, I’m doing that. Great, we’re everywhere’.
“But that doesn’t make sense for some brands. Some brands don’t need to have Facebook pages and Twitter posts. Omni-channel planning is about understanding the customer experience and optimising it through the channels that are most relevant to them.”
A company with such a variety of assets might have a difficult time defining itself and Kriss says AEG wants to start thinking of itself more like a media company rather than a venue owner and operator.
“There are so many assets and so much content and we need to figure out how we can start to monetise that content, but also be more effective in how we utilise and leverage it with our customers, as well as our fans and our partners.
“Media companies have done this for years. If we do that, we’re going to realise so many commercial opportunities and develop more communities that didn’t exist before because we weren’t leveraging our content as effectively as we could have. It’s a step change that will happen gradually.”
Kimberly Kriss: CV Highlights
May 2012 – Present: Senior Vice President Marketing, AEG Europe
October 2010 – April 2012: Director, Brand Strategy, Interbrand
October 2004 – 2010: Brand Strategy and Marketing Consultant, The Kriss Group
July 2008 – July 2009: Senior Vice President Brand and Marketing, Modell’s Sporting Goods
May 2004 – October 2004: Senior Vice President of Marketing, Sotheby’s International Realty [Luxury real estate brokerage agency]
February 2001 – December 2003: Vice President of Marketing and Brand Management, TV Guide at NewsCorp
April 2000 – December 2000: Director of Marketing, dSports.com, Dick’s Sporting Goods [Sporting goods retailer]
June 1997 – December 1999: Brand Marketing, Colas, Pepsico
November 1994 – June 1997: Retail & Entertainment Marketing, Reebok International