Since 2009, Pop-Up Magazine Productions has been producing what can be described as the journalism version of a concert, where contributors take the stage in front of a live audience to read aloud articles that are produced specifically for the event and accompanied by music and videos and photos displayed on a theater-sized screen behind them. Google, Coach, Lexus, Amazon and Warby Parker are among the brands that have worked with Pop-Up Magazine, which was acquired by Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective in November 2018.
Now, it’s helping other companies to produce their own events and is rolling out a kit for anyone to put on their own Pop-Up Magazine show.
Pop-Up Magazine now been approached by between 12 and 24 companies that have asked it to help to produce their events, said Chas Edwards, president and publisher of the company, which also publishes California Sunday, a print magazine inserted in the Sunday print editions of newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and The Los Angeles Times.
In the past year, Hermès has hired Pop-Up Magazine’s Brand Studio team to put on several performances from past shows for a private dinner the fashion brand hosted for some of its vendor clients in October 2018. Google-owned navigation app Waze similarly hired the company to assist with its Waze Forward event, which was effectively a daylong sales pitch to advertisers and agencies held in New York City in October.
“When we were talking about the Waze Forward event, I was thinking what can we do that was innovative and different and not make this just like every other conference that we all go to,” said Suzie Reider, managing director of advertising for North America at Waze.
A former colleague of Edwards’ at CNET, Reider had previously attended Pop-Up Magazine shows in San Francisco and New York and reached out to him. After that conversation, Pop-Up Magazine’s Brand Studio team worked with Waze to pick out two performances from past shows that tied into the transportation theme, and it also produced a custom presentation for the brand.
In cases like the Hermès dinner, when Pop-Up Magazine is simply licensing stories from its archives, the company charges in the high five figures, whereas when the Brand Studio team is developing original content for a company, the rate rises to the low six digits, said Edwards. There’s even more money to be made in developing an entire show for a company and taking it on tour; “that can be a couple-million-dollar engagement,” he said.
Pop-Up Magazine is also planting seeds for another revenue stream. This year the company began rolling out Pop-Up Zine, a do-it-yourself kit for individuals to produce their own shows. While individuals are required to charge for tickets to Pop-Up Zine shows, Pop-Up Magazine is not taking a cut of ticket sales. Instead, the company plans to eventually be able to sell sponsorships against Pop-Up Zine shows alongside any sponsorships that the individual show producers are able to sell.
Whether or not Pop-Up Zine grows in popularity to the point that Pop-Up Magazine is able to sell sponsorships against the local shows, it’s possible these off-shoot shows could otherwise contribute to its business, as was the case with Waze.
While Pop-Up Magazine’s Brand Studio is increasingly working with other companies to produce their own events, its primary work remains producing the sponsored presentations that take place during Pop-Up Magazine shows. If a Pop-Up Magazine show is analogous to a magazine, these sponsored presentations are the advertorials that can appear between presentations by journalists.
At a Pop-Up Magazine show in Los Angeles on Jan. 30 kicking off the company’s “winter issue,” a presented story about an adult day care center for people with memory issues was followed by an ad for email marketing company MailChimp. Pop-Up Magazine executive editor Anita Badejo introduced the ad, which was a video narrated by actor Jay Duplass that played on the stage’s backdrop screen.
Google was another sponsor of Pop-Up Magazine’s winter issue, which concluded its six-city tour on Feb. 13 in Austin. Google had sponsored Pop-Up Magazine shows before, but the latest tour was the first time that Google’s Brand Studio team participated, using the tour to promote its “Search On” documentary series by teasing a clip of one of the series’ films on stage.
Of course, reach is an issue. While Waze would “absolutely” work with Pop-Up Magazine again to create content, said Reider, the performance marketer is unlikely to sponsor one of its shows because of the reach limitations.
But Pop-Up Magazine emphasizes its shows’ ephemerality to its audience the point that it can make them more engaged and therefore more alluring to some brands. At the Los Angeles show, Pop-Up Magazine senior producer Tina Antolini opened the show by reminding the audience of the shows’ transient nature. “After tonight, the show will disappear. You won’t find any of it online. We made it just for you,” she said.
That distinctiveness has enabled Pop-Up Magazine to charge in the low six figures for sponsorships of tours that span multiple cities, according to Edwards. He declined to say how much revenue the company generated last year or whether it’s profitable, but he said the tours themselves are profitable. In addition to sponsorships, Pop-Up Magazine sells tickets to the shows — which average $42 a ticket in big cities, said Edwards — to offset the costs of renting out a venue and paying the journalists that produce and present stories on stage.
“I haven’t found many opportunities to have a space where people are 100 percent engaged. They’ve created something really special,” said Nelly Kennedy, global brand marketing director at Google and head of Google’s Brand Studio.