Why Apartment Therapy added more commerce integrations to its tentpole event franchise Small/Cool 

This article is part of Digiday’s coverage of its Digiday Publishing Summit. More from the series →

Event sponsorships are hard to come by this year, at least according to Apartment Therapy’s president Riva Syrop. But the money is there if publishers know what sponsors are looking for. And in the case of this year’s Small/Cool event franchise, Syrop said clients want bottom-of-the-funnel, transaction-oriented campaigns.

When planning for the 2024 iteration of Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool event franchise, Syrop said she and her team realized that the typical spring timing wasn’t going to be conducive for reaching their sponsorship revenue goals, nor their consumer revenue targets. Last November, Syrop said on the Digiday Podcast there were concerns about forcing sponsors to commit to large-scale sponsorship deals before their 2023 budgets were fully fleshed out. 

So the decision was made to push Small/Cool to October this year. And just a few weeks out from the kick-off of the three-weekend-long event, Syrop said on stage this week at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Key Biscayne, Florida, that the delay paid off. 

“This was a challenging year for event sponsorships,” Syrop said during the fireside chat. She added that revenue for the event remained “steady” year over year from a sponsorship standpoint, and “knowing that people are going to purchase on the spot and online from the event is really what brought the sponsors in at all.” 

What’s more, by moving from last year’s SoHo location in Manhattan to Industry City in Brooklyn this year, Syrop said that Apartment Therapy was able to scale down on overhead costs for the 2023 Small/Cool event, improving margins overall.

Despite keeping revenue for the tentpole event flat year over year, Apartment Therapy’s overall experiential revenue line is “slightly down” this year, Syrop said, which she attributed to the company doing fewer events in 2023. Namely, Apartment Therapy didn’t hold standalone sponsored retailer events or its Dine By Design event, which it did in partnership with Pinterest in 2022.

“We’re already having a lot of conversations around [event sponsorship in] ‘24, so I suspect that that’s a one-year anomaly and not a trend,” Syrop said. 

But the commerce-oriented nature of the Small/Cool event is what appealed to many of the sponsors who signed on this year. In fact, two new sponsors — mattress brand Serta and retailer Walmart — signed on because of the success they saw with commerce-centric campaigns on Apartment Therapy’s website earlier this year and they wanted to extend those deals in-person. 

“In the past, we’ve had a lot of non-endemic sponsors that [were] looking for KPIs like brand lift and purchase intent … like Yogi Tea and Toyota Corolla Cross. This year, it’s all very literal, which is not surprising to anybody. Brands want sales now [and] they want email acquisition,” said Syrop.

Serta, for instance, will have mattresses in three of the showcase rooms at the event, and attendees will be able to take quizzes and enter giveaways as an email acquisition tactic for the sponsor. Spoonflower, a wallpaper company that’s a returning sponsor for Small/Cool, will be in 14 of the showcase rooms this year. Syrop said Spoonflower returned after the company saw a 400% return on their campaign investment through sales made by attendees of a previous iteration of Small/Cool. “The goal is really immediate purchasing and revenue impact,” she said.

As for the consumer shopping element, Syrop said that Small/Cool’s Q4 timing this year gave Apartment Therapy’s commerce business a bit of time to stabilize after online audiences changed their shopping habits earlier this year to buy fewer big-ticket items, according to Apartment Therapy’s commerce data. The publisher will also feature smaller areas within a home during this year’s event, like an entryway or a stylized reading nook, because they’re easier for attendees to replicate, compared to larger living room areas that take more time and money for audiences to duplicate. Syrop said the company hopes the strategy translates into more sales.

Ultimately, sponsorships will likely still represent the lion’s share of revenue for Small/Cool this year. Syrop estimated a 70%-30% split between sponsorships and commerce revenue, but the goal is to increase the commerce contribution in the coming years. 

This year, however, any event sponsorship revenue is welcome. “We were honestly thrilled just to be able to fund this event and make a profit off of it, like we have in the past,” said Syrop.


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