Why Time is getting back to custom activations as part of events business expansion

Time is nearly doubling the number of events on its calendar this year — increasing from 10 in 2022 to 18 in 2023 — and is expecting to grow event-based revenue by 55% year over year in the process. 

The event count increase is due to a renewed focus around selling custom activations, which account for four of the new events in 2023 and scheduled to kick off in August this year. Another four are being finalized. While Time dabbled in the past with a few custom events, this year these offerings will be a focus of Time’s events sales strategy, said Time’s executive editor and vp of events, Dan Macsai said. Time did not host any custom events in 2022.

Macsai described this as an evolution of Time’s events business. “This year, we want to double down on what has worked for us in the past. And that is building events that sort of sit on top of our existing editorial franchises… but take it to a new level by finding like-minded brands and partners who share our mission of creating impact,” he said.

Time’s event business is on track to bring in eight figures in 2023, though Macsai declined to provide a hard revenue figure. In the first half of 2023, Time’s event revenue surpassed the mid-seven figures, a spokesperson said. Last year, the company’s events business crossed the $10 million revenue mark for the first time. All of Time’s events revenue comes from brand sponsorships.

Time also has four new editorial events this year, including the Time CO2 Earth Awards in New York City in April, a Time Studios event during the Tribeca Film Festival in June and the upcoming Time100 Impact Awards and Gala in Israel and Rwanda in November.

While all of these events have sponsors lined up, they are not yet sold out. Time’s event underwriters include Deloitte, Booking.com, Cadillac, Citi, P&G, UBS, AFI and Fiji, among others. Booking.com, Cadillac, Citi, P&G and Fiji are all returning sponsors this year.

In general, publishers have been ramping up their events businesses this year, but getting sponsors signed on in early 2023 hasn’t been as easy as expected. A Digiday+ Research survey in April found that overall, publishers grew their revenue from events throughout 2022, but the percentage of publishers who said they made at least a very small portion of their revenue from events fell from 63% in Q1 2022 to 57% in Q1 2023 (likely due to the economic downturn). Meanwhile, 67% said they will have at least a very small focus on growing their events business in the next six months.

Time’s event sales model

Time sells different sponsorship opportunities for its events, with the price point ranging from five to seven figures, according to Time’s CMO Sade Muhammad, who declined to share exact numbers. Each sponsorship – from “founding partner” to “exclusive premier partner” – is unique to each event and client regarding price and what is included in the activation, Muhammad said. Custom events and sponsorships of tentpole editorial events are typically the most expensive offerings for brands, depending on their scope and concept, a Time spokesperson said.

Brand activations at Time’s events range from thought leadership programming opportunities, product placement and interactive, on-site brand integrations. For example, brands can sponsor custom dinners, breakaway sessions and brunches. Time also sells packages to event brand sponsors that include social and branded content offerings, Muhammad added.

Time has doubled its internal events team in the past year to help handle the growing business, with a total of 10 people now dedicated to events design, sales, customer success, programming and audience development.

Time’s custom events have a “built if sold” model, while others – such as its annual event franchises like Time100 Next and Time100 Impact Awards Summit – are scheduled with returning and new partners paying to sponsor the events. The timeline for selling an event is 8-12 weeks, Macsai said. When asked about details of Time’s payment terms, a spokesperson said the company’s contracts are confidential and unique to each event.

Muhammad noted that Time has not had a sponsor back out at the last minute, but the company does have protections in place in their contracts to ensure they aren’t left high and dry should this occur, given vendors expect significant deposits prior to events. She declined to share what those protections were.

Eric Fleming, co-founder and executive producer of Makeout NYC, which has produced events for Time in the past, said his experiential agency asks clients to pay at least 75% of the total cost to produce the event before it takes place, and the other 25% within 30 days of the event concluding. The size of the event also determines how soon they require the upfront payment, Fleming said. For example, Makeout NYC is still waiting for the deposit for a small, 150-person event happening at the end of this month, but another client with an event in October with over 3,000 attendees needed to pay by the end of June.

Doubling down on custom

Most of Time’s events are extensions of its large editorial franchises, such as the Time100 Gala and Summit, Women of the Year Gala and Person of the Year. But this year, Time will host new custom live events, such as its Time Impact House and Time100 Talks, which the company hopes will become recurring franchises, if they are sold. Time is selling these events around major cultural moments and events (such as SXSW or Art Basel), as well as editorial topics that Time covers, in any market, a Time spokesperson said.

Time’s first custom event this year, called Time Impact House, will take place alongside the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival in August and is sponsored by UBS. Programming will include a reception, panel and dinner, with start-up founders from underrepresented backgrounds, investors and policy and business decision makers as attendees, Muhammad said.

Time100 Talks – which launched during the pandemic as a virtual-only event series – will shift to become a new in-person, custom event product. One of these events will also take place at Martha’s Vineyard, which is sold to UBS as part of Impact House though there are still additional sponsorship opportunities available. Sponsorships at another Time100 Talk at UNGA Climate Week in September in New York City are currently being pitched.

Custom events will also take the form of smaller evening gatherings, like the one it’s creating on behalf of “longtime partner” American Family Insurance in Atlanta this August, Muhammad said. The event will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and will be an expansion of the partnership AFI had with Time for its immersive VR project in 2020 called The March.

This story has been updated to reflect that four of Time’s new events in 2023 are custom events, not eight.

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