Keith from Penske Media discusses the value of sponsored content, brand preservation, and streaming. Here’s how Swoogo is an idea partner for such a versatile company:

  • Ad revenue is so content based and different brands need vastly different content
  • Customization (and whitelabeling!) is key to these big brands that can be very protective
  • When building big events, ticketing, event sites, and whitelabeling is key
  • Launching Sportico!
  • Eventing with the Stars: A fun story about Keith’s mom 

Our favorite quote: “I saw a Penske truck drive by here. So, thank you very much for that.”

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BW Events Tech

Next, I'd like to bring up to the stage, Keith Zarnardi from Penske Media Company, er, Corporation.

Thank you so much. Right?

Hey, Keith. Thank you so much for joining us.

Alright, Keith. Can you introduce yourself for everyone?

Sure. Also, I saw a Penske truck drive by here, so thank you very much for that.

All my questions are truck related and I'm really nervous now.

We are also.

Hi. My name is Keith Zarnardi. I run virtual events, hybrid events, and some in-person for Penske Media.

We're a collection of trade pubs.

I don't know if that's up there, but yeah. So there's just a couple.

But we are an acquisition business.

We focus on big events, the ACMs, the Billboard Music Awards, Power of Women, and then we have a festival business as well.

SXSW, we focus on the American Pavilion at Cannes, so we're there right now. Actually.

Very cool. I'd like, if everybody could raise their hand if they've either attended or watched any of the events that are up on the screen here.

So just about everybody. And then, could you raise your hand if you've ever attended a Swoogo event?

Right? That's everybody?

There you go.

I think we're winning.

So, one thing that's very similar with all these different brands is their ad-supported media. And for a lot of event pros, the way that they get revenue from their events is through sponsored content, whether that's sponsored speakers, so on and so forth. I'm curious, as somebody who's around hundreds of these types of events, how do you make that sponsored content tangible and helpful for the audience?

It's a good question.

Thank you.

So, we have a pretty big collection of trade pubs, so we do have a lot of sponsored speakers and whatnot. I think the, main the core of this is, be interesting and be relevant.

You know, that's that's kind of the crux of the whole thing.

Don't get up there and make a product pitch. But talk about the business problem or the industry problem that this topic or conversation is going to really, ultimately, solve. Like, make people smart, make them look smart in their next meeting, at the next cocktail party they go to, depending on if it's a lifestyle brand or ...

Yeah, can you talk a little bit about how you approach those different brands? So there's brands who are lifestyle, there's sports, there's business, so on so forth.

Sure. So we do a lot of different types of events, everything from screenings for the Emmys, to thought leadership for Sourcing Journal, to fashion, to cars.

You name it, we kind of cover it. So we cover one hundred and twenty-four million people on web per month, and one hundred and ten million people on social.


So, our reach is pretty large.

Yeah. For sure. For sure.

So you have a massive reach. I'm curious of all those folks, I'm sure you've seen a lot of data and stuff like that about what really moves the needle on specific content. Can you talk a little bit more about, like, audience behavior. What have you seen really attracts people to attend different sessions and engage, and really want to interact with your brands?

Yeah. I think another point to make is that, you know, if you have a sponsor like Netflix for a screening, say you've got Emmy's coming up, people expect that sponsor to be a part of that conversation.

They want the cast, they want the crew. That's the talent for that type of event. But if you have, say you have a thought leadership event, you've got a CEO, and then probably industry experts surrounding them.


So curation in that regard is really important.

And then finding ... sort of finding that middle ground when it comes to lifestyle, and some of the other types of brands, and marrying them sometimes makes a really good product, to be honest with you.

Yeah. Do the brands do, like, interplay with one another?

Yeah. Yeah. Interestingly enough, we are there.


But, no, we have for instance, Variety and Sportico, who launched during the pandemic, which is another really, really good story.

They partner around events; Robert Port and Sportico. Same thing.

So, yeah, it's been a really nice mix in that regard.

Yeah, for sure. How have you noticed, like, how do you keep like the core of each of these brands? Because brand is so incredibly important to each of these groups.

How do you make sure that your brand stands out and is true to the brand with each of your events?

Sure. Yeah. I give a lot of credit to my to the brand teams. A lot of them have their own event teams within.

And they ... as much as I am aligned with content, they're really the driver behind that. And they do a really nice job of preserving the brand and making sure that what we, the product we put on stage, is what our audience expects.

Yeah, totally.

And I think that that's also a big credit to our audience marketing team too.

For sure. For sure. So put the like, experts in the driver's seat for that.

For that.

Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. It'd be impossible, I think, to be a brand expert on each of these, you know?

Yeah. It can be.

And the hardest part about that is being, you know, with the acquisitions, even rolling through the pandemic and whatever, with it being a slow drip, it really didn't ... it wasn't like someone's throwing the kitchen sink at you. So I did have some time to get to know each brand, which is really great.

One of the bigger ones, our recent acquisition of Dick Clark Productions, has been in the media and whatever, but the way that we collaborate with them from a production standpoint, to drive some of our real stable core events, is going to be really interesting and something to keep your eye on.

Yeah, for those who aren't familiar, can you explain a little bit more about what Dick Clark Productions is?

Yeah. So Dick Clark Productions does, like, Rockin' New Year's Eve in New York City, the Academy of Country Music Awards that we recently just did a couple weeks ago.

The Golden Globes. So, as we build those award shows, and we reach a lot of voters. So, you know, that's become a really big market for us.

So like award show voters?

Award show voters, yeah. Yeah.

So how does how does that work? How do you put together content for those specific voters?

So again, the brands are really good at that, and they come up with these, you know, I guess together we come up with these franchises, which is really important.

And at the end of the day, the content being driven is really a credit to the brand side.

Yeah, for sure.

For a while we were talking about reach, everything is about reach, like the number of folks you can get. But I really love this example because it's such a targeted population, and going deep into that one targeted population of award show voters.

So actually, let's talk about how we organize that within Swoogo, actually. So it's a good point for for me to discuss that. So what we really were lacking in the first year of the pandemic was an, as close as we could get to an all-in-one solution, because we had a diverse set of brands, and, you know, we wanted commerce, so the ticketing. We wanted whitelabeled pages. We wanted to be able to build our own web pages, seamlessly.

And really the payment gate and the self-service was huge for us, because once we put the brands into the training and got them up to speed, that makes my job easier, but it also it gives them the creative freedom and freedom with the content to really make it their own.


So, a lot of these folks are legacy brands. And a lot of these folks are relatively new. And so, with a lot of legacy brands trying to pivot into, like, streaming and new forms of media, can you talk a little bit about your team's streaming efforts and touching on Harmony streaming? I know that was something your team launched recently.

Yeah. So we recently just launched Harmony, which is a proprietary streaming platform.

We're using it to amplify our larger set of events, like the Dick Clark productions, the award shows, and ultimately festivals, I think.

But right now, it's really being driven by the award shows. But July last year, I think it was, streaming for the first time passed TV viewership.

And so that sort of spoke volumes to us.


And so this effort is to really ... is to focus on reach, and then if we have to narrow in on, you know, curational content and whatever. As soon as we know what that means, other brands will participate as we get down the funnel.

So the idea is that you're able to stream across these different brands?

Yes, so we're really using our own network, and multiple other sources, to really drive people and eyeballs towards these staple events, and legacy events like you said. But they're really it's to bring them to, the or maintain ... whatever the word is.

Maintain the brand?

Yeah. The shine.

So your team is relatively new to SXSW.

I was curious, have you learned anything new from working with SXSW? It's probably like the biggest event that I could probably name.

Yeah. I mean, it's really, I think, the staple for how we work with other festivals going forward.

They have a great team. They're a great business, a great, really strong brand.

I guess what I've learned from working with them is really how large-scale production could be. We're getting there. But really it's kind of, as much as that sounds legacy, that maybe we're headed back to, but just in a different way.

Okay. That makes sense.


Does anybody have any questions for Keith?

Alright. One thing I would love to to dive in on is Sportico, for example.


Sportico is a really interesting value prop where it's like, it is sports media, but it's focusing more in on the business-y side of things. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you run events around sports and stuff like that as well?

Yep. That was really my first jump into sports, which ... very interesting.

Something I've always wanted to do, and just happened by chance ...


What was his name? Dick Glover, he founded Funny or Die. He was an ESPN exec.

He's heading up this Sportico initiative.

We launched that in March 2020, which is a pretty inopportune time to launch a business as we all know.

And they've absolutely crushed it.

So kudos to them in every regard. I mean, from access to talent to, their just straight up journalism. I mean, their events business, this guy Nick, he's second-to-none.

I mean, we've done everything from reporting in life, in real-time, to team valuations with the NBA, the NFL, MLB, creating infographics and sort of ... They're really kind of a good example of that divide by two, divide by three business. Where they take existing media and maximize revenue as a result?

Yeah. So thinking about different ways that you can slice and dice that content into different mediums as well. You mentioned the, like, access to talent. So these brands and these events, you've had the chance to, like, interact with some really cool folks. Like, I think you mentioned Jerry Jones was one there.

One, like, what is that and two, how do you manage to ... like how do you manage working with all these different, big personalities?

Yeah. It's a, I mean, it's a challenge, just like anything at that level.

It's different. I mean, you know, if someone's up for an award, they're a little more nervous than they are for, you know, something else. But, you know, the sports stuff that those guys ... I guess to answer your question is, they're typically all awesome to work with, with the exception of a few, which is just like every other ...

Name them?

Yes. Right. Yeah. I'll name them out loud, right now.

But, no, it's certainly, it's certainly a challenge and an adjustment, but not one that's, you know, it's not impossible.


It's one of those things. But it's a it's a delicate balance at times.

For sure.

And oftentimes, you forget that they're people, you know.

Like I fanboy a couple times.

Yeah. Yeah. For sure.

For sure. Who is your favorite? Who is somebody that you, like, really fanboyed over?

This is actually ... so one of my favorite stories, maybe an unpopular one, but, I was able to show my mom, like connect her and Kevin Costner on a ...

Whoa ...

A Yellowstone thing.

Oh, that's cool.

So, just to say hi. But, yeah, no, that was that was my favorite one, because she was psyched about it.

That's really cool. That's really cool. Maybe next year we'll get Kevin Costner at UnCon.

I don't know. It doesn't sound like he's coming back.

Sykes, Sykes, could we get Kevin Costner for UnCon next year?

That's a yes.

Okay. Great.

Perfect. Well, thank you so much, Keith. I really appreciate it.

I really appreciate it.

Big round of applause for Keith, everybody.