Event Design

Corporate Festivals Win Over Young Staff

Skift Take

The festivalization of events trend reached a whole new level in 2022 with a private three-day experiential music festival featuring superstar Bruno Mars. Corporations globally are investing in festival experiences as strategic incentives to attract and retain young talent.

Festivalization has been trending since well before the Covid pandemic. Skift included it in its Travel Megatrends back in 2017. Meetings industry trade shows such as IMEX and IBTM World have showcased the trend in action by investing in new audience activations at each edition.

The Ultimate Employee Perk

Home remodeling company Power took this festivalization to a new level in 2022 by creating ‘Quest’, a three-day experiential music festival and company incentive trip featuring Bruno Mars, Wiz Khalifa and Quinn XCII. In total, 3,000 employees and guests participated in the corporate music festival without speakers or educational content.

The company uses 2 percent of top line revenue to fund around 250 events a year. ‘Quest’ accounts for approximately 30 percent of the company’s total event spend. The Philadelphia-based company has 3,600 full-time staff across 19 U.S. cities.

According to internal surveys, 86 percent of employees believe that ‘Quest’ has been an essential part of what makes Power a great place to work, and 98 percent of employees say they look forward to the end-of-the-year event. 

Employee feedback is overwhelmingly positive, and it comes through a variety of informal formats. Vice president of people experience Chelsea Sullivan believes the intangible benefits outweigh survey results. “You can’t measure hugging your mom, like it just feels good. And that’s how we feel about the investment in our people,” she said.

Power’s 30-strong all-internal experience events team, led by vice president of people experience Chelsea Sullivan, plans the whole festival. The team includes people with diverse talents and skills. In addition to ‘Quest’, they work on leadership summits, initiative summits, employee resource group events, hackathons, and community engagements. 

Sullivan started in the company’s contact center ten years ago and went on to build the events team from scratch. She is now responsible for the strategy behind the employee experience, which has events and festivalization at its core. Relying only on internal staff to create events means that every event experience detail is personal.

Employees Favor Entertainment Only

Power has hosted an end-of-year employee bash outside the U.S. since 2011. In 2012 the company started buying-out hotels for a three-day event with one day dedicated to music. Three years ago, the focus shifted to an all-out three-day music festival.

Well-known musical acts have featured before, but this year’s edition was extreme; so much so that it sold out in seven minutes. Employees must book their own flights before they can reserve their place. Power takes care of all other expenses for employees and their plus ones.

“It was more than just the music for us. It was the concept of one-of-a-kind experiences. So how can we expose our employees to different types of art and culture and music and get them involved in things that they normally just would not be involved in?” said Sullivan

This year’s event included a talent show with employees showing their musical abilities in between the big acts.

Going Beyond Music

Art is also part of the experience. “We have our installations all over the resort and some of them are completely built out where it’s just beautiful art that people can interact with or it’s art that we want people to finish the end products. We want it to be their masterpiece, so we want them to get involved,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan’s team creates custom food and beverage menus working directly with resort chefs, ensuring anyone with allergies is safe, and the food works for all dietary restrictions. Safety is also essential, with a dedicated safety team deployed onsite.

Once ‘Quest’ ends, the events team stays behind for a few extra days of relaxation and planning for the year ahead. Next year’s event will again focus on wellness and bring back an initiative called Sway, which stands for sober ways to advance yourself. It featured designated alcohol-free areas aimed at recovery or practicing a sober lifestyle.

In 2023, Power will return to Moon Palace Cancun, where ‘Quest’ has been hosted since 2017 and working with production company Sidetrack, a partner since 2016. Working with vendors with similar values is important to Sullivan, who considers them family.

Sullivan’s ambition is clear, “I want ‘Quest’ to be known around the country as like the most exclusive, most creative, best festival of the year.”

Festivalization of Professional Development

In Australia, professional services company PwC created a corporate festival for its new managers. Over the month of May, five separate cohorts of 500-600 new managers enjoyed a four-day immersive event in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley. ‘The Outside’ featured lectures, fitness, immersive experiences, and plenty of music. It was a hit. Younger participants in particular appreciated this novel approach to professional development.

Corporate musical experience creators SongDivision provided all the musical elements across the program, including morning rave DJs, sound baths (meditation experiences facilitated by musicians), and the house band. 

SongDivision Monica Dolso, general manager, Australia at SongDivision, was actively involved with ‘The Outside’. She sees events becoming less about executives talking about company growth and more about growing the people in the company. “Companies are finally realizing that in order to retain people they need to value the whole person – grow them professionally and personally,” said Dolso.

SongDivision CEO Andy Sharpe dares planners to create more corporate festival experiences. “Planners need to be ready to roll with the punches and be myopically focused on the end result of creating unique, positive experiences and memories for the attendees,” he said. 

Recruiters Embrace Festivalization

In the U.K. The Recruitment Events Company took its annual festival for recruiters outdoors in 2019. RecFest was a huge success, and despite going virtual in 2020, they returned to the full festival format in 2021 and 2022. 

RecFest 2022 (Source: The Recruitment Events Co)

The 2022 edition sold out, with more than 4,000 human resources professionals attending the summer business festival. Ten stages featured 100 speakers, while performances from Reggie Yates, Noasis, and Judge Jules delivered nighttime entertainment. Feedback surveys indicated 92 percent of attendees would return next year.

The next edition is set for July and marks a return to Knebworth Park in July. Additionally, a new U.S. edition is planned for September in Nashville.

Photo credit: Quest 2022 / Power