Create & Cultivate

Media and marketing firm Create & Cultivate recently inked seven six-figure deals with a number of heavy hitters as the company solidifies a business model built on keeping pace with Millennials.

Among those recent deals for the West Hollywood-based business, which consists of a web site with content and national conferences, are Fossil, Chevrolet, Chandon, Clinique and Mary Kay. The contracts represent yearlong partnerships that essentially own an entire category at the company’s events, whereas deals with brands in the past were largely around a single conference or one-off moment.

The company’s business has also now evolved into the bespoke event arena, the most high-profile of those being the Style Summit for Simon Property Group Inc., which launched last year at The Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass Mills in Florida. That was followed up with a second summit in October at the Houston Galleria. The thinking behind Style Summit was that Create & Cultivate has the Millennial women Simon wanted, but the mall operator needed people in its properties, not brand exposure at a conference. So Create & Cultivate pivoted. Each Summit brought in more than 400 people to those respective malls.

“Our bread and butter are the conferences, obviously. That’s where our big brand awareness has come from, but as of last year we started doing things like Style Summit,” founder Jaclyn Johnson said.

There have also been smaller bespoke events such as last month’s Chicago luncheon for Clinique, which hosted 20 influencers to highlight the cosmetic company’s Moisture Surge gel-cream hybrid. Last year saw Eddie Bauer tap the company for a three-city tour in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco to focus on connecting the brand with influencers in the athletic space.

Johnson launched Create & Cultivate in 2012, hailing from the influencer marketing and events side. She sold her business to Small Girls PR and launched her current firm, which has been profitable since the start and also doubled revenue annually. The firm’s projecting just under $10 million for this year with a staff of 12.

Johnson brought on partners over the past few years. Three years ago it was Raina Penchansky, cofounder and ceo at Digital Brand Architects. Last year, it was Blended Strategy Group cofounders and co-chief executives Allison Statter and Sherry Jhawar. To date, Johnson has kept the firm self-funded.

“I always say never say never,” Johnson said of raising capital, adding she’s been approached by a few female-led venture firms. “We’ve been growing steadily, doubling revenue and also doubling staff. We brought on different partners. In terms of raising money, from my perspective, you should raise money when you need money and we don’t need money right now. I don’t want to raise money to raise money.”

Although, the ceo confirmed certainly more capital would help when the company takes its next leap into products, which could happen as early as this year. The company will also further refine how it’s speaking to its audience by creating a new subbrand aimed at the Millennials in the 18- to 24-year-old range, with more details to be announced later this month.

The landscape of what could loosely be defined as digital media firms — businesses that have fostered a community through their online platforms that’s since morphed into any manner of revenue streams from pure content to events and retail – encompasses an interesting fabric of players ranging from Clique Brands, owner of WhoWhatWear and other brands, to Refinery 29, Goop and Girlboss Media. Bumble — originally just a dating app — is also increasingly making an interesting move with its physical networking spaces, called the Hive, and what’s expected to be a big push on the content side with the hiring last year of its first editorial director.

“We were not necessarily first to market obviously in the conference space, but what we were first to market in was creating a new kind of conference, one that wasn’t in a hotel and a place where you can look good and feel good, but also get tactical advice on how to raise money, how to grow your business and meeting amazing women and have amazing food,” Johnson said.

More competition only helps the broader industry, Johnson said, arguing an all boats rise sort of logic when it comes to her peers. With more players, brands become more aware of what’s out there and expand their experiential marketing budgets, she explained.

“People are realizing more and more the power of being offline, so more people in the space means more attention to the vertical in my mind,” Johnson said.

When Johnson first launched Create & Cultivate, the bulk of brand sponsors were in the fashion and beauty space. That’s rapidly changing as marketing budgets adjust to keep pace with the times. There’s also a refining of the industry’s understanding of Millennials and just how diverse the group is, which Johnson said is reflected in how Create & Cultivate’s business is changing.

“What excites me is the evolution of the type of sponsors that we’ve been getting,” Johnson said, pointing to examples for the upcoming L.A. Create & Cultivate with Tinder, QuickBooks and LinkedIn. “We’re starting to transcend categories and really become this place, from Health-Ade Kombucha to QuickBooks, that’s understanding the modern Millennial isn’t just interested in fashion and beauty. We’ve become this brand-agnostic space.”

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