Events – Rock ‘n’ roll matchmaker

When Libby Biason walks into a room, you notice. The 31-year-old director of corporate sales and sponsorship at Toronto-based House of Blues Concerts Canada is infectiously energetic and passionate about what her bands can do for your brand. As gatekeeper to most of Canada's concerts (over 850 a year), she knows how to help you score cool points with your demo, from tweens to boomers, by leveraging the band's street cred to your benefit.

When Libby Biason walks into a room, you notice. The 31-year-old director of corporate sales and sponsorship at Toronto-based House of Blues Concerts Canada is infectiously energetic and passionate about what her bands can do for your brand. As gatekeeper to most of Canada’s concerts (over 850 a year), she knows how to help you score cool points with your demo, from tweens to boomers, by leveraging the band’s street cred to your benefit.

HOB recruited Biason just three years ago to head up a new corporate sponsorships department. Today, she leads a team of seven, which has grown out of HOB’s headquarters at the Molson Amphitheatre and into its own office space in a converted warehouse down the street. Thanks in large part to Biason’s innovative turnkey band/brand hook-up solutions, HOB Canada’s corporate sponsorship numbers are 35% above its U.S. counterpart.

And with two new sponsorship ideas in the works, she has no plans to slow down. One is ‘Bob TV,’ which she has dubbed ‘Garage Band Idol.’ It will feature a VJ, Bob, showcasing new acts in an online battle of the bands. Viewers can vote for their favourites, and winning bands will get to open for big-name acts, thus giving HOB a chance to announce tours. Sponsorship opps will include signage and Web links.

Project number two is a viral campaign called the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Roadshow.’ Designed for an auto sponsor, the promo will videotape concertgoers performing karaoke in vehicles displayed at shows. Some videos will then appear on the sponsor’s Web site, so participants can check to see if their performance made it. Biason envisions uploading 24 clips from each event and having an SMS vote to determine a winner. She expects participants will e-mail their friends to drive up their votes. Prizes will include cars and trips.

Biason’s ability to come up with innovative, relevant programs stems from a flexibility that enables her to respond to partners’ needs as they arise. For instance, one of her first clients at HOB was Toyota Canada. The brand wanted a younger demo, so Biason proposed positioning it as a supporter of emerging Canadian artists like Pilate and Buck 65.

Toyota had cars, a tent and a ‘backstage door’ at shows for fans to check out while killing time in between sets. But, Biason also recognized that tying a brand to a music property can be a risky thing (think Courtney Love/ Gallagher brothers shenanigans), so she offered Toyota five shows to test the waters. By the second event, Toyota felt it was safe to continue on with 25 shows across Canada.

‘Libby’s good at presenting all the potential in the world,’ says Mark Russell, director of account services at Dentsu Canada, who worked with Biason on the Toyota tie-in. ‘Once the idea is on the table, she’s great at adapting it.’ One of Biason’s key selling points is her turnkey approach. ‘Toyota was very happy to have her do everything,’ he adds.

Biason’s talent for win-win programs also aided her as a business development rep at Cadbury, where she worked after graduating from Sheridan College’s post-grad communications and marketing program.

‘At Cadbury, I was given the neglected accounts,’ she recalls. Instead of plotting ways to escape the dreaded ‘non-traditional’ portfolios, Biason embraced the challenge and brainstormed innovative ways to boost candy sales in venues like toy and hardware stores.

To encourage Home Hardware store owners to carry Cadbury products, for example, she pitched a ‘buy in to win’ program, which gave dealers chances to win trips to the Caribbean and Las Vegas when they bought cases of Cadbury products. The more cases they bought, the more chances to win. Biason estimates about half of the roughly 800 Home Hardware stores operating at that time responded to her initiative.

Another neglected Cadbury account at the time was Toys R Us. To boost consumer sales at the store, Biason worked with the chain to build an elaborate Easter window display featuring Cadbury products at the flagship Yonge Street store in Toronto. Biason also created Easter-related promos at the store. Her efforts got results: Cadbury sales at the toy chain increased 200%.

From Cadbury, Biason moved on to Mattel, where she was once again assigned non-traditional accounts. She was faced with the task of selling Barbie products to Petro Canada gas stations. So she stocked the stations with low-end Barbies and Matchbox cars (nothing over $10), and positioned them as road trip entertainment for the kids. She threw in some cross-promos with Coca-Cola products and voila! sold $1 million worth of Barbie products to gas channels.

Despite her experience with youth brands, Biason is anxious to develop more promotions targeting older demos. One brand is already on board: Panasonic, whose target includes what she calls the most lucrative yet under-marketed 35- to 65-year-old concertgoer.

Panasonic will have kiosks set up at three older-skewing shows: Robert Plant, Mark Knopfler and Santana, demonstrating its products and promoting an SMS-based contest to win prizes like TVs and cameras. According to Ian Kilvert, Panasonic’s director of corporate communications, the brand has been working with HOB for 10 years now, but before Biason came along its sponsorship was limited to mostly signage. ‘She’s full of great ideas – lots of new and exciting ways of getting the most out of the sponsorship,’ he says. ‘Her energy and her excitement for the partnership made it easy for us to go the next step.’

While others also sing her praises, the modest Biason is quick to share credit for her success. She points to her agency, event team, account management team, talent-buying team, and, of course, open-minded clients. ‘I’ve been blessed with really great people – I can come up with great ideas because they’re receptive to it,’ she says. ‘Taking that risk reaps rewards.’

Five questions

Favourite book: Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. It’s an introspective look at how to really appreciate the smaller things that you overlook on a day-to-day basis.

Reality TV show you’d most like to be on: The Apprentice. It aggravates me so much when I watch it and go ‘how can these people be so stupid!’

Favourite vacation spot: I love Italy. It allows me to speak a language that I don’t get to speak a lot here. I love the food, I love the culture. If I could go there every six months I would.

Greatest strength: The ability to see things in a different way – in a more creative way. So, instead of selling a Barbie doll, it’s selling a whole concept behind the Barbie doll.

Favourite way to unwind: I exercise. I spin, I run, I train for half marathons. Unwinding for me needs to be just as intense as what I do during the day. I don’t know if it’s the right way to unwind, but it’s working!