If you’re a music-lover in Canada, odds are you’re grateful for The MRG Group. The country’s largest independent concert promoter and venue owner, MRG puts on more than 600 events a year.
“Our mission is to provide a good night out to people,” Biz Davis, Director of Digital Strategy at MRG, tells ToneDen. With bars, restaurants, and concert halls in their portfolio — plus the six festivals they host — the company fulfills that mission, putting on events that range “from stand-up comedy to Mommy blogger podcasts, metal, ratchet, hip-hop, raves, and everything in between.”
MRG is “very aggressively expanding,” according to Davis. (They’ll promote 800 shows this year.) To handle that massive marketing load, Davis works with Ani Hajderaj, MRG’s Digital Ads Operations and Ad Buyer. A former freelance journalist, these days Hajderaj juggles advertising for concerts, events, and venues.
A company this ambidextrous needs a digital marketing partner that’s just as adaptive, which is why MRG turned to ToneDen. “Our previous path of ad buying strategy was not very agile,” Davis admits. “We were using a tool that was very cumbersome for our needs as a concert promoter where things like sold-out messaging can change hourly. We were looking for a new solution and the timing was kind of perfect.”
Vancouver Heritage and an International Push
The MRG Group was born at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, with its red-carpet red façade. Listed as a National Historic Site of Canada, the Vogue was rescued from disrepair ten years ago when MRG President Matthew Gibbons purchased it. After the Vogue, Gibbons bought other venues and started a ticketing company (acquired by Ticketfly, then Eventbrite). His reach grew to Toronto, the Midwest, and the Northwest territories.
Now, with more than 100 employees and four offices, MRG is poised for the big time. “As we expand our [venue] portfolio,” Davis says, “we’re pushing public speaking, stand-up comedy, and international artists. Canada is a very multicultural country, so we’re pushing into French and Korean language programming as well. The next five to ten years are going to be a very exciting time.”
What’s also exciting is efficiency. Before using ToneDen, Davis and Halderaj were spending seven hours a day on social advertising. ToneDen changed that.
“It’s been a seamless experience that makes everything much easier to build, manage, and see from an overall perspective,” says Hajderaj.
When you’re running 300 campaigns at once like MRG, keeping the big picture in site is crucial. Davis admits, “We’re huge data nerds. We love deep data and we kind of endlessly pour over our own database … One of the reasons we’ve had success in the pilot program for ToneDen so far is that the targeting options are organically focused rather than very top down.”
Those capabilities are especially important for the sorts of international programming that MRG’s pushing, according to Davis. “We wouldn’t have been able to be as agile enrolling our campaigns and kind of building that audience without some of the platform features.”
From French Kiwi Juice to Matthew Good
MRG is the largest Canadian client on Eventbrite, selling 20,000 tickets a week. How do they move so many tickets? Davis, a 20-year industry vet who’s been a deejay, a manager, and a buyer, knows that success in marketing music comes from “connecting the intent of people with what they’re listening to and then showing them relevant communications.”
Tickets sales are just one metric. “When we talk to buyers,” Davis says, “it’s more about the revenue we generated. As a concert promoter, it’s not like we’re selling $109 pair of sneakers and we drop $10 off with the code. It’s demand and supply: a lot of it is elastic. With ToneDen, we can see revenue as the driver for success rather than clicks or conversions.”
A recent campaign for international sensation FJK has yielded the revenue results that MRG can expect. FKJ, otherwise known as French Kiwi Juice, is the Paris-based face of New French House music; he’ll play the Vogue Theatre on April 4. For this campaign focused on conversion events (i.e., ticket purchases), MRG spent $53 Canadian dollars. In a week, the company made CA$1,482 — a 27.8x return on ad spend. The best part? The show sold out.
Campaigns for native acts also see success with ToneDen. Alternative rocker Matthew Good will be performing at the Vogue Theatre two weeks before FKJ. Good, who’s won four Juno’s (Canada’s Grammys), has been making music since the mid-90s. The conversion campaign that MRG’s running for Good is going great. Spending only CA$256 has brought in more than CA$6,919 — a 27.3x return on ad spend.
We spend on average $35,000 to $50,000 per month in just Facebook and Instagram advertising alone. We’re on pace to probably increase that 20–30% by the end of next year. It’s a great stress test for the platform to see if ToneDen can keep up with us. — Biz Davis
“Cheaper Than a Full-Time Ad Buyer and Just as Effective”
Davis and Hajderaj use ToneDen as complement to their other marketing efforts. “You can’t just buy an ad on Facebook and expect to sell out,” Davis says. “You need terrestrial radio, you need print, the press — everything working in conjunction so when people see the ads, they act on them.”
That holistic approach is one ToneDen helps marketers take. The platform makes it simple for marketers to stay engaged with the artists they’re promoting. “We’re very much on the agile kind of methodology where we react to the audience and react to new media that comes out for our artists all the time,” Davis says. “So if [an act is] on The Tonight Show, we’re retargeting the ads to people who may have seen you on The Tonight Show. We get new calls to action, we’re redoing the ads with new creatives. With previous platforms that we used, it was very cumbersome.”
“With our business model, ToneDen lets us know which portion of our audience is dead, and which is still alive and reacting, and they allocate budget automatically accordingly—enabling our team to be much more efficient,” says Hajderaj.
For The MRG Group, ToneDen’s U/I, automation, and clarity of reporting make it an invaluable tool for indies — even the biggest indies — who want to compete with giants. Venue owners, concert marketers, artist managers, artists, small and medium teams — ToneDen, Davis and Hajderaj believe, would be effective for all of them. Davis sums up the platform’s value well:
“Not only does ToneDen reduce the amount of work you do, it increases the quality of work you’re doing.”