We conceptualized, spearheaded, and helped launch
America’s first large-scale light and innovation festival

Partner’s revenue increased 51% as a result of
Light City

$111.6 Million Dollars in Economic Impact so far

Over 2.9 Billion Earned Media Impressions

1,282,500 Estimated Number Of Festival Attendees
Over Three Productions

Creating a platform

We conceptualized, spearheaded, and helped launch America’s first international light festival. The Light City festival was a self-initiated project developed by Brooke Hall and Justin Allen of What Works Studio.

We were interested in creating a catalyst that would help Baltimore unlock untapped potential and become more prosperous. We were inspired to dream, design and build a festival that would capture the attention of the world.

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Designing a transformative event.

The initiative was designed to have a substantial annual economic impact and an overall positive effect by introducing the world to the breadth of remarkable individuals and organizations working to help the city reach its full potential.

In 2013, we launched a new venture, Light City LLC, implemented a multi-year campaign to build grassroots support, raised money, and hired the world-renowned Vivid light festival director, Ignatius Jones. In December 2014, we officially partnered with Baltimore City’s events office and we continued to raise money, act as spokespeople, manage marketing activities, build the website and mobile app, and lead the production of the innovation conferences. After the successful production of Year 1 in 2016, we sold the rights to Light City to Baltimore’s event agency, who saw their revenue increase by 51% as a result of the festival. According to the Baltimore Business Journal’s Book of Lists, their budget grew from $7.2 Million in 2014 to $10.9 Million in 2017. Because of Light City, Baltimore City’s event agency received the single largest financial contribution in its history. A top official at the agency noted that “Our reach now, especially with Light City, is becoming more national. We’re getting even more international artists and I hear that in the international light artist world, people are talking about Baltimore.”

The challenge we wanted to tackle.

Baltimore is known more for its challenges rather than its potential. While the city faces significant obstacles, it also has developed remarkable momentum moving towards a brighter future. In order to attract new residents, businesses, and other resources critical to the future success of the city, it’s necessary to expand the prevailing narrative of Baltimore to include more of the positive things happening here.

It all came together on a road trip.

The Light City concept was developed and honed by Brooke and Justin over several years after experiencing first-hand the transformative power of remarkable events. While brainstorming during a road trip in August of 2013, multiple back burner ideas came together with inspiration from international light festivals to form the foundation for what would become Light City. Before arriving at our destination, the festival was named, the vision was clear, website domains were purchased, and preliminary messaging work was underway.

Building a compelling framework.

The original Light City concept had three main components: Light, Music and Innovation. Light art draws large crowds together to have an unforgettable shared experience. Music because no celebration is complete without it. The innovation conferences were designed to attract thought leaders, entrepreneurs and business travelers from around the world to create meaningful connections within the city.

Getting the buy-in.

The first critical component to moving Light City forward was to carefully craft value propositions and presentations for every stakeholder that we approached for support. We assembled a team of advisors who provided access to influential networks and feedback on messaging. We refined our pitch over time and presented our idea to anyone who would listen in board rooms, backyards, and radio stations. The initial messaging for Light City won us early earned media, grants, and an innovation award as well as buy-in from all necessary players.

Research, Planning and Fundraising

In collaboration with Lindsey Davis, we performed market research and developed a plan, festival model and budget with a clear path for ROI. After a successful round of fundraising and receiving an innovation award, we hired a world-renowned light festival consultant, Ignatius Jones, to assist us. Together we developed a feasibility study, excited the public as to the potential of the festival, and pitched potential partners, including BGE who eventually agreed to become the lead sponsor, thus inspiring many others in the corporate community to purchase sponsorships.

Building a movement.

We facilitated over 65 meetings with city leaders, potential sponsors and artists. Phase I of the Light City initiative culminated with a VIP reception at the Four Seasons in March 2014 to energize city stakeholders and develop momentum to help secure sponsorships.

Convening the team.

We enrolled lead sponsors, steering committee members, including the co-chairs, the city’s events agency, fundraisers, conference logistics team, artists and other key partners and brought them to the table together. We crafted the early promotional materials, sponsorship proposals, presentations, videos, and website to help recruit additional volunteers to the team and secure funding.

Building the festival.

What Works Studio developed the brand, logo, style guide and various marketing assets for Light City. We developed the first two Light City websites and designed the Light City mobile app. We developed and managed the Light City social media accounts. We pitched new potentials sponsors, presented at community sessions and Board meetings, were responsible for many aspects of sponsorship fulfillment and were responsible for identifying, vetting and managing the conference logistics team. We performed many media interviews and acted as spokespeople for the festival and the conferences.

Producing the conferences.

In 2016, we designed, produced, and marketed four innovation conferences, which featured over 140 thought leaders and explored innovations in four key areas: Social Innovation, Sustainability, Health and Creative Industries.

We secured national thought-leaders to speak at the conferences such as Steve Case, Ray Lewis, Debbie Millman, Amy Webb, Jad Abumrad, Thomas Dolby, Robert Egger, Aaron Hurst, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, Richelle Parham, Reshma Saujani, and many more.

For the conferences, we developed the marketing strategy and implemented a social media advertising campaign to market four distinct two-day conferences to audiences throughout the East Coast. We also developed and enacted a successful direct sales plan for bulk ticket sales. Our marketing efforts resulted in six days of sold-out conferences that produced significant revenue for the 2016 festival overall.

Transforming the city with light.

In 2016, the free, week-long annual festival consisted of 29 large-scale light installations, over 100 music concerts and performances, and six days of innovation conferences. The festival succeeded in becoming a city-wide collaboration and a significant tool for economic development, civic engagement and tourism. Light City has become Baltimore biggest, most impactful annual festival in the city’s history. The first year brought over 400,000 attendees, earned 227.6 million media impressions, and had an overall economic impact of $33.8 Million for the state of Maryland (a ROI of 956%).

In 2017, Light City was expanded to nine nights and eight neighborhoods and drew an estimated 470,000 people. The second year of the festival earned 1.09 Billion media impressions, and had an overall economic impact of $44.3 Million for the state of Maryland (a ROI of 1,097%).

In 2018, Light City expanded to 3 weekends and fourteen neighborhoods. Year three saw 442,500 attendees, 1.6 Billion media impressions and $33.5 Million in economic impact.

See lightcity.org for more.

The results.

With the help of a team that grew to an estimated 500 people that included the city’s events office, corporate sponsors, institutions, artists, entertainers, and individual volunteers, the Light City concept came to life in 2016. In its first year, the festival attracted over 400,000 visitors to Baltimore and created $33.8 million of economic impact for the local economy. In its second year, the festival generated an estimated $44.3 million in economic impact and reached over a billion people globally through various media channels.

“It’s hard to measure how you uplift a community, but I think we were able to do that,” Light City co-founder, Brooke Hall. “Light City is my baby…” Hall said. “I’m excited to see it grow.” The Baltimore Sun, May 18 2016