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“Stay true to your core brand principle, and stay the course.”- Head of Corporate Affairs for Events NSW and Destination NSW (2008-2012)


With applications now open to exhibit your brand or product at Vivid Sydney 2020, we’re putting the festival operations and brand partnerships under the spotlight.

Vivid Sydney is a festival that needs no introduction. Since 2009 Vivid has been enticing more and more locals and tourists to brave the cold and experience the lights, music and ideas brightening Sydney’s winter nights.

Vivid began at an interesting time, many of the things we reply on today were just starting to emerge and take hold; smart phone ownership was rapidly rising, although it would be another couple of years before reaching the tipping point; Apple’s app store and Android iOS were both launched only months earlier in 2008; demand for real time news and content had just begun; Facebook had launched the like button in February 2009 and how we create, communicate and interact was fundamentally changing. New technologies and innovations were providing as many new opportunities as challenges, so it makes sense that Vivid has always felt interactive, future focussed and made for Instagram – well Hipstamtic really, the idea for Instagram was still buried in the data of Burbn, so it was about a year away.

In its first year 210 000 visitors explored Vivid Sydney’s light walk, music events and creative talks, all centred around the harbour precinct from The Rocks to the Opera House, generating an estimated $10 million in revenue for NSW. Jump forward 11 years to 2018 and the audience has grown as much as the program. 2.25 million local, domestic and international visitors explored Vivid Sydney’s 9 precincts, generating $172.9 million in tourism revenue for NSW.

The numbers tell the story of a brand and event that has successfully grown, innovated and adapted to changing needs over the years and, as we found out over coffee with Kate Pembroke, Head of Corporate Affairs for Events NSW and Destination NSW during Vivid Sydney’s first 4 years, the foundations to this success were laid long ago. “Sydney had a lot of great events already and a gap in winter programming presented an opportunity for something new. We wanted to create an event that was unique and different to draw locals and tourists out in the cold, so we looked at festivals all around the world for inspiration. The diverse programming and approach of London’s Meltdown Festival was really interesting and sparked the idea to create a festival that was more than one thing”

Lights, music and ideas have always been the creative pillars for Vivid Sydney but it wasn’t always one voice. There were four brands under the Vivid umbrella; Luminous, the music festival at the Sydney Opera House; Smart Light Sydney, the light walk around the harbour precinct; Fire Water, a three-night pyrotechnic spectacle on Sydney Harbour; and Creative Sydney, a series of creative industry talks at the MCA. 


Sense: With so many different stakeholders, how did you manage such complexity?

Kate: We knew having so many brands, stakeholders, and competing priorities would make everything from stakeholder management to marketing communications complex and challenging. We also knew what we wanted to achieve, we had a plan and the joy of building something new is that there is no rule book, we were writing it - learning, adapting and changing plans along the way. Every stakeholder wanted their voice heard of course and we wanted to ensure everyone felt respected while also making the best decisions. I think 3 things that made it as easy as possible were:

- Having an incredibly strong, experienced and open minded team who truly believed in collaboration, working with and supporting each other.

- A clear delineation of roles and responsibilities so the right people were leading the right discussions and decisions

- Being clear in and bringing everything back to our core purpose and goals to ensure the best decisions were being made for the right reasons. 


Sense: How did you balance the creative priorities of Vivid with sponsors who aren’t always creative?

Kate: Creativity is at the core of Vivid Sydney and as we were creating something new we took a new approach to partnerships and sort of tipped the model on it’s head. Our approach was to work with partners who could not only help us achieve our goals but who would fit in with the festival feel, create activations and participate in creative ways. There were obviously partners we wanted to work with but even then, if we couldn’t align our approach we couldn’t work with them.

Being true to our vision for the festival and what we were aiming to create, lead all of our decision-making. The approach required a little more effort in planning, partnerships and collaboration to achieve our goals, and the results proved the value of standing by our ideas and principles.


Sense: What do you think makes a great activation?

Kate: When creating an activation or event you want to stand out and be meaningful to the right people. Activations are a powerful opportunity to tell your story and connect with people in a way that can only be done face to face. It’s tangible and personal, but with an average attention span of about 8 seconds and high expectations, you also don’t have much time to make an impression.

To give someone a reason to engage with and remember you it’s vital that you;

  • Have a clear objective and message
  • Know who your audience is and what they are interested in as well as know your brand
  • Look around and see what others are doing for inspiration and 
  • Embrace creative thinking - don’t be afraid to try something different.

Sense: What are some of your favourite activations and partnerships?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics, Come to Your Census 2012:

Posing the question “What does a census really tell us about Australia, and about ourselves?” the ABS created an interactive activation that invited people to Come to your census and have some fun with statistics.




Intel has been a long term partner of Vivid Sydney and every year they create something new and different to bring technology, light and creativity together. They’ve had 100 drones creating art in the sky over Sydney Harbour, an interactive robot for anyone to control, Tron style rollerbladers roaming event precincts and were integral in lighting up Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time at Vivid in 2013.



Amplify, AMP Ideas Festival

Amplify adds another interesting layer to the ideas of Vivid. Curating a far-reaching community of senior business executives, industry influencers, innovators, entrepreneurs, fintechs, as well as students and employees across all layers of business, Amplify empowers you to discover ‘Limitless’ possibilities and anticipate tomorrow’s business.

It’s been running a little longer and is separate to Vivid but runs at the same time, and is an ideal way for people to extend the value of visiting Vivid into their career.


Sense: What were the Biggest Challenges you faced?

Kate: The biggest challenge for us was the complexity and creating coherence and consistency in branding and messaging across talks, music, lights, art, theatre and partnerships. We learned quickly that it needed to be simplified. After the festival had finished we took all the insights and feedback to a planning session to identify and create the changes needed for future planning.


Sense: What is the best advice you could give about planning an event or activation?

  • People are always the key to success.. from the team you’re working with to create your event or activation to understanding the audience/s you want to reach. Build and maintain great respectful, trustful, open relationships to create great results.
  • Never underestimate the value of free stuff - good, unique, quality free stuff that is both relevant and useful. If there is a way to sample, experience or represent your brand or service, even better.
  • Have clear goals, a plan and a framework to reach them.. but be flexible and open to change.
  • Be creative and don’t be afraid of change, but most of all
  • Stay true to your core brand principle, and stay the course


Kate Pembroke was the Head of Corporate Affairs for Events NSW and Destination NSW 

from 2008 – 2012 and is now Senior Vice President Corporate Affairs at Powell Tate, Weber Shandwick. We thank for her time and insights!


Looking to exhibit your brand or product at Vivid Sydney 2020? Speak with our team to find out how we can bring your activation to life.