Franchising Events – How to!?


We have noticed a trend of franchised events in Hong Kong. Meaning - an event concept which originated in a different city and now has been brought to ours. But how does one get into this? And what’s it like actually running one in practice? We sat down with three organisers who have done just that in Hong Kong and asked them to share their experiences.

Louisa Haining of Secret Walls - the world's premier live art battle.
Kim Campbell of Slideluck - a New York City-based, non-profit arts organization that provides an opportunity for artists and arts-appreciators to gather around food, friends, and artwork.
Ellie-Kate Macalister of No Lights No Lycra - casual free-form dance sessions in the dark held in an underground basement in Hong Kong to great tunes.

Q: When did you first hear about your event?

Secret Walls started in Shoreditch, London in 2006. I was living in the area at the time so went to some of their first battles. It's since spread to over 20 countries across the world. (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

I was first introduced to Slideluck on Halloween in 2006. One of my friends bumped into a guy wearing the same costume at a party. He turned out to be the founder of Slideluck, Casey Kelbaugh, who was passing through Hong Kong for work at the time. Now we joke about the Church of Latter - day Saints bringing us together - both he and my friend were dressed as Mormons! (Kim Campbell, Slideluck HK)

A friend of mine does NLNL in Auckland, New Zealand and always raves about it. It seemed like an awesome concept to bring to Hong Kong. I teamed up with Ali and ta da! We now have No Lights No Lycra Hong Kong. (Ellie-Kate Macalister, No Lights No Lycra)

Q: What made you think you would like to start your own in HK?

A great friend of mine Sarah Ouellette brought Secret Walls to Hong Kong nearly four years ago. She had seen the battles in Sydney and wanted to bring the format and platform to Hong Kong. I've been fortunate to be involved and take over from Sarah. She was brave, at the time there was much less happening in HK, the street art scene has since grown considerably. Secret Walls and organisations like HK Walls have really helped foster local and international talent in Hong Kong and give them opportunities to either battle or paint. (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

At that time, Slideluck wasn’t yet ready to expand to Asia so the idea got put on the back burner for a while. I ended up going to study in Canada and it wasn’t until I moved back a few years ago that the idea popped up again. In 2014 there was interest from a few cities in the region and we decided to be a part of Slideluck’s Asia-wide debut with shows in Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul. I think that there is a real desire here for community led and initiated events. Our goal is simply to create a platform for local artists and photographers to showcase their work, and to bring artists, art-lovers and foodies together in a fun, casual and non-commercialised environment. (Kim Campbell, Slideluck HK)

I met Ali, who also wanted to bring NLNL to Hong Kong and together we've been hosting it for over a year with a group of fantastic volunteers. (Ellie-Kate Macalister, No Lights No Lycra)

Q: How did you start?

We started about 3.5 years ago, with no budget, the guys doing everything themselves. In our first year we had some great artists compete, Cath Love, Mark Goss, Jay Cawdell, Tinyau, Jimson, Used Pencil, Man Tsun and Wang. That definitely helped make a bang and attract new artists to compete in Series Two. We try and bring different illustrators, street artists, tattoo artists etc into each year. As our battle uses Posca Pens and Paint we get a wider pool of people applying, not just graffiti artists. We've been fortunate to have sponsors, who have enabled us to cover the costs of building walls, buying paint, giving the artists a prize, paying DJ's and MC's etc,… Our third year has been big, with every gig selling out at Backstage Live! We are hyped for Season 4 next year, expect some surprises. (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

I signed on as the Director of Slideluck Hong Kong last year and have been working closely with the Global team in NYC to make sure that our shows are in line with their general concept, although all cities are unique in the way they run their events. The enthusiasm that has been generated around our shows has helped to propel us forward and has been very exciting to experience. As we are a non-profit event, we depend solely on sponsorship and collaboration with others. This means that my team and I spend a lot of time meeting with people, explaining our vision and finding ways to work together with other companies and individuals. It is immensely rewarding but also takes a lot of time and commitment. (Kim Campbell, Slideluck HK)

We had to find a venue - which is tricky in Hong Kong. It needed to be somewhere that was spacious, had a great sound system and was dark. We created a Facebook event, invited everyone we knew, posted teasers in the leadup to the event...and we had a great turn out! (Ellie-Kate Macalister, No Lights No Lycra)

Q: Are there any guidelines?

Secret Walls is an international brand, as such the guidelines around the battle format are set in stone, this ensures consistency and fairness across each geography. We're hoping to have more international battles and to go into new countries, so this means it remains consistent. The benefit for the international platform for local artists, is the pictures and work from series go live on our global website. Also it can connect artists from different countries. For instance Bao, Series three winner is chatting to the recent UK winner Candy Lo..... That's why we do it. (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

There is a template for how Slideluck shows run in other cities and all submissions are handled through New York. This was actually very helpful for our first show as we could build up from an existing structure and ask others for advice. This year we can now focus on other elements such as reducing waste and raising the profile of recycling at events, and working closely with other local arts organisations to share ideas and artwork. (Kim Campbell, Slideluck HK)

We need to follow NLNL guidelines. For example, every dancer needs to fill out the waiver form, we play an hour of music, it needs to be dark and it's drug and alcohol-free. Good clean fun! (Ellie -Kate Macalister, No Lights No Lycra)

Q: Do you have much interaction with the founder?

Terry has a strong vision for Secret Walls and I've been fortunate to interact with him a lot. We are discussing all kinds of new projects, countries, community outreach work to help support local artists in the future. I've actually got a Skype with him next week on some things! He's recently moved to LA from the UK, there's some dope projects happening with Secret Walls in the U.S. (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

If there are any major issues I can get in touch with the founder directly. Casey actually flew out to Hong Kong for our launch last year, which meant a lot to us. On a daily basis though I am mostly in touch with Global team, based in New York, who help us to handle everything from production details to social media to beer shipments. (Kim Campbell, Slideluck HK)

NLNL HQ let us know when there are big global dance events happening, like NLNL Earth Hour Edition! (Ellie-Kate Macalister, No Lights No Lycra)

Q: What problems have you faced, if any?

Lots haha! Real estate, real estate, real estate. Venues is such a battle in Hong Kong. Finding a space which can fit 8ft x 16ft walls plus at least 200 people is challenging on the island. When we started there were less events popping up in Kowloon and the new territories. We have always been keen to have the battles in a big warehouse space, but felt we didn't have enough committed followers to not have the parties on the island. However next year we're ripping up that thinking. We want to have big indoor and outdoor spaces, have bigger block style parties, add more music elements and other aspects of battling and hip hop. I think now people from the island will travel, and importantly a lot of the local vs international artists/audience don't live on the island. About time they had to travel less! The costs are high for running the event too, building walls, storing walls, paint, t-shirts, stickers, flyers, posters, DJ's, MC's etc etc. Without sponsors like Havaianas we wouldn't cover our costs with tickets alone. We want to keep the ticket price the same so a wide range of people can afford to come to the battles. Sponsors enable us to do that. Sadly Backstage Live! where we had the battles this year is having to close due to rental increase. One of the few live gig bars in Central. Great shame. Sure Abe the owner will go on to kill it somewhere else though. (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

There will always be snags when putting together an event. Things fall through at the last moment, or something you ordered won’t be ready on time. The most important thing is to stay organised and flexible. Always have a back up plan ready and don’t let obstacles or pessimism sway you from your goal. I have only ever had one person tell me that this was a bad idea and that it wasn’t going to work. She was the very first person I talked to and it really stung, but if I had listened to her I would never have met the hundreds of people who have been totally inspired by our concept and who have helped us out along the way. (Kim Campbell, Slideluck HK)

None as of yet! (Ellie-Kate Macalister, No Lights No Lycra)

Q: Do you throw other events?

I also run a company called Mischief Productions which does mural/commissions for shops, restaurants, hotels, etc anyone who wants to pay the artists properly for original work. Our ethos is to enable the artists to still paint in their style, vs heavily commissioned, but do some exciting work that reflects our customers brand. It gives the artists from Secret Walls and wider community in Hong Kong a chance to get paid for their work! In addition we do a range or art and music events. Some very corporate where businesses are looking for something exciting and interactive with their customers, some for places like Urban when they have opened new stores. I'm passionate about music, live acts, hip hop, funk, soul, trip-hop, jazz anything quality so as a consequence have just started a new series of events with Alice McKay, Rich Cheesman-Prince and DJ Preservation. We had our first party last week. We've got lots more in the planning, mixing quality/diverse lineups from U.S. and Europe with wicked local performers and DJs. We will also be running workshops and seminars. (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

I can barely manage this one! Although our Event Director, Ayeesha Shahani, never seems to stop! (Kim Campbell, Slideluck HK)

Nope (Ellie-Kate Macalister, No Lights No Lycra)

Q: If yes how does this differ from doing your own event?

Every event differs. The ethos is always the same, do something well or don't bother! Make it accessible and everyone welcome and have as positive experience as possible. That relates to the crew, artists, musicians as well as the customer and crowd. If its a straight music event though, I get less sweaty! don't have to carry tonnes of paint, walls, etc down my 4 floor walk-up flat or office!!! (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

Q: Have you found people in Hong Kong know about the origins of the event?

I think the branding is tight for Secret Walls, as a consequence the audience are keen to understand more, check out our global website, or parent Facebook and Instagram pages. Within the artist community most people know about the battles in other countries. I think the most important thing to Hong Kong though is the origins in HK and how we can make the battles more exciting and help inspire the next generation of artists in Hong Kong. (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

Slideluck is new to Asia so most people don’t know the origin. I have met a handful of international photographers however who have been to Slideluck events in other cities and that’s always really exciting to hear about. (Kim Campbell, Slideluck HK)

We've had people join who have danced at NLNL in New York, Sydney, Melbourne, Shanghai, Wellington, Berlin and Auckland. It really is a global community. Most NLNLers in Hong Kong didn't realise it started in Melbourne and is now hosted in different cities all over the world. I think they really enjoy being part of the global community...I know I do anyway! (Ellie-Kate Macalister, No Lights No Lycra)

Q: Are there things you would do differently if this was solely your event?

The format works so well, time limits, the simplicity of using black and white etc. I wouldn't want to change that format, if it works and gives artists best chance to produce something great in a tough time limit that's great. However we do have freedom to add, adapt other elements, music, venues etc. I always want to improve it, keep it fresh. Else why would people come and watch series after series. The artists are the main pull, but in mixing up locations, having multiple battles at events, adding in new elements will be key to us remaining attractive to artists wanting to compete and people shelling out the money to come and watch! (Louisa Haining, Secret Walls)

It would seem that running a franchised event is both enjoyable & rewarding, so if you’ve been to an event in a different city & loved it, don’t be selfish – come share it with HK! ☺