I can honestly say that I never imagined myself attending a business summit that celebrates advertising. I mean, technically, it’s a celebration of cult brands, but with that comes great advertising and the stars are the chief marketing officers and the creative teams that develop that ads and creative that ultimately give the brand their cult-like status. From Skittles to Spotify to the LA Lakers and much more, all are celebrated for creating a remarkable product and a brand you simply cannot forget.
And it all happens in the Banff Castle.
Banff has its fair share of events and festivals, but when it comes to business and marketing, none can match the status of The Gathering. Organized in part by the CULT Collective and held in the beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs, the Gathering has become one of the top business summits in all of North America. In fact, Forbes has ranked it #1. So, if you’re looking to mingle with agencies, marketing creatives, and entrepreneurs while partying amongst the Canadian Rocky Mountains, then this is the best Banff event for you.
The first year I attended was due to winning a ticket from Chairman & Co-Founder Ryan Gill after commenting on one of his Linkedin posts. I remember being so impressed by the production value of it all. The beautiful panorama screen behind the stage is incredible to see. The networking is great, especially for those in the marketing world. It’s very well organized, the speakers are world-class, and the after-parties are awesome. I loved it so much that I brought my wife, Karla, with me for the 2020 event.
I always find it hard to encapsulate an event like this in one article. I mean, how do you squeeze down insights, stories, and advice from more than a dozen world-class marketers? However, I think the best thing to do is to break down the various aspects of the Gathering to give you a good taste of what to expect should you visit next year.
Without a doubt, the main “event” of The Gathering is the incredible speakers that fly in from all over North America and the world. These are people at the top of the marketing chain for some of the top brands on Earth. For example, the speakers for the 2020 event included those behind iconic brands such as Skittles, Doritos, Under Armour, Spotify, the Vegas Golden Knights, Hot Wheels, ESPN, Coca-Cola, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Each of the main speakers has been invited for two reasons. First, they’ve been selected for an award and second, they are there to share some of their insights and some of their top advertising and marketing campaigns that really caused a stir. This is all done in the main room, the one with the fabulous panorama screen behind them. I keep talking about this panorama screen because I’ve never seen anything like it. After each talk, a member from The Gathering goes on stage and does a Q & A, digging deeper into the person, the brand, and their campaigns. Attendees can also ask questions via Twitter.
Aside from the main stage, however, there are other smaller stages as well where other creatives (some who have won awards previously or are with an “emerging” cult-like brand) give insightful presentations as well. In fact, some people like listening to these talks even more than the “big talks” as they find them more “realistic” for smaller brands as well as being a little more up close and personal.
Speaking of up close and personal, there’s also the Inner Sanctums.
Another cool part about The Gathering is the Inner Sanctums. These are small breakout sessions with the speakers that are held in a small room with about 30-50 people. They are typically done as an “Ask Me Anything” type of session, providing an intimate experience with speakers. Due to the size, these inner sanctums typically fill out fast and members can usually only attend one or two, depending on the ticket you have. I highly recommend booking as soon as you can if there’s someone you really want to be in a room with.
Pinnacle Awards Dinner & Gala
If you’re looking to get dressed up and see the awards ceremony, make sure you buy a ticket with access to the gala. This is the only time during the business event that people get dressed up. You don’t have to be in a tux, but you should probably dress semi-formal. You’ll get open seating to the dozens of tables, served a 3-course meal, drink some wine, and watch the creatives get awarded for their work in helping to create a cult-like brand. One of the things I love about the gala is watching the “sizzle reels”, which are videos made using interviews that were done throughout the year with the creatives who are getting the awards.
Networking and Parties
No true business event would be complete without a few good parties and The Gathering doesn’t disappoint. Throughout the day, there are little bits of time to mingle with attendees and even the speakers. However, each night is when the event turns into a true gathering and party. There’s typically a DJ spinning beats in the main hall or in one of the rooms, a bar serving a variety of drinks, and everyone dancing or mingling around. Since the days are so busy with speakers, the night is the best time to meet others attending the gathering. What’s really cool though is that the speakers are often mingling with everyone as well. Where else do you go to a business summit where those on the stage are hanging out with the attendees?
The Gathering Music
Just like SXSW, The Gathering is now adding a music component to the event. During my first year, they actually had a concert in the Fairmont Banff Springs on Thursday night, which was awesome. This year, the concert was held in downtown Banff at the Rose & Crown on Friday night. However, the Gathering does bring in a DJ for both Wednesday night (day one) and Thursday night (day two) at the Banff Springs, bringing the party right to the Gathering.
Where to Stay in Banff
Banff is one of the most popular places in Canada and there’s accommodation for all types. If you can afford it, the most convenient place to stay would be the Fairmont Banff Springs since that’s where the event is held. However, if you’d rather not dish out $700+ per night, there are many more options, including:
Bow View Lodge (Budget): This is one of the better budget hotels in Banff. It’s located right in the heart of all the action in downtown Banff as well as being next to the beautiful Bow River. It’s only a 5-minute drive from the Fairmont Banff Springs and costs approximately $110 per night.
Mount Royal Hotel (Mid-range): Another cool hotel is the Mount Royal, which is also located on Banff’s main street. Newly renovated after it almost burnt down a few years ago, the Mount Royal has a classic charm to it as well as a beautiful hot tub on the roof.
Best Western Plus Siding 29 Lodge (Mid-Range): As always, you can’t go wrong with a Best Western. Not only is it located in a great location in downtown Banff, but it also includes free breakfast, free WiFi, a swimming pool, and is newly renovated.
Where to Eat in Banff
For maximum convenience, there are restaurants within the Fairmont, but as you might expect, they are quite expensive for what you get. However, if you’re able to get into downtown Banff, there are restaurants of all kinds and for all budgets. For speed, you could go get fast food but if you’re looking for restaurants, some of our favourites include:
Block: We write about Block so much that I almost feel they should hire us as ambassadors. But how could we not share our favourite restaurant with you? Both the drinks and food are inventive and delicious, with the food bringing in an Asian twist. I’d say it’s a mid-range restaurant and you should expect to spend about $50 per person. It’s also very small so you may need to wait to get a seat. Note: If you’re in a rush (like for lunch), we don’t recommend coming here. This is a place best utilized with time.
Banff Curry House: If you’re looking for some Indian curry, look no further than the Banff Curry House, which is located right beside Boston Pizza on the main street. From common favourites like creamy butter chicken to Indian classics like Dahi Bhalla Papdi Chaat, this place will satisfy your ethnic cravings.
The Spaghetti Factory: We usually don’t advertise chain brands, but in all honesty, the Spaghetti Factory used to be our go-to restaurant every time we visited Banff. Why? Well, it’s pretty good food and it’s really good value. For less than $20, you’ll get warm bread and butter, a starter soup, your main pasta dish, a scoop of ice cream for dessert, and even coffee or tea. Plus, it’s also a nice place and located right off the main street in the mall.
What to Do in Banff Outside of the Event
Banff National Park is the most visited place in Canada. Why? It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and it’s home to some of the best outdoor activities you can imagine. Since the Gathering is held in the winter, some of these activities include alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog-sledding, sightseeing, or just spending time in the Banff Hot Springs.
For more on what to do in Banff, check out these articles below: