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A drunken party to a red carpet event: the evolution of the VNZMAs

While Lorde, SWIDT, Teeks, Devilskin and Stellar took to the stage to perform for the crowds in Spark Arena and at home on the couch, Erin McKenzie got an inside look at what it takes to bring the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards to life.

By Erin McKenzie | November 24, 2017 | news

“The first year for us was 2002 and the event was shambolic," says Pead PR founder Deborah Pead reflecting on her work relationship with the Vodafone Music Awards over the last 16 years.    

“The following year we joined forces with J&A Productions and presented a plan to Recorded Music to not only improve the awards but also to build a sponsorship vehicle and a night of entertainment that the entire industry would be proud of.”

Pead says the industry responded well and with the inclusion of broadcast and print partners they’ve been able to deliver the values to support scalable sponsorships to help grow the event.

The scale of the 2017 event showed that the party had come a long way since its shambolic genesis.  

The steady stream of limousines, the media presence, the red carpet, the celebrity focus almost seem a little incongruent viewed in the humble Kiwi context. 

In total there were 217 working media at the event including 48 in VIP, 50 with enhanced general admission and 119 backstage.

Among the media was one of the Pead's staff capturing the action for social media and convincing the likes of Dave Dobbyn and Jacinda Ardern to pose for a Shapchat selfie.

Pead says the introduction of the social channels means a lot more monitoring. Every year there is always progress in the area for the team to integrate into the communications mix and that’s had a significant impact on the results it achieves.

“We have always driven great PR results – now we can drive engagement too and that has to be good for the artists.”

Another change Pead has seen over the years is the way the industry has sharpened up its act. While guests were certainly walking with beverages in hands at this year’s event, Pead says they put on a professional front compared to what they got up to in the early days.

And while that behaviour has given Pead plenty of anecdotes, one that particularly stands out to her was a colleague announcing a Posthumous award to someone who was very much alive and well. There were a number of red faces after a journalist pointed out the mistake.

Behind the scenes

Away from the glamour of the red carpet, a door, guarded by security men, led to the backstage area, which is a corridor with dressing rooms and media rooms coming off it.

It’s there J&A director and event producer Andy Dowding works, although it could be considered a second home now as he has been producing the awards for the last 15 years.

It’s under his watch, that the show is produced—a challenging job considering he has a front row seat to any drama that might unfold. Like Pead, Dowding has particular stories that stand out, including floods, fire alarms and animals.

“[One year,] we arrived at Aotea Centre at 7 am the day before the show to find that the sprinkler system had inexplicably gone off in the theatre leaving our fully set up stage two-inches deep in water and the first seven rows of seats completely soaked. Somehow our amazing crew rallied round and managed to get through rehearsals and dry the seats out and have the show as normal until some bright spark activated the fire alarm at the end of the show causing the venue to have to be evacuated just as everyone was going to into the after party! A few grey hairs appeared that year!”

He also recalls Home Brew turning up on the red carpet dressed as biblical figures with a goat in tow. “Quite a sight coming out of limo I can tell you!”

He’s also watched as the awards have evolved over the years from a “rather drunken industry ‘party’ to the entertainment spectacle that everyone has come to expect today.”

He and the team like to think that they’ve grown the awards to become a focus for national pride that, for once, isn’t associated with some kind of sport. He adds that he's proud the event has exposed some incredible talent to the wider Kiwi public through the TV broadcast and media exposure. 

“The VNZMAs has become a reflection of contemporary Kiwi culture and a fitting stage for our incredibly talented and often underrated community of musicians,” he says.

This year, 66,496 25- to 54-year-olds tuned in to Three to watch the awards, a slight drop on the previous two years but a significant increase on 2013 and 2014 when the awards were held on a Saturday night.


Source: MediaWorks

And while those 15 years of experience might sound like a solid base to be able to run the night with some ease, Dowding says that familiarity does not make each year any easier.

“Every year brings a new set of personalities and associated challenges. Plus, we’re always wanting to raise the bar and improve on the event every year so we’re often creating challenges for ourselves – just to keep things interesting.”

There are so many moving parts to this whole event, as evidenced by the anxious buzz among production crews, reporters and volunteers in the lead up to the 8.30 start this year. From this moment, the corridors behind the set turned int organised chaos, with a swarm of performers, award winners and Pead staff with clipboards and earpieces guiding people though to keep the show running to time.

The hustle and bustle is mainly concentrated outside of the media room, to which the award winners head after accepting their Tui. Set up like a mini red carpet, the winners pose for photos and answer questions posed by reporters holding microphones and recorders.

For future reference, if you need some quiet time during the awards, head to the media tech room. It’s a room equipped with tables, screens of the events in the arena, many many water bottles and various charging stations. It’s here the working media sit and frantically write, tweet and share photos with their audiences leaving little time for chit-chat.

After the madness of the evening, the teams at J&A and Pead could be forgiven for releasing a deep sigh of relief and then collapsing into a three-month hibernation. But quite the opposite happens. Only a few short days after the event, they get onto the next one, raising the money and starting the conversations with sponsors.

The after party

As the night slow-jammed to a close, the empty bottles of wine littered across the tables signalled it was time for the show to end and the after party to begin. Out in Spark Arena’s foyer area, the drinks were flowing and lines were forming to have a photo taken in sponsors activations.

NZME’s Spy photo booth put guests on the cover of the magazine while Vodafone’s high-tech take on a photo booth took a 360-degree image of guests standing inside it.

Even the bathrooms got a branded touch, with one cubicle in the women’s bathroom dubbed the "V.I.Poo Throne Room" and decorated with a red carpet and golden toilet seat. The stunt was supported by free V.I.Poo bottles being handed out.

While the decorated toilet likely saw many women pose with it for a photo well into the night, for working media, the cameras and recorders had to be turned off at 11 to allow guests to enjoy themselves.

Among them is Pead and this year, as she walked out of the arena to join the party, she gave the show a thumbs up. All had gone to plan.

“There is a lot of love for the event with many people volunteering their time or cutting their rates to make it happen,” says Pead. “It’s great to see it all come together each year and celebrate the success of recorded artists in such style and scale. Pead PR and J&A is very proud of our significant role in creating this entertainment highlight in New Zealand.”

It’s a similar sentiment to that of Vodafone’s head of segment marketing, Delina Shields. She says Vodafone is proud of its long-standing role in honouring and celebrating New Zealand music, including the fantastic spectacle of this year’s event.

“We’ve sponsored the awards since 2004, and have enjoyed the collaboration celebrating the best of Kiwi music, and all the fun surrounding it.

"We’ve also enjoyed bringing innovation to the home viewing experience of the awards, by introducing encores and backstage interviews and more, that fans at home can watch on a second screen, leveraging social media platforms.”

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