The Art of Sponsorship

The world of sponsorships has evolved as experiential has come to the forefront of marketing. This leaves brand partners with a significant task at hand: how can you create meaningful engagement with event attendees while communicating a memorable, authentic message? We consulted a few members that are heavy-hitters in the space--with perspectives from agencies and in-house team members alike--for their insights on what makes a successful sponsorship initiative today.

Brands seeking to deliver a meaningful message should consider this an opportunity to meet guests' needs, as opposed to an opportunity for shameless self-promotion. “If you’re designing an experience that satisfies an actual need for attendees while solidifying a brand message or narrative, you are creating the ideal backdrop for meaningful engagement,” says Zev Norotsky, founder of marketing company ENTER. "This isn’t about giving out branded sunglasses at an event or even investing in the state-of-the-art .gif booth to live next to an immersive backdrop; it’s about changing perceptions and delivering on a brand promise without overly marketing to a target consumer.”

Delilah Belle Hamlin, Ella Angel & Brandy Cyrus, Courtesy of Lucky Brand Presents Desert Jam/Michael Simon, ENTER

Connecting with attendees is key. As Victoria Rainone, Managing Director of Demonstrate PR, New York, points out, “Whether it comes via a personal conversation from a brand representative or embedded in the experiential elements overall, if an authentic connection is a priority, attendees will leave the event with a higher likelihood of remembering and seeking out the brand."

It’s important to note that the authenticity of the story being told at an event must align with the brand values; it must ring true every day, on every platform. An attendee should be able to look back at their experience and, in their next interaction with the brand, see a similar story being told--whether it's at another event, a store, etc. 

Robert Hebert, Lead Marketing Manager in charge of LGBTQ+ marketing and communications for AT&T, drives the point home with the example of a recent activation. “Last year, we presented the new, large-scale LGBTQ+ music festival LOVELOUD, where we produced an experiential program inspired by our campaign, Turn Up the Love,” he shared. “The program aligned seamlessly and authentically as AT&T is deeply committed to LGBTQ+ equality and advocacy. AT&T has been a corporate ally to the community since 1975. That’s when the company added protections for lesbian and gay employees to its nondiscrimination clause.”

LOVELOUD Powered by AT&T

Once a brand identifies an initiative that’s both in line with its core values and has seen success, it’s a no-brainer to make it an annual occurrence. Pommery, for example, has been partnering with The Armory Show (as well as Pinknic) for years. The sponsorship showcases the synergies between the two. “As Pommery is very much involved in contemporary art, it only makes sense to want to partner with one of the largest art fair in the US,” says Aurelie Vix, Partnerships and National Accounts Manager for Vranken Pommery Monopole.

“I believe you can always improve as you learn from any hiccups that arise at an event. Making changes to avoid those mishaps is crucial, so you can repeatedly partner with an event that makes sense for your brand--the best way to build brand awareness,” she continues.

Pommery x The Armory Show 

Even with the best intentions in place, the industry shift towards experiential continues to change the game. While sponsorship remains an effective way to increase brand awareness, creating long-term customer relationships can be challenging the information-saturated media landscape.

“In a world where digital is the status quo, in-person and interactive events can really have a much bigger impact," says Leah Jacobson, founder of LJ Public Relations. "It’s no longer feasible for brands to simply advertise, there needs to be a full circle strategy. In the past, employing some or all of the following tactics were enough--celebrity endorsements, social media, influencers, and media placements--but brands looking to stay ahead of the curve in today’s climate need to do more.”

Norotsky calls the new paradigm “self liquidating.” “If you want to derive real value from a partnership think about how to tactfully generate sales in real time,” he says. “This is happening everywhere from ComplexCon and its ubiquitous product releases to major stadium deals with naming rights and built in incentives based on sales performance.”

Swisse Rooftop Yoga, Demonstrate PR

Achieving a desired outcome can only happen when it’s planned that way. “It’s important to establish realistic goals prior to pursuing strategic sponsor and partner opportunities to ensure your brand is putting its best foot forward,” says Rainone. “Success for one brand may look like a thousand attendees engaging one on one, while success for another might come in the form of message amplification and SEO pre and post-sponsorship."

So, how can brands measure the success of their sponsorship? Let us count the ways.

“The first way we evaluate our success is through sales,” says Vix. “Both Pinknic and The Armory Show give us a wonderful opportunity to display our brands, and they also allow us to sell our wines on site.”

“From our perspective it’s always going to come back to year over year relationships,” says Norotsky. “If you don’t have the retention, it’s such a more challenging landscape when it comes to executing deals. I will always say, the $25K sponsorship deal takes as much time and finessing as the $250K owned event, this all comes back to relationships and expectations. The other side of the coin, from a promoter’s perspective, is to determine whether the corporate partner elevated the experience for your attendees and how you can build on that year over year.”

Social Media
“Press coverage and social media impressions are the main ways we measure,” says Jacobson. “It’s hard to get a quantified success rate in most cases, it’s more about building brand awareness and using that momentum to gain more visibility, cross-promote with brand partnerships and ultimately reach more consumers.”

Pommery also uses placements as a gauge, and looks at social media to evaluate real-time conversations. “With social media, it is not only about press but about the guests of an event--real people--that talk about your brand in real time. In that vein, Pop Champagne, our splits, have proven to be an especially Instagrammable product.”

Hebert's team at AT&T sees success in the reach of their content, which goes far beyond the activation itself. “We measure awareness and brand attribution. Our objective as a sponsor is to raise the profile of the event with a robust content creation program that works across marketing, advertising, public relations and social media,” he says. “This has the benefit of connecting to new audiences they may not have been able to reach before.”

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