Festival Sponsorship Sales: A Path Taken

  • Robert M. Brecht, PhD.
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Festival sponsorship sales runs the whole gamut from large multi-day national festivals to small one-day community festivals. The former finds it relatively easy to find national brand sponsors while the latter will have difficulty attracting national brands for sponsorships. They depend on local sponsors for most if not all their festival sponsorship sales.

Sponsorship SalesThat brings me to TSE Entertainment and our evolving role in smaller festivals sponsorships. A big part of our promotion is our ability to help our clients with whatever resources they need to complement their team. Whether it’s booking, local production or full event production, TSE has the resources needed to help our clients fill in the gaps of their team with ours.

TSE also looks for third parties to vet for our clients so that we can recommend other resources to help our clients. Just to be clear. When we do that, we do not get any compensation for such efforts. We tell our clients that we have vetted these resources and that they can deal directly with them. It’s part of our longstanding creed of doing everything we can to assist our festival, fair, corporate and other venues.

One of the resources we promote to smaller festivals is to consider bringing on a third party to help the with their sponsorship sales efforts. Aftercall, it’s typically local non-profit organizations that produce these festivals. More often than not, it’s the local parks and recreation department that stages them with the help of community volunteers. However, that means that people with other full-time jobs with no special expertise event produce and stage festivals. They do a good job because of their dedication to and willingness to tackle such an effort. TSE complements these resources with whatever festival production help they may need.

TSE identified the lack of festival sponsorship sales expertise and resources is another area of need for smaller festivals. So, we decided to help our clients by vetting some individuals or organizations who might be in a position to assist them with this effort.

In late 2019 and early 2020, TSE had assessed the ability and readiness of three experienced sponsorship sales individuals to recommend to our clients. We felt any of the three would be a big help with the additional sponsorship funds brought in being well worth the compensation required from these organizations. The festival we used as an example was a one-day community festival with an attendance of five to ten thousand people.  The agencies devoted to sponsorship sales passed because they did not see enough sponsorship revenue to make it worth their time.

Guess what?  Then the pandemic hit and festivals as well as every other kind of in-person entertainment or festival had to cancel or postpone their events. One of our events with many bookings has changed its dates four times to try to find the best window to avoid a major impact on attendance by Covid-19 on this outdoor event!

Festivals see the light at the end of the tunnel in the second half of 2021 and are again making plans in the U.S. to hold these outdoor events again. In December of 2020, TSE recontacted the sponsorship sales individuals we had vetted a year earlier. It’s not a hard guess to understand that people and agencies had moved on because of the pandemic. The people vetted were no longer available.

TSE undertook the process over again, finding several individuals who were willing to take on such a sponsorship sales role for the kind of festivals that might need their help. We selected a festival as a model and sent them all of the information required to determine what needed done to help them with developing a good festival sponsorship sales program.

Would you believe that lightning struck again? This time for the opposite reason. It appears that that light at the end of the tunnel was also having an impact on the sponsorship sales community. When times were tight, people were willing to take on small festivals to help with their sponsorship needs. With things looking up, people are being recalled back to their marketing firms and individuals were looking for bigger opportunities as the economy responds to the vaccine roll out.

TSE had a dilemma on its hands. After advocating for hiring a third party to help with sponsorship sales, we did not have anyone to recommend for such an effort after spending so much time trying to find suitable people or agencies for smaller community festivals.

Such was the case with the Kerrville River Festival. TSE Entertainment produces the entire festival working with the Kerrville Parks and Recreation Department in Kerrville, Texas. Our encouragement resulted in the department agreeing to contract with a third party to help them with sponsorship sales for the River Festival. Unfortunately, we had no one to recommend for this one-day community festival that will draw between 5,000 and 10,000 people in mid-October of this year.

TSE is not a company that leaves a client in the lurch. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. We had a client that responded to a lot of advocacy on our part since the cancelling of the 2020 festival. We had to step up and find a way to help them. So, we have.

festival sponsorshipTSE has marketing resources that we use to promote events, both on and offline. We decided that TSE would work with the River Festival and undertake sponsorship sales for it. TSE already produces the festival, creates the marketing plan and implements the marketing plan with help from local resources, including our client, the Kerrville Parks and Recreation Department.

Adding sponsorship sales to our contract was the easy part. TSE’s promotion team had to come up to speed on sponsorship sales trends and strategies. Thankfully we have a top-notch marketing group so the process went relatively smoothly.

The questions we had to address was “What,” “Who” and “Why”

The “what” being the sponsorship sales package. This included sponsorships available, funding asked, and sponsorship recognition.

The “who” was the actual group to be targeted for sponsorship sales for the festival.

The “why” is the reason they would want to sponsor. How does sponsorship align with their interest as a company or brand?

We concentrated on the “why” first. Why would sponsors want to be associated with the Kerrville River Festival?  A couple of reasons became clear to us.

    1. The first Kerrville River Festival took place in 2019. It was a celebration of the 130th Anniversary of the founding of Kerrville. After the success of that festival, the Kerrville City Leaders decided that the festival would continue to be annual celebration of Kerrville’s founding.
    2. The Parks and Recreation Department decided to combine the Kerrville River Festival with their annual Outdoors day celebration, an event celebrating families and giving the event an outdoors and family theme.

Answering the “why” question went a long way in determining the “who” question. We had themes to sell for sponsorships.

Civic Pride: By making the festival a celebration of the anniversary and heritage of the City of Kerrville, we could spark civic pride in those who do business with the community of Kerrville.  Show your pride by helping celebrate “Kerrville” is an easy-to-understand reason to sponsor an activity as part of the festival.

Outdoors:  Combining Outdoors Day with the Kerrville River Festival creates the potential to seek local and regional outdoor brands as sponsors for the festival.

Family: The Kerrville Parks and Recreation Department decided to greatly expand the kid’s area and activities for the festival. The large number of activities for children and families creates another sponsorship theme for the event.

With the why decided, it was easy to determine the “who” of the equation. Given the size of the event, pursuing national brand sponsorships would be waste of resources. Instead, TSE decided to concentrate on Kerrville businesses and brands as well as reaching out to some regional outdoor brands for sponsorship opportunities. Civic pride, family and outdoor would be the premise of our sales efforts.

Now out attention would turn to the “what.” For its previous event, the Kerrville Parks and Recreation Department used a format that increased the number of recognition opportunities based upon the level of sponsorship. The only specific sponsorship tied to something specific was the “Stage Sponsor.”

TSE decided to take a different approach asking sponsors to back specific activities that might align better with their brands. Examples include the circus high wire act, shuttle buses, Kids’ Zone, fireworks, cooperative marketing, and the overall festival sponsorship which include naming rights. Of course, sponsors could also choose lower priced sponsorships all the way down to “Supporter” at a five-hundred-dollar level.

Because exhibitors and sponsorship are symbiotic, TSE is also working to identify and confirm exhibitors to the festival as well.

All the festival efforts required building a website for the Kerrville River Festival with information and the ability to indicate interest available for sponsors, exhibitors and volunteers. The website will keep people abreast of entertainment, activities, exhibitors and sponsors.

Marketing to potential sponsors take place via email to sponsors for other events and members of the Kerrville Chamber of Commerce. A telephone follow up call gauges interest in sponsorship or exhibiting at the festival.

While it is still early in the process, TSE is very please with the new sponsorships already committed to the festival. If you would have asked me two months ago whether or not TSE Entertainment would be offering festival sponsorship sales as part of our service line, I would have said no. Time change and so does TSE as part of our efforts to help our clients.

Related Posts:

Event and Festival Production; 5 Tips for Hiring the Right Company

Producing a Festival: Preparation and People Are Key

About the Author

Robert M. Brecht, PhD.

Doctor Bob has been in the marketing and production side of television and music for over three decades. He, Mike and Glenda form a formidable team in helping artists and venues put on the best events possible.

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