It’s probably no surprise to hear that brand marketers love to sponsor events – last year, an estimated $24.2 billion was spent on event sponsorships in North America. On a global scale, that number grows to $65.8 billion in sponsorship spending.
The benefits for brands are obvious: event sponsorships provide increased brand exposure and an opportunity to connect with new customers. But often times, the return on investment associated with an event sponsorship comes down to the sponsor’s ability to promote their involvement – before, during, and after the event.
In this episode, we’ll explore the fundamentals of live event marketing, including planning, developing a content strategy, and more with Mia Mendola, Social Strategist and Kevin Nill, Senior Producer at Red Door Interactive.
So, you’re a brand marketer and you’ve decided to sponsor a live event, what comes next? What goes into planning for the event itself?
Mia: You say bye to your sleep and you keep moving forward. When a brand decides to sponsor an event, absolutely they have talked about internally what the goals are, what the objectives are going to be. I think most importantly the first thing you do is assess what is this new audience that you're going to either be speaking to, or that you're going to be able to bring in to have a good purview of who your brand is. I think really understanding who the audience of this event is and who would be interested is the most important part. After you know that you understand exactly how much you need to amplify your presence at the event, you understand what needs to go into the on the ground activation, marketing materials etcetera. I think that's really the first and most important step. One of the reasons I love live events, and not to talk too much about myself, but one of my top strengths is arranger. I like to take a lot of pieces together to kind of help make a cohesive picture, and in my mind that's exactly what live event marketing is. You have to bring together all of your different marketing units to not only have a cohesive story, but understand how all of their pieces fit. It's the exact same thing as an integrated marketing campaign just centered around an event.
Reid: Yeah. Now bringing it all together. I mean one of the things you're talking about arranger, we do the Strengths Finder 2.0 at Red Door and there's a lot of things that people identify as strengths and arranger is one of those that brings things together. Always good to have an arranger on a team that's going to cover live events, because you got to bring a lot together.
Reid: When you're talking about planning for on the ground resources people are going to be at this event and promoting all of it. A big part of this is like we said, it's not just sponsoring the event, but making sure that it's magnified and magnified via social channels and things like that. When you're building out a team to promote and cover an event, I mean who's typically involved?
When you’re building out a team to promote and cover an event, who’s typically involved?
Kevin: Yeah, like Mia said this should be like an integrated marketing campaign, it shouldn't be any different than really any other campaign that a brand brings to life. You should have your content, your social team, your paid media team, SEO to help as well. You can even bring it all the way back to CRO, conversion rate optimization to make sure that the content you're providing while doing the live event there's some place to convert back on your website. There is, it kind of depends on the brand, their perspective and the opportunity they have, but it can be scaled across multiple dimensions.
Reid: Are there elements of that that people tend to forget? Because I mean, for example the paid media part of it, I don't know as if people always think to, there might be something behind whatever, boosting posts or something. I mean are the, is that typically forgotten or are there other things that people typically forget?
Kevin: Yeah, the paid media thing can fall to the wayside a little bit. As you start you get excited about the event, that's kind of forefront in your mind. Then you realize, "Oh wait, we want to get people to the event. We want people to know that we're at the event and we want to show people what we did afterwards." That all comes back to paid media support, so it's a very important part. I think SEO kind of falls behind a little bit too. There are so many optimizations that we, that the SEO team can help support in the content that we're developing; what people are already searching for, what they're looking for and can help dictate or at least guide where the content that we create.
Mia: Yeah, absolutely. We just covered the SDCCU super shred event, which is one of the largest shredding events in San Diego. You know, you think, "Oh, paper shredding who does that apply to?" There was a line around the whole SDCCU stadium in downtown San Diego and then switch backs. People were very interested in this event and ...
Kevin: It was incredible.
Mia: Yeah, it was amazing. Initially we were thinking about social media coverage and content strategy, and then the, you know, of course the more we thought about it we were understanding search is going to be a huge part of this, and paid search drove the most conversions.
Reid: Really? That's awesome.
Mia: Yeah, most visits to our landing page and for people to look for direction, so we just understand that the goal of the event, it goes back to the goal and the audience. What is the most important thing, and PR is such a huge part of live events. We work so closely with the PR teams for all of our clients when we're doing events, because whatever they are deciding is going to be at the forefront of what we support on digital, but because PR is such a big part of it, these really smaller digital tactics do fall by the wayside and they're extremely important
Reid: The one you're talking about there, so SDCCU's paper shredding event was an owned event. It was their own event and then there are other events like an ASICS being part of the New York marathon or something like that where it's obviously they're not, they're the title sponsor in that case or have been. Is there a difference between an owned event and maybe one that you're a sponsor of?
Mia: Yeah, absolutely. There are a lot of differences. I mean, first of all it just comes down to investment. Of course investment for both events would be expensive, but typically with when you have an owned event, not only are you paying for the marketing, but you're also contributing to a lot of the infrastructure to the build out of your activation whatever that might be. You're responsible for all of the attendees at the event. There's I'm sure so many legal obligations. When you are a sponsor of an event, you get all of the benefits of what that event's reputation is and the organization of that event and you have your name everywhere. There are also limitations, I mean we've absolutely seen clients or even other brands in events fall to the wayside even though they do have large partnerships and sponsorships. I would also say the different advantages going back to the goals, having your own event really activates loyalty of your current customer, helps draw people immediately into your sales funnel from an awareness perspective. It can be more of a goal to capture and convert, whereas so many times people look at sponsoring an event that's put on by another party as just brand awareness. Which is something we really try to instill in our clients that it can be more than that, and that's why we work really hard on our content strategy and other things to try and capture this new audience we're getting exposure to.
Reid: Well elaborate on that. What can it be? You said it can be more than that. What can, what more can it be?
Mia: Right. I mean 'brand awareness' and I'm using my hands in quotation marks.
Reid: Air quotes.
Mia: Air quotes because even you know, working at digital marketing agency we get so wrapped up in attribution and conversion and we forget about brand awareness. That is such an important piece of sponsoring events, because you are making your brand aware to potentially a new audience who wouldn't have known you before and you really have to take that seriously as far as your presence at the event; how you're going to be interacting with the people at that event overall because this is likely their first impression and only impression of your brand, and how you interact with them personably. That's why most of our clients have really great crews, street teams, employees that come out to their events and really promote the brand hard and are giving people a positive experience.
Mia: Giving away swag, whatever you think your brand represents. Investing in that as far as the type of content that we create, the promotion behind our social media posting, all of those things are really important and sometimes putting money behind brand awareness can fall by the wayside, but of course that's one important piece. Also, it can be more than that because you can help to convert these audiences. Very simple things like having booth at whatever event or activation and ensuring that there's somewhere for email capture. Even thinking into your contract in brand, in that brand sponsorship and trying to see if there's a way that you can access their database and email the people coming to the event to promote your brand and have an area specific landing page on your website where they can go to convert and you can track that that user came in from the event. There are so many small things that can take them from just an event goer to actually becoming a potential lead for the brand.
Reid: Yeah, well and that's the spirit of creating some first party data.
Mia: Whoa data.
Reid: Yeah data. We have some other podcast episodes talking all about data and the more people can create those experiences, but like you said, for if you've got these experiences, these are great places to add to that experience and ways that you can then re-market to them in other ways and fashion. Segueing a bit from the experience that we're giving is to the idea then it's around content and what content we're creating from the whole thing, the content strategy at event, post event, pre event all that. I mean what are some of the foundational elements for a live event content strategy?
What are some of the foundational elements for a live event ‘content strategy'?
Kevin: Being there.
Reid: There you go.
Mia: Having content strategist there, yeah.
Kevin: That helps a lot. A pre-campaign, I mean Mia has worked a lot on this and can provide a lot of detail too, but getting a campaign set up in advance of the the event can go a long way.
Mia: Yeah, absolutely. Figuring out too, again, going back to your audience, where is your audience going to live and how are they going to become aware of the event? We use paid media a lot and typically create specific content onsite, whether that be a landing page or a piece of blog content. I would say from my expertise email goes a long way, because not only are you going to be able to immediately connect with users, but people are going, if you think about it very simply to find out about an event through email or they're going to go and search directly into Google to find your event. Having a really great email set up and really good paid search are also super important to promote your content strategy. Also, once you get to the event we are big proponents of live event coverage, which we've been talking a lot about. Meaning that we have one of the most kick ass production teams that we work with and we make sure that we plan ahead by having a shortlist and a lot of theoretical scenarios planning out what could potentially happen.
Reid: I love that list by the way.
Mia: Thanks. It's so fun because we really think through what could potentially happen, what are these really small nuance things we should be looking for that would entertain the heck out of our audience. Then when we get there, I mean at this point it's a well-oiled machine, but it's like sending an army out. We have multiple sometimes photographers and videographers who are on motorcycles, skateboards have four cameras on them at one time and you know, we've had a pre-production meeting to prep for this. Then the social strategists are running around dictating what they should capture while also posting live on Instagram Stories. Really the end goal is just we need to give the user a view of the event, that if they couldn't afford to go, if they couldn't make it geographically, that they're getting that experience and then they think, "Wow, so-and-so brand is so great for providing this to me. This is something I was legitimately interested in and they gave me a view of it that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else."
Reid: Yeah. You get a view that you wouldn't have gotten anywhere else, what's maybe one of those stories that you predicted might happen at one of the events?
Mia: That is such a good question.
Reid: I know there were some fun ones from some of the ASICS marathons.
Mia: Absolutely. Well, it was always fun for some of the ASICS marathons, like the New York City Marathon for example. I'm thinking back to like 2016, ASICS had a few really great runners in the race, so just predicting at what place are they going to come in at the finish line, when do we need to prepare to be at the finish line? Constantly tracking them to see if they had any upsets within their race course or were they'd be faster pace, slower pace, and then trying to be there right on time to get kind of that picture perfect moment. That was absolutely always super fun.
Reid: There are super emotional moments in that case.
Mia: Right? Absolutely.
Reid: That's a story that you're trying to tell for a brand like that.
Mia: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it's sports marketing at the end of the day too when we're thinking from the marathon perspective. It's unpredictable, so you'll have to be ready for every scenario.
Kevin: Exactly. Even the one for SDCCU when they sponsored the OC Marathon, we knew it was kind of an unexpected story that we got from someone who entered in their contest that we set up prior to the event. It turned out to be such a great story and we were able to capture that moment with her. It was her 70th half marathon and we were there with her. It's kind of setting us up for success to be able to capture those unexpected stories too. I would say like 90% of my job for event coverage is just logistics and making sure that the team is able to be where they need to be when they need to be without having to worry about those little details, so we can capture those really cool stories.
Reid: Yeah. Well, like you mentioned little details I heard skateboard, it's like all the different modes of transportation.
Kevin: It's fun to watch, yeah.
Reid: Cabs running around cities and such.
Mia: Yeah, I mean the New York City Marathon was always just a hilarious one to navigate. Luckily working with ASICS and they had sponsored the marathon for so many years, they had on lock which streets would be open and which streets wouldn't be, but you know, you have guys on motorcycles. We're in a bus going to a cab, going to, you know, oh the cab can't get to this one street. We have to walk five miles. You know, I think when we went to the marathon in 2016 I walked over 30 miles in the ...
Reid: You did a marathon.
Mia: ... week span because you're just like ...
Reid: Over a week, that's not the same.
Mia: ... Over a week okay, so it's not that day, sorry.
Reid: Thankfully you were wearing ASICS the whole time and very comfortable.
Mia: My feet felt great, you know like asterisk small print walked a marathon within a week's time. Yeah, it's definitely something that you have to be prepared for. There's a loop is always going to get thrown in your plans, so having the skill of just being flexible and always being on the lookout for something great, because those moments are so unpredictable, they're going to happen.
Reid: What, so going back to some tips for folks who are listening. What are some of the things that brands can do at a high level to elevate their presence at an event in more specific ways?
How can a brand sponsor elevate their presence at an event?
Kevin: I think SDCCU does this very well and it's just brand the heck out of it honestly. The more that you get yourselves out there in a visual way, it makes our jobs easier for sure. It kind of ties everything together from that visual standpoint.
Mia: Yeah, absolutely. I think fundamentally just providing a unique experience for the user at the event that is going to entertain them and aligns with their ideas of what the event will be, something that surprise and delights them. At the end of the day when we're capturing content or before the event when we're promoting the event, the user needs to have a succinct experience and they can't be promised one thing and then shown another. Just really focusing on the actual, I'm going to say activation again. We always joke that's such a marketer word, but focusing on the activation and the experience first and then we can market it. Yeah.
Reid: So what about some of like the hashtag campaigns or things like that? I mean what are some thoughts around the campaigns? The hashtag campaigns and stuff?
Mia: Yeah. I think that's another great way to ensure that your audience is involved pre, during, or post the event. It gives them an opportunity to be involved in how the event kind of plays out or they just want to feel like they're a part of the event. I think they're extremely successful. Like Kevin had mentioned for SDCCU for the OC Marathon we identified that SDCCU is moving into Orange County, they're also in Riverside County and we just need to make sure that the awareness is there, that they're present and that they're supporting the community. We run a hashtag contest, it was an entry contest, but we ran it through social prior to the event where we just asked users to tell us their stories about how running has helped them overcome great obstacles, and sent them to a landing page where they input their email in their story and they were going to win like a gift basket and an entry to the next year's OC Marathon. Not only did that allow for our audience to understand, "Wow, SDCCU is here in Orange County, they're promoting the community," it also helped drive leads for them in Orange County. It's something where it absolutely helps the user feel more connected to the brand. There's definitely, it's not always the right tactic for every event. Sometimes your audience doesn't want to partake in that. I think we've kind of exhausted the, "Use this hashtag, so then you might be featured on our page," you know tactic as a social media strategist. You have to think about would your audience want to participate in that at that given time and what value are they going to get from it.
Reid: So that you know, are there other cliché things that you feel like are overdone or so common, like that's one you're talking.
Mia: Yeah, that's a great point. You know QR codes, is that lame to say? Some sort of having to make a point and go around to opt into anything when you go to an event, I feel like is outdated because people understand what you're trying to get at. You're trying to get their information. Either being direct about it, "Please provide us your email to get this service," or making an experience that is so not unforgettable for them, but that is so desirable to them that they don't care what type of information they're giving to you or they want the output so badly. I would say that's probably the most we've ever done.
Reid: Yeah, I think one of the, well, I mean, where it goes is I think there's stuff that could be done well or done poorly in any category. I think what some of those things often times can be is that they just, they're not, they've not done anything extraordinary or creative.
Reid: I mean I think people can go, "Well, these are the boxes you check without a layer of creativity or alignment with the brand or purpose that's aligned with the consumer or the target," then anything can feel fairly arbitrary.
Mia: Right. Absolutely. Yeah, that's a great way to put it.
Reid: How do you extend, so we talked a little bit about before and during, how do you extend the event after the fact?
Mia: Yeah. There's a lot of different ways that we can extend the event after the fact. Number one being to nurture any of the leads that you've obtained from that event typically through email I think is the best way to do it. Just continuing to serve them relevant content from your brand, and having a very specific nurture strategy for them and content track, because they're going to be unlike your core customer, they're going to have different interests, they're going to have different avenues in which they view your brand. Also, a lot of the times what we do is we like to continue to share the content that we captured at the event in a few different ways by promoting videos, whether it be on YouTube or other long form video platforms using paid media to retarget people that potentially went to our landing page and went to the event and continue to nurture them that way. You definitely don't just want to have, invest all of this money in an event and then cut it off. A lot of times too from just a internal marketing perspective, you can use an event to capture a lot of content that you can then utilize for campaigns moving forward. Especially like Kevin mentioned, if your brand is really forward and the content that you're capturing is really, really in line with your brand message and values, then you can use that content throughout the rest of the year in multiple forums.
Kevin: It even helps lead up to the next year's event if you're doing it yearly.
Reid: It's just all about planning ahead, right. Thinking it through, thinking about what the value is and extending the value.
Mia: Right. Absolutely. So much of it is very simple that it all has to do with planning and how you use people with strings like Kevin as a producer too.
Kevin: Who me?
Mia: Yeah you. Remember those really small details that are going to make a big impact and ensuring that you are using every piece of content or audience or whatever you're capturing from these events, because it is so valuable. I think also for a brand internally to extend an event, this isn't so much for a customer, but to continue to look at trends and patterns between when you hosted an event and your different sales data, website visitor data, because the more that you can continue to revisit that and see if there are any trends that could be correlated, the more value you can continue to showcase of that the event gave to your brand, and the more that you can then request as a brand to have more event marketing budget host bigger, better events. That's really how you can continue to extend and work on those things.
Reid: Yeah and that's really what we're all about.
Reid: Make your better events and extending that and it's so much fun. Obviously such a big part of that is making sure everyone is having fun and we certainly have a ton of fun as well. I mean you both have such extensive experience with live event coverage. What are some of your favorite events from over the years to send us home with your favorites. Highlights.
You both have extensive experience with live event coverage. What are some of your favorite events from over the years?
Kevin: Favorites, I would have to say for me is the SDCCU Holiday Bowl. Mia and I have covered this one now I think four years, this will be five years running.
Mia: Gosh yeah maybe.
Kevin: Funny enough I don't know, 50% of the games are in the rain.
Reid: We're in San Diego, so that's, it is bizarre.
Kevin: Exactly, so good stories always come from that.
Reid: They are uphill in the snow both ways.
Mia: Yeah seriously. Yeah and our fingers freeze off and no.
Reid: We're so sensitive.
Mia: Yeah, I know right. San Diegans, anything that's not 72 and 71, "Oh, I can't do that."
Kevin: It's terrible.
Mia: Yeah. Oh man that's a hard one for me. I've had so much fun experience in event marketing. An event that I really loved that we only did one time, but it was something that was really different and I feel like I got a, it really tested me in my strategic thinking. It wasn't your typical kind of like sporting sponsorship event, was ASICS hosted a event for the US Open of tennis in Grand Central Station where they showcase a limited edition collection with all three of their brands. ASICS, Onitsuka Tiger and ASICS Tiger, and it was one of the first times that all three of the brands were going to be in an event activation together. It was such a cool thing to just see the foot traffic to the event. I mean being in Grand Central Station, that's one of the most traffic places in the world and it provided so many unique marketing opportunities, because it's a limited edition drop. We had to definitely market the product differently because it was a little bit connected to the US Open, a little bit connected to fashion audience. We had a huge twist in turn when we got there, because all of the light bulbs in Grand Central Station are old, so they had a yellow tinge to them. We immediately had to work with the production team to figure out how we got rid of that. It was just a super cool event to be a part of and it was really different from a lot that I've done.
Reid: Yeah, well it's cool. I mean and hopefully this inspires more people to choose to do more live events and find all the details that matter of on pre and post and obviously the event itself. Thanks for joining us guys. Appreciate you sharing your knowledge with our listeners.
Kevin: Absolutely thank you so much for having us.
Reid: For our listeners be sure to check out show notes from this episode at reddoor.biz, while you're there take a look at some of our event coverage case studies for ASICS New York City Marathon, SDCCU Holiday Bowl and more. As always, subscribe to The Marketing Remix and we will serve you on Apple Podcasts. Thank you very much.