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Getting Ahead of Your Sponsorship or Experiential Event (Part 1)

Landing a sponsorship, booth, or experiential event at a huge show isn’t necessarily about clout or the size of your brand. The deciding factor in grabbing a spot at that big expo is, in fact, preparation. 

Think of it like going on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. The less you plan, the less time you have to prep, the more likely your vacation will go off the rails. You won’t be able to book that hotel you love, snag that tough restaurant reservation, or get on the coveted tour. Basically, if you’re leaving on September 1st, you wouldn’t start planning August 20th. Brand activations are no different.

Landing a sweet spot for your brand at an expo like South by Southwest (SXSW), the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), or San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) is almost entirely dependent on how early you start to organize your brand experience.

We talked to marketing experts at Inspira, Jeff Lund (Senior Client Engagement Manager) and Farah Brigante (Group Creative Director) about when to start prepping for activations at the largest conventions, and their takes on their most successful campaigns.

Start planning your activation around six months before

In the majority of brand activations, the rule of thumb for when to start planning is “the earlier the better.” 

When it comes to big shows, festivals, or conventions, Jeff Lund recommends 16-24 weeks of prep, minimum. 

“16-24 weeks typically allows for enough time to finalize concepts, develop creative components, produce physical and digital assets, fine-tune activation details, and carry out pre-execution logistics.” – Jeff Lund 

Farah Brigante felt the same way, choosing a “start date” for planning right in the middle of that range:

“I would recommend that the planning process for any huge sponsorship brand activation that lives at a huge conference should begin around six months prior to the date of the event. This truly allows for enough time to plan, concept, and execute the plan without feeling rushed.” – Farah Brigante

The reason for this extended lead time is simple: large events are competitive, complex, and resource-intensive. Festivals and conventions often include travel for multiple parties, shipping large items, negotiation with the host, reserving space, and all of the coordinated marketing that leads up to the event itself. 

Six months is the perfect amount of time to get all of those ducks into a row and ensure that your experience will come to life as you envisioned it. 

Job #1 is to understand the brand

Scenario: it’s six months to SXSW or CES. You know the clock is ticking and the time to start planning is nigh. But where do you begin? The logistical concerns, the travel budget, reaching out to the festival?

According to the experts, the first thing to do is to make an effort to understand the brand, the brand’s story, and just what you hope to achieve by activating at that event.

“Understanding the client’s brand and objectives allows us to create a meaningful experience that not only answers the brief, but also creates an impact.” – Farah Brigante

Here are a few questions to ask yourself (or your client) before you start to book expensive convention-hall space: 

    1. Why this event? How is this big convention, festival, or conference related to your brand and your target audience? 
    2. Is there a smaller event that would work just as well? Not that you’d have to accept a smaller event, but you need to consider the bang-for-buck ratio. Will you reach a similar amount of people at a smaller event at half the cost? 
    3. What are you hoping to achieve with this brand activation? Are you premiering a new product or offering, creating a community, hosting a giveaway, trying to get social media attention or create some user-generated content? Does this gel with the vibe/purpose of the event in question? 
    4. Are your competitors going to be there? What are they doing? If your competitors aren’t looking to be at this event, maybe there’s a reason. You could be ahead of the game, which is great. Or you could be aiming for the wrong target. If your competitors are going to be there, what are they trying to achieve? What have they done in the past, and what can you learn from their tactics?
    5. What trends are you hoping to capitalize on? The best thing about yearly conferences is that they bring new ideas and concepts to the fields they’re covering. They create buzz, they spark and feed trends. Consider what big industry reveals might happen at the show. Are there new technologies that you’ll want to highlight that will draw attendees to your booth? What’s the theme? If you can create a live experience that matches the trend, you can create some heat.
    6. What’s the brand’s history at similar events in the past? What worked for the brand, and what went down in flames? Have they been to the conference or festival in question before, as guests or as exhibitors? 

If this isn’t your brand, you’ll need to get together with the client’s brand team and hammer out these questions. And don’t hold back: the more you learn about the brand, the better your strategy will be.

“A good way to start is to schedule a kickoff meeting to extract as much information as possible from the brand team. Ask as many questions as possible about the brand’s history, successes, struggles, competitors, target demographics, and anything else that may inform the build-out of concepts.” – Jeff Lund 

When you get the brand and why this show is good for them, it’s time to move on to the next steps in the plan.

Big brand activations take time

Now that you know when to start planning for a big expo and how to begin generating ideas, we’re going to help walk you through the actual planning and logistical processes.

Want to know how to secure a sponsorship, deal with event organizers, and make sure you’re following the rules of the conference? Tune in next week when we continue this series. If you’re excited to learn more and can’t wait, reach out to Inspira Marketing today to get help planning your next brand activation.


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