Thinking Of Being An Event Sponsor?… Learn From SXSW.

photo credit: Bill’s Music Blog

I got to my hotel the third night of SXSW Interactive exhausted, drained, voice half gone, and dumped my huge purse out on the bed to see what was so damn heavy that my entire shoulder was numb from carrying it. In my purse were 9 Zone Bars.  NINE Zone Bars.  I had them because Zone Perfect had street teams giving away goods on every corner.  They were aggressive and made sure everyone had product in their hands.  Aside from the slight insult that Zone Bar is a diet product and it’s kind of like a waitress assuming you want diet Coke instead of regular…. they moved a ton of bars. Did Zone get product into people’s hands?  Yes.  Did they effectively sponsor SXSW?  I would give that a resounding….. maybe.

Here’s the deal, SXSW is a conference FULL of early adopters, bloggers, talkers, people who want the newest, latest, etc. We also expect brands to talk to us online (engage).  This changes things for sponsors because as we get tired of advertising, we’re getting tired of traditional sponsorship.  Which means handing me something to try or hanging out at a vendor table isn’t working so well. Chevy did plug-in stations for people to charge their phones and laptops and it was extremely helpful.  Would they be able to replicate that exact sponsorship at a pet show?  No.  They spoke to a specific need we had at the interactive event and helped us solve our charging problems.  Amazing job.  I even remember the name of the company that did it.  Perhaps it’s a softer sell but when my phone was about to die and I couldn’t find a friend I was supposed to meet, I knew I needed to get myself to the Chevy charging station.  I did not have such a strong need for the 9 Zone Perfect Bars in my purse. Having been to an absolute ton of conferences in the last year, I’m seeing a big trend with sponsorships.  People at tables hawking stuff while attendees try to ignore them.  The sponsors are clearly on the outside feeling…. not so cool.  Kind of a shame considering the sponsors have something to offer the event, namely money, staff, and good ideas.  The event goers usually have lots of needs at events beyond banners to look at and tables to pass by.

Not that giant stuffed bunnies (a la Energizer or the giant Twitter Bird we saw this week) aren’t fun because I’m sure everyone agrees that they are.  Causing a fun spectacle could be a good use of sponsorship dollars.  It will get some laughs, attention, and if you’re at an event with interactive folks someone is definitely going to take a picture and post you some free press. What I’m saying is don’t just get the event kit and buy a package that gets you a table and a banner.  Ask what they have as far as options for a more interesting sponsorship or come to the table with an idea.  Just ask anyone who had to charge their phone during SXSW who helped them out.

15 Responses to “Thinking Of Being An Event Sponsor?… Learn From SXSW.”

  1. Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

  2. Royce says:

    Interesting take on the sponsorship… I feel like 9 Zone Bars did exactly what they wanted to do, they got you to remember them and probably try their product, right? And a certain percentage of people will like, a subset of those people will evangelize, and that’s their SXSW marketing plan in action. So mission accomplished?

    As for the table people, I hear you. Especially at a place like SXSW – you’ve gotta be clever!

  3. Scott says:

    Agree with Royce on this one. It’s almost a tangent of the “any PR is good PR” argument. The Zone Bar people may not have won you over (heck, they appear to have completely turned you off of their product), but I can imagine some people walking away from SXSW with positive thoughts of Zone (is that the company?!?).

    Either way, Chevy did it right, although I’m trying to figure out some monetary value they’ve picked up other than good will. Were the charging stations placed within their cars? What, if anything, do you think they were able to accomplish (other than good will) with their sponsorship/promotion?

  4. caitlin says:

    Henery – Thanks for the add, glad you liked the post!

    Scott and Royce – I disagree that this was successful for Zone. If they just wanted to get rid of bars to anyone why didn’t they just go to the mall? What I think is that sponsors that don’t tailor their sponsorships fail to connect with their audience and these days it’s not as much of an option as it is expected.
    Zone had a really unique opportunity to speak with online thought leaders and didn’t do so much of that. They did have a live.create lounge that you can see some video of on their site http://zoneperfect.com/

  5. Connie Burke says:

    Thanks for the nice mention on Chevy, Caitlin. I work for GM and was at the conference as part of our sponsorship. I can tell you that from our side of things, I hung out at the Chevy Volt Recharge Lounge before and after my “shifts,” and I was engaged in conversation with friends old and new. THAT was a big part of the payoff, in my opinion. I both learned and shared. And Scott: good point on whether it was just goodwill.
    Jury’s still out, but we offered a Ride & Drive of our Chevy vehicles directly across the street from the Volt Recharge Lounge. And we had a vehicle display right outside the door closest to the Volt Lounge as you entered the Convention Center. Hopefully, connections were made in this regard as well!
    Lastly: I was eating one of the bazillion Zone bars I brought home with me as I read this post!

  6. Karl Sakas says:

    Chevy’s SXSW marketing worked partly because GM provided several layers of interaction for different segments: exclusive test drives for key influencers, rides to events for the motivated people who check-in with a location-based service, and useful (and well-named) Volt laptop/phone/PDA charging stations for anyone who wants to use them.

    Of course, a three-year exclusive automotive sponsorship isn’t the cheapest way to get publicity coverage…

  7. Royce says:

    I think Karl makes a good point, the additional connections with attendees all make a good impression. And people who do the test drive thing can then come back and write about. Although Connie made a grave error by not reaching out to the greatest key influencers of all – us at FIWK. I have been meaning to test drive the new Equinox.

    I guess my question C-Mac is this: what did Chevy do “to speak with online thought leaders” that Zone didn’t do? I understand they sponsored the charging station, gave rides, and had a test drive area, but in what way did this “speak” with attendees? Versus just get Chevy’s brand name and goodwill out there, which is basically what Zone did?

  8. Great post! Completely agreed. I carried my charger with me everywhere and couldn’t be happier when I saw those magic words, “Chevy Recharge Lounge.” They identified a need that most everyone at SXSW could relate to and effectively addressed it. While the Zone Bars serve a purpose, the Chevy presence clearly knew its audience and how to engage.

  9. caitlin says:

    Connie – Glad to see Chevy responding here :) I’m sure the connections you made with grateful bloggers and interactive folks will be a great takeaway for Chevy. Also, it’s such a win-win for both the attendees and the brand. No one feels “sold to”

    Karl – I think the tiered approach certainly provides a level of product (vehicles) to the event however… I’d be interested in hearing how many test drives were taken and how Chevy feels they went. I would have been hard pressed to stop the fun for the drive.

    Royce – Chevy showed us that they “got us”. They didn’t show up expecting it to be about them, their products, and their message. They came to the event knowing what kind of things the event goers would need and I think when it comes to sponsorships, that’s what it should be about. Like I said, it’s a softer sell – but I remembered it was Chevy.

    Brian – They were like magic helpers there weren’t they? There would have been a lot of dead batteries if not for them. I have been at conferences where people were offering $10 for 10 minutes to charge on someone’s charger!

  10. DShan says:

    First of all I’m REALLY glad I got to meet you. You’re so whip smart.

    I’ve been recapping the trip down to all the young companies up here, and my number one recommendation was to go down there to do something interesting. If you want to get word out, stop thinking traditionally – stop hiring swag girls to hand more crap out.

    Put together something fun; how come Foursquare’s the only team who thought, “we should just play a game and award t-shirts”? Ning gave away free pie. That kind of stuff moves around the conversation because the crowd down there is used to the old stuff.

    What’s interesting too, is that it doesn’t really take much of a budget; just be out there making it a better experience for people…the days are long and the sun is hot and it’s a huge opportunity to introduce yourself to forward-thinking (and highly influential) people.

  11. Royce says:

    Hey a DShan sighting on C-Mac’s blog! How exciting! The same DShan who Nicoleisbetter once called her “old age advisor”

    I feel like everyone knows everyone, it’s pretty cool. Now DShan, please help encourage C-Mac to become the rollerskating consultant.

  12. caitlin says:

    DShan – So great to finally meet you too – the feeling is mutual!!
    I agree with your point on it being pretty budget friendly to be a better sponsor as well. It just takes some thinking…. in a lot of ways it could actually be much more economical than “the booth”.

    Royce – On the bright side of that… I could moonlight at Sonic pretty easily.

  13. Miri says:

    I love the tailored sponsorship idea. I’ve gone to so many conferences where they give out free lame stuff. I agree – Chevy is onto something. You probably already thought of this but it sounds like a cool service offering — helping conference sponsors tailor their giveaway/presence to their audience for more effective time and dollars spent (and more fun and useful for participants too).

  14. [...] the bored looking employees with no people around them (except Lulu B but we’ll get to that). I have written about this before. The whole sponsors-need-to-be-doing-a-better-job thing. I talked about it when I got back from [...]

  15. Gracias por la info.You son muy útiles.

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