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Sponsorships 2020: Politics, Participation, and Purse Strings

5 trends that event organizers and sponsors need to watch this year

If your strategy for working with event sponsors is just the same year after year, you’re asking for trouble. Organizers and sponsors alike must pay close attention to the new trends, tactics, and technologies shaping the sponsorship landscape in 2020, and beyond.

Points for participation. This year is seeing a continued emphasis on two areas that have become critical to successful sponsorship sales: VIP experiences and activations.
• VIP experiences, such as special meet-and-greets, early admission, and backstage passes, deliver the kind of exclusive opportunities that participants simply can’t get anywhere else.
• In contrast, activations, which help make events more engaging and experiential, are open to anybody. Attendees are increasingly unsatisfied with being passive observers at static events. They want to participate—to drive the newest cars at the auto show, experience technology advancements firsthand at events like CES, or try to kick a field goal at the NFL Fan Experience ahead of the Super Bowl. Iconic events like Burning Man, South by Southwest, and Lollapalooza have long been innovators on this front.

Election year. While VIP experiences and creative activations will continue to grow in 2020, this year will have its own unique issues. The first is politics. In an election year, all major events (even those commercial, sporting, and civic events that don’t typically need to consider political dimensions) have to recognize that they may have politicians, protestors, or politically active attendees. And just one politician’s decision to show up at an event could potentially send sponsors into disarray.

Economic issues. Another 2020 hot-button issue is the likelihood of a softening economy. Tighter purse strings would mean sponsors are a lot more discriminating about which sponsorship opportunities to pursue, and that they’ll be looking harder at whether those opportunities align with their brand and business goals.

The social dimension. Digital technology will continue to impact the sponsorship landscape, most notably through the increasingly important role social media plays in promoting and activating events and event sponsorships. Sponsors want to know an event’s social strategy, and event organizers need to get creative with their social integration initiatives. “Placemakers” are making iconic imagery part of all activations in an effort to draw in social influencers, and strategies linked to incentives for these potential attendees are similarly on the rise. Sponsors also want to know which social media influencers and/or bloggers will be at the event when determining if a sponsorship opportunity is a fit. Some will even bring in their own influencers!

Data, data, data. The integration of mobile apps into major events continues as a storyline in 2020; they’re a huge opportunity for branding, sponsorship, and enhancing the overall event experience. Beyond just delivering the event schedule, apps can be used for ticketing, parking, credentials, and data collection. Sponsors covet access to the data that apps can collect.

Beacons are also part of the explosion of mobile and digital technology. Their ability to track crowd patterns and connect with registration badges to measure where attendees are spending their time is a game-changer. Information is power, and both event organizers and sponsors want to know what is working, what is popular, and who they are connecting with.

Tavi Fulkerson, founder of The Fulkerson Group, is well recognized as a sponsorship sales expert with a notable 30-year tenure representing global auto industry events, an IndyCar race, music festivals, parades, and city-wide celebrations. Based in Detroit, Tavi and the Fulkerson Group team raise more than $25 million in sponsorship per year for their combined events. Their expertise is based on relationship-building, the core foundation of long-term and sustainable sponsorship commitments and growth.


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