5 Secrets to Festival Marketing

08/28/2015 10:28 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

2015-08-27-1440705844-5199789-AlexisLevine.pngAlexis Levine founded Savvy Media at age 23, and launched her project #savvycity at insider events at film and music festivals across the world.

Sundance and South by Southwest are arguably two of the most brand-saturated events in the first quarter of the year. I've attended both consistently for the past five years, but today, I can count on my hand the number of brands with a recurring presence there. I've paid attention to what works -- both on the event production side and on an advertising side. For example, giving away sunglasses isn't nearly as effective as having a photo shoot while attendees try various styles on.

From MasterCard to LG, I've had the opportunity to work with some of the most sophisticated brands in the game. In the process, I've learned that event activations and sponsorship programs are only as good as the creative team executing production. Surround yourself with the best by utilizing these tricks of the trade.

Separate Work Play From Personal Play

I've only ever seen this caliber of fanboy in my days of selling sports. The most common mistake I see that's out of my jurisdiction (and right mind) to correct is when brand managers and field marketing teams pursue an event partnership based on where they want to have access. The demographics can really not add up -- especially when you're playing with somebody else's money.

Play the Long Game With Like-Minded People

Partner with festivals that match the lifestyle of your brand. Customize your sponsorship and activation to lend itself to capturing return on investment. The retention rate is very low in the world of event sponsorships -- if you are partnering with festivals that support your brand and provide opportunities for cross-promotion throughout the year, you're winning. Don't throw a banner up in a drug-induced circus where it's difficult to track results.

Respond and just be honest. Flip the script on these middlemen and make them go to work for you, rather than telling them that you will send it up the food chain when you know it's not a fit. When it is a fit, own up to the fact that all you have to offer is product. You'd be shocked at how far that can go.

Leverage Your Assets

Whether it's that you only have 25,000 bottles of water to put down against an event sponsorship or that you've drained your event budget with the hopes of getting different results, don't think that no money is a non-starter to integrate your brand into an event (community events are especially relevant here). With this golden nugget rule comes the need for a higher level of emotional intelligence in partnerships: structuring win-win programs that benefit all sides are what make residuals come to life in this game.

Understand That Money Doesn't Buy ROI

Unless you're invested in your sponsorship with more than your media budget, you can assume you're going to be chasing your tail when it comes time to justify your event driven marketing costs. Commit to a genre of events and break it up into relevant markets. Put a media plan together for your event calendar; if Sundance Film Festival is your target demographic, follow them to Tribeca, Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals. The "rule of three" applies as much as ever where event sponsorships are concerned. Connect the dots between each event to create this when it's not possible. See where this is possible in multiple markets. There is something about a brand that's at all of the same events I like to go to -- it quickly becomes second nature. If you need to, pull resources from digital media and PR budgets to put a comprehensive campaign together around sponsored events.

Run It by the Experts

Negotiating an event sponsorship? Have the guy who sells you a sponsorship on the opposite side of the globe consult with you on negotiation for a percentage of savings. You'll gain a team member who will get you what they believe is fair. They'll completely forget that they'll be trying to sell you the same program for their event and won't be able to be dishonest.

Armed with these tricks, you'll find your brand in the best position to be recognized amongst a sea of festival attendees and steep competition.