22 Jan 2016

Festival Thrower’s Bible - Sponsorship Best Practices

There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a thought, an idea, become a thing, a reality. Tucker Gumber, The Festival Guy, has released his book, “The Festival Thrower’s Bible,” on Vendini Press, and I couldn’t be more excited. It was last June at Bonnaroo. Tucker and I were chatting at the Red Light Management party when he told me of this project: a guide to help festival throwers do what they do better. Did I want to contribute? Hell yeah!

Promoters and festival organizations spend thousands on surveys to get into the minds of their fans. To understand who they are and what they like. And most importantly, what they don’t like. That’s how festivals get better, year after year. Having over 90 festivals under his signature leather utility vest, Tucker became an expert at knowing the wondrous upsides and the “ugh” downsides of being a festivalgoer, domestically and abroad, and his aim was to bring that critical knowledge to the festival organizers large and small.

Tapping his immense festival community connections, he also went about snagging Joseph Pred, Founder/CEO of MARS, to contribute a piece on Health & Safety and Risk Management; Ashton Burnette, Business Development Manager for TOURTech to write on Wi-Fi and festival networking Do’s and Don’ts; Kasey Johnson with Accessible Festivals, to offer guidance on ensuring festivals are welcoming and supportive of the disabled; along with other thought leaders in the festival space.

Get The Festival Throwers Bible

Contributing “Chapter 4: Choosing the Right Sponsor and the Right Sponsorship Strategy,” my goal was to point out the main considerations, tactics and strategies when approaching sponsorship planning. This is of course an area of festival operations that has many layers and cannot be deeply covered in a few pages, but for the seasoned pro this guide can serve as a reminder on best practices, or a way to put a new spin on a legacy process. For those new in the festival game, it is a valuable tool for starting off on the right foot. Either way, festival sponsorships' role in the fan experience and impact on a festival's balance sheet will only continue to grow. It's an area of tremendous potential for all involved...if done right. When that happens, you've got gold. Everybody wins.

Going back to Bonnaroo, there were a few activations that really caught my attention. Having attended festivals in the U.K., I was already familiar with Wellies, the rubber boots often needed when the rain comes down and the grounds turn to mud. Wellies are a festival given in Britain, but not so here in the States. Wellie maker Joules was out to change that with a plan to educate and entertain (two key ingredients to successfully engaging with an audience).

Joules’ bright, colorful tent featured a “Wang This Way to Win” Wellie-throwing contest (silly + funny = bravo). Watching it for a bit, I could tell that it was designed to enable eager women to win. A good thing. The result was many smiles and user-generated content (USG), as winners gleefully posted photos of themselves in their new Joules on Twitter and Instagram with the #JoulesatBonnaroo hashtag. After Bonnaroo was over, those women could take on the influencer role, spreading the word to their American friends and fellow festivalgoers that Joules Wellies are the go-to brand for enduring wet weather in style.

In many festival conferences over the years, the conversation has moved beyond, “Okay, we all realize that spreading logos and banners everywhere doesn’t do anyone any good” to “Okay, people loved our cellphone charging station and lounge, now, how can we make it even better? What other ways can we as a brand and a festival delight fans while subtly connecting our brand to that experience?”

That IS what designing experiential marketing is all about: spreading happiness and joy during the festival and having it linger after the festival is over. Having those fans that had a great experience with your brand last year, seek you out this year and bring their friends.

One key ingredient that’s found success: providing personal amenities.

After enduring heat, sweat, and dirt, there’s nothing better than a cool shower. In a camping environment, it’s even more important. It’s like you’ve been reborn. For a number of years now Bonnaroo and Garnier Fructis have come together to make that happen. Last year Garnier Fructis sponsored the large shower areas. Kohler piggy-backed off the getting-clean-and-refreshed activation with their #KohlerShowerParty, offering people a chance to win their Kohler Moxie Showerhead with Wireless Bluetooth Speaker. A perfect “singing in the shower” scenario.

In 2016 we’re already getting a glimpse of the enhanced festival experience “brought to you by Brand X.” This week Bonnarro’s official line up was announced on Conan O’Brien. Yes, some of those band names were out of the bag after last week’s online leak, which the host acknowledged. Poking fun at that in typically Conan style, “You think that would steal our thunder, right?! No way!! We’ve got the official, OFFICIAL line up!”

He goes on to list Tame Impala, LCD Soundsystem, Judd Apatow, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Lamb of God, and a number of others. But that’s not all folks! “There’s one appearance at this year’s Bonnaroo Festival that NO ONE knows about. I’m thrilled to announce that appearing at Bonnaroo this year for the first time ever - FLUSHABLE TOILETTES!”

Oh yes, these festival luxuries will be brought to you by American Standard, Toto (no, not the band, although that’d be kind of funny…a singing toilette…), Barnum, Kohler (seriously Kohler, a Moxie Bluetooth Toilette…how cool would that be?!), Glacier Bay, Delta, Ariel, Aqua Source, and the Japanese Kind That Shoot Water Up Your Ass - for V.I.P. ONLY!

Perks like this are examples of how festival are becoming smarter on sponsorships. At the same time, consumers are increasing their awareness of business practices and festivals need to keep up. Festival fans are aligning themselves with events that mirror their way of living. In the Bible, Tucker points out the all-important planning practice of marrying a brand’s identity with the identity of the festival’s attendees. “For example, a sponsorship from a cigarette company might come with a nice paycheck, but many of your non-smoking attendees (which may be more than 50%) could view this as promoting smoking.” Garnier Fructis has been on the PETA list for a while due to their practice of animal testing. This may not sit well with some folks.

Then there's Kohler’s #KohlerClarity is a water filtration systems, whose goal is to help solve the problem of approximately 1.8 billion people in the world affected by unsafe drinking water. The company is working with NGOs like World Vision, iDE and Water Mission, which they promoted on Instagram via @KohlerShowerParty, the same account used for their festival activation. As more and more families attend festivals in addition to the younger generation, as the younger generation gets older and starts families of their own, household brands have more opportunities to resonate deeply with people’s desire to live an ethical, healthier and greener lifestyle while giving back, and spending their dollars with companies who walk the global citizen walk.

This year Bonnaroo introduced the Car Camping Pass, to further encourage people “to carpool to save money, which helps us be a greener festival.” This aligns with their award-winning, extensive sustainability standards and practices, including the Clean Vibes team that diverted 197.66 tons of garbage from going into the landfill in 2015. The pass will cost $59.75 per car (not per person) to help cover the cost of new amenities, like flushable toilettes and permanent showers (will be interesting to see how these will compare to the ones sponsored last year), and the overall costs of building a temporary city.

Then there are times when a live event tries a little too hard to mirror the demographic of their audience, and it can backfire. One such anecdote was shared at the 2015 IMFCON, when the panelists of “Experiential Marketing: Building the bond between Brands and Fans” were asked by an audience member about an activation they experienced that did not go well. Todd Greene, the panel moderator, and the vice president, marketing at Lucky Day, jumped in to answer. He had taken some of his clients to a Foreigner concert in Virginia, and as he entered the venue he saw it was sponsored by AARP. “I was angry,” he said, going on to explain his distain that if he wasn’t there with clients he would have turned and left. “You gotta know your audience. Even people who are members of AARP don’t want to know that they’re members of AARP.” Yeah, no shit. Especially if they’re at a rock and roll show. Serious #FacePalm.

The most effective way to avoid turning off, or even insulting your fans, is to ensure there is a healthy and communicative collaboration between the festival (who knows their audience), the brand (who knows their value and identity), and the agency (who orchestrates it all together). Then intelligence, experiences and goals are all shared. This is one of THEE critical components to providing value to the festivalgoer and solidifying that life-long relationship with the consumer.

So yes, there are always lessons to be learned as each festival season passes, and in all areas of operations. Always new opportunities for year-over-year improvement. At IMFCON, Insominiac’s founder, Pasquale Rotella, stated quite frankly, “This year's EDC will be nothing like next year's. We're excited about that."

Now anyone can tap into the collective intelligence in The Festival Thrower’s Bible, in both eBook on Blurb and hard copy on Amazon, whichever suits your reading fancy. Although The Bible is now published, this conversation doesn’t stop here. If you get a chance to read it, I’d love to get your thoughts, as a festivalgoer or a festival thrower, or both. Feel free to drop me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and/or connect with me on LinkedIn.

As part of the relaunch of The Kaffeine Buzz Show podcast, I’ll be featuring interviews with the book’s contributors, including (but not limited to) Tucker Gumber, discussing his last five years of deep diving into the festival world and his festival app, FestEvo; Joseph Pred’s view on safety expectations for the 2016 festival season; TOURTech’s tips for the right way to wire a festival sponsorship; and Vendini, the book’s publisher. As 2016’s festival season continues to unfold, so will the insights, interviews, opinions and coverage.

Thanks again to Tucker for spearheading this movement to make festivals better for everyone, and for asking me to be a part of the conversation. I’m excited about the year to come. The line ups, from Bonnaroo and Primavera Sound, Firefly and The Great Escape Festival, to SXSW and Field Day London, are astounding. See you out at the farm, the field, on the street or in front of the stage soon!

-Kim Owens
@kaffeinebuzz

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