Corporate sponsors play a significant role in the planning and execution of any community festival. For example, the Taste of Chicago 2019, a popular food festival in the Windy City, was sponsored by corporate partners such as DoorDash, Chicago Tribune, Pepsi, and Southwest Airlines.
The Taste of Chicago
The Taste of Chicago is an annual festival spanning five days in Chicago's Grant Park. It has become one of the largest food festivals in the world. It provides an excellent example of the planning that goes into hosting community festivals.
Christine Jacob, senior manager of corporate sponsorships in the Mayor’s Office of Special Events in Chicago, supports numerous programs throughout the year. But for the Taste, her goal is to identify sponsors and secure or negotiate terms early to help maximize the event's total revenue.
Sponsorship categories at the Taste include the following:
- Presenting ($250,000)
- Taste Dining Rooms ($100,000)
- Taste Concerts ($50,000)
- Taste Trolley ($50,000)
- Media: in-kind value ($140,000)
Of course, sponsors are savvy and measure the benefits of participating in a community festival against their own business objectives.
For example, some sponsors use the Taste as an opportunity to brand themselves with some of the entertainment options to expand their visibility with event attendees. The result: Stella Rosa Wine Garden, Lifeway Foods Test Kitchen, and Camp DoorDash.
Because the Taste of Chicago is an established annual event that takes place every July, sponsorship renewals typically begin in September for the following year with contract commitments by December.
“We’re fortunate that Taste is what it is,” Jacob explains. “People call us – which is great. It’s a marketer’s dream to be part of Taste.”
When the programming committee for the Taste meets each year in the fall, they consider new programming areas, and that’s when the sponsorship team begins to integrate these ideas into their platform.
How to Attract New Sponsors
If sponsors do not commit by year-end or drop out for any reason, it’s time for the sponsorship team to pursue new sponsors.
“That could mean cold calls and pitches,” Jacobs explains. “For example, if an automotive sponsor drops out, we’ll approach another automotive sponsor who we’ve worked with in the past.”
For those approaching sponsorship for the first time or those who are holding a previously organized event that is now annualized, Jacobs offers the following tips:
- Even if you’re not successful, try to secure a first-year sponsor.
- Sponsorships must be identified as part of the initial planning phase.
- Brainstorm program elements early to allow maximum time to secure sponsors.
- Identify the value of each category; reinforce the benefits of a previously held program and its sponsorship levels.
- Create a fact sheet for each property or individual sponsorship category.
- Offer higher-level sponsors the right of first refusal. The majority of sponsors are either participating or onsite.
- Renew all sponsorships at least six months prior to the event.
- Secure new and replacement sponsor at least three months prior to the event.
- Hold weekly or regular meetings to communicate sponsor status and renewals.
Common Elements in a Package
Sponsors consider the return on investment (ROI) when measuring the value of sponsorships. And the most important elements include awareness and financial benefits.
Nevertheless, event planners who organize community events such as a food festival will determine sponsorship levels and direct benefits from the organizer to help support those ROI objectives. Depending on the sponsorship level, visibility included in the Taste may include any portion or all of the following:
- Signage/banner opportunities (stage, railing, towers, street pole, etc.)
- Corporate logo on the main stage
- Category exclusivity
- Promotional tent
- Advertisement in program materials
- Status level on event brochure
- Corporate logo on event advertisements
- Corporate logo at ticket windows
- Mentions in radio advertising
- Priority seating tickets
- Use of corporate hospitality tents
- Main stage presentations
- Main stage mentions
- Opportunity to bring inflatable for increased visibility
- Corporate press releases with event press kits
- Parking and delivery permits
- Invitations to press preview party
- Opportunity to distribute pre-approved sample items
While “cash” may seem like the most obvious reason to secure sponsors, many other benefits exist for incorporating sponsorship categories into a community food festival, according to Jacob:
- Concert sponsorship helps bring top name artists.
- Corporate sponsorships enhance programming.
The Value of In-Kind Offers
To be sure, sponsoring an established event like the Taste is beneficial to both sponsor and organizer, so in-kind offers can sometimes be viewed as cash. Some examples that Jacob suggests include the following:
- Media sponsors to provide TV, radio, and print advertising
- Radio sponsors to offset talent expenses
- Airline sponsors to provide seats for out of town entertainment
- Hotels to provide complimentary guest rooms for entertainment
Another important factor when identifying sponsors for a family event: “We do not have any ‘sin’ categories. We avoid tobacco and sex-related sponsors,” Jacob says. “And because this is a food festival, no food sampling is allowed.”
For anyone who is considering an event like this for the first time, Jacob recommends doing a lot of research and suggests that planners consider using an experienced firm to find out how other people do it.
“As far as creating something new, I’d research comparable events. Network as much as possible. You cannot use the same pricing and benefits, but try to compare apples to apples.”
Jacobs also recommends IEG, an international provider of independent research, consulting, training, and analysis on sponsorship, as a good source for information.