Between the Sessions: Sponsorship Conversations and Highlights from IAFE

By Paula Beadle and Michael Kithcart

At this year’s International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) Convention in San Antonio, the Caravel team spent much of our time engaged in interesting conversations with thought leaders. We departed even more energized and enthused than when we arrived. It’s always a challenge to attend as many sessions as we’d like and this year that was particularly true. As we reflected on the event, it occurred to us that some of the most thought-provoking ideas and valuable information—and even a few head-scratchers—came mostly from the conversations between the sessions.

The interest to seek and expand sponsorship relationships is at an all-time high. Not surprising given the continued financial, competitive and attendance challenges fairs are facing. There is an understanding that maximizing sponsorship revenue opportunities and expanding partnerships will help address those challenges and create new opportunities. A focus on sponsorships in 2019 will be well placed—fair and festival sponsorships are projected to grow 3.7 percent in 2018. That’s an increase over the previous three years, according to our friends at IEG.

The most frequently asked questions were around sponsorship pricing. This is a sponsorship industry-wide issue that will likely continue until a consistent valuation formula is developed and widely accepted. Pricing is an art and a science. While valuation formulas are an important foundation, Caravel also strongly believes in the intangible and market elements that influence pricing value. Every fair is uniquely different and so is your pricing. It’s important not to be pushed into a negotiation by a company that tells you they pay far less at other fairs. Although it may be true, it doesn’t have anything to do with your fair, your market, or how you value your partnerships.

We’re proponents of redirecting the level of emphasis placed on pricing and focusing it on the quality of the relationships and the depth of the program. We’ve seen and proven that investing in relationships, developing the right sponsorship program, and flawless execution of programs minimize the focus on price. Demonstrating value throughout the entire sponsorship process builds trust at every step.

That brings us to the next overarching observation: There is a fundamental lack of planning in the industry. A solid plan with goals, assets, packaging strategy, team structure, internal systems, pricing methodology, sales process and best practices is hands-down the most valuable tool in your shed.

The elephant in the room during many conversations was the lack of organizational support faced by many sponsorship managers and teams. Sponsorship is a team sport, and if everyone in the organization doesn’t support it—from the vendor, marketing and entertainment departments, to the executive leadership and board members—it’s like swimming against the tide. Sponsorship is difficult and time consuming, and without the understanding and support of the organization, success is impossible to achieve. Involving the entire organization in the sponsorship sales process is good for strengthening the team, good for the sponsors, and good for the bottom line.

Applause to the team of sponsorship experts at IAFE who addressed how to consistently deliver the fair sponsorship message and experience from coast-to-coast. They know that the sponsorship challenges fairs face are solvable by developing pricing methodologies, strengthening relationships, creating sales plans and engaging the entire organization.

One of the many reasons Caravel loves working with fairs is because fairs have sponsorship assets like no other sponsor property. From buildings, concert series and educational programs to social media, media partnerships and on-site integration—fairs are continually finding creative ways to integrate sponsors into their existing assets and creating new opportunities as well. Fairs that maximize their assets and invest in true sponsor partnerships are demonstrating why fairs are known for providing tremendous sponsorship value.

The generous exchange of ideas and information by those who attended the IAFE Convention was impressive! The organizing team does an amazing job creating an environment that inspires innovation and collaboration. Caravel looks forward to continuing the many conversations started between the sessions and helping shape sponsorship success with fairs around the nation.

About the authors:

Paula Beadle is the president of Caravel Marketing. She is a results driven trailblazer with a proven record of creating order out of chaos. By developing and managing innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue, and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards, Paula has helped numerous organizations discover and achieve their goals.

Michael Kithcart is the chief strategy officer of Caravel Marketing. Throughout her career, Michael has transformed organizations, created divisions, organized startups and enhanced the effectiveness of individuals and teams. She is a leader in working with organizations to develop strategic initiatives that meet and exceed sponsorship sales goals