How to scale local events
There’s no universal tool for finding local events. Many a startup has tried and failed, and now, Facebook and Google are competing to be the go-to app for “what’s happening around town.” For consumers, Facebook Events seem to be pulling ahead, but for marketers, who need a few months’ advance notice for local event sponsorships, the News Feed isn’t enough.
In this article, I’ll outline the benefits of local events sponsorship and how your team can select local events for one-off campaigns or at-scale.
Events, especially smaller opportunities, are inherently local: the town festival, the PTA picnic, even small-scale film festivals and book fairs. Attendees are both regional and members of a key audience — parents, middle- to high-income appreciators of the arts and so on.
It’s not surprising, then, that event sponsorships are highly beneficial, but also highly cumbersome, for local marketers.
The work behind building a successful event sponsorship is different from the process behind launching a content marketing campaign or a paid search campaign. Those tactics scale, more or less seamlessly, once you zero in on niche audiences and keywords.
Events are not like this. Events involve direct connection with an individual organizer. Swag may scale, but each relationship starts fresh.
Seek events seasonally
At ZipSprout, my employer, we organize sponsorship opportunities into two buckets: events and general donations. Events often provide more measurable reach, because they’re focused on capturing locals’ complete attention for a target timespan, whereas general donations provide a slow, steady drip of brand presence.
But events can be difficult to capture. When searching for events seeking sponsorship in a given city, it’s frequent to find the perfect opportunity, only to quickly realize that it happened three weeks ago.
A more efficient way to search for events is to use seasonality to your advantage; search for events with a seasonal focus, for a “season” that’s a few months into the future. For example, we reached out to more than 1,600 fall fests and Halloween parades during July and August of 2017.
In our experience, targeting upcoming seasonal events almost doubled our rate of successful sponsorship securing, from an average of 17 percent of all organizations contacted to 32 percent. In other words, 32 percent of the fall fests we reached out to are now ready for clients.
Either fall festivals really liked our outreach team, or we landed on a perfect timing moment for outreach. Six weeks to four months ahead of an event is a sweet spot for partnering with event organizers. Outreach before then, and they may not be ready for sponsors; outreach later, and the T-shirts have already been printed.
Event sponsorships for small budgets
- one or two local events.
- booth materials.
- your most outgoing team member.
- events that provide multiple marketing benefits, including a booth and digital marketing (website link, social media mention, email newsletter mention).
- events that align well with your target market. This doesn’t mean that only food-oriented businesses should consider the farmers’ market, but if, say, a local dentist is planning a market booth, she should ensure that her presence is enticing enough to draw customers away from the food stands.
- customer relationships that resulted from the sponsorship, whether this be via email addresses collected, new customer signups or social follows. Sponsor with a “conversion” event in mind.
Event sponsorships at scale
- five to 10 events in a target city, with benefits that meet your local marketing goals.
- For link building, find events with website and social media mentions.
- For employee engagement, seek opportunities that include booths or networking opportunities.
- events that match specific marketing goals.
- events that align well with your target market.
- “off-brand” events, too. Unlike small-budget sponsors, campaigns at scale have the opportunity to experiment. At this level, we often find that focusing on metrics and goals over “perfect fit” allows more campaign flexibility, providing a wider array of local options.
- mentions, new customers and SERP lift in that city versus another city of equal size.
How to get started
Below are 10 local events around the US that are prime examples of great local sponsorship opportunities. (Disclosure: These events are not paid clients, but they are events that have partnered with ZipSprout for local sponsorships.)
- New Orleans, Louisiana — Treme Gumbo Festival — November 18, 2017
- Detroit, Michigan — Festival of Trees — November 19, 2017
- Chicago Area, Illinois — Morton Grove Winter Market — December 2, 2017
- Phoenix, Arizona — 12k’s Christmas Run — December 9, 2017
- Breckenridge, Colorado — Big Beers Fest — January 4, 2018
- Atlanta, Georgia — MLK Day 5K — January 15, 2018
- Dallas, Texas — DFW South Asian Film Festival — February 8, 2018
- Nashville, Tennessee — Nashville Chili Fest — February 18, 2018
- San Francisco, California — Pacific Orchid Exposition — February 23, 2018
- Annapolis, Maryland — Annapolis Film Festival — March 22, 2018
These are just examples, but they are all also viable event opportunities that reach local markets.
Event sponsorships don’t have to be cumbersome if they’re approached within a targeted, goal-centric campaign. The more strategic we are with target audience and event benefits, and the more we use timing as an asset, the more we’re able to build, and add onto, a process for events.