Scoring sponsors for an annual event and ensuring they return year after year isn’t the easiest feat for event organizers—a challenge Cochon555 is familiar with. The coast-to-coast culinary tour and barbecue competition is dedicated to supporting family farmers and educating chefs and diners about the agricultural importance of cooking with livestock once raised by the forefathers. It's also an example of an annual event that aims to support small, local artisan sponsors at each tour location while maintaining loyalty to high-profile, national brands that sponsor the event in its entirety.
The tour, which launched in 2008 in response to a lack of education about heritage breed pigs, traveled to 14 cities this year, beginning with New York in January. The event finished its 2017 edition on Sunday with a finale competition in Chicago between 14 winning chefs from the regional events. At its end, the tour had 82 sponsors—not including media and venues.
Steve Buzby, the C.E.O. of Revel Marketing, a Denver-based brand partnership solutions agency that works with Cochon555, recently provided tips for organizers to attract and retain sponsors for annual events.
1. Monitor fan engagement.
“We are living in a time where results are measured by digital impressions,” says Buzby. “Events like Cochon—which know their audience well, can account for how fans are engaging, and can articulate that information with potential and current sponsors—are more appealing to the artisan, quality-over-quantity brands.”
2. Take time to vet potential sponsors.
Buzby notes that Revel partners with an analytics company to research potential sponsors based on certain criteria. “What makes a successful partnership is making sure the potential sponsor has a mission that is aligned with Cochon555,” he says. “It would not make sense for a non-premium, mass-exposure product to sponsor Cochon555. But a high-quality artisan whiskey brand would align perfectly.”
3. Be willing to negotiate terms with sponsors that smoothly align with your brand.
Buzby explains that events such as Cochon555 benefit from long-standing sponsor relationships, and that bending a little to keep a sponsor happy in the beginning can build long-term loyalty. “The best part about Cochon555 is that we can offer unique pairing opportunities with a wine brand to a specific food to complement and heighten exposure,” he says. “Putting extra care and thought into how a brand is integrated into the whole experience is crucial.”
4. Get creative with sponsor benefits.
As the tour attracts mostly millennial consumers and creators, Buzby explains that knowing your audience can help provide customized sponsor benefits to attract local and national brands before, during, and after an event. One example he gives is pairing a spirit brand sponsor with a food partner, based on how both are created. “Our sponsor Woodford Reserve is paired with ‘Dirty Steak,’ which is prepared by Chicago chef Cory Morris and cooked directly on the coals of Royal Oak charcoal,” he says. “Woodford Reserve [bourbon] is made from a similar process. They kind of blend into one another for a natural pairing.”
5. Provide different sponsorship levels.
“Because Cochon555 promotes localism, it’s important to offer various sponsorship levels to attract the big, national luxury brands as well as local, new brands that do not have a big budget, but are looking for exposure locally and possibly nationally,” says Buzby.
6. Use a variety of touch points to promote your event and highlight sponsors.
“By tapping into influencers and building public relations campaigns with both national and local media outlets, the outreach benefits sponsors on a local and national level,” Buzby explains, while adding that Cochon555 maximizes digital advertising through promotion across numerous social platforms and through microsite partnerships.