Marketers Share Insights on Successful Event Partnerships

Marketers who recently joined forces in successful event partnerships share how their deals came together.

By Michael O'Connell August 3, 2009, 8:00 AM EDT

HBO and Virgin Atlantic's Entourage Air

Photo: AP Photo/Virgin America, Bob Riha Jr

Playing well with others hasn’t been strictly enforced since kindergarten, but companies looking to maintain or increase the impact of their events could do well to pay heed to that notion. Brand partnerships for events, campaigns, or long-term initiatives can produce more desirable results than tackling a project solo in any economy, but these days—when people are asked to do more for less—pooling resources can help marketers get more for their buck.

But before you jump into bed with another brand, make sure to confirm you and your partner are looking for the same thing. Six months of trying phone conferences and constant concessions may not be worth a few dollars saved or a mention in Us Weekly. To get an idea how successful pairings come together, we talked to marketers who recently teamed up to share production responsibilities and generate more media impressions, higher attendance, or stronger buzz than each probably would have on their own. The bottom line: They’re all open to doing it again.

Mile-High Club: HBO & Virgin America
When Entourage returned from a hiatus more than a year long, HBO needed a dramatic way to promote the launch of the fifth season of its flagship comedy. A typical screening and after-party didn’t seem to fit with the show’s expensive campaign and jet-set vibe, so the marketing team came up with the idea of branding an airplane.

Choosing the carrier depended entirely on its fit with the show’s aesthetic—and a willingness to pay for the gas. After considering what the show’s characters would fly, HBO approached Virgin America. The airline was about to launch a new flight between New York and Las Vegas, so the pair agreed to a joint promotion.

The fruits of their labors—a few meetings spread out over about three months—included a private Virgin-hosted party inside a JFK airport hangar, photo ops with the show’s cast and Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson, an in-flight premiere of the season opener, and an after-party at the Playboy Club in Las Vegas. In addition to an ongoing content distribution deal that sprang from the partnership, both brands saw the party itself attract an estimated $3 million worth of media impressions.

“HBO has content distribution deals with a lot of the major carriers, but Virgin was one of the few that we didn’t have a relationship with. When we began talks about the Entourage premiere, the larger deal with Virgin just came out of it organically. The promotion ended up giving way to an ongoing revenue-sharing arrangement for in-flight entertainment.”
—Chris Spadaccini, vice president for advertising and promotion, HBO

“The event garnered coverage in outlets [including] USA Today, Variety, and Entertainment Weekly—we considered it a very successful partnership.”
—Patricia Condon, public relations and events manager, Virgin America

Fort Worth: The Fader & Levi Strauss
Judging by the increased branding initiatives at music festivals this past year, marketers remain in hot pursuit of 18- to 34-year-olds. At the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, in March, no private event attracted more of that coveted demographic than the Levi’s/Fader Fort.

What started over a decade ago as a rented hotel room where the jeans brand could meet with musicians and seed products this year grew to a temporary concert venue that lasted four days, attracted 18,000 people, and included a pop-up Levi’s store, an artists’ lounge, a media hub, and even a complimentary laundromat. Between the original and current incarnations of the Fort, Levi’s turned to music magazine The Fader and its corporate sibling, marketing company Cornerstone, to curate the lineup of musicians.

The denim label has been able to expose its brand to thousands more festivalgoers—though it does foot the sizable bill—and the small independent magazine has garnered a larger platform than more recognizable brands at the festival, like Playboy and Spin. The program has worked so well for both parties, they have an ongoing conversation about extending the property: The brands already plan to bring a smaller version to New York’s CMJ Music Marathon in October, with plans to go elsewhere later in 2009 and 2010.

“The Fort allows us to leverage our relationships, our knowledge of the music space, and our ability to really market and promote. We get tons of exposure before and after the event. The goal now is to work with Levi’s to keep building it as a property. Making this something that lives more than just a couple times a year—for consumers and not just musicians, influencers, and the media—is a big part of our 2010 planning.”
—Jon Cohen, C.E.O. and co-founder, The Fader and Cornerstone

“Our relationship started when another media partner backed out of a program. We were left with a big hole and had to create something very quickly. On very little notice they were able to help us create an event with the Strokes—just as they were breaking. We’d been going down to Austin for a couple years at that point, so when we decided to create a stage for musicians, we brought The Fader on to ensure the lineups would reflect our brand aesthetic.”
—Sheri Timmons, director of presence marketing, Levi’s

Models and Bottles: Belvedere & Bustle Clothing
Being in the right place at the right time isn’t everything. Marketers at Moët Hennessy-owned Belvedere Vodka wanted to launch its IX brand during Toronto Fashion Week, but finding a way onto its target audience’s schedules looked daunting without piggybacking onto one of the presentations.

The marketing team thought local designer Bustle Clothing had the right amount of fashion cred and mainstream media appeal to buoy its launch—and it didn’t hurt that they’d been teaming up with the label off and on for years—so Moët Hennessy inquired about a presence at the runway show. Bustle’s price? A free after-party. The duo agreed to the terms, and at its Fashion Week showing, Bustle sent Belvedere-brandishing models down the runway, instructing guests to look under their seats for the exclusive invitations.

Though the guest list for the show and party overlapped, it was important to Belvedere that the party be all about the vodka launch—something Bustle agreed to. The deal gave Bustle a hot-ticket after-party for guests, and Belvedere got to launch its product on the catwalk while other non-Fashion Week sponsors were left completely shut out of the tents.

“Our brand is capable of pulling off a party like this on its own, but staging the runway stunt was something else entirely. Bustle brought such a strong relationship with Toronto Fashion Week—they were able to cut through the red tape and facilitate our presence. The amount of paperwork and hoops we would have had to go through on our own would have made it impossible.”
—Kelley Burns-Coady, marketing director, Moët Hennessy

“It can be a challenge to work alongside another brand when we’re producing a runway show. There needs to be a certain subtlety in terms of brand presence, [and] the execution of the partnership needs to make sense as much as the partnership itself does. Otherwise, the creativity of the message [gets] lost.”
—Shawn Hewson, creative director, Bustle Clothing

Apple Picking: C.E.S. & ILounge
Never underestimate the power of Steve Jobs. Since Apple’s decision to pull out of the 2010 MacWorld conference, interest in the celebration of all things non-P.C. has dropped precipitously, leaving many Apple and iPod retailers and developers looking for another, more viable trade show.

The Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s largest consumer technology show, with 110,000 in attendance this year, should be a natural choice—except it’s never been known for a cohesive Apple presence. Mac-centric industry Web site iLounge saw an opportunity to partner with C.E.S. to make a more attractive option for its readership, so it approached the Consumer Electronics Association about producing a designated pavilion at the 2010 show. The association’s desire to court the Apple tribe inspired the group to give 4,000 square feet of the show floor to iLounge, which filled up with 36 vendors within a day of the announcement. C.E.S. has now sold more than 12,000 square feet of space in the pavilion and has zoned it for as much as 25,000 square feet. Neither would reveal the financial terms of the deal, but C.E.S. uses a variety of different models with partners, including revenue-sharing and barter arrangements.

When it debuts in January 2010—with vendors like Griffin Technology, Mobis Technology, and iSkin already set to appear—the iLounge pavilion will be anchored by a hospitality lounge and media center constructed by its title sponsor.

“When Apple withdrew from other Mac- and iPod-focused trade shows, the events quickly declined significantly in both attendance and reasons to attend. Given C.E.S.’s comparatively strong annual attendance, and the number of companies that told us they wanted a better way to exhibit there, this seemed like the right time to develop a solution. It was C.E.S. exhibitors that [first] suggested we talk with C.E.A., and C.E.A. was immediately receptive.”
—Jeremy Horwitz, editor in chief, iLounge

“We still sell and manage all of the space in this pavilion, like we do with the whole show, but iLounge certainly has a lot of relationships with these exhibitors. From a credibility standpoint, it’s been helpful to have their endorsement with the vendors we already work with, and they’ve been able to help us bring so many others on.”
—Dan Cole, vice president of business development, C.E.S.

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