Josh O'Kane for the Toronto Star

How-To: Fostering partnerships and sponsorship in the entertainment industry

Fostering partnerships in the entertainment industry is difficult, especially when you’re a new player.

Without preexisting connections, catching the eye of high calibre talent and brands can seem nearly impossible. And for marketing and events agencies in the entertainment business, connections mean everything.

Barry Avrich, president and CEO of Endeavour Marketing, has more than 25 years experience in the entertainment industry which has seen him working on hundreds of cultural marketing campaigns for the likes of TIFF, Luminato and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Originality, he says, is the key to pitching a successful partnership.

“It begins with getting around the table and brainstorming unbelievable ideas that are going to attract [brands],” he says, adding that those ideas must “give customers opportunities they can’t get anywhere else.”

Today, that means creating an experience for the potential partner’s consumers. Banner sponsorships are passé; brands want to be a part of an experience itself. They want naming rights, side-promotions, and product everywhere. Brands have needs to be met, and they want to be centre-stage with the main act.

Kevin Goodman has mastered the technique of entertainment marketing experience creation. The entrepreneur founded Front Row Center Inc., a music and entertainment marketing firm, five years ago.

After scoping out the 2007 Virgin Festival, Goodman approached the media giant with a slew of suggestions to improve the experience for company sponsors by offering more benefits and visibility, including lending their name to specific festival features, such as the beer garden and VIP areas. The suggestions worked, and he was recruited to handle partner development and sponsorship sales for the following year’s festival. That was his first client; he’s since worked on band-to-brand development for concerts, tours, festivals and other major music events.

The importance of a matching a sponsor to experience is central to a strong partnership with the brand, Goodman says. “You’re not going to put a women’s soap brand at a heavy metal festival.”

When Coca-Cola wanted to tie their Full Throttle energy drink to a music property, Front Row Center launched a program with pop-punk band Green Day that got attention across Canada.

“It wasn’t about writing Green Day a really big cheque,” Goodman says. “It was more about, what could Coca-Cola’s Full Throttle Band deliver for Green Day?”

Deliver they did: Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown was listed in Canadian 7-11 stores for four weeks, and made available at other convenience stores across the country as well. Front Row Center designed tour posters and launched integrated radio-spot promotions for the band and the brand, too. And to cap it off, they released a limited-edition Full Throttle can with Green Day’s faces plastered all over it.

Matching an energy drink beloved by teens with a mall-punk band was a huge success.

“Green Day got unbelievable exposure for the band and for their upcoming tour,” Goodman says. “That type of integrated program not only delivered value for the brand, but also delivered huge exposure and a lot of value for the band.”

Creating “win-win” situations that expose both parties to larger audiences are the key to creating value and winning partnerships, says Al Lieberman, a marketing professor and executive director of the Entertainment, Media and Technology program New York University’s Stern School of Business.

To do that, a marketing agency has to approach brands with proof they can “add more value to what they’re already offering,”  Lieberman says. He suggests new agencies ask themselves, “what is it that they need that you can do, that might come out of your past experience and your trade?”

When they want to partner, brands want a similar (and, obviously, larger) audience that’s compatible with their identity.

“It’s great image association,” Lieberman says. “ You have to be able to say, ‘Gee, I have access to a certain amount of research,’ or, ‘I’m in a position to connect you with a good friend of mine.’”

And, he adds, practice always shows through, especially in the events world.

“Always walk before you can fly – don’t get in over your head or you may rue the day, and ruin your reputation,” Lieberman says. “Events are labour intensive, [and] they have many moving parts. Rehearse, rehearse, and hire people with connections.”

Knowing what potential partners need, Endeavour Marketing’s  Avrich says, is the key to customizing a pitch.

“Understand their marketing objectives,” he says.

A common thread runs through most of the bad pitches he’s sat through over the years.

“They don’t take the time to think about the person they’re trying to approach,” he says.