IN PURSUIT OF PARTNERSHIPS
The race is on. Our International Business Festival attracts 25,000 delegates from all over the world. One thing unites them all - They're ambitious - and this makes them a very attractive audience to business savvy, B2B sponsors.
That's why one of our most important functions within the International Business Festival team is sponsorship. The money this generates helps us finance our Festival, aids in creating effective partnerships, builds credibility, increases awareness and further develops the substantial deal-making potential of a nine-day business event like ours.
Attracting our festival's projected 30-plus sponsors and building a relationship with them takes lots of work. Lots of meetings, lots of pitches, lots of negotiations and lots of management. Next year we fully intend to achieve our sponsorship goal and we're not worried for two reasons. The first is called Craig, the second, Danny.
Meet our Commercial Sponsorships Managers, Craig Thompson, and Danny Blunt. They're the good cop - good cop team that will be rounding up sponsored partners, left, right and centre, to help take our 2018 Festival to a whole new level. Read on to hear about our sponsorship offer, how it can help your business.
Craig, Danny, how's it going?
Danny: It's going well. The 2016 Festival made thousands of valuable business connections, through 30 partners and this momentum has never slowed down for us. We're talking to some amazing companies right now.
Craig: There's still a lot of work to do but it's brilliant to have HSBC back as a main Festival Partner. HSBC is one of the world's most prominent banks, operating in over 80 countries, so their sustained support in the Festival shows that it delivers for partners.
Does a big global player like HSBC coming on board have a snowball effect?
Craig: I'm not sure if it's quite a snowball effect but it definitely generates ripples. HSBC are a very well respected global brand, having that alignment between them and the Festival demonstrates the calibre of our event.
Danny: In a way, what they bring is confidence. Other businesses see their name and it adds a certain weight and credibility to our Festival.
Why were they keen to return as a headline sponsor in 2018?
Danny: I think the Festival just exceeded their expectations. There's no business event quite like it and our core values are a really close fit, because HSBC are also very passionate about supporting businesses and giving them real, tangible tools for growth.
Craig: We present a direct route for HSBC to reach a receptive and ambitious global audience and our format is very different to your usual conference. We're a Festival, which takes place over nine days, covering nine of the most exciting business sectors in the world. That's attractive to a global player like HSBC, who are naturally interested in many different business sectors.
How do you select potential sponsors?
Danny: First we do our homework. There needs to be a clear alignment between the ambition and values of the festival and the goals of the potential supporter. Partnerships are all about mutually beneficial relationships and these can't happen if we're pulling in different directions.
Craig: Exactly. We have a vision for the Festival and only partners who share that vision will really benefit from working with us. Once we've identified a potential partner the approach can vary, but the goal is to get in front of them as quickly as we can. We usually find that we already have an existing relationship with the company, which helps to make them more receptive.
Danny: I hate sales terms, but when you're going in ‘cold' things are more difficult. A little personal touch goes such a long way. You have to reach out in unconventional ways. My friend was once applying for a graphic design job and sent the employer a trainer with ‘just getting my foot in the door' stitched on it. He got the job! These non-conventional touches can be real head turners.
Craig: What? Just one trainer?
Danny: Yeah. Why?
Craig: It's just nice to have a pair.
Danny: They weren't to wear. It was just… to get his foot in the door…
Craig: I know. I'm only joking. Nice touch though. But once you have an ‘in' – however you get it - it's about creating a partnership the meets the needs of the company. For us, this has to be tailored around clear objectives, which we establish at the outset of each relationship.
Danny: Yes. This helps us build a rapport with partners, understand the challenges that they're facing and how we can use the Festival to help them overcome them.
Sounds like a smart approach. Do you both have sponsorship backgrounds?
Craig: My background is in music and media. As a freelancer, I worked with local bands and promoters and dipped my toe into PR, marketing and lecturing at LJMU. That led to helping to establish a local music magazine, Bido Lito! in 2010, working as their sales manager. Somehow, don't ask me how, that progressed into working on sponsorship for Liverpool Sound City, working with brands like Carlsberg, Red Bull and Mailchimp. From there I went to Sentric Music and established their Brands & Artist Services department, I then set up my own consultancy, which led to a conversation about the needs of the International Business Festival and now here we are.
How about you, Danny?
Craig: Nobody else came for the interview!
Danny: Hey! But in all seriousness, I've spent most of my post-grad career working in research and academia. But, I've always enjoyed working with people and collaborating. At the time this role came up, I was working in business planning for Liverpool Vision, the company that deliver the Festival, and I wanted to diversify a little and work on something with more opportunities to help businesses succeed. I'm glad I did because I'm really enjoying it.
How do you divide the work? Whose pitch is best?
Craig: We're really lucky because we get on so well. We work very collaboratively on most things and tend to just share minor tasks evenly. I think we complement each other's strengths and weaknesses so we contribute equally to all jobs.
Danny: I can only agree. Craig is a top-notch colleague and with his wealth of experience he's been a mentor figure and taught me a lot. We tend to present together and again balance each other out. I make more tea, though.
Craig: True, true, but you're so good at it.
Danny: Thanks, I'll teach you some time. You could do with some tips, to be fair.
The programme is still being developed. What challenges does that present? How do you overcome these?
Craig: The finer details, such as speakers, for example, are still to be announced. But we largely know how the shape of the festival and how it will manifest itself.
Danny: Nine days. Nine sectors. 100 exhibitors. 50+ events. A business incubator. ‘Blueskies' stage – which is kind of like TeD talks - an innovation hub and tailored business brokerage service all under one roof from 12 – 28 June 2018, in one of Britain's most creative and entrepreneurial cities, Liverpool.
Craig: That's quite a pitch. You can tell he's done this before. But, it's easy to get businesses excited by our Festival, especially if they're aware of how we're evolving this year. This time around we're much more clearly focussed on what matters to businesses - growth.
Danny: It can be hard to attract new commercial partners when it's such early days, in terms of the programme, but this flexibility is also a great selling point. Businesses that come on board early have the opportunity to help us shape the festival. We want new partners to buy into our core belief as a starting point – a world where business has no borders - and then the finer details start to fall into place.
What opportunities does sponsoring the Festival present?
Danny: There's so many really. There's the catch-all, standard benefits that any business would expect from partnering with an event like this. The opportunity to boost brand awareness and recognition; connect directly with global businesses; tap into growth sectors; showcase new and innovative products and services; put senior members of the business on a global stage in front of a receptive audience, and perhaps most crucially, meet buyers and sellers.
Craig: But they're not really a selling point for us. They're a given. It's no different to any other large business event in that way. So, we come back to two things. One - Does the business we're speaking to share and reflect our ambition? Two - How can the Festival help a partner to overcome their own challenges and maximise their own opportunities? All the other stuff is a framework for us to operate in to realise those two core objectives.
What piques business interest the most about the Festival's sponsorship offer?
Craig: It varies. For some, the fact that the event is backed by government is a big draw, for others they want to use it as a driver for new business. For another company, it might be about getting close to big players and decision makers. But I think the fact that it's in Liverpool is a big part of the appeal because the city's reputation has come a long way and it has a global brand that is stronger than almost any other English city.
Danny: I always like to talk about our proven track record. We secured more than £600m for UK plc in 2016 and we've enabled businesses to expand, securing 2,000 new jobs. We boosted export sales by £87m and we're set to secure £145m of domestic sales over the next three years. These kinds of figures help to show the scale, reach and impact of the Festival and they tend to make businesses sit up and take notice.
Tell me about the different levels of sponsorship.
Craig: There's no quick and fast answer here. Some companies will just want to sponsor a day relevant to them, like a pharma company sponsoring the life sciences day, for example. On the other hand, an accountancy firm might want to sponsor the entire festival and have a heavy presence over all three weeks. A drinks company may only want to sponsor hospitality elements. There are a lot of opportunities for businesses big and small.
Danny: Yes. Commercial partnerships can take many different forms, so their scale and scope vary to a large degree. This echoes our earlier point that the ‘level' of sponsorship will all depend on what's best suited to that particular partner. We're in the business of building lasting relationships, that work for all sides. So for us, it's not just about the 2018 Festival, it's about the one after that and hopefully the one after that. We're in the long game.
How can businesses find out more?
Danny: Give us a call or email us.
Craig: Yes. The Festival presents opportunities for almost any business and we're always on the hunt for new partners.