Our talk with Mike Brant of Mile Zero brings us to discuss how to take sponsorships from billboards to live events and festivals. The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #25 Sponsorships: From Billboards to Events is followed below.

#25 Sponsorships: From Billboards to Events

Mike Brant on episode #25 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY: Welcome back to a Talk Experiential podcast.  We’ve got Mike Bryant from Mile Zero; founder and CEO.  Thanks for joining.

 

MIKE: Absolutely.  Thanks for having me, Joey.  I appreciate it.

 

JOEY: Yeah, well we just recently worked together at the Taste of Colorado here in Denver.  It’s interesting how kind of similar backgrounds and similar people we know throughout the years.  So, it’s a small knit industry.

 

MIKE: Yeah.  No, absolutely, and even connecting on this podcast.  I mean it’s funny that we did a deal together at the Taste and now we’re sitting here chatting.  [0:00:35.7]

 

JOEY: Exactly.

 

MIKE: Small world.

 

JOEY: Right?  What a small world.  Well, I’d love to dive in.  The conversation’s going to be around sponsorship.  You have a huge sponsorship background. I’d love to hear about your background.

 

MIKE: Yeah, absolutely.  So, like I’d mentioned before, I got my start in baseball.  I started in minor league baseball. That’s where I wanted to kind of cut my teeth and start on the sale side of professional baseball and I worked for a team called the Normal Cornbelters out in Normal, Illinois during grad school and started work there, got a job with the Royals and started to do some corporate sponsorship with the Royals and realized it was not really the path I wanted to take.  Alternately, I wanted to get to the Sox or the Cubs – being a Chicago boy – but alternately, in professional sports you go where the jobs are at. And, ultimately, I wanted to stay home – that’s where my wife and my family’s at – and I had an opportunity to come out with a company called Red Frog Events in Chicago and was able to kind of cut my teeth there and really help from a sponsorship prospective build their business from the ground up.  I got in when Red Frog was kind of a tiny little company and it was starting to really grow and blossom and [0:01:40.9]was in full swing at that point and a few years later we launched Firefly Music Festival on the east coast and the opportunity to sell sponsorships for that festival for a handful of years.

 

And as I grew with my time at Red Frog, I said, “I really want to do this for myself and really help people in this industry – the festival industry and the event space – from a sponsorship prospective and really help them build their business, and that’s kind of where the idea of Mile Zero grew.  

 

I was able to connect with a few event producers in the Midwest and they really – they had nobody doing it and there was really a hole from their sponsorship prospective and had a lot going on and was able to kind of dive in and utilize the contacts and the folks I’d met along the way at Red Frog and Firefly and really tap into the relationships that I’d built over the last four to five years and helped a group that I was working with in the Midwest with their festivals and it kind of just spiraled from there and a lot of it now has just been word of mouth, folks that I’ve done work with or clients that I’ve done work with have referred us to their event folks or friends or people in the industry and that’s kind of how we grew Mile Zero and that’s kind of where we’re at today.  

 

JOEY: Awesome.  Well, congrats.

 

MIKE: Thank you.

 

JOEY: That’s pretty neat to be able to go from these bigger programs and I feel we’ve actually stacked a few things.  We never worked together at Red Frog but we did a bunch with the Firefly Music Festival.

 

MIKE: Yep; yeah, absolutely, and even knowing Natalie on the marketing side.  A lot of folks that we’ve come across – our paths have crossed, definitely, and now they’re obviously crossing on another level, which is pretty cool, too, from a sponsorship prospective.

 

JOEY: Yeah, absolutely.  So, it looks like you guys work with festivals all across the country.  How many festivals and events are you guys working with?

 

MIKE: I mean it kind of ranges.  I’d say at our peak right now we’re probably at 15 properties, across the country.  We really started in core music festivals. That’s kind of where we started the business and helping the standard music festival where – 2-3 day music festival with a camping element and kind of started to kind of spin off to these ‘Taste of’ festivals and other areas that we found that really need help, that have a huge [0:03:48.9] or a huge attendance, like the Taste of Colorado, for example.  We’ve got 500,000 people and there’s a huge opportunity from a sponsorship prospective there and I think we’re starting to identify some underserved industries where the potential for sponsorship is really great but no one’s really identified it and I think that’s kind the route we’re taking as a company, is identifying those events or festivals that we really can make a splash in, from a sponsorship perspective.

 

JOEY: Awesome.  Just with your experience, you’ve been in it for quite a while and you’ve seen different brands, wanting to activate different things – What are you seeing right now with brands and what their kind of goals – Have things changed over the years of what they’re looking for and what they’re wanting?  I’d love to get your thoughts on that.

 

MIKE: Yeah, absolutely.  I think, back in the day, it used to be as easy as just a sign up on a billboard or a banner at an event or a festival, and now it’s certainly changing.  People want to be engaged. They want something that they’re excited about. They come to the festival and there’s music, there’s food, there’s other activities that go on and a sponsorship is just their layer on top of that event and I think brands are realizing, “Wow, we’ve got to do something more creative to engage these folks and to really bring them to our space,” as opposed to just throwing up a sign on the main stage or a logo on the main stage.  

 

These brands are investing a lot of money in these really cool experiential activations that have a sampling component and then it’s a drive to retail.  We just worked with a brand called Kevita Kombucha. It had a two story activation where you can go and you could sample a flight of kombucha – three different flavors – and then go up and watch music from their second platform, on top of the activation.  So, things like that. I think people are really resonating with the millennials and the groups that are really coming to these festivals and those brands, I think, are realizing that it needs to be more engaging, from an experience standpoint.

 

JOEY: Right.  Well, and especially this day and age, just with technology out there, how do you get in front of millennials?  I think millennials – I don’t know if you see it but millennials have been a huge target for brands. How do you get in front of them?  They kind of have the biggest bucket of opportunity, so that’s why a lot of brands are looking to target those. I know brands like Verizon has literally changed their logo –

 

MIKE: Yep.

 

JOEY: – and their whole focus on millennials, but for sponsorship, I guess do you guys see the bigger activations or a bigger type of presence they’re wanting, compared to a 10X10 booth at these festivals?

 

MIKE: Yeah, absolutely.  I think those are the most success for the brands that are investing some dollars on the activation piece of things, and not just popping up a 10×10.  Those are obviously successful for certain brands, but brands that are willing to invest a little bit of money to bring something that’s really cool and unique to the festival, and then on top of that, not only activate onsite, but from start to finish and telling that full story because there’s still – Ideally you want to capture somebody that’s pre-festival, during the ticketing process, onsite post festival, and keep those people’s engagement and attention throughout the course of the span of the sponsorship and I think brands that do that do it well, from a social perspective, from a marketing perspective, and really build a whole campaign around what they’re actually doing on-site and doing a really good sponsorship from that perspective, I think, is really important.

 

JOEY: Right, absolutely.  Very cool. What’s some big events are you guys working on right now?

 

MIKE: So we just wrapped, obviously, the Taste of Colorado this past Labor Day weekend, we’re starting to, obviously, gear up now for 2019, which is crazy that we’re not even in October yet, but we’re certainly in our sales cycle for that festival.  We’ve got a few festivals in Vegas, in the craft beer side, that we’ll be activating here in the next couple months. And then again, just rolling over some new clients that we’re in the process of talking to, we’re excited to roll out some new properties and some new clients that we’ll be on boarding here in the next couple months and I think from our prospective we’re obviously hitting the ground running from a sponsorship prospective, but now is a time where events and festivals are starting to reach out to companies like us and say, “Hey, look, we know this is the time we should be really hitting sponsors.  Let’s have a conversation to really start that process.”

 

So, that’s kind of been our focus, from year to year.  We obviously start or current sale cycle with the clients we have and now we’re starting to talk to new potential clients, starting to onboard those folks as the coming months progress here.

 

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Perfect.  So, I guess that’s great topic that you brought up is right now, usually – Right now is almost – I wouldn’t say behind the ball for next year but a lot of brands are looking for next year, 2019.

 

MIKE: Yep.

 

JOEY: You can’t just throw this together.  You might have a spot or whatnot but experiential marketing, anything physical takes a lot of time and effort to put together, but I guess, do you have any tips for these brands looking for festivals to be at that you’ve kind of seen that might be beneficial for them?

 

MIKE: From a brand prospective?

 

JOEY: Yeah, from a brand prospective.

 

MIKE: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of – I think it probably has to come from a couple different angles:  Who you’re really to target from a demographic perspective and then boil it down from, “Are we looking to target people at music festivals, are we looking at craft and food festivals, are we looking at 5k sporting events?”  

 

It kind of just depends on what their goals are, from a marketing perspective.  And I think when a brand starts to realize, “Okay, this is the budget we have, this is who we’re trying to target, and this what our activation looks like.  Now, let’s go out and find those events,” and that’s – Really, where our core focus is obviously client driven and supporting the events and festivals we work with but, ultimately, we want to be a resource for those brands and those agencies that are looking for properties, like the ones we represent and educate those folks too and say, “Look, we’ve got a slew of different things going on that might fit what you’re trying to do.  Let’s have that conversation because we want to be a resource for your brand or the agency looking for these types of events and festivals,” and I think we’ve had some good success with that, saying, “Hey, look, we’ve got the food festival, we’ve got some music festivals, we’ve some food festivals, tell us what you’re looking to do and we’ll make some really concise decisions on where we think you guys should be from a brand prospective and your overall goals from a marketing perspective.”

 

JOEY: Right.  No, very cool.  And I know that – So, you guys do a little bit more than just the sponsorship.  You guys work with the event management. You guys are pretty much event management for like – Let’s just talk about Taste of Colorado, for instance.  You guys kind of put the whole show on?

 

MIKE: Yeah, so we don’t just sell in a sponsorship and say, “Here you go guys.  Activate it,” we’re truly soup to nuts, from start to finish. We’ll sell in a sponsorship and then we’ll obviously activate it onsite.  And then another part of our business, too, is event operations and that’s ultimately, from our prospective, we want to start getting into our own events and start producing our own festivals and really working with brands to say, “Look, we know what kind of brands are looking for, from an event prospective, let’s start build some things around that and really make an experience that really ties into what some of these brands are looking for, from an event prospective.”  

 

But yeah, obviously, from my time at Red Frog and what we’ve done at these other events, we’re not afraid to get on a forklift and set up tents and tables and chairs.  I think it also is helpful to have that event experience than coming onsite and realizing this is what takes to help get a sponsor setup or this is a really high traffic spot, from an event prospective; this is where we should be putting this brand or this activation based on the flow of the festival or where we really think this is going to be a success for the brand.  So, I think having that understanding from the event perspective is also helpful when obviously selling in these event partnerships, as well.

 

JOEY: Yeah.  No, absolutely.  That experience is definitely key.  This is kind of a random question but – Like I said, you’ve done this quite a while.  What’s the coolest activation you’ve seen? It doesn’t have to be the one that you’ve done?  Kind of a broad question.

 

MIKE: Man, that’s a tough one.

 

JOEY: I know it’s tough.

 

MIKE: That’s such a loaded question.  No, we’ve obviously worked with a lot of cool brands, a lot of cool activations – I think one of the most fun ones I think that I had that opportunity to work on was with Garnier Fructis at Firefly, a handful of years ago.  They set up this really cool activation where you could go take a shower in the campgrounds and then you’d come and they’d style your hair, they’d have all the sorts of products, and it was basically like this beauty bar. But it was this 40×40 foot tent where when you’re at a festival for three or four days and you’re sweating and you’re not really showering because you’re camping for three days in 95 degree weather, it’s pretty cool to be able to say, “Hey, look at Garnier.  They got all this free product, they’re going to help me do my hair up for the rest of the festival and kind of refresh you for the next couple days.”

 

So, I think not only from an attendee prospective, the experience is great, but from a brand prospective, I think that was a really good sponsorship because you’re not just putting a logo on a t-shirt or handing out a bandana, you’re really engaging the consumer, the participant at the festival.  You’re offering something that’s really beneficial and really, ultimately, I still use Garnier Fructis, no joke, at our home, just from that partnership. We had so much free product and now that’s all my wife buys.

 

So, I think that’s just kind of a good example of a really good start to finish partnership where they had a great activation, a great engagement from a consumer standpoint and I think that really this can allow people at Firefly or across the board, now I use Garnier Fructis because I had such a good experience with that brand on-site.

 

JOEY: Yeah, very cool.  Regarding experiential marketing, I’ve seen a lot of – Even just the last year or two, I’ve seen a lot more companies taking their ad spend from to digital and taking it to a physical level.  Have you seen a jump here the last couple of years of more people wanting to be able to be at these events and be at their target market?

 

MIKE: Yeah, absolutely.  And I think – And maybe I’m wrong but I think a lot of the reason is just we’re so – We don’t have enough time in a day and our attention is all over the place with emails and Instagram and Facebook and social media and I think actually engaging someone onsite – They’re there for a reason, right?  They either want to see music or they’ve paid a fee to get into a festival and I think brands are realizing, “Wow, this is a really captive audience.

 

If we could do something that ties into the festival in a really organic way, let’s talk to these people on the ground and give them something or call to action then drive back to – like I said – retail or social media then, on the backend.  I think people get to site or at an event and they’re all over the place: they want to see everything and engage with people, and from a sponsorship prospective, I think that’s been really beneficial for a lot of brands is to maybe get a product in somebody’s hands or a coupon or just engage them and educate them and educate them about a new product or maybe something that they’re pushing for the following year or that current year, even.  

 

So, yeah, that’s certainly our core business, really, is setting up these activations and allowing folks to come onsite and set up these cool experiences and then obviously on the backend, tying it into other assets with digital and social and marketing and that sort of thing.  But, the onsite piece, I think, has been super important for a lot of these brands in the last – I’d say – four to five years.

 

JOEY: Yeah.  No, absolutely, and I think it’s just going to continue because it’s just – The digital side is just going to continue to be almost too much for you.

 

MIKE: Right.

 

JOEY: Being able to just get that captive audience, like you mentioned, just have a spark in their mind, “Man, I’m going to remember this forever,” but then have a brand attached to it that’s meaningful and kind of focus on them, I think that’s huge.

 

MIKE: Absolutely.  

 

JOEY: Regarding Taste of Colorado, there’s a lot of vendors too, right?  I got a chance to walk around there. It’s an interesting type of activation just because there’s some – I don’t know, it’s different type of just mom and pop shops that kind of jump in.  

 

I think their goal more is just for daily revenue, I assume, right, compared to a brand like Boss Coffee, that we did.  They want to push – Boss Coffee, we wanted to do two things: we wanted to get people to try a new product that no one’s tried before and then also a social media aspect, whether post it or like their page.  

 

I guess with – just with the vendors, I guess what we do is not cheap, right?  Even being a sponsor isn’t cheap but it can really differentiate where you’re going and figure out exactly where your target is.  So, I guess, I don’t know; do you have any thoughts on that, on how are these mom and pop shops are doing, compared to a bigger brand?

 

MIKE: Yeah and absolutely, I think there’s maybe that misconception too of what a vendor and what a sponsor are.

 

JOEY: Right.

 

MIKE: I think people say, “Well, we want to be a vendor,” but I think those two names are kind of interchangeable when I think they’re a little different when you kind of look at it from what your point was.  I kind of call those mom and pop shops or the folks that want to sell their trinkets or maybe beef jerky or whatever they’re doing from something crafty or what have you, those vendors have a place in the marketplace at the Taste of Colorado and I think they’re a little bit different than a Boss Coffee or a sponsor that’s setting up a large activation or sampling a product.  

 

I think there’s two differentiations where a mom and pop might just be paying a couple hundred bucks to set up a 10×10 and showcase whatever they’re offering is and make a profit on that at the Taste of Colorado or a Boss Coffee or a Kevita or a Frito Lay, where they’re pushing something from a marketing perspective, where it’s a little bit larger, where we’ve got this new product that we’re really launching and we’ve got a whole marketing campaign around it and brands like Boss or Kevita have identified Denver as a market and said, “Okay, now we want to be at the Taste of Colorado,” these are the folks we want to talk to because ultimately we’re looking to enter this market in a big way and now we’re able to talk to all these folks onsite, we’re allowing them to try the product, and now, hey, all of a sudden you’re going to go to King Soopers or a store and it’s going to be all over the shelves, and hopefully those folks now try that.  

 

So, I think there’s a little bit of a differentiator between what a true vendor is and what a sponsor is.  There’s obviously some gray lines and everyone’s kind of looking to get the word out about their brand or their name or their product, but ultimately, I think from a sponsorship perspective it’s a little bit of a deeper level where they’re really activating around this entire activation, it’s not just, “All right, we’re going to set up a tent and let’s sample some product.”  We’re going to try, like you said, to get some – drive traffic to Facebook or increase our presence on social or we’ve got a new product that we’re offering. So, I think there’s a little bit of differentiator there, between those two.

 

JOEY: Well, awesome.  Well, Mike, it was awesome having you on and it was a real pleasure working with you.  You guys put on a great event and I hope we can do some more and hopefully have you on another podcast and meet you in Chicago, hopefully soon.

 

MIKE: Yeah, absolutely, Joey.  I appreciate the time, man.  It’s great to connect. I’m excited as our first podcast and it was with you and Talk Experiential, so we’re excited that you had us on.  And, absolutely, we’re excited to keep chatting and hopefully we can do this again sometime.

 

JOEY: Awesome.  Thanks so much, man.

 

MIKE: Cool.  All right, Joe, we’ll talk soon.

 

JOEY: Take care.

 

MIKE: All right, bye.

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