Navigating partnerships across events and festivals

As the summer season approaches, the arts and culture scene scatters an array of music, literary, arts, cultural events and festival dates into our calendars.

Whether you are an organiser or a brand looking to enter the events space, based on our experience providing intelligence and due diligence services across partnership and sponsorships in the arts, culture and music, we’ve put together this guidance to help you navigate through the proverbial mud.


Events sponsorship

Events need sponsors for publicity, to give them credibility and of course, provide funding but brands are looking to partner with festivals for lots of different reasons. Often specific to is business objectives a brand may look to sponsor events for the following reasons:

  • Lead generation
  • Improving brand awareness
  • Outshining the competition
  • Media exposure
  • Expanding their reach
  • Driving sales
  • Changing face of festival and event sponsorship

Traditional festival sponsors – especially in the music, arts and culture arena – have typically been food and drink brands, vehicle manufacturers and technology companies but the festival circuit has recently seen a shift in this area.

We’ve previously mentioned that online car dealer Cinch has been doing a bit of a land grab recently; not only has it been involved in multiple sports partnerships but now it’s turning to UK music festivals. In 2021 including Latitude, Creamfields, Glasgow’s TRNSMT and the Isle of Wight Festival. This year it will sponsor Edinburgh Summer Sessions.

Rapid grocery delivery app Zapp is also using festivals to be centre stage, partnering with All Points East and Wireless music festivals in 2021.

And we’re increasingly seeing new players and startups looking to sponsor festivals because it offers them the ability to build cultural relevance quickly which helps on their journeys to becoming long term brands – and securing the next round of funding.


Red flags of festival sponsorship

Event companies, like any other kind of business, can come with baggage in the form of red flags – as can the sponsors. The key areas of risk we look at when investigating any proposed or existing partnership include:

  • Environmental record / greenwashing
  • Human rights and ethics
  • Social responsibilities
  • Regulatory issues
  • Ownership Corporate associations
  • Financials and financial issues
  • Legal issues
  • Online reputation


Recommendations for event sponsorship

From a sponsor standpoint, Olivia Scott, founder of marketing management consultancy Omerge Alliances advises caution with first time events because unless you’re certain they have a transferable track record of delivery, producers may be just using brands to “underwrite their dreams”. She also urges sponsors to do site visits and ensure they always have their own people on the ground.

Whether sponsor or event organiser, avoiding more serious pitfalls from the get go, can be done with due diligence and intelligence gathering.

An intelligence gathering exercise for sponsors should review legal liability, especially if the sponsor is doing more than just donating money i.e. involved in running an aspect of the event. Furthermore, what are the venue hire agreements and insurance?

It might be relevant for your role as a sponsor to look at labour. What are your obligations, if any, and is the workforce hired for the festival independent contractors or employees? You may also want to look into whether the festival organisers review labour providers which form part of the supply chain. For instance Glastonbury Festival has an Anti-Slavery Statement on its website which details its commitment to combatting slavery and human trafficking.

When negotiating it’s important to ensure everything is in writing; what commitments is the event making – whether that be in services or promotions. And if the worst does come to pass, make sure you can terminate the arrangement and build in protections for your brand to mitigate reputational damage.

What is the background of the festival organiser and brand? Do they have any reputational issues which might be a warning indicator? Financial, criminal and reputational issues should be thoroughly investigated. What’s been reported about them, and what are people saying about them on social media?

Real-world cases which exemplify the consequences of inadequate background checks and due diligence include the now infamous Fyre Festival which you are probably all-too familiar with and that we’ve written about previously. As well as having zero experience of organising festivals, founder Billy McFarland had a string of other ventures which were over promised and under delivered, while his partner Ja Rule had been in prison for several serious-criminal offences.


Events and Greenwashing

If environmental issues are central to the reputation of your company then who sponsors your event should be considered very carefully.

The events industry has a profound impact on the environment. Imagine the amount of infrastructure required in the set up; water, sanitation (in the case of music festivals), waste disposal and catering. Then there’s the carbon footprint of all the attendees travelling to the site. Finally, there’s the litter clean up – according to the think tank Powerful Thinking UK festivals produce 23,5000 tonnes of rubbish every year.

And corporate events are similar; a three-day conference with 800 attendees corresponds to a carbon footprint of 0.57 tonnes CO2-eq per participant, on average according to the ‘Making industrial exhibitions green’ report based on events in 2019.

In a bid to lower their touring emissions Coldplay have teamed up with a Finnish oil company, Neste, which has been linked to palm oil-related deforestation clearing at least 10,000 hectares of forest over the course of one year.

To reduce emissions from air travel, Neste is to provide Coldplay with sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel to help cut emissions from tour transport, and power concerts. But the band has come under fire and been dubbed “useful idiots for greenwashing”.

Separately Coldplay’s collaboration with BMW has also been criticised. The partnership involved the vehicle manufacturer providing 40 rechargeable electric vehicle batteries to power the shows.

With live events and festivals there is so much at stake – not just reputation but safety too – which is why we believe due diligence will play a key role in the future of festival sponsorship, ensuring that brands and organisations enter into agreements protected against possible risks and reputational damage.