10 Expert Insights on Creating More Meaningful and Innovative Activations

Unique activations and integrations are the name of the game for Marques Jackson and Scott McNearney. Marques Jackson is Senior Director Partnership Marketing & Business Solutions at Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium. Scott McNearney is Director of Global Sponsorship at SXSW. Both were featured in the session “Building Partnerships Through Innovative Activations & Integrations” at the 2020 Sponsorship Mastery Summit. Marques and Scott have worked with powerful, iconic properties where they have mastered bridging the gap with brands. We are sharing their wisdom on 10 ways you can engage your event or property with sponsors and consumers with authenticity and passion. Whether you are planning a virtual, live, or hybrid event, making sure you are aligning with your sponsors to create meaningful and engaging experiences should never fall by the wayside.

1. No Unanswered Questions

What does the brand want to get out of their engagement? The only way to know is to keep the conversation active, get curious and continually ask a lot of questions. Don’t let unanswered questions slide by unaddressed. Scott is clear about the consequences: “If we don’t understand what the brand wants to get out of their engagement with SXSW, and if the brand doesn’t know, certainly the property won’t know and those being marketed to? We won’t connect with them.”

2. Shift Toward Digital

If you want to motivate brand engagement and brand affinity, you need to engage a property’s fan base.  Marques confirms this includes shifting traditional assets to digital assets and the creation of custom content. “We’ve leveraged traditional assets… and pivoted those to digital assets to help tell that brand story through the lens of social.” Digital assets have the unique advantage of delivering the story 24/7 instead of only when a fan is onsite.

3. Brands Yearn for Live Events… Eventually

While there is no question digital platforms are here to stay, we are all experiencing screen fatigue. There is no substitution for the community-building experience of live events. Scott’s conversations with SXSW brands confirm: “I haven’t heard a brand yet say that in-person, getting people together, and networking experiences aren’t a top priority. Every brand wants to get back to that. We want that human connection. We want to bring people together. We’re excited about that eventuality. But in the meantime, we’re trying to do whatever we can to create a virtual experience that allows people to talk to one another.”

4. Be Flexible

If the pandemic year has taught us anything, it’s that resilience and flexibility go hand in hand. Brands and properties should optimize this spirit moving forward. Marques suggests employing “the lens of flexibility” to understand what can always be seen as a constantly shifting landscape. “It’s more about thinking through different ways of how we’re going to adapt, not only for this year but also for future years.”

5. Customize, Customize, Customize

How do brands and properties succeed with engagements? How do they fail? Customization – or lack of it. Scott is a proponent of “finding the connection between brand goals and personality. Then, connect with the tangible capabilities of properties.” Ask yourself: Where can we engage? How can we activate? How can we integrate into the property system and do it in a way that resonates and is relevant?

6. Be Proactive

Having a proactive mindset means anticipating needs and outcomes. Marques asserts: “Have a proactive mindset and be ready for whatever the outcome or output is going to be. We take a proactive approach in looking across many different scenarios.” What do they stay on top of? “Everything from the fan experience to fan safety measures and protocols, for example.” Nothing is off-limits when you think through activation planning.

7. Push to the Creative Limit

According to Scott, there is a “silver lining to this pandemic” because it has afforded the industry an opportunity “to reflect on what our strengths are and to think outside the box and to innovate. We’ve been trying to push ourselves and also push partner brands to think about what we, and they, and us collectively, could do that would be meaningful and make a strong impact.” Nothing like unprecedented times to spur unprecedented creativity. Another silver lining? Brands and properties are ready and willing to listen to creative ideas instead of being married to what has worked in the past.

8. Understand Brand Objectives

Putting ever more pressure on the importance of asking questions and customization, Marques suggests you drill down on “being in tune with your partner’s objectives, and really exploring that.” This allows you to think creatively and “craft potential customizable solutions.”

You also have to be thinking through the resources or assets that you have available. Meeting business objectives is the primary goal when putting together your customized assets “that can ultimately function as a program to deliver back to that brand partner.”

9. Details Matter

In tandem with customization, it’s critical to get to the details, articulate them, and deliver. Scott agrees: “You really need to be thorough about what you’re working on. If you oversimplify things, you can really run into challenges. We don’t want to overthink things and beat similar points to death – but at the same time, if we’re not thoughtful about our engagement, then we’re not going to resonate as well with the collective audience.” Boilerplate is out the window if you want a genuine connection.

10. Keep the Doors of Communication Wide Open

As in the rest of life, your partners need to stay in the loop, and they need to feel free to reach out. All relationships change over time, and the only way to assure you are in lockstep as you move forward is to communicate. Marques related that “it’s imperative you’re having that two-way conversation with your partners, so you can adjust and make the necessary pivots as needed as you go throughout the course of the sponsorship.



Ready to dive deeper? 

Attend an upcoming Sponsorship Mastery Masterclass! We’ll be tackling topics like unique activations, valuing sponsorship, creating a culture of sponsorship and so much more. Master the art and science of sponsorship today! Learn more and register. 

About the Author

Paula Beadle is the CEO of Caravel Marketing, a national consulting company specializing in sponsorship marketing, and the founder of Sponsorship Mastery, an annual summit and programming dedicated to improving individual and organizational sponsorship performance. She is a results-driven trailblazer with a proven record of developing smart strategies and creatively connecting the right partners. Paula has helped iconic events and major brands achieve their goals through innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards.


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