Partying for profits

A handful of aggressive entrepreneurs are learning there's money to be made in managing entertainment festivals around the globe--but corporate sponsorship is still the key to success

managing one-day events like a Bulls NBA championship party in Chicago and a birthday bash for record executive Sean “Puffy” Combs in Atlanta. The affairs were spirited and, for the most part, manageable. They also afforded Latimer an early opportunity to get an insight on how large social affairs are managed.

“I got to see how people responded to events like this and I realized people need an outlet,” Latimer says. “So I decided to stop doing one hot event every four months and do the ultimate weekend.”

So in 1996, Latimer jumped in with both feet. With little advertising and only word-of-mouth publicity, the inaugural Cancun event drew a respectable 6,000 participants and netted a modest $120,000. Perhaps prematurely buoyed by his success, Latimer took a financial hit during his sophomore effort in 1997. Although attendance grew to 10,000, the event ended up losing $80,000. “We added too many events and we tried too hard to map out the entire day for our guests,” says Latimer. “And it’s difficult to do that when you’re dealing with so many people.”

Allison Moore, supervising producer of the Cancun All- Star Fiesta, says a litany of problems in Cancun last year, including issues with customs and hotels, culminated in the event losing money. But after addressing those concerns, the duo says attracting corporate sponsorship became a priority and played a major role in turning the venture into a moneymaker in 1998. With sponsorship packages ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 per company, the 1998 sponsor list included fashion designers such as FUBU and a host of record companies, including Bad Boy Entertainment, MCA, Arista and Island Records.

As Moore explains it, the first step in securing a sponsor is targeting and making initial contact with firms viewed as potential partners. Then they distribute biographies on their firm along with sponsorship packages to each company’s marketing directors. In most cases, the sponsorship packages include product giveaways, flyers, posters, brochures, radio and or print promotional tie-in rights as well as national cable advertising. The key, says Moore, is determining which market their event will attract versus the target market of the company they’re approaching–and understanding whether they intersect or not.

“You want to target companies that have products geared toward your consumers. We wouldn’t necessarily go after BMW for the Cancun fiesta. But we look at our demographics and go from there.”

The All-Star Fiesta may be one of the brash newcomers on the festival block, yet the granddaddy of the black music events is the Essence Music Festival. Now four years old, the New Orleans-based festival was actually conceived as a one-shot deal under the auspices of Essence Communications CEO Ed Lewis (No. 16 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list). It has since matured into an annual must-do affair. Last July, the event drew a record 171,000 festival-goers to the Louisiana Superdome with a combination of empowerment seminars and musical acts that included Luther Vandross and Mary J. Blige.

Karen Thomas, director of marketing services and

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  • Thomas Wright

    I am searching for the issue which published 500
    corporate sponsors from A to Z across the US.