Demonstrating how a fresh approach to sponsorship can pay dividends, the Washington State Fair has generated a 51 percent increase in revenue since rolling out a new strategy in 2009.

Recent partners include Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., O’Reilly Automotive, Inc. and Sleep Country USA, the latter of has expanded its year-old partnership with naming rights to Showplex, the fair’s mixed-use event facility.

The fair revamped its approach to sponsorship with a “less is more” strategy that focuses on offering integrated marketing platforms, growing existing relationships and providing flawless execution. 

“The intention was to develop larger sponsorship programs, work with fewer sponsors and do programs better,” said Paula Beadle, the fair’s sponsorship manager. The former Washington Mutual, Inc. sponsorship exec began working with the fair as an outside consultant following the bank’s collapse. 

Below, IEG SR highlights five steps the fair has taken to rejuvenate its sponsorship program and boost sponsorship revenue:

Focus on core competencies. Looking to maximize the fair’s sponsorship potential, Beadle shifted responsibility for program advertising and exhibitor sales to the organization’s concessions department.  

“After conducting a sponsorship assessment, we looked at our true sponsors and focused our efforts on those companies.”

Beadle also hired a sponsorship coordinator to manage partnerships. The department is now comprised of Beadle and two sponsorship coordinators.

“We moved responsibilities away from the department while we increased staff to deliver on execution.”

More multiyear deals. Prior to 2009 the fair focused on one-year partnerships, a process that slowed down the organization’s sales effort. The fair now focuses on multiyear partnerships.  

“A lot of time and energy was spent on resigning sponsors. Multi-year agreements have allowed us to focus on new sponsors,” said Beadle.

While multiyear agreements are the goal, the fair continues to sign one-year deals, she added, noting that Toyota and Chevrolet both have annual deals.

Gain internal buy-in. To ensure buy-in for the new program, Beadle hosted a sponsorship education and brainstorming session to gain support across the organization.

The meeting included representatives from operations, PR, marketing, exhibits and concessions.

“Sponsorships are complex and require everyone’s participation. The meeting was an important part of our strategy.”

Offer marketing-driven packages. Prior to 2009 most companies aligned with the fair to promote civic involvement. The fair now offers tailored marketing packages that support community relations initiatives as well as specific marketing objectives.

For example, the festival worked with Bellco Credit Union on a promotion that engages credit union members and drives fair traffic. The promotion dangled ticket discounts to members and free admission for children on the fair’s opening weekend.

More exclusive deals. The fair’s “less is more” strategy also ties to exclusivity. Prior to 2009, the fair did not offer exclusive sponsorship packages.

The organization has subsequently inked an exclusive five-year deal with The Coca-Cola Co.