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Relevent sponsorship conference review


The best conferences in the world are built with an ambitious concept in mind – something larger than simply gathering big names, filling seats, and selling tickets. This is why we founded Relevent with one ambitious vision: to be the go-to conference for people who want to challenge, push and redefine the status-quo of sponsorship marketing. Our strategy? To bring together a truly unique combination of industry leaders who, as a whole, empower a new understanding of the sponsorship game.To set the stage for this, we chose to limit seating to keep things intimate, and create a format that ensures active exchange between all guests and speakers (versus the usual passive learning). Plus, we decided to hold the conference at a remarkable venue, with amenities and entertainment that makes the whole thing not only engaging, but fun.

The second annual Relevent Sponsorship Conference took place on Sept. 28th and 29th and it was a resounding success.

Over two days, dozens of industry leaders in and outside of Montreal converged to iconic L’auberge Saint-Gabriel (Montreal’ first hostel, with bold stone halls, winding staircases and lustrous lounge rooms that make it resemble some royal castle of old) to learn from, and engage with, some of the marketing’s top minds – minds that are as diverse in their expertise as they are brilliant. We had people representing the niche (such as, local gurus in the fields of  influencer leveraging, brand equity, field observation, and aesthetics), and the global (like Mastercard’s SVP of Sponsorships and Ferrari’s Risk Manager), to the legendary (the father of sponsorship evaluation), and the next-generation (one of the experts leading the new wave of purpose-lead sponsorship). They talked, discussed, created group work, and revealed their secrets.

The result? Attendees gained tools that enabled them to approach sponsorship marketing in a whole new and unprecedented way. In other words, what Relevent 2016 set out to achieve, became a reality.

For those of you who missed it, here is a quick breakdown of what topics were covered and by who:



The first day was kicked off by professor of marketing at ESG’s School of Management, Caroline Lacroix. Lacroix anchored her discussion on aesthetics around a central fact: everyone knows that design and aesthetics in sponsorship matters, but they just don’t know how much it matters. Indeed, research shows the most powerful influencing factor on your brand is not necessarily your strategy but how beautiful and well-designed you campaign is. Why? Beauty triggers an immediate response in your brain that makes you want to own the product. This translates to a higher willingness for consumers to pay for whatever it is you are selling.

Second up was strategic planner, Maryse Sauvée, who knocked home the importance of ensuring brand alignment when doing sponsorships, which was dubbed by Sauvé, as the “red thread approach.” If you can’t weave a connection, if you can’t find any elements of brand position of the property coming to see you that aligns with the activation, start questioning it quickly. Before anything else, you’ve got to ask yourself  “why?” Why would a brand want this? Why would they want to be affiliated with this? If you can’t weave the thread, don’t let the campaign get off the ground as it is.

Third up was the legendary Tony Meenaghan, professor and one of the “fathers” of sponsorship measurement. After delivering countless insights, Meenaghan laid out for us that the biggest challenge in sponsorship measurement today – with all the tools and gimmicks out there – is the struggle to show true effectiveness. To explain what he meant, Meenaghan outlined what he calls the flu analogy: when we come down with the flu, us busy individuals cannot afford to be sick. So we take every medication on the market to get better as fast as possible. But then when we do get better, we don’t know what one medicine worked. In short, we can’t isolate and attribute. The answer: measurement must be built in from day one, when you create your strategy. It must not be relegated as some kind of afterthought, when someone above you asks for a sampling of results.

To end off the day, Ferrari’s Risk Management Consultant, Massimo Tammaro fired up his presentation and engaged us in discussion. The Italian (for his first ever North-American speaking appearance) schooled us on the key factors to avoid damage to one’s brand. He outlined that preventing any kind of damage – especially reputational damage – is the ability to challenge the assumption of whatever strategy your team has in place. It’s the “what if” scenario. And to do this, you have to be creative, you need to invent hypothetical scenarios, give numbers, understand every which way it can go. And if you do your job right, Massimo explained, on the level of the best players in the industry, through mapping out such risks, you will discover new opportunities.

When Tammaro finished, cocktail hour arrived, topped off with food and relaxed mingling. Then, to end off the day, guests got to take part in an exclusive live show by the up-and-coming Heart Streets.



The second day began with an excited buzz much like the first – a buzz spurred on by Cafe Pista baristas, who catered the event with their delectable coffee.

Aurélie Sauthier, President at Made in, kicked things off with a discussion on how to leverage the power of influencers and content in your campaigns.  Sauthier reminded us of the power of storytelling; we all want to tell engaging stories but more important than that, we want people to engage with our brand. And this is where influencers, such as those who’ve amassed a huge following on YouTube, come in. After looking closely at who your audience is, what they consume and what platform they are on, you can then use influencers as content strategy. Get an influencer who sits in your target audience to talk about your brand, tell a riveting story about your brand, and you’re own your way to effective engagement.

Sylvain Letellier, strategic planner at Valtech, gave us a different take on research: how to use field observation to our advantage. Letellier made it clear that we all must sell an experience – you don’t just sell a product, or a brand, or an event. Therefore, you have to understand the context of your campaign to ensure the experience is engaging and authentic. The way to do this is to interact with the subjects of your research – not just send out polls and surveys. And therefore, surprising to some, an effective way to figure out the context of how your strategy should play out, is through anthropological and ethnographic research. In short, it’s doing interviews, engaging and learning directly from those who will fuel your campaign. And you can even, as Letellier revealed to us, turn this kind of research can into a campaign itself, where interviewees become the subject.

Next up was the SVP of Sponsorships at Mastercard, Michael Robichaud. Sponsorship lives and dies right at the place where tension exists in the consumer, according to Robichaud. Echoing Letellier’s sentiments above, the senior vice president of global sponsorships showed us how Mastercard succeeds in what it does by trusting the idea that selling experiences matters more than selling things – people care more about gaining an unforgettable experience, than just acquiring something. Why? Because experiences (like each time you think back on a favourite memory) grow in importance over time. And sponsorship plays the key role at that moment when a consumer is thinking, debating, struggling over whether or not they should buy that something to help them gain that precious experience.

And finally, to finish off the second day (as bottles of champagne were being brought out) Max Lenderman, experiential marketing expert, author and CEO/CCO of a boutique “human-centric” agency called School, took the stage. Everything he talked about centered around one integral point: how the world is moving from purpose to cause sponsorship. “Purpose,” he said, ‘is the new digital.” Lenderman laid out for us the transformative power of having a purpose behind a brand and how it is now equal to what digital did for brands back in the mid 90s. In short, it’s the biggest, most powerful new thing out there. And if you don’t find your brand a purpose (opposed to a cause), then you’re going to miss the boat.

Indeed, the Relevent Sponsorship conference is about amassing so many game-changing ideas that you will not only not miss the boat, but come away with the tools to stay afloat, and create new waves in the industry.

On a final important note, we’re currently working hard on the Relevent 2016 Conference Guidebook for those who missed it all. And the dates for Relevent 2017 have been announced – November 7th and 8th.


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