Ancillary Retail Expo Panel Talks Sponsorship and Experiential Marketing

Creativity is the name of the game when it comes to designing and selling sponsorships and experiences at America’s shopping malls.

That was the subject of a panel discussion, “Sponsorship and Experiential Marketing Trends,” at the InterFace Conference Group’s Ancillary Retail Expo 2020, held Feb. 3 and 4 at the New Orleans Marriott. Panelists detailed how sponsorships can bring added revenue to retail centers both large and small, and the best ways to do so in today’s retail world.


Editor’s note: InterFace Conference Group is a division of France Media Inc., publisher of Shopping Center Business and Ancillary Retail. Click here to subscribe to receive email alerts when the 2021 Ancillary Retail Expo is announced.


The six-member panel featured several industry leaders Lisa DeBow, principal at Cloudburst Advisory Group; Kirsten Dodwell, vice president of marketing at Global Mall Media; Sarah Williams, senior director of partnership marketing at The Irvine Co.; Debbie Milhouse-Sokol, director of business development at CBL & Associates Properties; and Heidi Kempf, director of partnership marketing at PREIT. Bil Ingraham, Centennial’s senior vice president of business development, served as moderator.

Ingraham first asked panelists to talk about sponsorship spend and the growing “experience economy.”

“We all want something to give us a little bit more connection,” Ingraham said. “We’re connected here on our phones, but there’s something special that you get, or that a brand can get, from an engagement with an actual human being in a meaningful way. That’s what sponsorship and event marketing can deliver for our advertising partners.”

It’s a growing field. IEG has predicted that sponsorship revenues will continue to grow 4 percent year over year, just as they have for the past five years. It’s a $24 billion business, mostly through sporting and entertainment venues. Event marketing spend is also on the rise, with most chief marketing officers dedicating at least 20 percent of their budget to event marketing and experiences.

For just one example of a successful partnership, Williams said Irvine has a long-term relationship with Hoag Health Network in Orange County, California, and the panel agreed that non-profit health systems tend to make for great marketing relationships — especially because a presence in the mall engages the hospital with the wider community.

“Healthcare is, I think, one of the easiest categories for us to tackle because they do see the benefit of a long-term relationship,” Williams said. “It’s a really lucrative category.”

The group also shared success stories with experiential marketing. Kempf, a former journalist, talked about how a local casino called Sugarhouse started an app when New Jersey legalized online gambling and wanted people to sign up.

“They have a mascot, King Cash, who came to the mall; they did a prize wheel and we had music,” she said. “It was all about the engagement. That’s an example of where they really needed to get people to sign up and they gave them I think $50 or $100 to spend if they first went in and gambled. It was a way for them to introduce the app to the market and create a splash around it.”

Ingraham noted that casinos can also be strong marketing partners because they are willing and able to spend on out-of-home media.

Dodwell shared a success story involving a new Reebok shoe that was launched with an in-store event at retailers like Foot Locker.

“They showed the new leather shoe and told everyone where to get it,” said Dodwell. “They had music going on and a guy with an airbrush decorating the shoe. It was a good way to tie in to something that’s available to purchase at the shopping center.”

So, how does one approach revenue generation? Is it through dedicated inventory, through sizzle reels and marketing materials, or just through rolling up the sleeves and going for it?

Milhouse-Sokol said CBL has been fortunate to have really good support from its marketing team.

“They’ll assist us in putting together templates,” she said. “They can be customized for each individual, whether it’s mall walkers or holiday sponsorships with Santa sets. A lot of it starts with building your list. You have to have a good list, plus you have to have a good toolbox to make sure that you have all the assets and are ready to go after it.”

Everyone on the panel agreed that it’s important to research clients ahead of time in order to know what they’re looking for, and to listen to their needs during the negotiation process.

“You have to do some research on your clients to make sure you know what their objective is,” said DeBow. “From a hospital standpoint, what’s their specialty? If it’s not children, I wouldn’t pitch a play area. But there are other opportunities you can look at.”

Education is another great opportunity for malls — again because it’s a way to engage with the community in a positive setting. Colleges, private schools and charter schools often sponsor various areas of malls as a way to engage with shoppers and recruit potential students.

Another outside-the-box idea is marketing or selling the use of mall parking spaces. Ingraham said he’s seen parking spaces lease for $50 to $75 per space per month to auto dealers, proving that a creative marketer can find ways to generate revenue even when dealing with a large department store vacancy.

“That’s true ancillary revenue, and all it is is parking,” said Ingraham.

— By Haisten Willis

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