Event Design

How C2 Delivers Value Through Creative Sponsor Activations

Skift Take

Montreal’s image as a creative hub owes a lot to C2. The iconic business event plays a key role attracting investment to the city and creative sponsor activations are an important part of how it delivers value.

C2 Montreal is entering its 12th year. This unique business event, known among other things for its creative sponsor activations, has become an integral part of Montreal’s image as a creative hub. But playing an essential role in attracting investment to the city is not by accident; it was all part of the plan when creative agency Sid Lee created the event with founding partner Cirque du Soleil. With the 2008 financial crisis not far behind, leaders of the local creative industries backed the project, a collective investment in adding value to the city through a business event designed to highlight the city’s creative excellence.

“It’s not simply about having this big buzzy event that generates media and attention and eyeballs. We need to be able to showcase that this is something that’s actually important for the Montreal economy, for the Quebec economy, for the Canadian economy, and actually generates deal flow,” said Jesse Gainer, director of growth strategy at C2 International, speaking at the recent Skift Meetings 2023 Event Trends Summit.

Tangible Results

C2 works with an external partner to survey its participants and shares some impressive figures. For Pre-Covid pandemic editions, the event generated between $600 to $700 million in economic activity and deal flow. Also, one in four people that attend C2 end up doing business with someone they meet at the event.

Gainer believes verifying these results is crucial because it reinforces C2’s design principles. In addition, it demonstrates that the organization is not just creating connections and wowing audiences, but there is a real economic impact, as initially intended for the event.

These results make an excellent calling card for sponsors, but Gainer believes that is just the tip of the iceberg. “It’s a great thing to have in a deck, but at the end of the day, if you’re not able to talk about your philosophy behind achieving those results, it doesn’t really do anything for you,” he said.

For Gainer, it is more important to show sponsors how C2 Montreal creates a unique opportunity for people to do business with each other. “All of the fantastic environment design that C2 is known for, all the amazing speakers, all of the really integrated learning opportunities, it all comes down to creating amazing context for conversation and for connection,” said Gainer.

Gainer firmly believes that C2’s success relies on its ability to create an environment where valuable connections happen more frequently, thus generating tangible deal flow. The positive feedback loop around the event is part of the reason C2 Montreal has such a strong community, a community made up of fans that come every year from all over the world as well as newcomers, all of which choose to experience the event in different ways.

Partnering with Sponsors

Part of C2’s success arguably comes from how the company works with sponsors. At C2 Montreal, there are no booths, and all sponsor activations are customized. Gainer shares that the first step is to drill down deep into what sponsors want to achieve. 

”It’s really important to drill down and make sure that we understand what the real objectives of a client are, not only for the event itself, but how the objectives for that event layer up into their broader marketing or business objectives,” said Gainer. While determining sponsor objectives is standard practice for event sponsorships, Gainer believes that he and his team go far deeper and broader in this discovery phase than in other events.

The following step is determining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which is often challenging for clients. Gainer challenges his team to push clients beyond looking for a number of leads and more towards defining the type and scope of interactions that brands want to have. “At the end of the day, lead generation isn’t about just generating leads; it’s about generating business flow at the end of that,” said Gainer.

Defining the interactions that lead to tangible business results for sponsors is a very different conversation from setting a goal for names and email addresses to collect. Instead, focusing on the desired interactions allows the C2 team to have conversations that genuinely focus on overall business success.

Further Applications

C2 Montreal is a live business laboratory where experiments are conducted by partnering brands. C2 applies this methodology to the white-label design of standalone events for private clients, a method than empowers planners.

Further, Gainer is sure that designing sponsor activations or standalone events with larger business goals is how planners access the boardroom or c-suite. “The way to get the seat at the table […] is proactively being able to showcase to that decision-maker […] how this is going to make you look like a rockstar outside of this event,” he said.

Having these conversations is also important to create a strategic plan for events as a whole and not look at events individually. Looking at the overall event strategy can also help unlock or move the budget to make different events happen. “The more we can push for that information, what we’re doing is positioning ourselves as really not only just event people. We’re positioning ourselves as key marketing partners and key business partners,” said Gainer.

Content can be an essential part of the sponsorship journey, but it only works if used in a way that makes sense in the context of a sponsor activation. Additionally, using content is not necessarily the right solution for every client, and this largely depends on their larger business objectives. 

Content is often a crucial part of telling an authentic brand story. “Sponsors have a far greater chance of engaging meaningfully with attendees if their presence at the event tells a story that is smartly aligned and relevant to the rest of the event’s content,” said Gainer.