Every Sponsorship opportunity during San Diego Comic-Con

As Comic-Con International (commonly known as San Diego Comic-Con or just Comic-Con) badges went on sale Saturday, let’s address some of the brand sponsorship opportunities during this pop-culture festival. If you are a brand manager or advertising executive, Comic-Con can be a huge part of your marketing mix.

BizBash named Comic-Con the number one entertainment industry event in the United States. This year, the dates of Comic-Con San Diego are Thursday July 20, 2017 to Sunday July 23, 2017. The consumer attendance is 135,000 officially. Unofficially, it attracts over 700,000 people to the downtown area of San Diego known as the Gaslamp district. The off-site brand activations which don’t require a Comic-Con badge to enjoy attract many people from the San Diego and Orange County areas. Over 3,500 reporters and bloggers are onsite covering the convention and attractions, including every major network news show and cable channel. It annually receives over 10 billion press impressions. There are 12,000 professionals from the film, comic, publishing, television, toy and videogame industry attending as well.

Oh, get rid of all your stereotypes of who attends this specific convention. The average age is 26 with a 59% male demographic, college educated and usually on their first post-college job. Brand loyal to a fault, but not stupid on marketing.

Comic-Con San Diego is more a pop-culture event than a straight comic book convention. The reason for their historic rise in growth has been due to the influx of big movie studios, major cable and television networks and videogame publishers. The night life has exploded with celebrity talent staying overnight to attend parties, many with incredible event production. For the studio or television show publicist, Comic-Con is a huge press junket with back to back interviews scheduled before and after the panels in Hall H.

Read my 3 rules for marketing at Comic-Con for more insight.

Here is a run-down of everything that is sponsorable during Comic-Con. If you are a brand manager, advertising executive, publicist or marketing manager, I would book your hotel rooms right now. I’ll update this article as more information comes on what’s available.

Consumer Facing Opportunities

Comic-Con International

Generally there are sponsorship and partnership opportunities with the convention officially. Usually, these are covering a cost of something Comic-Con needs to pay for anyway such as the complimentary wi-fi, shuttle busses, The Eisner Awards, banners throughout San Diego, lanyards, RFID, the Masquerade (which is an evening cosplay event with mini-performances), bags, etc. This is a good tour video of the convention center and some of the outdoor activations at Petco Park. None of these sponsorships include exhibit floor space which is handled by a different department. There is about a five-year waiting list for booth spaces (at least that is the company line) inside the exhibit hall. A badge is required to attend the event which are usually sold-out within an hour of going on sale. Update: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday sold out in 15 minutes.

Nerd HQ*

This is a very popular off-site venue that last year was held at the New Children’s Museum. This event features space to do brand activations, panel discussions and multiple evening consumer and VIP parties. Nerd HQ hosts great intimate panel discussions which benefit their charity, Operation Smile. The panels have a small cost associated with each which goes to the charity. This event is open to the public without any admission fee. For sponsors, they provide a bunch of CRM data from their RFID badges. Even though there is no brand activations during it and no press allowed in it, their Friday night VIP invite-only event “Zach Levy’s Nerd Party” is hands down the best VIP party of Comic-Con.

Nerdist / Geek and Sundry’s Camp Conival*

Similar to Nerd HQ, Legendary Digital hosts a consumer facing brand activation as well. This event includes some celebrity heavy panels. Think sponsor activations, games and other fun things to do. For the past few years, this event has been located on the 2nd floor of Petco Park. They also have a few consumer facing parties. It is also free and open to the public.

EW Con X*

Last year was the first year of this consumer facing event that featured brand opportunities from Entertainment Weekly’s advertisers and sponsors. They had Schick doing free shaves, a t-shirt bar, photo booths, Sweetarts candy activation and food trucks galore. They had a large stage with some panel discussions with celebrity talent and even some musical performances. Not sure if it’s returning for 2017, but we will know soon. This event is official with Comic-Con.

Sponsorship of the panels happening inside the convention center

This is usually done with host organization that is presenting the panel. For example, animation powerhouse Spike and Mike will bring on an outside sponsor during their panel. I know that other panels do this as well. These are usually somewhat affordable way to be included in the programming, however you won’t be listed in the programming guide and mostly the activation will include a shout out from the stage (and potentially adding an exec to the panel). You might also be paying for a post panel cocktail event.

Sponsorship of the brand activations outside the convention center

Some of the outdoor activations had brand sponsors like Jack In The Box sponsored the Walking Dead exhibit. Snickers sponsored the TBS activation. In previous years, Pizza Hut, Hyundai, Schick, 7–11 and many other brands have integrated into these consumer facing events outside. Usually these deals require a significant cash buy-in, but not as much as doing your own pop-up activation.

Sponsorship of the exhibitor booths inside the convention center

While I think this is frowned upon by Comic-Con San Diego, I’ve noticed more and more exhibitors will take outside sponsors to help cover costs and elevate their booth experience. Since there is a five year waiting list for exhibitor space (and usually you’ll only get a 10 X 10 when you get space when you do get off the waiting list), this is a good deal. Currently, I know of one booth on the exhibitor floor that will take an outside sponsor.

* I am assuming all these will be returning in 2017. I’ll remove if they announce they aren’t.

VIP and Influencer Facing Opportunities

Wired Cafe

The past few years, this invite-only all day event has been held on Thursday only at the Omni Hotel. It used to be a 3-day event and I’m sure they want to return to that. What this event features is brand activations that target VIPs and influencers attending Comic-Con. By this I mean, film and television show producers, agents, studio/network executives, film directors, writers, celebrity talent, press, bloggers, social media stars, etc. It’s an open bar all day with food. They sometimes host evening parties for sponsors. For film/television casts, Wired Magazine hosts an interview suite where they do interviews that go on Wired.com. Also, for celebrity talent, there is a sit down cafe inside the event that serves complimentary lunch all day for talent. The event is adored.

Press Opportunities

If you are looking for something with guaranteed ROI, the best will be the media interview lounges. Many press outlets host media lounges to capture content which they use the week of the con and throughout the year as the films and television shows are released. Sponsorships of these events are usually sold as an added value to a media buy, but many will do direct event-only sponsorships as well. Some have onsite activations, and some don’t as the branding is in the show being filmed. With most, your KPIs are met before your plane lands in San Diego.

Entertainment Weekly Suite

This multi-room venue at the top of the Hard Rock hosts a celebrity/cast portrait studio, a radio studio (EW Radio) and two different video interview suites. When you arrive, there are places to charge your phones, get some food and relax. They have a great schedule of celebrity talent coming through all the time.

Entertainment Tonight

On the 3rd Floor of the Hard Rock Hotel, ET interviews celebrities with a view of Comic-Con in the background. A sponsorship includes in-show branding.

Associated Press Portrait and Video Studio

This will be new for 2017. AP will host a version of their very successful media lounge from the Sundance Film Festival. They will get every film and television casts attending. The title sponsor for this media suite will be branded on every celebrity portrait released. The title brand will also have 3–4 selects nightly pushed out on the wire service as well PR and social media rights to those pictures. Additionally, a video content play can be included. They are looking for one brand to partner with on this 4 — day suite which will probably be in the Hard Rock or Omni Hotel. Contact me for this one at chris@experiencenve.com.

Conan

There are partnership opportunities through Turner advertising sales for the Conan O’Brien’s show Conan which pops-up in San Diego the week of Comic-Con. Last year, AT&T and Snickers took advantage of this opportunity which included a brand activation off-site in the Petco Park parking lot.

Movie Pilot

Movie Pilot, a movie website, will have a venue this year doing talent interviews. The venue will be located in the Gaslamp district and they are already reaching out to talent.

TV Line Studio

TV Line usually has an interview space inside the Hard Rock Hotel spa. Not a ton of room to set up big brand activations, but is great for CPG or consumer electronics brand and the sponsor will be integrated into the coverage. TV Line is the television focused sister to Deadline.

Onsite Influencer Campaigns

Doing a social media influencer campaign either on its own or to support an event or activation you are doing is a great way to get ROI. Many top personalities of YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook will attend Comic-Con to create influencer content. Many movie studios and television shows are doing this to boost their social media numbers.

Don’t discount doing celebrity influencer campaigns. I can easily see fashion brands paying talent to wear their brands for the panel discussions and cast signings. You can even go for micro-influencers by sponsoring comic-book, film and television creators.

Everything usually requires a fee, a hotel room for the influencer and transportation. Since most of the influencers I know live in Los Angeles, it’s really simple to book a train ride or flight. Since I work with influencers directly, please email me to plan a campaign. Please see my articles on negotiating deals with influencers and 11 mistakes you are making in influencer marketing for more help.

Evening Events and Parties

I know of no other Comic-Con that has a robust nighttime event scene. It is very similar to Oscar week, Sundance Film Festival or Grammy Awards week with the number of back to back events. In fact, every year the Hollywood Reporter, The Wrap and Variety will publish a master list of every invite-only event in San Diego during Comic-Con. I even publish a master grid of Comic-Con invite only parties for the press and talent publicists. And yes that list is sponsorable. There are also plenty of consumer facing parties that target badgeholders.

Here are the invite-only events that take outside brand sponsors or advertisers.

After-Con

This is produced by NVE. At the club Omnia, this hybrid event happens on Thursday evening. By hybrid, I mean this is part VIP invite-only and part consumer facing- so the best of both worlds. The rooftop is invite-only with an open bar and brand activations, while the lower portions of the club host consumers with a cash bar. There is unique and fun branding throughout the venue. A celebrity DJ (last year it was Kristian Nairn aka Hodor from Game of Thrones) and a surprise flashback musical performance (DMX in 2016) make the event even magical. This event features great celebrity wrangling (casts from Teen Wolf, Supernatural, Game of Thrones, Man In The High Castle and more attended last year) and stellar press outreach.

Entertainment Weekly Comic-Con Bash

This is the top party on Saturday evening featuring every celebrity that is in town. It is such a big event that it is rarely challenged on Saturday night (hence why you see Friday evening hosting most of the major parties.) Huge press coverage of the event for the advertisers on the red carpet step and repeat as well as guaranteed ROI on the website and inside the magazine.

Studio/Television Network/ other media outlet events

Some of the film studio premiere events and network parties do take in advertisers or sponsors from time to time. Websites like IGN and Buzzfeed bring in advertisers and sponsors for their events.

Custom Brand Activations

Sometimes being a sponsor of someone else’s event doesn’t make sense. Your brand doesn’t want to share the spotlight. If you are looking to do a large-scale custom brand activation, an evening event that is all you, or even a branded street team that actually attracts attention, please contact me. Most off-site custom activations need budgets that range from $500,000 — $1,000,000 dollars.

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