Festival Sponsors: CSR and ESG tips for Gen Z / Millennial engagement

By jk@artofimpact.com | April 25, 2022

After a 2-year hiatus, festival season is upon us…

Worldwide, festival sponsors capture millions of fans in a social, stimulating environment that lends itself to a unique, unrivaled level of customer engagement.

Dominated by Gen Z and Millennials, it’s a rare environment where advertisers are not perceived as advertisers, and the presence of festival sponsors is viewed as positive and value additive. Festivals put fans and brands on the same frequency, each working to elevate each other’s experience.

According to a study by AEG and Momentum Worldwide, Gen Z and Millennials endorse festival sponsors overwhelmingly:

  • 93% of respondents say they like brands that sponsor live events
  • 81% say that the coolest brand experiences they’ve ever seen somehow involved music in a live setting
  • 80% admitted that the best and most effective way for brands to connect with them is through a branded live music event

This survey was conducted pre-pandemic, and since then, the trend has strengthened and thirst for the return to festivals and live experiences has only grown.

As a festival consultant, I see an opportunity for festival sponsors to capture a rare moment in history. This year will see more bands touring, and more fans attending, than ever before.

Of all the festivals sponsors have to choose from, music is by far the most popular format. It is a mirror to popular culture, connector, tone-setter, attitude-former and catalyst for marketing relevance.

Brands that launch experiential marketing activations at music festivals are up to 17X more effective than traditional – and increasingly digital – forms of advertising (Harvard Business Review). With the right design, audience, setting and approach, brands can create experiential marketing activations that connect authentically and convert customers naturally.

Memories sell, and the best experiential activations sell them well.

At Art of Impact, we not only provide festival consulting, but help our clients develop impactful experiential marketing strategies and experiential marketing techniques that dive deeper, addressing Gen Z and Millennials’ desire for purposeful, mission-driven brands and organizations that improve lives and elevate communities.

As a festival consultant, my approach focuses heavily on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as well as Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG). We architect impactful business nonprofit partnerships and meaningful programming into our clients festival sponsorship design and planning.

Having founded and scaled a successful festival from 0 to 75,000 along with a global foundation, here are my top ESG and CSR tips to reach Gen Z and Millennials during this year’s festival sponsorship season:

1. NonProfit Partnerships

One of the best ways brands and festivals can benefit from CSR is through improving relationships within the community. If experiences help you connect, business nonprofit partnerships close the loop and widen your net. 

At Art of Impact, we strategically tie and align our clients with a strong corporate nonprofit partnership that puts the brand on the frontlines of the issues their constituents care about most, and then builds a comprehensive, 365 relationship around it.

This structural blueprint charts the way to a blue ocean of opportunity – new customers for the business, new verticals for the nonprofit. As a festival consultant, I help clients craft the most impactful on-site presence, we help our clients engage local stakeholders – from volunteers, to suppliers, vendors, and external contractors – this level of engagement into the local community displays how good relationships and a strong community foundation are necessary for a festival sponsor to succeed. Using local hands also cuts transport costs and environmental impact, and sets the right tone in the city.

Four Roses and Forecastle Foundation Brand Partnership

2. Environmental Offsets

Now more than ever, festivals are taking necessary steps to be more conscious of their ecological footprint, and festival sponsors should follow suit. 

Common issues festival sponsors can tackle with ESG tactics: waste diversion, carbon emissions, and environmental travel impact. 

Forecastle, the festival I created in 2002 to address environmental issues, constantly pushed the envelope to see impactful change. As the first festival member of 1% for the Planet, we launched impactful brand partnerships with festival sponsors such as Arcadia Power to become the first festival in KY to go carbon neutral.

Additional brand partnerships including Pabst Blue Ribbon, which we worked with to create an experiential activation that helped Forecastle rise to No. 2 in the nation for waste diversion through a successful ESG program that converted fan passion into recycling action.

Festival Sponsorship ESG Strategies

3. Diversity & Inclusion

While trying to effectively engage Gen Z and Millennial audiences, festival sponsors need to be community cognizant and position themselves as a channel for greater diversity and inclusion. As a festival consultant, I believe this starts at the festival themselves, where sponsors can provide a brand activation umbrella that invites a larger audience underneath, beyond what the festival itself targets.

At Art of Impact, we prioritize cultural equity through festival consulting and nonprofit partnership services, identifying key communities and constituents that may not have an opportunity to experience or engage with the various social and cultural benefits that come with attending a festival.

This can be done through a multitude of community outreach initiatives, partnerships and co-promotional events with the festival, businesses and nonprofits. Festivals are a great platform to foster individual and collective impact, which can be a year-round initiative. 

One successful brand partnership we designed paired Forecastle Festival and My Morning Jacket, to benefit nonprofits improving the social, health and environmental equity in underserved communities. During the pandemic when festival fans were sidelined and unable to engage in their favorite music festivals, we brought the festival to them. The best brand partnerships address community needs, so we launched a one-night stream of My Morning Jacket’s iconic 10th Anniversary performance at Forecastle, a civic event which the band headlined and curated. We used the platform to spotlight social justice organizations making a difference on a broad range of local and national issues, including food insecurity, urban forestry, and equitable access to nature for all children and families. In doing so, we built a bridge between the festival and communities which might not have otherwise engaged, giving them a megaphone to a global community of creative, purpose and solution-driven fans while raising critical funding to provide their organizations with much-needed resources.

Diversity and Inclusion Strategies for Festival Sponsors


As Gen Z and Millennial generations continue to steer festivals to a more social, environmental, and community-conscious place, they expect festival sponsors to follow suit. Over the last decade, there has been a dramatic shift in attitudes and expectations. Today it is less about the music and more about the overall experience. So while it is important to connect where they want to connect, it is even more important to connect the way they want to be connected with.

As a festival consultant, I believe that now is the time for forward-thinking brands to use the festival platform for more than just a marketing and advertising campaign. This is a platform to engage the community in a deep, meaningful, fun and compelling way. 

At Art of Impact, our festival consulting team helps clients maximize their festival sponsorship ROI. We’ve architected over 350 brand partnerships, experiential marketing activations, and business nonprofit partnerships.

As festivals grow and become a “right of passage” for Gen Z and Millennial audiences, and with the next two years expected to hit record attendance, now is the time to consider integrating a meaningful CSR or ESG program into your festival sponsorship. Gen Z and Millennials gravitate towards brands who are “fun, authentic and good.” They only care about how much you care. Incorporating CSR and ESG into your design and planning is a great way to get on their frequency and remain relevant.

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