Key Takeaways From The Canadian Sponsorship Forum (#CSFX17)

From everyone I chatted with prior to heading to Ottawa, you could tell, there was a lot of anticipation building towards this year’s Canadian Sponsorship Forum Xperience (CSFX). For those who don’t know, each year, the T1 agency puts together Canada’s premier sponsorship conference and partners the event with a host sponsorship property – simply put, it’s a must attend for anyone in the Canadian side of the industry. Last year, the event partnered with the 2016 NBA All-Star Game held in Toronto and allowed delegates to access exclusive events like the Rising Stars Challenge, the NBA All-Star Practice and even allowed them to play in a tournament of their own.

For 2017, the theme was a little bit different as CSFX partnered with the Juno Awards being hosted in Ottawa, Ontario. Industry thought leaders came together to the nation’s capital to celebrate three unique days each themed around “Thinking, Knowing and Doing”. The speakers were diverse and included a wide range of executives from companies such as Scotiabank, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, MEC, Google and Facebook. With that being said, it wasn't just about the high profile speakers but rather with one of the country's most established experiential agencies leading conference planning, it was equally about the conference "Xperience".

The first day of the event caught everyone in attendance by surprise as Hamilton's own The Arkells stopped by to do a three-song performance in the middle of the conference. How cool is that? That was just the first day. As the conference got closer and closer to the night of the JUNOs, delegates got to experience numerous surprise performances from wide-ranging artists such as The Lytics and Don Amero, while delegates got exclusive access on the second day to what many call "The Jewel of the JUNOS", the Songwriters' circle. The event didn't allow phones inside this private event as it offered acoustic performances from many of Canada's top musicians including Bruce Cockburn, Chantal Kreviazuk and Donovan Woods. It was special and was just one of the many highlights from the weekend.... I didn't even get to touch upon the JUNO Awards themselves.

Taking place on the last day of the conference, all delegates received a ticket to the broadcasted awards show hosted by Bryan Adams and Russell Peters. The night included a number of performances from the likes of Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara, Sarah McLachlan and The Strumbellas - with a special ending that included all performing artists joining Bryan Adams on stage to sing "Summer of '69". All in all, it was a pretty special weekend.

Oh wait, I forgot to talk about the speaker content. My mistake.

Here are some key highlights from the event:


Tim McLaughlin, Brand Manager for Steam Whistle, had an opportunity to take listeners through the beer brand’s portfolio and marketing plan conference as conference organizers passed out over 150 beers to the people in attendance. As he opened with a cheers to the crowd, he started to transition the conversation to talk about Canada’s largest single premium craft beer brand. In a category that’s driven by two major players, Steam Whistle has done an incredible job of breaking away from the clutter and creating their own white space in the premium space. Tim chatted about the brand’s move away from multiple sponsorship properties to a more focused approach on experiential opportunities that allowed for successful execution at the retail level. For example, this is the brand’s third year sponsoring the JUNO awards and there’s a reason they have seen success with the property. Their team has focused on bringing the JUNOs to life this year through licensee contesting, retail activation, national online contests and sponsored content throughout the year to engage customers to help them get additional end caps and distribution while also really providing experiences for consumers.

As we all know, partnerships are driven by specific brand objectives and Tim's speech really highlighted on fine tuning each brand's measurement of success or KPIs. The earlier you know the driver for success, the better. Time talked about how Steam Whistle partnered with Porter Airlines in 2009 to drive product trial with Toronto consumers by offering complimentary beer on flights - it seemed to work based off the metrics they used to evaluate the partnership.


One of the highlights of the conference was a keynote by Spartan Race CEO & Co-Founder Joe De Sena. As Joe took delegates through his story starting from a young age, he walked us through one of his first businesses as a teenager based around pool cleaning. He earned over 700 clients in the area for his pool business, some of them including Queens’ mobsters. As his family moved to Ithica, New York, he wanted to attend Cornell University but got rejected twice. After his third try, he had an opportunity to enroll in Cornell and eventually work on Wall Street. As a way to get back in shape while eating multiple meals out per week on Wall street, Joe met a friend who introduced him to extreme events and he hasn’t looked back. In 2010, Joe launched Spartan Race Inc., now a $60 million business and the number #1 sports endurance lifestyle brand worldwide. Over 1 million people in 25 countries participated in a Spartan race in 2015, while 2 million more people have participated since the races have been created.

Most interesting about his keynote was that he walked into the room with a 50 pound kettlebell. He argues that the best way to appreciate what you have is to take something away, physically, mentally, or both. His kettlebell acts as his way of doing that as it gets him out of his comfort zone, and now he travels all around the world with a kettlebell in hand.

“We are all faced with obstacles. It’s how you deal with them that make all the difference in the world. Embrace adversity.”

Another key theme from his keynote was his philosophy on delaying gratification. In a world today where all our social posts or emails are commented on as they are sent, our society has become accustomed to getting gratification instantly. He chatted about the Stanford marshmallow experiment, where children were given the choice between a small reward now or a larger reward after waiting for a short period. The children that chose the larger reward later, turned out to be more successful in life. Joe takes this approach to his company and life as it allows him to really appreciate what he was and what he’s working towards – it’s truly inspirational stuff.


A popular conference theme was built around the power of the 'live' experience. Marc Dinsdale, Head of Canadian Media Partnerships for Facebook & Instagram, opened the conversation by giving real examples of how brands have leveraged Facebook & Instagram Live to enhance their real-time storytelling to fans. Facebook's news feed really emphasizes live streaming allowing it to bring a wide audience to user-generated videos but advertisers generally have to be creative in order to monetize it. The great news though is that live video holds Facebook audiences for 3x longer than recorded video, which is something brands will place value on. For example, The Atlanta Hawks last year hosted a pre-season practice that was streamed on Facebook Live that allowed fans to see players like Dwight Howard for the first time in uniform - the stream was a huge success and drew in over 1 million views for a pre-season game. Marc broke down the ability of advertisers and brands to leverage unique and exclusive content through a live lens, something that he believes can't be matched. Christie Schultz (Program Manager, Sponsorship) and Mike Armstrong (Brand Strategy Lead) for Google explained something similar in their joint speech later that day. Google & Youtube have been placing an importance on live videos since 2010, where they started with live concerts and press conferences, but as of recent they have really placed emphasis on the space.

Don Mayo, Global Managing Partner at IMI International, also gave a real emphasis on why live marketing and virtual is important. His speech didn't feel like a brand commercial though as it really focused through research data on how digital is disrupting the retail space and consumer purchasing habits. He talked to the power of live sports and live music as a way to bring people together and how that's not going to change for times to come. As someone who has worked on hundreds of brands globally across thousands of shopper, digital, and XM programs, take his word for it - he knows what's up.