Although film festivals have felt the impact of the economy like other types of properties, their ability to provide access to upscale audiences, celebrities and other tastemakers continues to drive interest from corporate marketers.

According to IEG, North American sponsorship spending on film festivals is expected to total $32 million in ’09, up 3.6 percent from last year.

The increase is partly due to the fact that there are more film festivals in existence than ever before, but also to the growing number of fests that have embraced a strategic approach to packaging and selling sponsorship.

Case in point: The Chicago Int’l Film Festival has posted close to a 100 percent increase in sponsorship revenue this year, following a 40 percent spike from ’07 to ’08.

New sponsors for this year’s festival–which kicks of this week and runs for 15 days–include The Allstate Corp., DePaul University and General Motors Co.’s Buick (see sidebar).

The festival credits much of its success to a focus on the higher education category, said Bryan Dowling, founder of Media 8 Midwest, an arts sponsorship and publishing consultancy hired by the festival two years ago to secure corporate partnerships.

In addition to DePaul, Dowling upsold Columbia College Chicago to become the festival’s presenting partner and also renewed a partnership with Flashpoint, The Academy of Media Arts and Sciences.

The festival emphasized the higher ed category this year upon noting a film magazine ranked Chicago as the country’s best market for young aspiring filmmakers, said Dowling, noting that Columbia College touts itself as having the largest film school in the country.

In addition to expanding partnerships with schools, the festival also has seen success by selling sponsorship to several of the film series within the larger event, a practice it started last year.

The festival has more than doubled the number of series sponsors from three to seven, Dowling said, noting that series sponsors gain recognition in press releases and at related panel discussions, as well as have their logos on screen prior to the films being shown.

The festival aligns each series sponsor with relevant programming. For example, Columbia College is sponsoring the New Director’s Competition and the ReelWomen series.

Flashpoint is sponsoring the festival’s short films and animation programming–content that supports the school’s expertise in the digital media space, while DePaul is sponsoring a documentary series.

The event also has carved out new inventory. For example, DePaul is the first-ever sponsor of the Best of the Festival screening of the award-winning films in each festival category on the second-to-last evening of the event.

“Attendance has been growing for that special event, and we made it sponsorable,” said Dowling.

Below, IEG SR highlights two other film festivals and the methods they have used to attract new corporate dollars.

Tribeca Film Festival
Leverage sponsor equity to create compelling programming; create customized programs that partners can “own.”

The Tribeca Film Festival three years ago teamed up with cable sports giant ESPN to create an event-within-the event: The Tribeca ESPN Sports Film Festival.

The objective: To leverage each organization’s brand strengths to create compelling, relevant programming.

“Tribeca has the authenticity and brand equity around film, while EPSN has the same with sports; we are leveraging each other’s brand equity to make a better overall program for consumers, filmmakers and the industry,” said Adam Sloan, the festival’s executive vice president of sales, marketing and strategic partnerships.

Tribeca plans to create similar types of programming centered on the nexus of film and music and film and food, he added.

“We’re actively looking at those kinds of things based on our success in the sports world. It’s a business model we think is really interesting.”

The festival also looks to create other types of “ownable” inventory for sponsors.

The April event this year created proprietary platforms for its two new sponsors: The DirectTV Group, Inc. and Heineken USA Inc. DirectTV sponsored the festival’s first-ever press center, while Heineken titled the audience award that allows fans to vote on their favorite films.

“We try to develop specific programs or platforms around each partner so that they’re not just another sponsor with a package of the standard rights and benefits,” Sloan said.

Traverse City Film Festival
Help develop activation platforms that enhance the attendee experience; provide exposure beyond the event.

In conjunction with the property, retailer Art Van Furniture has leveraged its sponsorship of the Traverse City Film Festival–a five-year-old event founded by documentary director Michael Moore–by turning an empty storefront in downtown Traverse City, Mich. into a cyber café where consumers can purchase festival tickets and merchandise, go online and otherwise relax.

Art Van and the festival hosted the Internet café for four weeks prior to the festival opening in late July, giving the retailer exposure beyond the six-day event, said Chuck O’Connor, owner of sponsorship agency Event Marketing Group, LLC, which brokered the deal on behalf of the property and created the cyber café idea.