From lanterns to giant sand castles, there’s nothing ordinary about the way NCBA incorporates sponsorships into its annual Trade Show.
Nothing feels out of context at the oldest and largest convention for the cattle business. Every breakout session, every decoration, every booth at the Cattle Industry Convention & National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Trade Show is perfectly tailored to the event’s destination. Attendees donned pirate hats and eye patches at the Gasparilla Pirate–themed receptions at this year’s show in Tampa Bay, and enjoyed fresh biscuits and bluegrass music the year before in Nashville.
The immersive environment that NCBA creates not only engages attendees, but also makes it easy to incorporate sponsorship in unusual and eye-catching ways. Sponsors have utilized everything from personal shuttles to light fixtures to sand sculptures of Dolly Parton. “Our goal with those sponsorships is to not only generate revenue for the association,” said Kristin Torres, NCBA’s executive director of meetings and events, “but to overall enhance the attendees’ experience.”
A few years ago, when NCBA was evaluating its show, which draws about 6,200 cattle producers, the organization learned that attendees thought it was “all business and no fun.” NCBA set out to change that. At the 2013 show, held at the Tampa Bay Convention Center from Feb. 6–8, large stickers in the shape of cow hooves led attendees from booth to booth in the exhibit hall. Live music filled the convention center as artists stood ankle-deep in sand, sculpting away at a Bayer Animal Health–sponsored sand castle. The year before in Nashville, the sand artists built busts of iconic country music singers.
That sense of fun carries throughout NCBA’s sponsorship programs. In lieu of banner ads and other typical sponsor collateral, NCBA incorporated signage into the foliage in Tampa Bay, scattering signs among the palm trees in the hotels, and in and around the convention center. Sponsored personal electric carts from Mulligan Shuttle zipped attendees around the city, while sponsored yacht parties were held throughout the three-day event.
Meat of the Meeting More than 6,200 cattle producers come out each year to the NCBA Trade Show to check out the latest in farming equipment and the finest livestock, and to reconnect with old friends.
Similarly, animal-health company Merial has sponsored a “watering hole” for the past three years — a lounge on the show floor where attendees can escape for drinks and live music. “It’s a win for the sponsor,” Torres said, “because they ultimately get their name associated with that experience.” Merial then passes out free drink coupons at its booth to select attendees. Of course, people don’t just come to NCBA to drink. They come to eat, too. At some booths, they can sample freshly cut beef — straight from farm to fork.
“What we have found,” Torres said, “is that our sponsors are looking to us to be more of an agency to them. We’re becoming more and more like a consultant to them.” NCBA has witnessed a steady increase in sponsorship over the years. “Their demand for ROI is higher, and their demand for creative solutions for what they’re trying to do is higher as well,” Torres said. “So, when we go into a city, we key it up with the bureau and usually our convention center contacts, and say, ‘We need as many unique things that you’ve seen done.’”
In 2014, NCBA will return to Nashville for its 116th convention — and more Southern-inspired fun. “The goal that we aspire to is to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience every day for our attendees,” Torres said. “And so we take that attitude when we’re looking at everything that we do.”