Capitalizing on Sundance Cachet

When celebrities and dignitaries posed for the cameras at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City earlier this year, the backdrop was Utah's "Life Elevated" brand. 

That backdrop wasn't an accident or photo bomb, either. Rather, it was part of a key branding strategy enhanced through a stronger partnership between the State of Utah and the Sundance Institute that will extend to Sundance London and Sundance NEXT FEST this summer and Sundance Hong Kong this fall.

Now, when Sundance goes on the road this year, the State of Utah will go with it, says Theresa Foxley, managing director of corporate recruitment and incentives in the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED). She says the stronger partnership is one way the state is multiplying the already recognizable Sundance brand with the Utah brand for better business marketing.

"People forget that Sundance is in Utah," she explains. "Our expanded partnership with the Sundance Institute is a fun opportunity for us to capitalize on some of that cachet."

Foxley notes that Utah is more front of mind for corporations and business leaders thinking about bottom-line factors such as workforce and business environment than it is for the state's cultural amenities. "Sometimes we need to market the state for having great cultural resources, like the Sundance Film Festival, and not only for having great talent," she adds.

In essence, leveraging Sundance's brand during the 2015 Festival in Park City and upcoming Festivals provides the state with exposure on par with what major corporate sponsors receive. In January and February that exposure garnered a media value of approximately $65 million, according to an analysis by the Sundance Institute. Meanwhile, the 1,850 Festival volunteers became ambassadors for the state and the Sundance Institute joined in with Utah's business recruitment efforts.

The Sundance Institute customized the sponsorship opportunity to meet the state's needs, opening doors and windows of opportunity to promote the state for both business recruitment and tourism. For example, during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival the state held a Utah Ambassador Reception, a Utah Film Commission Filmmaker Brunch and received access to screenings, filmmakers and the labs. The Utah Life Elevated brand was promoted widely while opportunities for corporate entertainment were also created. Foxley notes that many of the Festival's corporate sponsors fit within the strategic clusters the state is already targeting in its recruitment efforts.

GOED will be afforded similar outreach opportunities at Sundance London, Sundance Hong Kong and Sundance NEXT FEST. Vicki Varela, managing director of tourism, film and global branding within GOED, says the expanded partnership with Sundance will help business executives from all over the world understand what an interesting, complex state Utah is, with one of the best film festivals in the world.

"The Festivals in Park City, London, Hong Kong and Los Angeles give the state a platform to tell the Utah story through amazing, art, culture and entertainment," she adds.

Moreover, she says leveraging the Sundance/Utah relationship helps the state achieve three priorities: promote film, tourism and business recruitment. Utah's status as a center for independent films has certainly been aided by the Sundance Film Festival. As for tourism, Varela says the Festival helps get the story out about Utah's Mighty Five national parks and The Greatest Snow on Earth.

The Utah Life Elevated brand, launched in 2006, was at first a tourism brand. Varela says research showed the brand to be just as inspiring for business people as it is for tourists. "The Utah Life Elevated brand will be a big part of all the materials and packaging that goes into the Sundance Institute's international Festivals," she adds. "We are using the Festivals as the framework to explain the better quality of life people can find in Utah, along with our entrepreneurial mindset, great economic clusters and friendly business environment."

Foxley adds that by partnering with the Sundance Institute, the state is capitalizing on one of its cultural assets as a way to increase business exposure. "That's the bottom line," she says.

Before 2010, the state had three separate corporate relationships with the Sundance Institute. The Utah Film Commission was a sustaining sponsor while the Utah Office of Tourism and GOED were Sundance Institute Associates. In 2009, discussions commenced to create a new category within the corporate development structure of the Institute for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The "Festival Host State" category and title were created for GOED, supporting the goals of the three groups and allowing for more creative recognition and collaboration between GOED and the Festival.

Last year's Festival marked the 30th year of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. To celebrate this milestone anniversary the Sundance Institute and state leaders expanded the partnership into a year-round relationship that will further Utah tourism while providing opportunities to promote the Life Elevated brand through Sundance London, Sundance Hong Kong and Sundance NEXT FEST.

To be sure, the direct impact of having the Sundance Film Festival in Utah is significant. Since 2009, the Festival has provided an economic impact of more than $370 million for Utah businesses and residents, plus global exposure that attracts additional tourism and interest. For the same period the Festival has generated more than $31 million in state and local tax revenue and created more than 7,500 jobs.

Non-residents account for 69 percent of festival attendees. In 2014, 3,583 of the attendees were international visitors traveling from 29 different countries. Visitors from Canada accounted for the single largest share of international visitors, followed by visitors from Australia, France and Mexico.