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  • Rosanne Leung

4 Ways the Toronto International Film Festival Approaches Future-Proofing through Authentic Partners

A couple weeks ago, Sidekick had the pleasure of participating at SponsorshipX in Montreal – one of the leading conferences for marketers, business owners, and forward thinkers. This year’s theme, The Era of Belonging, enabled delegates to explore the opportunities that we as leaders can influence and champion to foster authentic communities. To create inclusive workspaces and to create the conditions to allow every person to feel like they belong.

Future-Proofing Workshop at SponsorshipX Montreal

We were thrilled to be joined by Elisabeth Burks, Vice President of Partnerships at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), to collaborate on delivering a hands-on workshop that explored the importance and value of future-proofing, how this can be

Photo of Elisabeth Burks presenting at SponsorshipX Montreal

achieved through community and belonging, and the role that building partnerships can play as observed through the lens of one the world's largest public film festival.


It was an insightful and energizing experience working with Elisabeth to explore the ways in which TIFF continues to take an evergreen approach to building and fostering their partnerships by understanding their environment, anticipating and minimizing risk, and continually being prepared to adapt.


Here are four ways that Elisabeth approaches TIFF's partnerships to future-proof through the lens of purpose, passion, profit, and people, as observed through Sidekick’s Entrepreneurial Design Framework:


1. Partner with organizations that are aligned with your purpose.

Entrepreneurial Design™ Framework

TIFF’s mission is to transform the way people see the world through film. For 47 years this has served as our North Star and has helped mobilize a complex organization as we make countless decisions that impact our stakeholders. Partnering with organizations that are aligned with our purpose ensures we are staying true to our core values and drives momentum that advances our mission in a coordinated fashion. We also find that it makes working with our partners easier. It provides a shared frame of reference and guiding principles through which we are able to co-create experiences and campaigns that deliver meaningful value.


2. Partner to strengthen your value proposition and go beyond the obvious.


Partnerships are never just about revenue. We work with partners that share our passions and are truly invested in enriching the communities we serve. Identifying where there is resonance between us and our partners and getting creative around areas of potential dissonance, allows us to be strategic not only in the partners we engage, but in the ways that we engage them. I am very fortunate to lead a phenomenal team that has mastered that delicate balance and as a result has unlocked areas of opportunity that drive outsized ROI for our partners.


3. Consider how partnerships might help you diversify revenue and hedge against risk to ensure financial sustainability.


How does TIFF deliver on world-class red carpets, film premieres, galas and award shows with the biggest names in film while operating as a non-profit? It’s all about balancing fiscal responsibility while aggressively pursuing meaningful growth opportunities. We focus on partnership portfolio diversification and revenue modeling, thinking not only of the current sources of revenue but what our forecasts look like 3-5 years out based on the trajectory of key industries, markets and the evolving needs of our various stakeholders. We counterbalance leaning into partners within potentially high growth industries and geographies through partnering with brands who are established incumbents and represent the cornerstones of the Canadian economy.


We diversify our revenue streams and ensure our sustainability by monetizing under-utilized assets and creating new service offerings and products that anticipate the future needs of our partners. Today, we are strategic business partners to some of the most respected global brands. We aim to maintain that positioning by staying responsive. In 2022, that meant expanding our offerings to include loyalty point redemption, entertainment packages and corporate concierge services to name a few. All services and products came from listening to our partners, understanding their business challenges and finding creative ways to solve them.


4. Cultivate an inclusive culture that inspires your stakeholders.


DE&I cannot live within a single department and become pervasive enough in an organization to drive meaningful change. At TIFF, we are always working to raise the bar in this regard. We bring this thinking into every area of our work from programming to procurement. There is not a department in the organization that doesn't feel responsible for cultivating an inclusive environment and promoting diversity of thought. Our partners share our commitment and together we make strides to ensure that the audiences we serve see themselves reflected not only on our screens but through our partnerships.


Future-proofing calls upon organizations and its leaders to continually anticipate, reimagine, adapt and rediscover. It’s a leadership effort that takes intentional focus and practice. It’s clear that great strategy is not static, and thus adopting an evergreen mindset to the business is essential to achieve continued success.


Is your business future-ready? Complete Sidekick’s 4P Assessment to find out where your organization stands on purpose, passion, profit, and people.








(Photo description 1: Future-Proofing Workshop at SponsorshipX Montreal)

(Photo description 2: Photo of Elisabeth Burks presenting at SponsorshipX Montreal)

(Photo description 3: Entrepreneurial Design™ Framework)

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