If you’ve ever given out money under the guise of ‘sponsorship’ then this is an important read!
My experiences over the years have had me on both sides of the sponsorship equation – both the sponsor and the sponsored. After 20 years of delivering events, I know how important sponsors are but I also noticed that many don’t actually leverage their sponsorship well. Some expect it to behave like an advertisement and see immediate conversion of strangers to customers…and that’s a mistake.
Let’s take a look at a few key points on sponsorships…
1. What’s your motivator?
Know how to identify which category a ‘request for sponsorship’ actually fits into – is it philanthropy or a true sponsorship?
Philanthropy – you contribute to a positive event for humanity with little fanfare or expectation of being recognised. It is most often done by the owner of the business, an individual or a committee within a business. Whilst Warren Buffet gave the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $31bn in past years, philanthropy is not just for the rich. Most of us have been philanthropists at some point when we give a donation without ever expecting anything back.
Sponsorships – are usually managed by the marketing department and should provide a return on investment including publicity and a strong chance to meet defined outcomes for the business (particularly the chance to generate awareness or initial connections with a target audience). Business is business… you should always expect a return of some degree and this should be much more than having your logo included on something. This must be an opportunity for you to connect with your target audience in a way that will be a competitive advantage for your business – the same as any marketing activity.
The line between philanthropy and sponsorship has become blurred amongst many organisations in the past years. It’s time to get back to doing things for their original intended purpose, not just sponsoring things because ‘you should’. Be clear on ‘why’ you’re doing it.
2. Does it fit your values?
There is no way that Fortescue metals Group would be getting approached to sponsor a Greens Party convention. It just wouldn’t be the right fit! When your business has clearly defined brand foundations you’ll easily know if the opportunity reinforces your unique brand values. It should build integrity in what you stand for. Having your name aligned with something that doesn’t match your values will water down trust in what you stand for. For example: Effective Naturally supports projects that encourage an audience to re-imagine possibilities, it should affect change by addressing the cause (not the symptom) and should be a touchpoint that leaves a long-lasting impression by bringing people together rather than be divisive. The sponsorship becomes an example of what your business stands for.
3. Does it speak to your target audience?
McDonalds are great at sponsoring items that connect directly to their core market – kids! There is no credibility or marketing advantage to be won by sponsoring something that doesn’t involve your staff or your target market. Origin Energy have a policy on sponsoring things that are important to their employees in turn generating a ripple effect of advocacy from employees and their pockets of community around them.
4. Are you buying connection, awareness, or neither?
Most sponsorships offer your logo being shown on things. The bigger your logo the better right? Not necessarily! We’ve previously discussed how having your logo in the wrong place can do you damage. Even the type of paper your logo is printed on could leave an impression in people minds. Big logos feed the personal ego, but unless you’re a flamboyant brand where bigger is always better, then being subtle will earn you more respect. In our years of producing in-stadium media for the AFL, we were always careful not to chop off the goal replay on the superscreen with a sponsor logo – just imagine how that would upset footy fans! Your sponsorship should always be seen to enhance the experience not interrupt it.
If your product can be used to enhance the experience, and thus get it in the hands of potential customers in a way they appreciate, that’s even better!
5. Be consistent in decisions and justify it
Just yesterday I said no to a great cause for just $50. Why? Because although it was a great cause and it brought happiness to people, it didn’t provide sustainable benefit which is one of our criteria. I explained “We would sponsor every great cause if we could but it just doesn’t help us concentrate in the difference we really wish to make.” It doesn’t get easier and I prefer to do it in person. More importantly, out of respect to the person who has taken the time to contact you (probably because they like your brand) do it within a reasonable time frame (7-14 days maximum).
6. Is it value for money?
This is where the philanthropy side may come in if it’s OK value but you really want to support it anyway. Sponsorships can be a better way to spend marketing budget because unlike an advertisement it gives you a number of touchpoints to build a relationship that one-way marketing doesn’t provide. The best sponsorships will include opportunities to attract new people, get people talking about you (or your event), a chance for you to connect in person and some digital component. Whether it’s good value or not depends on how many of your target market you’re likely to have those touchpoints with in relation to the cost.
7. How does it meet your outcome?
Be 100% clear on what you want and how you expect it to be measured. Have a clear agreement on outcomes, but keep the journey itself flexible and adaptable to maximise opportunities along the way. No sponsorship will ever deliver to the expectations of the sponsor, if the expectations weren’t clearly defined in the first place.
8. Be prepared to spend more
When you buy a sponsorship, you’re buying the rights to leverage off the success and brand of the sponsored item. Some proposals will be highly inclusive of benefits, others will be the bare minimum. I see so many organisations pay a sponsorship sum and have their logo on something but do nothing more to add value to that sponsorship, mostly because they spent their whole budget on getting the sponsorship. This is where they fail.
If you spend $5,000 on a sponsorship, make sure you have at least a couple grand to activate it. If it’s a kids event, you might provide something for the parents that makes their day easier. They’ll appreciate it and you get much more connection with people doing that than you would if they just saw your logo as a Gold sponsor.
A classic case study is the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Ansett spent $40-$50 million dollars to be the official airline but left themselves little budget to advertise the fact. Qantas started planning ahead in 1998 by signing on as a major sponsor for Cathy Freeman so they were synonymous with her by the time the Olympics happened, and bought a $7m Olympics advertising package with the Seven network. They simply activated better and according to Roy Morgan research, more Australians (42%) thought Qantas was one of the Sydney Olympics corporate sponsors than did Ansett (15%).
9. Collaborate and Leverage
If the work you’re doing on a sponsorship ends once you’ve done the agreement then it’s probably not going to be a great deal. One of the first questions a person requesting your sponsorship should ask, is “what do you need to achieve?” – and that’s when the collaboration should begin. There should be a good degree of discussion on how your goals will be met and how your connection with the event / cause will add value to the audience experience. Also look at how you can leverage the relationship with other partners again working together to be bigger than yourself alone.
10. Think Big!
Be prepared to get creative and think about how and when your target audience is likely to connect with the item you’re sponsoring (be it an event, sporting team, flying doctor aircraft etc). When your audience interact or see the item you’ve supported it should give them a positive gut feeling. Don’t be afraid to think big – if you’re a real estate agent, you might choose to support an event that brings people in to your sales location. When those people think of buying, that particular real estate agent would be top of mind. In short, work out how you can be in the right place at the right time in front of the right people.
11. Help people feel good
It comes back to that saying “People forget what you say, they forget what you do, but they never forget how you made them feel”. This ability to ‘move’ people is an unbeatable value of sponsorships. It also builds on Tip. 4 about enhancing the experience.
12. Make it personal
Another quote comes to mind “People do business with people”. If you have the opportunity to create an event around your sponsored item, or maybe include your staff as volunteers to enhance an event then it’s a great way to build meaningful relationships with your target market.
13. Give yourself time!
Most major organisations want at least 6 months notice to activate a sponsorship for a couple of reasons. First so they can budget for it in their marketing budget, and secondly so they can have time to think creatively, get the signage and collateral in to place, maybe order more stock and ensure you get to sprout about the relationship in all of your communications over the period. Of course it also means you get 6 months worth of touch points rather than just activating for the day or two when something’s happening.
The Final Advantage: Sponsorships can be a highly valuable opportunity to connect with your audience in this new world of business driven by trust. It’s said that it takes 7 good touch points to move a person from being a stranger to a customer and a sponsorship can help you hit multiple touch points. It should build relationships, leave impressions that reinforce your brand and it should help your business get to where it wants to be. With defined outcomes, the decision on whether or not it meets objectives should always be clear.
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