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  • How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times
    How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times
    by Gail S. Bower
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Too Small for Corporate Sponsorship? Think Again: How Your Business Benefits, Just like the Big Guys 

If your business has avoided exploring corporate sponsorship and cause marketing, thinking your marketing dollars are better spent on social media or traditional advertising, you're missing valuable opportunities to:
  • create positive experiences of your product or service,
  • build relationships with buyers, and
  • interact with potential customers unified around causes they care about. 
In short, you're missing sales opportunities.
Corporate sponsorship is a marketing vehicle that allows your company to connect with the audiences of an organization's community drawn together by a cause, a passion, or a purpose. Whether the community convenes virtually or at an event, they champion a set of values. When your company is aligned with those values, a partnership with tremendous emotional resonance and impact may blossom.

Missed Opportunities

For years, against her better judgment, my automotive manufacturing client declined plans to enlarge a corporate sponsorship package, ideas that she knew would sell cars, because the dealership owners out in the field didn't understand corporate sponsorship and wouldn't take advantage of these benefits.
"Let's just buy TV spots," they'd say, with a round of high-fives for everyone. "That'll get car buyers onto the showroom floor."
Sure, they'd get some traffic into the dealership. But they had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to create the campaign, buy the reach and frequency necessary amid a sea of TV spots few paid attention to, qualify that traffic, and go through the selling process to hopefully sell cars.
What they didn't understand was that this sponsorship opportunity flipped that whole process around. In their sponsorship of the event that I represented, the automotive client brought the cars to the people. Our event provided thousands and thousands of potential car buyers, already qualified by certain criteria (income, education, age, geography, and that they had to drive to get to this event). Plus they were there to have fun, not resist insidious car selling tactics.
The smart salespeople employed by those dealership owners always volunteered to work the event because they knew they could have a conversation with potential buyers in a relaxed environment, in a non-threatening way.
And guess what? These salespeople sold cars. No, not there on the spot. The event is where they started a relationship.
They sold cars in the months afterwards because customers took imaginary test drives at the event where there was no pressure to buy. Relaxed and having fun, event attendees were often more open and receptive to experiencing the vehicle, hearing information, and even asking questions. Through its presence at and investment in this event, a jazz festival, this auto manufacturer aligned itself with a musical genre that eventgoers were passionate about. Because of these and other conditions, the automotive representatives had developed sufficient trust to continue relationships with self-selected buyers, which eventually led to sales.

It's a New World

There are good reasons that for the last several years sponsorship spending increases have far outpaced advertising and sales promotion increases. Projections for 2013, for example, forecasted that North American companies' sponsorship spending would increase by about 5.5 percent over 2012. By contrast, advertising dollars would rise only 2.6 percent and sales promotion 3 percent during that same period (Source: IEG, LLC). Even during the Great Recession, sponsorship spending increases were double those in the other categories.
Some have sounded the death knell for "interruption media," otherwise known as traditional advertising. Everyone is flocking to social media, like it's the silver bullent. Others have made the case for "experiential marketing." At the same time, in the course of 30 years, we've gone from having three primary television networks to millions of electronic viewing options, with the proliferation of cable and online broadcast options.
The good news is that today's culture provides more ways for us to tune in to your company's commercial messages. The bad news? It provides just as many ways to tune out.

Corporate Sponsorship and Cause Marketing As Alternatives

Corporate sponsorship and cause marketing are marketing vehicles that provide opportunities to:
  • build emotional resonance with new and existing customers,
  • interact with potential customers in a conducive environment,
  • provide value and stand out as a business or thought leader,
  • initiate relationships or pursue other business-building methods with potential buyers,
  • align your business values with issues that your customers are passionate about.
You can even pair your sponsorship investments with traditional advertising, social media, and sales promotion to create a fulcrum for your annual marketing or corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Getting Started in Sponsorship

Here are 5 steps to get you started in sponsorship:

Selecting a partner.

First, you must select the cause, event, or opportunity that best suits your needs. What do your customers care about? And, what does your company care about? What organizations are uniting people with interests that match your customers'? For example, let's say you are trying to reach attorneys. It's no mystery that most lawyers care deeply about justice, and tens of thousands of attorneys across the country contribute their time and expertise, representing individuals with low incomes pro bono. Indeed law firms of all sizes encourage and support pro bono efforts. Young associates gain new skills and knowledge; lawyers of all ages and skill levels feel good about giving back; and law firms stand out in their communities as good corporate citizens. Sponsoring an organization, such as Pro Bono Net (, which has created a national online community for lawyers who provide pro bono service, is a great way to reach the legal field, aligning with a worthy cause.

Building a relationship.

Once you select your cause or event, build a relationship with the sponsorship representative. The more information you share with that person, the better equipped they will be to create customized opportunities that meet your business or marketing goals. What are your goals? How will you measure the success of the sponsorship? Are your goals realistic? How does your business sell most effectively? What and when are the peak sales cycles? What would be important for you?

Co-creating the opportunity.

Work with the cause or event contact to develop the best opportunity for your business. Just like you know your business environment best, he or she understands the sponsorship opportunity best. Ideally, working as partners, you should create a program that works for both parties. How will you activate or incorporate an experiential component into the sponsorship? How can you build traffic to your retail outlets or web site? How will you expand your engagement strategy through your and your partner's social media assets?
Do you need to develop leads? Introduce a product or service? Build sales so you can show an ROI? Influence opinion? These are important considerations to make the sponsorship program successful for you, and if you're working with the right organization, your goals will also be important to the cause or event. Brainstorming and crafting the opportunity together ensures that this program will be a success. 

Making the investment.

Most corporations that deploy corporate sponsorship invest additional dollars above the sponsorship or rights fees to fully leverage the opportunity. Take advantage of all the benefits provided to you through the package. Then, engage your sales team, retail dealers, PR staff, diversity office, and others who might benefit from this opportunity. Like all marketing efforts, the more you put into the sponsorship, the more you stand to gain. Be prepared to create the outcomes you want. Your event or cause partner, for example, can do everything imaginable to drive traffic to your Web site, but you have to do your part to engage the visitor when they get there. Is there a unique landing page welcoming that visitor and helping you gauge results? Have you written the white paper? Is your sales team trained and ready to answer questions or engage new prospects?

Measure the results.

Sponsorship is a combination of quantitative and qualitative benefits, and hard results cannot be measured instantaneously. In the case of the auto manufacturer, for example, it took two or three years to get the sponsorship tweaked for best results. The objectives evolved during the first couple years, and once we solidified the goals and the best way to execute, the salespeople saw results — they sold cars.
Work with the sponsorship contact and your internal colleagues to develop and realize meaningful but realistic results. Ask for assistance refining the opportunity so you see the outcomes you need. For example, if you're trying to encourage lawyers to download a white paper through your sponsorship, work with your partner to create ways to promote the existence of the white paper, why it would be of value to readers, even what information would be critical in the white paper to attract readers. If one approach doesn't yield the results you need, work with the organization to experiment with other ways. The cause or nonprofit or event is your partner and wants you to succeed.
Marketing a product or service today is increasingly complex. We have new tools and tons of information at our fingertips instantaneously. Your customers are pulled in all directions by the availability of media and entertainment options. The reason corporations continue to invest marketing dollars into corporate sponsorship and cause marketing is because it works. Sponsorship provides opportunities to build relationships, engage face-to-face (or screen-to-face in an online community), and participate in a community aligned with your corporate values and interests.
In 2004, according to research by Cone Inc., Americans made an effort to find companies that were socially and environmentally responsible. Three years later, according to their 2007 research, Americans expected companies to have responsible practices. By 2010, 80 percent of Americans are likely to switch brands to one that supports a cause.
Sponsorship and partnering with a cause are excellent ways to achieve these practices. They are strategies that will readily gain approval by your employees, customers, and shareholders and help you realize results.



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