Friday 21 June 2024

Sponsorship Basics: What You Need to Know


Sponsorship can play an important role in your marketing strategies. 

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Do you find sponsorship confusing? If you are a business or community leader, you must understand how and why it works.

I was the sponsorship manager for several years for Alberta's provincial educational TV and radio network, ACCESS NETWORK. Later, with my company, Unimark Creative, I set up and managed client sponsorship funding. Finally, as a Rotarian and community activist, I have helped package sponsorships supporting various projects.

Brand Synergy

You must ask two questions before digging too deeply into sponsorship function or structure.

  1. Is there brand synergy between the sponsor and the cause or event?
  2. What could go wrong?
  3. What would the consequences be? 

The Big Question

Does sponsorship work? That's a good question.

My friend and colleague Brent Barootes has built a consulting business that helps organizations structure sponsorships. Brent speaks at conferences about sponsorship and provides training for companies, municipalities and not-for-profit organizations throughout Canada.

When asked whether sponsorship works, he answers with a resounding YES! I've paraphrased key reasons why Brent is so passionate about it. 

Engaging—Sponsorship engages people. Other forms of marketing intrude on their personal space. Sponsors can interact directly one-on-one or with large or small groups.

Targeting—Sponsorship is an excellent tool for targeting specific audiences. Natural synergy happens when the audience benefiting from a cause or event matches a sponsor's targets.

Brand building — Sponsorship creates brand affinity and loyalty. If you feel good about sports, arts, health, youth, seniors, or other community activities, you will feel good about the organizations that help make them possible.

Traffic driving — Sponsorship can drive traffic to your online channels or brick-and-mortar business. When people attending a sponsored event are exposed to a sponsor's name, products or services, they may be motivated to check them out. 

How it Works

At the risk of being overly simplistic, this is my explanation of how sponsorship works. 

When people feel good about a good thing in the community, they will feel good about the companies or other organizations that help make those good things possible.  - RT Braley

Let me explain. You may not like opera or bluegrass music, but you believe both contribute to your community's cultural fabric. You may not have children but believe youth sports can be a character-building activity. 

When you see an event promoted on television, radio, email, newspaper, or social media, you notice when it's sponsored by XYZ company. Most of the time, you think it's a good thing. 

Sponsors can build their own awareness campaigns that go beyond the marketing package the cause or event provides, greatly expanding the reach. 

In practical terms, it's usually up to the sponsor create an awareness campaign to support targeting their products, services, or activities, an awareness campaign letting those people know about the good thing the sponsor is doing in their community builds positive attitudes. 

Important Questions

Sponsor funding may come from their advertising or donations budget. Their gift may be driven by a desire to influence a particular audience.

Sponsors may also want to do the right thing. For example, they may support women's health, literacy, or addiction recovery projects because they believe in their causes. 

You ask, 

"Can a philanthropic gift be packaged as a sponsorship? When do acknowledgements become advertising? At what point can do they no longer qualify for a charitable receipt?"

You knew this was coming. The answer is, "It depends!" 

Sponsorship is complex. It is not strictly advertising but may incorporate elements that look like advertising. However, just because it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and smells like a duck, it doesn't necessarily mean a sponsorship is a duck. 

Here is the final kicker: The elements of the acknowledgment package for one sponsor may be completely different from that of another, even though the funding amount is the same. 

Why? Successful sponsorships are driven by meeting the needs of both parties. In fact, one sponsor's needs may be entirely different than those of others.  

Sponsors Have Needs

Never assume you know why a potential sponsor might be attracted to your project. Sponsorship is used by large companies, small businesses, government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations to achieve goals and objectives specific to their organizations.

One of my clients was a not-for-profit organization that sent production teams to Junior High Schools across Canada. The teams presented multi-media shows that captivated the minds of youth with messages about anti-bullying, staying in school, mental health, and other relevant topics.

I secured sponsorships that funded production and travel costs. Each sponsor had a different reason for participating.

Pepsi wanted logos and product placement throughout the show. Between the ages of 12 and 15, teens make a lifetime choice of their favourite cola.

Campbell's Soup usually doesn't sell products to teenagers, but it does to their parents. The company wanted parents to know the brand cared about their kids.

Talisman Energy (now Repsol Oil and Gas) wanted investors to know they supported kids, education, and the community.

Chrysler Corporation wanted to support educational initiatives that used advanced technology.

The Max Bell Foundation supported educational initiatives that had positive messaging for children.

Never Assume

This story underlines the danger of assuming you know the sponsor's intentions, I successfully got a $50,000 grant from a major foundation. 

The funding paid for the production of a CKUA Radio series about the history of the petroleum industry in Alberta. The series was called Roughnecks, Whildcats, and Doodlebugs. 

After we agreed on the financial details, I immediately shared my brilliant ideas for an acknowledgement strategy. The foundation people were mortified! They sat in stone-cold silence, gazing at me with vacant stares. Finally, they broke the silence by explaining that they wanted nothing to do with acknowledgments.

Why? They reasoned that as more people learned about their association with sponsoring our program series, they would receive floods of requests for other donations. 

They were very selective about the projects they funded. As a volunteer board, they didn't want to have to respond to requests they would never fund.  

From that point on, I described their funding as a gift rather than a sponsorship.

Wrapping it Up

Has this post helped you?  Do you have stories from your experience with sponsorship? I'd love to hear from you. Please share in the comment section below. 



Twitter: @RobynTbraley

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