Across my marketing career I've been involved in dozens of campaigns and marketing efforts that included some sort of sponsorship. Most marketers love sponsorships for the simple reason that they are packaged campaigns that are relatively low effort to implement. Someone else is doing something like an event or running a great organization and you simply want to be part of it and promote your involvement. The down side of the relative ease of sponsorships is that it is one of the areas where you could potentially waste the most amount of money and time.
Doing sponsorships right demands some strategic thinking, but also knowing what to look for to evaluate the right opportunities and make sure that you're choosing what to sponsor well. Here are a few tips that I have learned along the way and often share with my clients about how to make sure you are choosing sponsorships that will pay off in the short AND long term for your small business.
- Think strategically, not emotionally. The biggest mistake many small businesses make when choosing to sponsor an event or organization is to do it out of convenience. Someone may be a friend of a friend, or perhaps an event is coming to your hometown and so the logical thing seems to be that you would want to sponsor and support it. Doing favors for the community is completely fine, but the best sponsorships will fit some sort of marketing strategy at the same time. There are many deserving causes and efforts worth supporting - why not focus on sponsoring something that is either tailored to people who you consider your target audience, or has some thematic tie to your business?
- Participate in person. Nothing can make a sponsorship really come to life as much as you or one of your employees personally participating in the event or organization. They may mean supporting a group by volunteering, or simply showing up to an event that your company is sponsoring. Your presence there not only makes your business real, but it also gives the organizers someone to thank.
- Barter exclusive services. The barter method of sponsorship where you provide some type of service in return for your sponsorship is a long standing tradition for small businesses and can help save some cash. In the best case, this barter arrangement will also come with some sort of exclusivity for your category. The last thing you want is for all your competitors to also appear alongside your brand at an event or as supporting partners for a particular organization. Exclusivity is golden anytime you can get it.
- Make your logo work harder. On the TV show The Office, there is a reason they called the new parent company for Dunder Mifflin by the name of Sabre. It's the ultimate big corporate name that means nothing. You're not quite sure what Sabre does or the products and services they provide. The only think for certain is that they probably don't sell actual sabres. Lots of companies have names like that, and alone that doesn't have to be a showstopper. It does mean that you need to make your logo work harder in the places where it appears, by adding a tagline or something to describe your business beyond just having your logo up there.
- Use the "gratefulness metric." In general, the smaller the event or organization, the more grateful people involved in the effort will be at your organization's sponsorship. Gratefulness is a powerful motivator to help you get real value from sponsoring something. The people behind the event will be more concerned about making sure you get value from the event and you may very well create a longer term relationship that will not only turn them into future customers, but word of mouth advocates for your business.