Column: Can sponsorship be a strategy?

Sponsorship is widely accepted as an idea implemented by organizations lacking the funds to accomplish an event or item. The sponsor provides money and is generally known as a supporter of that organization. Sponsorship is mostly considered a donation, but that is changing.

Could sponsorship be a communications and marketing strategy for the sponsor?

Oftentimes, companies that don’t participate in many marketing activities are approached for sponsorship. It seems that these same firms or companies generally provide services instead of products. I’ve noticed that oftentimes companies will make sponsorship selections based on a tiered list with various dollar amounts attached. However, what if the selections offered don’t align with the strategic messaging of the organization? The organization can still consider the sponsorship as a donation or the organization can make a request based on the strategic direction of the company and negotiate what they get in return for their sponsorship dollars.

Sponsorships have become one of the fastest and newest growing areas in marketing strategy.

Key messages – Recently, when writing a strategy for a sponsor to participate in an event, we reviewed the marketing plan first. We took a look at the key messages for the identified audiences that the company is seeking to reach. Since there was an alignment between the two organizations, the company continued in its evaluation of being a sponsor. If the requesting organization did not have its audiences identified with audience numbers, it may have been difficult for the organization to evaluate.

Vision & mission – In a perfect world, the organization would have the same message. So how does the sponsor go as a company or person to align with the direction of what the event sponsorship or item is supporting? It doesn’t necessary mean stopping in the evaluation of the sponsorship, but gives clues about what to request in your ask in regard to the goals that support your mission.

Actions – Your marketing plan lists potential actions. Just like the organization seeking a sponsor to pay for something, companies must look at how they spend their budgets and sponsorship dollars. Because a company cannot often accomplish everything on its list based on limited resources, sponsorships provide a negotiated opportunity for better media coverage, access to a particular audience, the use of logos and/or gaining access to people within the organization requesting funding to assist your organization in getting out a message in relation to the event or funded item among other marketing.

Sponsorship plan – While many companies still write the check and accept what is given to them by the organization or person requesting sponsorship, some companies incorporating strategic marketing are creating sponsorship plans.

A plan means that you can check criteria against the sponsorship to achieve results beyond what the organization achieves by utilizing your money or in some cases, time or materials provided by your company.

What are some good sponsorship objectives that might be included in your marketing strategy? Here are a few:

• Introduce new customers to the company – Every year, many old customers are lost due to relocation, death, inconvenience or dissatisfaction. To thrive, a business must continually seek new customers. Sponsorship can introduce a company to those supporting the organization.

• Build awareness and image – Because many local businesses provide essentially the same services, companies can use sponsorship association to distinguish themselves from each other.

• Retain old customers and increase frequency of business – More customers are lost because of inattention than any other single reason. In addition, a barrage of marketing activity from competitors may lure customers away. A special event in collaboration with the sponsored organization can keep customers informed and reinforce their desire to remain customers and purchase
more often.

• Reduce sales expense – By pre-selling so many customers, sponsorship lightens the load on the sales team. It allows salespeople to make more sales in a shorter time, more directly when the target audience is a match.

• Curtail seasonal peaks – Each year there are dips and swings in business. One way to level off the peaks and valleys is to time sponsorship activity during an anticipated valley.

• Accelerate inventory turnover– Some businesses sell all the merchandise four or five times a year. Others turn over the inventory 15 to 20 times. The more times inventory is turned, the greater the results on the bottom line.

Several steps are involved in planning the sponsorship effort for strategic marketing. Analyzing the local market, analyzing the competition, conducting adequate research, determining objectives and strategy, establishing a realistic budget and planning media strategy are important.

Lisa Schmidt is a marketing communications strategist. She can be reached at or 360.314.2730.