Discovering the sponsorship that's just right for both of you

publication date: May 24, 2011
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Discovery: a word full of possibilities - new knowledge, new insights, even new horizons. They're all possible in the series of conversations known as a "discovery session." That's when a charity (or "property" in sponsorship parlance) meets with a prospective partner to - yes - discover where their mutual interests lie.

Assumptions are your enemy here. The less you assume you know, the more questions you'll ask, and the more you'll uncover. Here are some of the areas you might want to ask about, and some of the wide-ranging answers shared during a panel discussion at the 2010 Western Sponsorship Congress. Panellists included Ron Podbielski, Executive Director, Corporate Affairs, SaskEnergy; John Windwick, VP, Community and Government Relations, ATB Financial; and Kristi Gartner, Marketing and Communications Lead, geoLOGIC.

Why do you sponsor?

  • Business development - including sales leads
  • Brand awareness
  • Access to core audience in a way that traditional advertising doesn't deliver
  • Winning the talent war for younger employees who place a high value on community involvement
  • Building corporate image in a cost-effective, relatively easy way

What other forms of marketing do you undertake and how do you (or not) integrate sponsorship into those tactics as well?

  • We tie our advertising at events we sponsor to our print and online advertising and to our trade show exhibits.
  • We build in additional experiences. For example, we support a charity by sponsoring a calendar featuring the city's professional football team, which the charity sells to multiply the value of our sponsorship.
  • We promote an internal network, "Generation E," for our employees under 30. Knowing how highly they value community involvement, we spread the message of our sponsorships through that network. It strengthens the commitment of that demographic and even attracts new employees.
  • We talk about our sponsorships in our hiring discussions so good candidates know we're supporting the communities that give us business.
How do you know if a sponsorship investment is successful?

  • We measure attendance, monitor signage, read media clippings, and evaluate what worked. To gauge customer impact, we test awareness of our sponsorships with consumer surveys.
  • We're interested in sales that result from sponsorships, so we focus on tracking contacts made at events. We also examine whether they're contacts we wouldn't have been able to make otherwise.
  • We measure different things, depending on our objectives for each sponsorship. We might track our customer attendance at the event, or have our internal research team track brand awareness and consumer memory of our involvement.

How do you feel about the traditional gold/silver/bronze packages presented by sponsorship properties?

  • If they're obviously cookie-cutter proposals, you reveal that you haven't done your homework on my company. They do give us an idea of what's available, but they also make it very easy to say no.
  • They make me feel like an automated bank machine! Discovery sessions are absolutely necessary.
  • I understand that they do it because they're short of time and staff. But the most I'll give in response to such a proposal is $500. I drive awareness for my company by doing something different from other companies, so there's much more value for my company in a custom proposal.

If you could tell sponsorship properties to make one change in how they "pitch you" what would that be?

  • Show that you're interested in the long term. To use a courtship metaphor, the first date is just for you to find out about my interests. The second date is where we explore common interests. On the third date, we can start talking about getting together. I want you to make me feel special, to understand who my company is.
  • Don't pitch me, period. Show you understand my business objectives and be open to my suggestions. Be prepared to go through several discovery sessions.
  • I can't say this enough - show that you understand my business needs. Research my company on the Internet. Use your network to meet staff in my company. Show up at events where my company's key people are speaking.

What makes you decide to meet with a property?

  • I see something unique in your offering that will help build my brand.
  • I see something beneficial to my company.
  • I want to hear that you have something different from what we've done before.
  • I want to hear, "I know you're involved with ABC. Do you think you'd be interested in DEF? I'd like to work with you to shape it."

What do you look for in a sponsorship proposal?

  • We have a matrix by which we evaluate proposals. It includes things like the depth of a project's community penetration, the number of people it affects, whether it builds our brand, creativity, exclusivity.
  • I ask myself whether people will miss us if we aren't there. I look for ways to engage with an audience that's relevant to my company.
  • With smaller sponsorships, I look at attendance, signage, media coverage, volunteer opportunities for our staff and whether our partners are there. Larger sponsorships must fit those criteria but also offer a unique way to shape perception among our customers.

Would you meet by phone or face to face with a sponsorship property if its representative called to set up a discovery and agreed not to pitch you at that meeting?

  • Yes. You can ask as many tough questions as you want. It's our job to answer them. Good companies will either meet with you or turn you down right away.
  • Yes. I want you to ask questions, throw ideas out and show that you're open to my shaping them.
  • Yes! We have big hearts. We want you to succeed. I have to balance that against my company's business interests. If I sense that there's something there, I'll definitely take a meeting.

This article is taken from Winning Together, a free 52-page sponsorship handbook from Hilborn, publishers of Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy. Download your copy from the panel on the left, as our gift to you.

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