Sponsorship: An effective marketing and branding tool for small businesses

A great way to get your small business and brand in the public eye is by sponsoring an event produced by another entity. It could be a golf tournament to benefit a local non-profit, a performance or exhibition at an area cultural institution, or a walk-a-thon to benefit programs and services of a medical research program or a health services group that provides support to people living with cancer.

Before you sign on, it’s really important to evaluate the event, its producer, its beneficiary, your sponsorship recognition package, and the overall effect your participation in the event.

Mark Iacuessa, Pioneer Valley (MA) advertising director for Newspapers of New England, evaluates sponsorships frequently for his company, which publishes seven daily and weekly newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, including the Daily Hampshire Gazette and The Valley Advocate. He gets dozens upon dozens of requests from organizations promoting events  large and small.

“We look to see where there’s a fit between our business and the event’s audience. We ask ourselves which audience we want to put our brand before,“ says Iacuessa. “We want to be perceived as good community citizens; we also want people to feel good about our brand.

“We want exclusivity in our field (newspapers) when we sponsor an event. We don’t want to dilute our visibility,” he adds, “and we want to build a relationship and partnership with the group we sponsor.”

How to evaluate a sponsorship opportunity

In your evaluation mode, here are a few questions to ask about the event. Is the event valued in the community? Has the event been a success in the past? Is it well-produced? Will your partner deliver the recognition perks promised? Is this sponsorship within your budget? Will you be the exclusive (type of business) as a sponsor? (You don’t want to co-sponsor with a competitor.) Is the group’s mission compatible with your company’s mission? Will your market value your participation as a sponsor?

Stick to events and partners that have an impact on the community. Avoid events and partners that might be considered controversial to your customers–i.e. political fundraisers or events that benefit a particular religious initiative or lobbying effort.

When you evaluate the perks for sponsorship, consider how your sponsorship will be marketed and promoted. The marketing effort should get your name out to the widest possible number of potential customers, not just those who show up at the event. For example, if you sponsor signage at a hole for a golf tournament, the only people who will see your sign are those playing in the tournament. If you sponsor a performance, your logo may be seen in all of their ads, their website, and other venues by people who might not attend.

A good sponsorship recognition package will include your logo on posters, flyers, direct mail pieces, invitations, and advertising, and a web page (with link to your website), all of which extends your reach into a community at large. A good sponsorship partner will also make sure that there’s good recognition at the event–an ad in a program book, an on-site recognition opportunity, and of course, admission to the event.

Shawn Farley, director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center in Amherst, MA, has over 25 performances available for sponsorship during a given year. She looks for cash sponsors and in-kind sponsors (design, lodging, restaurants, caterers, transportation). “Sponsorships offer exposure over an extended period of time. We offer playbill ads, which reach people for the sponsored performance and others around it; lobby signage for the season, web presence and more, so a sponsor gets multiple impressions.”

Farley added, “Think of a sponsorship as more than a marketing buy. It’s a partnership. If a sponsor brings good attitude and enthusiasm to the table to co-promote the event and co-brand, or in other words, a desire to ‘buy in,’ then it’s a real win-win for both parties.”

Remember, a good sponsorship is a partnership for the present and the future.

Some resources on event sponsorship:
Event Marketer is a good site with resources, “how to” information on sponsorships, newsletter and a great magazine. http://www.eventmarketer.com/
Jeff Haden’s article for Inc.: http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/sponsoring-an-event-how-to-maximize-your-return.html
Kim Harrison of Cutting Edge PR’s article on benefits for sponsors: http://www.cuttingedgepr.com/articles/sponsorship_many_benefits.asp

Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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