There is perhaps no marketing tool more disputed in terms of its ROI than sponsorship.
From charities, to naming rights on community ice rinks and signage at industry events, there are always hard questions that must be asked about whether seeing your organization’s name in lights will, in fact, translate into greater awareness among the customers you are trying to reach and make the phone ring more often.
What got me thinking about this was a recent news story about the National Capital Commission, the Crown corporation that administers federally owned lands and buildings in Canada’s National Capital Region. The NCC is apparently reviewing a proposal to bolster its budget with sponsorship deals that could net $4.5 million in fresh revenue over five years.
Whether or not the NCC should pursue such deals and label the cultural assets it manages in the public trust with corporate branding is another story. The question is where such opportunities make sense for the prospective sponsor.
I work with a couple of professional services clients for whom this is a regular debate. And while they themselves are not tech firms, the same considerations that regularly bounce around the conference table in our monthly marketing meetings apply.
The discussion about a new sponsorship opportunity often starts because the opportunity has come to the table unsolicited, because the dollars required fit within the available budget and/or because there is an “us too” sense of urgency as a competitor is already in there.
These are all valid reasons to give an opportunity fair consideration, but there must be a rigorous set of criteria in place to evaluate the potential ROI. It may seem crass to talk about such things in the instance of a worthy charity, but no matter how close a particular charity may be to the collective hearts of your team, unless you have piles of unused cash lying around, any substantive sponsorship commitment must in some way have the potential to bring new business to the door.
So here are some evaluation criteria to consider that have been developed by one of my professional services clients for their team:
1. Who is your target audience?
I would hope you already knew the answer to this question long before any discussion about sponsorships ever reached the agenda of your marketing team. But in this instance, it goes beyond their needs and buying habits as paying customers. You must collect and consider other demographics related to their leisure and community activities. If, for example, your product is sold largely to high-income baby boomers, why would you sponsor an event, venue, charity or team that primarily draws 20-somethings?
2. What is the reach?
What is the geographical, industry or market reach of the exposure your brand will have as a result of this sponsorship and how does that tie back to your target markets?
3. Is there brand harmony?
Does this event, venue, charity or team have a set of values or a specific culture? Does it have a brand that fosters certain perceptions in the marketplace? Do these values and perceptions align with your own or, at least, don’t threaten to do harm to your brand by association?
4. What’s the splatter factor?
How prominent will your branding be displayed? How vigorously promoted will it be? With events in particular, think hard about how much noise and distraction will be going on – how many attendees are likely to remember who the event sponsors were the following day? On that same note, consider your exposure and your stickiness in the minds of the audience and negotiate ways to maximize them, such as by networking with VIPs, giving a presentation, distributing your own promotional materials to a mailing list and so forth.
5. What’s in it for you?
What other additional benefits will you receive for your investment, such as tickets and other swag that you can use to woo and reward your own clients and prospective clients? Also, are there opportunities to get involved in other ways, such as by volunteering or serving on a board or steering committee?
6. How will you measure success?
This is the most important, and often the most tricky, consideration. But you must go into this engagement with at least some general idea of what will constitute success in terms of how this has ultimately contributed to your business development efforts.
That’s all for now. Feel free to share any additional ideas or anecdotes from your own organization’s experiences with sponsorships as part of a broader marketing strategy.