Allein Moore

Sponsorship as a marketing tool both suffers and gains in tough economic times. There are MNCs who have pulled out of major sports sponsorships during the current recession because they do not feel it is justified. On the other hand, there are advertisers who feel they cannot afford a sustainable ad campaign in the newspapers or on television and think sponsorship is a cheaper alternative.

We are not talking here about sponsoring the Olympics or the Wimbledon tennis tournaments which are major ticket items.

There is not a right or wrong answer but I hope I can guide you into asking the right questions.

Without doubt, much sponsorship money is a wasted resource.

This can be because the audience are not your customers. Sponsoring a youth sports event when you run a chain of up-market holiday villas will not benefit your business in any way.

Your first task is to ask yourself what you hope to achieve.

Of course, you may sponsor a Church event knowing that there will be no reward (not in this life anyway) but you want to support and perhaps want others to know that you are a good guy and successful enough to donate. Your firm may sponsor its professional association’s members night knowing that the audience will be just the competitors but wanting to help the industry as a whole.

These are not business decisions but personal ‘feel good’ actions.

There is no excuse, however, to sponsor a golf tournament just because the CEO wants to rub shoulders with Tiger Woods. Too often it is the opportunity to mix with stars in the entertainment and sports arena which triggers the sponsorship. It is up to the Marketing Director to bring him down to earth and review the event more commercially.

Choosing the event

First consideration would be to look at the focus of the event and decide if it is a good fit with your company and its business area.

If you produce a health drink, then most sporting events create an association that is of value. A company producing baby products will jump at the chance to sponsor a Best Looking Baby contest.

I would advise you to also look at who is putting the event together as a poorly organised event or one with poor attendance will rub off on your brand. If the organiser is a professional body then check its standing and past successes in running events. Should they sensibly hire a professional event company, look at the record of this company. Has it successfully run this event before or has it organised similar events of this size and scope. Ask to see photographs and press cuttings from previous events.

Instead of sponsoring several events in the year, it is usually best to choose just one and, by a larger investment, become a major sponsor. If you give some thought on what you want to achieve and what event in the year is most relevant to your industry, this decision should not be difficult.

You may also want to see if you can get a better deal with a long-term relationship. A three-year commitment, for example, will be welcomed by the organiser. This decision may save you money especially if the event becomes highly successful and the rates go up. It also can help you ‘own’ an event if you give a strong commitment. In the early days, you may even get to brand the event. SingTel managed to do this with the inaugural F1 motor race in Singapore.

How much rah rah?

Ask what plans the organiser has planned to publicise this event before, during and after. If it is a sporting event, will it be televised or covered by the sporting magazine and national press? If it is an exhibition, how many visitors are expected and how many ads are being run to attract people to the event?

Even a small event like a Mind, Body & Spirit exhibition has to have publicity, so what exposure can your company expect from the organiser as one of the sponsors? Are there press ads, mailers and TV commercials? The amount of exposure your brand has will be in the hands of the organiser so you have every right to ask.

Logo mania

AdAsia is often approached to sponsor an event. Usually the organiser offers a logo on the website and perhaps another beside the stage at the event itself. This is proffered as a great deal for my company!

I often feel AdAsia has a higher profile in the marketplace than the event or the organiser so putting our logo there will not do much extra for my brand. If you own a well-known and heavily advertised brand, you have every right to demand more than just a logo on a stage or on a website.

What is on the table?

Always ask for more than is being offered. If there is a catalogue or a show programme, you can ask for a full-page advertisement in that publication. If there is an exhibition, would a booth for your company be appropriate or useful? Get permission to give samples to participants or the visitors as a trial offer. Would your staff or clients benefit from attending? Ask for 20 or 100 free entry tickets for the seminar or event.

Do you want to increase your customer circle? Ask for the database of attendees as a condition of sponsorship. Will sponsorship allow you to put up banners or give away leaflets? Milk the organiser. Depending on how much you are giving, you can negotiate way beyond a small logo on the back of a flyer.

Weigh up the benefits of being a major or even exclusive sponsor, which costs more, or pay less but still getting exposure.

What part will your company play?

Too often a sponsor will throw money at an event and just hope a benefit comes from it. You have to also put in an effort to get more for your money. Outside of the organiser’s promotion and little extras, can you exploit the event?

Your company can link to the interest generated by the event.

A simple idea would be to run an independent competition offering the tickets (the free ones they gave you) for the event to your customers. You can create a product that is linked to the event (with permission from the organisers) such as a special edition canned drink. Maybe your interactive agency can create an online game that links your company and products to the event or its focus. Some companies who could not afford sponsorships or lost out to a competitor, hi-jacked the Beijing Olympics by cleverly linking their own promotions to this huge event.

Measurement

It is hard to measure sponsorship investments. Obviously a spike in sales during this period would be a good indicator but often the benefits are not so obvious. But you can see who recalls your participation or who links your brand to, for example, Youth Sports if you have sponsored this for a year or two.

Not easily measurable are the changes which can occur in the mind of your customers. Major brands are expected to participate in Social Network Marketing so supporting events which help worthy causes can benefit the supporting brand in a less obvious way.

Summing up

(1) Choose carefully which event to support.

(2) Get better value from the organiser.

(3) Build on the association and develop more promotions.

Sponsorships can be a relatively modest investment but the real value can only come if you extend the relationship and ensure your branding is not a ‘one day wonder’.