Sponsorship By Any Other Name

If you’re like most people working in sponsorship marketing, you’re watching dollars being sucked out of those budgets to be put to use in other ways. Tactics like mobile marketing tours and other experiential spends that blend technology with live events are eclipsing more traditional sponsorship marketing. That’s a trend that won’t reverse any time soon. In 2009, fifty-one percent (51%) of the companies active in sponsorship expect to spend less on sponsorship, according to IEG. Only fourteen percent (14%) of sponsors plan to spend more, while thirty-six percent (36%) said their budgets would stay the same as last year.

Part of the decline is pure economics. But the other truth is that sponsorship is considered old school by the rising cadre of socially networked marketers. So it’s either being repackaged as Sports Marketing, or it’s achieving the same things but being called something else entirely. Want a sponsor? Pay attention to what department you’re approaching and from what source their budget is derived.

Last week, I sat down with event manager Melissa Lagowski from RibFest Chicago and got the skinny on how she creatively tapped into alternative marketing budgets to win bigger sponsorship fees.

Melissa did three things every scrappy sponsorship seeker should do:

1. Stay everlasting at it. This year, Melissa got calls from sponsors who consistently turned her down in previous years. I’m talking after four or five rejections. Still, she keeps companies on the hit list. Sends materials, call them. Invites their reps to the event. This year, it finally paid off with a sponsorship from Playstation. The fees didn’t come from a sponsorship budget, but from mobile marketing instead. And the Playstation vehicle animated her event and drew a crowd of younger peeps.

2. Stay focused on the sponsor’s needs. Melissa doesn’t bring a Power Point pitch to meetings. She brings a notebook. And she keeps asking the same question in various ways: “How does this need to work for you?”

3. Practice creative control. When Captain Morgan Rum wanted to have a presence, she kept drilling down to discover what they really needed to achieve. She packaged up “roaming rights” that gave the Captain Morgan actor and his wenches the right to stroll the event and let locals take photos with the Captain. No liquor was sold on-site. Event managers didn’t want spirits at a family event.

Melissa carved out more fees by allowing the Captain onstage to emcee for awhile and introduce bands. She made sure the contract had specific language about how the actor should comport himself. The actor turned out to be more stand-up comedian than pretty face. It was a huge hit!

The future of sponsorship is not in danger. The nomenclature may be. We may stop calling certain marketing tactics “sponsorship.” But the interactions, the ability to achieve multiple marketing aims, the fervor a brand can tap…all these elements still work wonders for marketers. No matter what you call it.