Sponsorship ROI does not happen with a magic wand. You cannot spend a lot of money on sponsorship, sit back, relax and watch the new business come in. You must build unique programs using a strategic mix of assets that best aligns with your ongoing business objectives. This requires a variety of specialties working in harmony to generate maximum value for your brand.
Investing in sponsorship as a part of your marketing strategy has every opportunity to work well for you. It’s proven a successful platform for building loyalty, raising brand profile, increasing brand awareness and generating new business. Once you have decided on the way forward, you need to assemble the right team to activate your sponsorship year-round.
This foundational post outlines key skills and expertise sets required to activate. As with most things, these needs constantly evolve and look much different than what was required five years ago. With the market evolvement, this post will evolve.
What to Look for in a Partner
Take some time to decide what you want your brand to be associated with.
This level of diligence is critical since regardless of anything you do intentionally, there will be associations between your brand and what you choose to sponsor. This is a key advantage of sponsorship when your property raises your value, awareness and perception. This is also a vulnerability for your brand if your property acts or performs poorly. Note that while as a brand manager you will be skeptical, properties are very skeptical - for good reason. FTX, Rich Energy and Urakali are just a few that have all had very public meltdowns in sports, leaving their respective properties with a horrid taste.
It’s helpful if your team and prospective partner have a range of experiences to draw from. New entries have advantages, but experience and track record can pay dividends. Look for past work in different disciplines within sports business such as engineering, sanctioning body management, race team direction, agency involvement and work from past brands. This type of makeup ensures you stay well-rounded and operate from various best practices.
It is fair to be wary when you come across a partner immediately pitching you top-end, comprehensive packages. You don’t know what will be successful yet, so how do you know where to invest the most resources? We encourage you to start small with sponsorship investments to get to know the platform, test programs internally and externally, understand what works, and then grow toward where the return comes from.
Once you see a property that looks interesting to sponsor and they aren’t just looking for a cash grab, establish the right foundations internally from the beginning. Without internal support from your own team and leadership, a program can be set up to fail before it starts. It is common for brands to enthusiastically support a new campaign without having a focused plan to generate results. This limited approach will break down into a 3-phase cycle: honeymoon, reality check, and fade with little to show.
These pillars will help you avoid that dreaded cycle and continue to drive value for years.
Prioritize quality. Carry out any project, big or small, focusing on quality. Eliminate noise and superfluous choices so you can focus on what delivers.
Prioritize partnerships. Sponsorship is a two-way street. Make sure both parties are delivering on what was agreed upon. Then, collaborate and innovate to find ways for 2+2 to equal 5.
Prioritize results. Build sustainable results rather than short-lived stunts. Develop creative ways for non-traditional business units to leverage and integrate marketing assets across your organization and consider what works.
Establishing Your Sponsorship Activation Strategy
Succeeding in a complex environment requires the right strategy. The best strategy is driven by a purposeful mix of assets across mediums, channels, sports, venues, teams, drivers, etc. The goal is for no assets to go unused and there should never be a case where sponsors aren’t sure what to do with what they’re sold. Focus on activating existing assets before adding new ones you may not need. Many sponsors are over-investing in properties and lacking adequate funding to support activation programs that are the true levers to generating ROI.
Keep an eye on building the right mix of assets during your negotiations. There is a significant risk to investing all-in on one particular asset. By building a purposeful mix of assets across sports, venues, teams, drivers, media and more, your brand can get more accurate in acquiring what is needed to connect directly to your desired outcome.
When looking at all the different assets available, it can get overwhelming. You don’t want to be caught over-invested in an asset that isn’t driving ROI. This is challenging to avoid because many properties will tell you to maximize investment immediately so that you can “make a splash” in the industry. Try starting with a small investment and grow organically toward the results you see. Bonus benefit - this approach keeps your program nimble throughout its lifecycle.
Remember that your newly acquired sponsorship assets do not need to live independently. They should be integrated into your existing marketing strategy - especially the programs that are doing well for you. This approach strengthens your brand to the audiences that matter most to building your business and provides fresh content to currently working campaigns.
Create Cool Stuff
Content defines marketing campaigns. How your content is received becomes the cornerstone of defining success with your partnerships. There is short-form content designed to last a few days that comes off as a stunt. There is also fit-for-purpose content that doesn’t require a 15-person crew funded by your marketing budget. There are changing formats, mediums, platforms and technologies to deliver your content and no matter what you choose, your content will be the primary place where your sponsorship is seen, heard and consumed.
You can have the best, most professional content in the world on all the platforms. But without the right strategy of connecting it to your key audience, it will all be lost in a world that is producing more than ever. To get your content to break through, you will need to maintain focus every day. Do this by prioritizing what you have access to, and what you can create efficiently to deliver maximum value. Remember that what sounds repetitive to you may just come off as consistent to your audience.
Your content is all about showing, not telling. Videos illustrate your brand in a widely accessible and scalable fashion. One smartly produced video shoot can be tailored for internal business meetings, event recap content, social media sales promotions and employee appreciation. Having a scalable, nimble team to document branded activations allows your team to show the world what you’re up to at the same time you are building a library of stories that will ultimately become your heritage.
Now that you’ve created a bunch of stuff, where will it live? Consider a specially branded landing page on your primary website as an owned channel that you will always maintain control of in addition to the standard social channels. Looking after your brand’s social media presence is a full-time job and requires regular attention. The landscape is regularly shifting and customers are won and lost based on how you operate in this space. Each channel and each platform are slightly different, requiring a tailored approach from your brand’s voice. The landing page on your site can act as more of a home base to link back into.
Keep it simple, especially to start, and know that launching channels is the easy part. Keeping them alive with engaging content is an ongoing challenge. Developing dynamic content calendars and real-time analytics informs you of what you need to know.
When you start, your exposure figures will be lower than you’d like. Promoting your work on social media through others can be an extremely effective solution. The ability to associate yourself with people who have invested in building an audience you seek to serve allows you a third-party microphone for your brand. At the same time, paying people with high follower counts is a slippery slope. Followers can be easily bought, and ads can be placed in poor contexts you would otherwise avoid with your brand.
The right network should bring you close to dozens of creative and popular social media creators who make excellent brand ambassadors – because they use your product. The content they generate is raw and unfiltered and the authenticity is unmatched. This is a route to take only when you have a product you strongly believe in and are willing to let it get analyzed by millions of individuals.
There is also an element of content that is truly top-tier. A division dedicated for when the need to do something extraordinary arises. This type of custom-branded content can come in various formats and serve diverse applications. How this ends up looking is up to your creative direction. We would share specifics of what we have done, but a lot of that was promised to be kept top secret for executives, leaders and VIPs.
Most of the content we have discussed so far has been external - the ways you’re telling your story to the masses. But how are you communicating your work inwards and upwards in your organization?
Any marketing campaign you develop doesn’t have its best chance to thrive without leadership buy-in. As a marketer, a massive part of your job is to ensure your company's wider leadership believes in and supports your campaigns from the top down. This level of consistency and iteration through your internal teams will make the world of difference and is a ratchet you can use to improve ROI on any campaign you are running.
Like custom content, this is an area we aren’t free to discuss as the programs we have hand-built for our clients are proprietary.
Document Your Work
If you don’t produce a recap for your campaign, did it ever happen?
And if you built a recap from a standard slide deck, would anyone open it?
Recap content should not be an afterthought just because it is the last thing you produce for a given campaign. For us, it is just as critical as the campaign itself because the recap allows you to spread the story to people who weren’t aware of your work. We know you will be ready to move on once a campaign is “finished.” We argue that a campaign isn’t finished until you summarize it in a beautiful recap that can be easily digested and shared across your organization.
Experiences allow your brand to interact, engage and connect with the people that matter most to your business – customers, partners and employees. These different stakeholders each provide your business with a unique value. The experiences you create need to approach each one in a similarly unique way that makes them leave saying “wow.” This can be achieved efficiently by taking existing assets, or strategically identifying new ones, and building unforgettable experiences.
These experiences are what bring your brand to life. On the large end of the scale, an event weekend becomes a massive brand experience designed to accommodate multiple tiers of stakeholders. Think of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like waving the green flag for your award-winning salesperson. Can’t-be-bought seats in the pits for a long-standing partner of yours. Private meet & greets with a custom thank you message for your employee of the year. Company-wide sales meeting the night before the race where your employees connect with their customers. All in one exciting event weekend that gets you off Zoom, out of the conference room, and into your brand.
Once you identify the type of experience you want to hold, you will need to assemble your budget and team of vendors to execute everything properly. From credentials to A/V to transportation, it takes a village to pull off the remarkable within constrained resources.
You could have the most remarkable event ever designed, but if it is a bad experience to get there or get home, anything you do will be overshadowed by that poor experience with logistics. Everything you create must be anchored by flawless commuting, transfers, checkins and other seemingly small things throughout the event.
Consider your guest’s entire experience from the moment they leave their home to the moment they return. Whatever you have control of will be layered with things outside of your control and a good host can zoom out to see this entire picture.
The unseen efforts of this extend to what must always be a priority at an event – safety. Nothing is fun if someone doesn’t feel safe. Be sure to arrive early to know the fastest routes to local healthcare and police if an emergency arrives. Connect with local law enforcement to be aware of anything happening in the area and have a quick-response plan that can be executed without delay. Hosts and guides should be AED/CPR/First-Aid certified and an AED should always be within a few minutes of guest groups. These precautions provide peace of mind, but they also showcase your preparedness on your guests’ behalf.
We wish we could tell you about the VIP experiences we have managed in Italy at Ferrari’s private test track, or the driving tour that ended up at Jay Leno’s garage, but you will have to take our word for it until you experience it with us.
It isn't just for flash. Sometimes the most productive business meetings happen when you can accompany your guest through the red ropes and onto the grid of an F1 Grand Prix. We have converted millions of dollars of business on behalf of our clients by developing thoughtful experiences for the right people.
If you know you want to do something special, but aren’t sure what that could be, we can make it happen for you. Our discovery process highlights opportunities that you may not know existed. Our network enables us to arrange things unavailable to the broader public.
Meet Exciting New Business Connections
An underlying benefit to engaging in sponsorship is the type of environment your brand will be installed into. Once you enter a particular sport, you will be referenced among some of the best organizations in the world across different disciplines. The individuals representing those brands at the race will be just like you - your counterparts. That means you just skipped a whole lot of follow-up to chat business simply by connecting with the right people in the right way.
Meeting someone in the paddock rather than on Zoom is always more meaningful and memorable.
This reality works from multiple angles. Are you looking to develop something highly technical? Or maybe you need to distribute your products to a particular market strategically? Depending on your business line, this is how you will leverage your sponsorship differently.
The world of sports offers remarkable opportunities to integrate your product, service or technology meaningfully. The industry has shifted dramatically from one based purely on marketing to one that requires deeper business relationships. This behind-the-scenes work of sports business is one of our favorite parts of how everything works. The closer you look across sports, especially motorsports, the more you will find a vibrant network of B2B relationships that tie activity in the sport to action in the office.
Making it to this point, you are well on your way to launching successful sponsorship programs. Remember to lead your brand to prioritize quality, partnerships and results while creating remarkable content and providing experiences that bring it all to life. Sometimes the most important element is what comes after all the work - a smart recap that reflects the campaign and connects with the right stakeholders.
Experiences continue to be an important part of connecting with customers, partners, and employees that must be well planned, safe and provide once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. With all these elements working in harmony, sponsorship provides the ultimate opportunity to connect with other businesses and develop meaningful relationships.
Questions For Your Next Team Meeting
- What should be the first steps toward launching a successful sponsorship program?
- How can we prioritize quality when developing a sponsorship program?
- What are some creative ways to integrate marketing assets across our entire organization?
- What elements should be considered when creating an experience for our customers, partners, and employees?
- What type of content produces the best results?
- What benefits can be gained by connecting with other businesses in the sport?
- How can recap content be used to reinforce our work internally?
See you out there.