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Getting hip to sponsorship

Once upon a time, the word "sponsorship" meant sports or entertainment ventures with Olympic-sized price tags. Today, sponsorships can be an innovative and cost-effective way to align your business with an event, group or cause that appeals to your target audience. Offering one-on-one exposure, publicity, on-site sampling and other promotional opportunities, event sponsorship is a power-packed medium filled with marketing possibilities.

Because events often attract attendees with very specific profiles or interests, savvy marketers can reach key audiences with laser-like precision. According to Todd Jameson, executive vice president of Indianapolis-based HSI Show Productions, a producer of trade and consumer shows, sponsorship marketing can be the ultimate win-win situation. "What other medium does all the outreach for you so you can spend time meeting your prospects face-to-face?" Jameson asks.

Sponsorships are an important part of your marketing mix, so here are some steps to take to protect your investment:

  • Examine the event's track record. Look for an event that's been around for several years and is likely to have an established audience. If the event is new, make sure the producer is reputable and experienced. Be sure to get details about the average attendance and attendees' demographic profiles. Many event marketers conduct exit surveys and other forms of on-site research to better target the event's marketing efforts, so see if this information is available for review. The more information you have, the better you'll be able to judge whether your sponsorship will be effective.
  • Check references. After speaking with the event producer, call some of the event's existing sponsors. Do their descriptions of the attendees match the profiles provided by the event producer? Did the last event run smoothly? Find out what they like --and don't like--about the event, its management and other factors.
  • Buy à la carte. Although an event may have existing sponsorship packages, these can often be customized to suit your needs. For instance, a sponsorship package may include 100 free tickets to the event for your customers. If you don't need those tickets, swap them for additional on-site signage or an ad in the event program.
  • Look for promotional opportunities. Discuss with the event producer how the event will be marketed. See if co-op advertising or additional on-site promotional opportunities exist. Can information about your company or a coupon be printed on the back of admission tickets, or can you offer a giveaway to the first 250 attendees?
  • Be unique. Try to guarantee that you're the only sponsor of your kind at the event. Your efforts will be most effective if you have no on-site competition.
  • Find out "what if?" Bad weather or acts of God can spell disaster for an event. Ask what provisions have been made for such situations. Some insurance companies provide event insurance, which protects you if the show doesn't go on. Also, check with your own insurance agent to make sure you're adequately covered for any potential liability.
  • Get it in writing. Make sure your agreement is itemized and that both parties sign the document. You may also want to have your attorney review the contract.

Gwen Moran is president of Moran Marketing Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency based in Ocean, New Jersey. E-mail her at

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Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Brought To You By ....

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