From the May 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

Each spring, fair weather brings a new crop of outdoor events to compete for your company's marketing dollars. Community fairs, street festivals, parades, outdoor concerts, races and other sporting events all present enticing opportunities for sponsorships that can shine a spotlight on your business--if you know how to avoid getting lost in the crowd. Follow these four rules for choosing the most productive sponsorships.

Reach your target audience in sufficient numbers
Your first step in evaluating a potential sponsorship is to look at the projected attendees. Go beyond the attendance numbers and request a demographic breakdown, even if it's only an informal one. If just a small percentage of attendees fit the profile of your customers, you may be wasting your marketing dollars.

For example, a high-end interior design firm that had newly relocated to the trendy, upscale retail area of Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, took a small booth in the annual holiday street festival that drew thousands of visitors to the area. But because the vast majority of festival goers were not qualified prospects (highly affluent homeowners), the design firm not only wasted staff time and marketing materials, but also damaged its fledgling efforts at positioning by appearing to target a mass audience.

Choose events that match your marketing goals
That interior design firm would have gotten better results by sponsoring an event such as a professional tennis tournament. The event's high-end image and affluent attendees would have matched the company's goal of positioning itself as a top choice for prospects with $100,000-plus design budgets.

Suppose you owned a children's clothing store. An outdoor carnival would be an excellent sponsorship opportunity because you could engage parents and kids in child-friendly activities--from face painting to games--that would advance your goal of building goodwill, positive word-of-mouth and name recognition for your store.

Select events that generate maximum visibility
Don't get lost in the crowd. Rather than spreading your budget thin by taking minor sponsorships in half a dozen outdoor events, maximize your impact with just one or two events in which your company can play prominent roles.

As a major event sponsor, for example, you might be allowed to hang a large banner at the entrance to the event or speak at the podium. You might also have your company promoted in the event program, get your logo on the event website and have your information included in press releases.

Look for events with media potential
One of the most significant benefits of event sponsorship is positive press coverage. Mount your own campaign to reach the press before, during and after the event. Start by creating a press list and extending invitations to print and broadcast media. You can create articles for placement in local print media and schedule pre-event interviews. And negotiate with the event organizers to be included in their promotional releases.

During events such as festivals and races, have local TV crews and newspaper photographers turn out to shoot coverage. Also, take your own fun photos and distribute them to local newspapers with a short press release or article. That will spread your story even further, ensuring maximum return on your marketing dollars.