In an era of massive sponsorship clutter, many sponsors believe that if their investments are going to have a real impact – to “break through the clutter” – they need to sponsor at a high level. I’ve heard the phrase, “Go big or go home”, espoused at more sponsorship conferences than I can count. And while I understand the fired-up, chest-beating appeal of the phrase, the implication that only high-level sponsorships will deliver big returns is flatly wrong.
Before I go on, let me say that I’ve got absolutely no issue with big, high-level sponsorships, if they’ll be leveraged in a manner that will make the most of that enormous platform. But you really don’t need to be a huge sponsor to get big results against your objectives.
Even so, I consistently hear sponsors limiting themselves. For whatever reason – politics, budget, whatever – they’ve negotiated a low-level sponsorship, and then they resign themselves to commensurately mediocre results. That has to stop, and stop right now. Sponsorship is far more about what you do with a sponsorship than the actual level and benefits conferred. In other words…
Acting your level is for chumps.
One very effective way to make a small sponsorship punch way above its weight is to use ambush marketing techniques to expand your leverageable platform. The technique is called “ambushing up” and I very highly recommend it.
Stop thinking your level limits your results
If you’ve chosen the sponsorship well, then what you’re sponsoring will be relevant to a significant portion of your target market, and if you look at the larger themes around the property, you can probably cast that net even wider. That relevance is what creates a leverageable opportunity, not whatever limited set of benefits you have.
Think of it this way: Strategic ambush marketers – the ones who get actual results from ambush marketing – manage do it without any sponsorship benefits at all. Just imagine what you can do with your genuine sponsorship if you apply some of their thinking.
So, unless the property is extremely niche, with very narrow relevance, you’ve probably got all of the ingredients you need to make it operate as a much larger sponsorship. Now, you just need a plan to make it punch way above its weight.
Plan leverage like an ambusher
Let’s face it, nobody likes being ambushed, but we also have to admit that there is a bit of a salacious thrill around ambush marketing. It’s clever, controversial, it’s not illegal, and when done strategically, it really works. What we’re going to do is apply that same thinking to your smaller sponsorships, minus most of the controversy, as you are a genuine sponsor.
You want to get together some of your smartest, most creative team members. This is not a time to fill a room with pessimistic bureaucrats. You then need to set out:
- How ambush marketing works – It’s about achieving objectives and adding value to the fan experience, creating a “win” for the fans. It’s not about sneaking a logo into an event, pretending you’re a sponsor when you’re not, or how close you can get to breaking the law.
- The overall marketing objectives that you are trying to achieve – perceptions and behaviours you want to change – with this sponsorship.
- The market segments you’re targeting with this sponsorship.
If you were really ambushing, you’d need to assess what your competitor was doing with the sponsorship, but as you’re not, there’s no reason to go through that step.
Now, pretend you’re not a sponsor, but an ambusher. You get no benefits and no access to the property. Brainstorm the following:
- What are all of the best things about the fan experience? The worst things? Remember, the fan experience includes everything about being a fan, not just the experience at the event or in the stadium.
- If they could have anything, what would our target markets want from this fan experience? These things may or may not be realistic. Your goal is to try to get inside the heads of the fans – what would be the perfect experience?
- What are all of our brand touchpoints (ie, what are all the ways people come in contact with our brand)
The above becomes your raw materials. Now, you do the real brainstorm:
- How can we amplify the best things? Ameliorate the worst?
- Can we provide what they’re after? If not, can we get them closer?
- What brand touchpoints can we integrate this across?
Once you’ve collected a white board full of ideas, put your benefits back on the table. Say, “Okay, we’ve got some great ideas here. Is there anything else we could do, or any ideas we can improve, with the addition of these benefits and the ability to call ourselves a sponsor?”
There is more to it, but this is the basic crux of the process. If you want the full process, step-by-step, you should get a copy of The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit.
Ensure all of your leverage is good for the fans
When I said above that ambushing up is mostly not controversial, I was referring to the total lack of media-worthy debate or outrage that will come as a result of the strategy. That doesn’t mean that everyone will be happy with this approach. The bigger sponsors of the property, for instance, may well get their undies in a knot when they see you getting such a great result from a small sponsorship. They may then put pressure on the sponsee to rein you in.
Don’t fall for this. You’re not doing anything wrong.
To mitigate the issue, there are two angles you can take, and I recommend taking both of them:
- Ensure all (or virtually all) of your leverage plans create a “win” for the fans. If you’re actively making the fan experience better, then you and your plans become a valued asset to the sponsee. In other words, you’re on the high road. For more on win-win-win sponsorship, download my white paper, “Last Generation Sponsorship”.
- Respond to any sponsee concerns by pointing out that you’re simply making the most of the assets you’ve got, which they should be supporting. And if they’re getting any flack from the bigger sponsors, it’s a far better strategy to work with those sponsors to make the most of their much bigger leverageable platform, rather than curtailing your results.
If there are contracted rules, don’t break them
Before you do any of this, be sure that you read the contract and you’re aware of any specific rules that you can’t break. For instance, sponsors of many professional sporting teams are prohibited from running promotions outside of the geographic catchment of the team. That doesn’t stop them creating content in social media that is available to anyone online, but they can’t run promotions outside of the geographic area.
Be aware of any contracted limitations on your leverage options, but also be aware that there are many, many ways to get a result without doing a handful of specific things.
Negotiate only for the benefits you need
If you want to sponsor something, but you can only come in at a lower level, do your leverage planning (ie, pretend ambush planning) before you negotiate. Then, you can negotiate for only the benefits you need, and not a bunch of stock-standard benefits that don’t suit your plans.
Don’t negotiate for more signage or tickets than you need. Instead, aim for benefits that will offer multiple options for leverage. For more on this, see “Sponsorship Benefits Every Sponsor Should Want”.
You can decide you’re going to accept mediocre results from your smaller sponsorships, but accepting that as a foregone conclusion does your brand a disservice.
If you want to get great results from a smaller sponsorship, it’s time to bust out your inner evil genius and ambush up!
Need more assistance?
For all you need to know about best practice sponsorship selection, leverage, measurement, management, and more, you may want to get a copy of The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit.
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