I’ve lost count of the number of sponsors I’ve worked with who managed their community sponsorship portfolio separately from their other sponsorships. In most cases, their “commercial” sponsorships were managed by the sponsorship or brand team, while their community sponsorships were managed by corporate relations (or similar). Different teams, different agendas, different KPIs.
This is so common, it could almost be called the norm, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. In fact, by approaching sponsorship this way, you’re doing a disservice to your brand, the power of sponsorship, and your communities.
This approach usually stems from the misguided idea that some sponsorships are for achieving “real” objectives – objectives that build the brand and sell stuff – and other sponsorships are for ticking the box. What box? The “social responsibility” box. The “giving back to the community box”. The “halo” box.
But why are you really “giving back to the community”? It’s not altruism. If it were true altruism, you wouldn’t bother telling anyone about it. No, you’re doing it for a reason, and that reason will be driven by the same three objectives as any other sponsorship:
While sponsors will use different types of sponsorship in different ways to achieve these goals, the process of pinpointing the meaning and relevance, leveraging, and measuring those sponsorships is exactly the same.
Unfortunately, when community sponsorships are hived off from the rest of the sponsorship portfolio, leverage is often cursory, throwing back to the bad old days of doing a media release, some photo ops, a bit of “proud sponsor of” action on social media, and a photo in the annual report. Boom, done.
Community sponsorships can be extremely powerful marketing platforms, rife with all of the ingredients critical to making best practice, disruptive sponsorship work. But making it work takes leverage – the same kind of leverage your other sponsorships enjoy – and if you’re phoning it in, you’re investing for virtually no return. (What’s “disruptive sponsorship”? Read, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.)
If you’re still thinking that community sponsorships are different, have a good look at your current portfolio. Is a community sponsorship really that much of an outlier? Look at the professional sports, the solar race, and the multicultural festival you sponsor. Look at the industry events, the theatre company, and the fun run.
Whatever your portfolio looks like, it’s already diverse. Including your community sponsorships is just a natural extension of that diversity.
While we’re on the topic of diversity, sponsorship success relies heavily on creative thinking. The most creative people are the ones who have been exposed to a diverse range of sponsorships and other marketing initiatives, and use that catalogue of ideas as a springboard for new thinking.
If you want to achieve the best result from any sponsorship, you want a person or team that has a broad range of experience working on it, so they can pull ideas and strategies from all categories of sponsorship, and understand how all of the pieces of leverage and measurement work together.
Managing community sponsorships as the marketing powerhouses they are is also much better for your partners. If you asked any of those community partners whether they’d rather have $50,000, or $50,000 plus the sponsor proactively telling their stories, extending their market, using crowdsourcing and other strategies to get people interested in, and aligned with, what they’re about, and making their people the heroes, they will clearly pick the latter.
When it comes right down to it, sponsorship isn’t about the buckets the investments fall into. It’s not about how much sports vs arts vs community sponsorships. It isn’t about what you’re sponsoring at all. It’s about understanding and connecting with your target markets through something that’s meaningful to them. I say it all the time: Meaning is sponsorship’s superpower.
Meaning doesn’t discriminate. People can be just as passionate about a community centre or recycling initiative as they are about a sport or major festival. Use that. Sponsor what’s meaningful to your target markets, whatever that may be.
Even if you’ve got your community sponsorships being managed in the same team, there may be a temptation to split that workload by sponsorship category, so one person is managing your biggest sports property, someone else is managing community investments, another is managing industry events and associations, and so on. But this is also counterproductive, as it’s putting artificial barriers around categories, and limiting lateral thinking and creativity.
It’s much more efficient to divide the workload by market segment. That way, you’re not looking at your team to be experts in managing particular types of sponsorship, but allowing them to develop a deep understanding of one or more market segments, so they can apply that insight to achieve the relevance and results you need.
You may be interested in my white papers, “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.
If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive sponsorship capacity-building service for large and/or diverse organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.
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