Potential Sponsors Looking for Customization, Integration, and R.O.I.

As corporations looking more closely at their spending, planners working to secure event sponsorships say they need to find innovative ways to create meaningful experiences for the attendees and the companies involved. “The days of simply putting a company's logo on a dinner package have gone by the wayside. Sponsorships today need to be related to a return on investment,” said Joel Hock, president and founder of Solutions With Impact, a Toronto-based event management company that has planned events like the Bell Celebrity Gala and the Rally for Kids With Cancer Scavenger Cup.

“If you're looking for $250,000, then you better have a compelling story why that organization should be participating," he said. "It needs to align with their market strategy and their demographic and their positioning. You have to make sure when you make that presentation that you're trying to hit as many of their touch points as possible."

Offering unique experiences to corporations that provide funding is one tactic Hock has used to secure sponsorships. “Even though [a company is the] presenting sponsor and they get all the entitlements that come with that particular sponsorship, usually we've had to come up with a twist to add something over and above,” he said. “On some occasions it's a completely separate second event that we execute for them at a later point in time." Hock has put on parties and meet-and-greets, some in a sponsoring company's headquarters with N.F.L., N.B.A., or Olympic athletes. “Each one of them would be in the tens of thousands of dollars to execute on their own, but being able to have some leverage to offer those very creative initiatives is a way that we've found to be successful in terms of generating some sponsors."

Chitra Anand, planning and communications director for Telus, said companies are reassessing all levels of sponsorship and taking a closer look at where to put their money—and where to pull it. “I think this is driven by more than just the hard economy right now. I think there is a greater shift in companies becoming more responsible in where they spend their sponsorship and event dollars,” she said. “Sponsorship activity and events should be leveraged as tools for organizations.”

Anand said companies are moving away from just throwing great parties and instead looking at how to leverage events and sponsorships as tools. “At Telus we have a very simple model,” she said. The telecommunications company, which recently supported the Luminato Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity, looks for sponsorship opportunities that have a connection to arts and culture, education and sport, and health and well-being in the environment, Anand explained.

“Does the initiative align to our strategy? Will it impact positively our brand awareness in the marketplace? How will it impact our customers? Will it drive employee engagement? We take a very holistic approach [when assessing sponsorship opportunities],” she said.

Marc Lotenberg, C.E.O. and founder of the Los Angeles-based 944 Media, said sponsors are looking for the same things he's looking to achieve when 944 magazine hosts a gathering. “Basically, when we're sponsoring an event and it's just for 944, we want to brand ourselves.”

With every event, Lotenberg said the publication aims to “bring our magazine to life and let people experience it rather than just giving out a media kit... Sponsors are definitely looking for the same thing. They want to see their brand come to life and they want to make sure their brand is protected.”

Mary Ann Rose, president of the Chicago-based Tamar Productions, said sponsorships are getting smaller. “Banks that would write a $25,000 check are now writing $5,000 checks,” she said. “Sponsors are looking for smaller charities and events where their donation can have the most impact; sponsors are looking for places where their money will mean the most.”

According to Rose, sponsors expectations have increased as companies want more recognition. “Every piece of collateral will have the sponsor's name on it. Smaller charities and events offer sponsors the unique opportunity to co-brand and ally with their goodwill. It’s no longer the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, it’s the Harris Magnificent Mile Lights Festival,” she said.

Rose also said sponsors are increasingly favoring in-kind donations. “One of my sponsors offered tickets to a Bulls game for our silent auction. Those box seats still raise a great deal of money, but it’s not like they’re taking the donation out of their bottom line,” she said, noting that sponsors may not be willing to write the big check, but they will underwrite specific things. “Sponsorship today means more people involved at smaller levels.”

Yung Moon, associate publisher of creative services at Self magazine, said participating in an event like the publication's annual Workout in the Park—which drew 6,000 women to Central Park in New York for a full day of programming in early May—offers sponsors good value for money. “We're inviting our advertisers to take advantage of the fact we have this unique event,” she said, noting that advertisers love that the event reaches an audience of 12,000 women in New York, Chicago, and San Diego each spring.

“My goal is to create an experience where the consumer walks away feeling good about the Self brand and about the advertisers involved," she said. Attendees at this year's event had the opportunity to get Maybelline makeovers, have their hair done by Garnier, and pick up product samples from the likes of Jello and Smartfood. “I think what sponsors are really looking for is an integrated experience, an opportunity to reach their goals of touching consumers in a unique way."

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