Sports Marketing

 This is Part Two of a two-part post.

Last week I issued the first half of this post where I spoke to how best to position your property with a potential sponsor and how to identify your prospective sponsor targets.  This second part addresses the actual sponsorship presentation and ways to make your presentation and initial introduction to the potential sponsor more productive.   If you haven’t read Part 1 or would like a refresher click here.

Take a Multipronged Approach to Selling

The obvious targets for selling properties are the brands themselves, but there are many other important influencers that you should consider talking to.  It all comes down to who is helping the brand teams make their plans.  These other constituents include the promotions or integrated marketing team and the brand’s promotion agency.  More often than not, the brand team provides the integrated marketing agency team with the creative brief to develop the big idea and execution elements.  If they have fallen in love with a sponsorship opportunity for some reason, they will then direct the agency towards that opportunity.  However, the more likely scenario is for the agency to present a sponsorship as part of a fully integrated plan.  If you haven’t spoken to the agency, then you’ll never be included.  Additionally, the alternative scenario is that you contact the brand manager and he passes you over to the internal promotions manager or the agency to filter and evaluate the opportunity.  In this case, be prepared to follow up with additional phone calls, especially with the agency as you are not their priority.  Persistence does pay off.

 Generic Presentations Are a Turnoff

This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves, second only to receiving sponsorship packages that have no relevance to my target audience.  As I mentioned previously, you must do your research and have an awareness of what the brand is doing in the marketplace.  Your sponsorship presentation should reflect that research.  Why is this sponsorship a good match for my target audience?  How could we activate it at retail?  Did you look at the website, and if so, how could it be integrated into the website activity?  Similar to resumes, you need something that is going to get my attention and help me connect how the property is going to resonate with my audience and help me sell product.  I have had people representing properties tell me they don’t want to waste their time doing this until they know the brand might be interested.  I totally get that, but a little personalization goes a long way to a brand considering your property.  Don’t forget to use my logo and spell my brand name correctly.   Managers don’t want to receive a proposal as part of a mass mailing.  It says you aren’t doing your homework and that just doesn’t sit right when most of the time the brand manager is spending a lot of money on the potential sponsorship.

 Don’t Ask What Our Plans Are or Who Our Target Audience Is

The phone conversation goes something like this:  “Hi, I am Joe Brown and I represent the “fill in the blank” tour.  Do you have a few minutes to discuss this opportunity?  So, could you tell me who you are targeting and the kinds of plans you have for this year?”  The answer will be that we don’t share our plans unless you are a partner.  I might tell them our target audience, but he/she has already lost me.  It’s a perfect example of a property not doing its research and being a weak salesperson.  One could argue that the salesperson is looking to engage me in conversation, but with limited time to talk, the conversation has to be a productive one, and this type of conversation will be more productive for the salesperson than me.

A Professional-looking Proposal is Important

You would think this is a no-brainer, but it isn’t.  For big properties and the agencies who represent them, this is second nature.  Then there are the others.  I have received two-page printed documents selling a car-racing team.  I have received emails with basic attachments for a beach volleyball tournament and a presentation that was nothing but a bunch of photos and some basic descriptions, but very little that told me what the benefits of the sponsorship were.  In truth, many of these small properties would benefit from a seasoned marketer to provide them with some guidance.  At times, I have provided them with feedback when they actually got me on the phone. Most of the time, these poor proposals end up in the circular file.  These smaller guys are really appreciative of the feedback as I get the feeling they are not experienced in getting national sponsors.

 No matter what you are selling, it takes perseverance and professionalism.  Selling sponsorships isn’t any different.  The reality is that those selling these properties have rarely, if ever, been on the other side of the desk and don’t have a real idea of what motivates the client.  Hopefully, this post provides some much needed insights that will result in a higher success rate.  Don’t throw the spaghetti at the wall because it really won’t stick.  Use a methodical and researched approach, and you will have a higher success rate with the results reflecting the effort exerted for each sponsor target.

If you are a property looking for some help or guidance, please do not hesitate to contact me at szweibaum@marketing-smith.com.

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This is Part One of a two-part post.

The phone rings.  You look at the number and don’t recognize it.  You are desperately trying to finish a presentation your boss wants by tomorrow.  You decide to let the call go to voicemail.  At 5:35 p.m., you finally find time to listen to all 12 messages, but really are ready to go home. 

Message 1 –  “Hi, this is John Brown, and I am calling about a great sponsorship opportunity that will be a great fit for your brand….”  You delete John Brown’s message without even thinking about returning the call.  Why?  The sponsorship was for a women’s tennis tour, and your brand’s target audience is teens.  It’s not a fit.

You take a quick look at your desk’s in-box and all the mail the mailroom has dumped there.  A big white envelope containing information about a concert tour sponsorship is buried on the bottom.  You decide this deserves a deeper look, as it could be interesting given that your target audience and the concert tour audience are the same demographic.  But after a cursory read, it goes into the garbage.  Why?  It’s January, and the concert tour starts in May.  Your budget is done, and this won’t fit into your marketing plans that were completed six months ago. 

To someone making those phone calls or sending the envelope, the above scenarios will seem very discouraging.  The reality is that selling sponsorship and endorsement packages is really hard and the success rate low. 

That said, the callers and senders could make their lives easier and improve their success rate if they would just stop throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping a strand will stick.  I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted those messages and thrown out that envelope.  I probably got at least three a day as a promotion director for a variety of CPG companies with some very well-known brands.  What I learned from talking to friends selling these sponsorships is that they just don’t understand what the brand teams are thinking and how to approach them.  They think that if they keep calling, eventually the brand will talk to them.  All they need to do is make the pitch and voila.  These brand managers might listen if they pick up the phone, but it will be a short conversation if the property isn’t a fit for the product, etc. 

So how can you end this frustrating back-and-forth for both sides? Based on my experiences, I have put together some key strategies for properties to make their sales efforts more productive.  It takes more upfront research, but it increases your chances of being listened to and not ignored.

 It’s All about the Target Audience

Every brand has a target audience, and that includes the brand’s psychographic as well as the demographic.  The key to getting a brand interested is making sure your property and its target audience resonate with the brand’s target.  If it doesn’t, that phone conversation will end before you even have a chance to describe your program.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, too many salespeople tend to cast a very wide net.  They have a list of all these big brands which the property thinks will have the dollars to spend against the sponsorship.  They call the brands, thinking this property is a great fit for the brand because this is just the best property and will get the brand so much in return.  What I wanted to say so often was, “Have you seen our advertising?  Our target is moms with kids, and your property is a monster truck rally!  Do you really think that’s a good fit?”

It’s ok to make a list of target brands, but make sure you do your research about those brands and then call.  Look at their advertising, read their Facebook page, follow their Tweets.  See what promotions they have run in the past and how they connect to their consumers.  Determine if they have invested in sponsorship in the past, and don’t assume that because they sponsored tennis, they will sponsor tennis again.  Are they sampling product and does your property have the vehicles this potential sponsor will want?  You should only contact those brands which truly will be open to a property such as yours.

 Timing is Important

As a general rule of thumb, marketing plans are developed starting eight to 12 months prior to the new fiscal year.  In some cases, especially with a new product launch, that window can go as far back as 18 months.  There are exceptions and sometimes money does become available during the year, but it is unlikely those dollars will go to a sponsorship.  When a property is looking for a sponsor for a program that is just six months away, it is going to be difficult for the brand to activate it.  A strong strategic plan will have integrated components that fit a common idea or theme, and the chances that your property fits into an established theme are slim.  The easy rule is to make sure that what you are selling is something that has at least a 12-month window before activation.  That way, either the property can become part of the big idea OR the property becomes the cornerstone of a larger integrated plan.  Also, these decisions are ones that companies take their time making and you generally can’t expect to get quick sign-ons.  It just doesn’t work that way.

 It Rarely is a Single Sport Platform

When I worked on a suncare brand, we sponsored beach volleyball, which was a great fit for the brand at the time.  However, every property having to do with beach volleyball or another beach sport (beach tennis, anyone?) started contacting us.  The pitch was the same – “We see you are sponsoring beach volleyball, and we have this volleyball tournament …”  The reality was that we sponsored that specific tour for specific reasons and our overall platform was not beach sports or beach volleyball.  The sponsorship was a means of promoting the efficacy of our brand, and it did not mean we were committed to volleyball or any other beach sport.  If you look at brands that have large sports or entertainment sponsorship sponsorships (i.e., Amex, Bank of America, Nike), they usually have a broad platform because they are looking for ways to reach their target audience and one sport won’t reach everybody.  The exception to that rule is a product designed specifically for one sport.  While your property may be the perfect brand fit, you will also be competing with all the other properties in that sport.  Alternately, a brand will sponsor one big tournament (US Open Tennis) or concert tour (Lady Gaga) because it is nationally reaching and part of an integrated program.   

 Local vs. National

Many companies have a different attitude toward local and charitable sponsorships in the community in which they have their headquarters or production facilities as opposed to big national sponsorships.  Cost comparisons aside, companies like to give back to their local communities, whether financially or through the donation of time.  If you are a local event without national reach, then focus on the companies nearest to you.  I live in the same town as a national tea company.  They are always sponsoring charity and local sporting events, but never a national program.  For them, it is about giving back to their local community.  I have also seen companies participate in the local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, but not participate at the national level.  Again, take a look at what the company has done in the past to get a sense if they will even be open to your property.

It Has To Be More than Impressions and Media

Once upon a time, it was all about media impressions.  Not anymore.  In fact, I would argue there are more important considerations for a company, even though a company participating would see overall reach as very important.  In evaluating a property, how much media supports it is less important to me than how I can leverage the property with my retail partners, how can it help me get product samples in the hands of consumers and how many of those going to the event are in my target audience.  Many brands use sponsorships to get products in the hands of their consumers and will evaluate success based on the number of specific touchpoints the consumer has with the brand.  So, does your property have sampling opportunities, is there a place for an interactive booth or vehicle and how will the consumer experience the brand other than seeing the logo?  Don’t get me wrong, seeing the logo everywhere is great, but it is about connecting the experience and the brand to the consumer.  Additionally, is there any way to conduct market research to help determine success?  Can I link to a website? Can I develop an integrated program to support it? How much access will I have to performers or participants to visit retailers?  All of this becomes important as I evaluate ROI.  Media impressions are only part of that ROI equation, since it is hard to equate impressions to sales. 

In Part Two I will address some specifics in the presentation itself and some direction in approaching the potential sponsor.

If you are a property looking for some help or guidance on how to develop effective sponsorship packages or a company needing help evaluating properties, please contact me at szweibaum@marketing-smith.com.

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Using Social Media to Put Bodies in Seats: How the Cleveland Indians Are Creating Buzz

June 3, 2011

If you are a sports fan or just know one, you know a fan’s passion for his or her team and favorite sport runs deep.  Trust me, I am a sports widow whose husband lives for his teams.   The growth of social media has given these rabid fans – as well as casual ones – […]

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