value-added programs

Strong Partnerships Can Drive Sales

by Susan Zweibaum on January 11, 2012

Yesterday, while reading my New York Times I came across an offer that just blew my socks off and made me wonder if it wasn’t almost too extreme.  However, upon further thought I realized that this promotion was perfect for a few reasons that I will get to shortly.

So, what is this amazing offer?  How about a free Nook?  Seriously.  It was a full-page ad offering a free Nook Simple Touch (the basic, not color) with a full-year Nook subscription to the New York Times.   The offer also showed up in an email offer from Barnes & Noble.   And for those wanting the more tablet style product, you could also get $99 off a Nook Color instead.   What made this offer so interesting was the partnership between the New York Times and Barnes & Noble and the way that the New York Times was leveraging their digital assets, something that has been key to their recent success in the marketplace. 

Truthfully, this isn’t anything new.  Think of getting discounted or free phones when you sign up for mobile phone service.  However, this is the first time an e-reader and a digital content provider have linked together to create such an offer.

Let’s take a closer look at the offer and why it makes sense from both the Barnes & Noble and the New York Times standpoints.


This is the key to the whole story, and while I still want to talk about the marketing side, none of that matters if the ROI isn’t there.  A Nook Simple Touch costs $99.  A one-year Nook subscription to the NY Times is $239.88.  It is likely that the cost of the Nook is being funded by the New York Times and likely at a discounted rate, but I don’t know this for a fact.  I can also tell you that People Magazine is doing a similar offer, but their subscription is only $119.88 and I read that People and B&N are sharing the cost.  This makes sense as the ROI wouldn’t be there for People if it hadn’t shared the expense of the e-readers.   No matter how you slice it, this becomes a win-win for both parties, although an expensive initial outlay for the New York Times.  While not knowing the costs associated with the digital subscription, I am venturing that the New York Times is still making money.  Additionally, most people will likely renew their subscription once they have it, leading to a more long-term proposition and repeat sales (the key to any promotion).  From the B&N standpoint, a person who has an e-reader is going to continue to buy books and other subscriptions, which in turn drives their revenue up as well.

 The Buzz

Somewhat surprisingly, B&N beat Amazon to this kind of offer.  The reason I see this as surprising is that Amazon has historically been the innovator in this market and has the greater marketshare.  How likely do you think Amazon will construct a copycat deal?  Fairly likely, especially if they see it working in terms of an increase in Nook sales.  They will do anything to make sure they continue to be the leader.  Nook is behind in overall e-reader sales, but the kind of buzz this offer generates can only help them grow sales and market share.  Combine that with the good reviews the Nook has gotten and you have a winning formula.   Let me state, however, that there are some blog posts and news items taking a slightly cynical approach to the offer.  For instance, they suggest you would only take advantage of this offer if you were already thinking about a New York Times e-reader subscription.  Others have pointed to the fact that B&N has hinted of spinning off the Nook to a separate group citing lower than expected sales.  They all may have a point, but the partnership is the key here and it is a good strategy for both to attempt this kind of promotion.  Brands in second place often need to step out of the box to generate attention and sales when they are competing with such a behemoth as Amazon.

Let’s not forget the buzz this offer is creating for the New York TimesThis offer is another example of how they are utilizing their digital content to reach more customers and in a different way.  What’s more, there are a myriad number of stories on the Net talking about this offer.  It is all positive buzz for B&N and the New York Times.


Good partnerships drive good promotions.  Why do you think companies sponsor events and teams and have endorsement deals?  In this case, the New York Times is looking to grow their digital subscribership and need a partner to deliver it.  You can get the on any computer, but an e-reader is different; you need a subscription.  Giving the consumer the reader if they get a subscription is a great way to drive subscriptions.  Sort of like when razor companies give away the razor handle in order to drive razor blade sales (which is where they make all their money anyway).    

Only time will tell if this is successful and if Amazon will follow suit.  In the meantime, I hope the winning formula proves itself to be a way to drive long-term sales for both B&N and the New York Times.


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


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