Event_Sponsorship_body.jpgby Erin O'Donnnell.


Warmer weather means more fun runs and festivals—and more requests to small business owners for their sponsorship. Done well, sponsorship marketing can help you target niche markets and build brand awareness, especially in your local market. But it takes more than putting your logo on a banner. Here’s how to spot an effective sponsorship opportunity and make it work to your brand’s advantage:


Choose affiliations wisely

Sponsoring an event signals that your business shares an affinity with an organization, says Mark G. Auerbach, a public relations professional in western Massachusetts. When he developed the sponsorship program for a public radio station, he says, he wanted to make sure the events the station sponsored were the right match for its mission.  “As a public radio station, we were unlikely to sponsor a wrestling match,” he says.


Carla Wood, founder of the ALL Strategy business leadership program based in Vancouver, B.C., adds that an effective affiliation can serve as a referral. “If a potential client is passionate about this organization and you’re sponsoring it consistently, then you have a connection,” Wood says. The converse is also true: avoid partnering with a group that could lead to negative associations with your brand.


Know what you’re getting in return

Sponsorship has a return on investment, Wood says. Here’s how to make sure it works in your business’s favor:

  • Events allow you to target a niche market. Make sure your target client group is present at the event or will be reached by it.
  • Determine what kind of exposure your brand will receive. Ask for the organization to mention your firm in social media posts, or to give your business cards or fliers to participants. Auerbach also suggests offering more in exchange for exclusivity: To be the event’s only sponsoring accountant or sporting goods store, for example.
  • Be involved in the event. Ask if you can set up a booth to gain exposure to potential customers. “It’s a pretty grassroots approach to building a business,” Wood says.
  • Publicize your participation to people in your own marketing database, and encourage them to attend or get involved.




Don’t feel pressured to answer a request over the phone, or to accept the sponsorship package as is, Wood says. Consider the proposal in private, and offer a counter proposal if you wish.


Budget and plan

Include sponsorship in your company’s marketing budget and stick to it. This will also help you handle multiple requests and decline gracefully, Wood says. It also helps to publicize the types of requests your firm accepts, as Wood does with ALL Strategy’s Generosity Alliances, an initiative that details the kind of organizations and causes that her company supports.


Finally, Wood says, don’t confuse sponsorship with philanthropy. “If that’s your choice, be generous,” she says. “But if you’re doing it for a strategic business purpose, there’s a different follow-up to make it valuable.”


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