Smarter Marketing Blog

Sponsorship Engagement won’t be effective if left to chance.

questioning sponsorship engagement

Sponsorship tips for all parties – even the guerillas.

In today’s high-speed world, is your sponsorship activity engaging enough to cut through the noise? Like all elements of a successful marketing campaign, sponsorship engagement needs to be authentic. When people are aware of your involvement – authenticity ensures a better chance that they will believe in you. And they might even care that you are a sponsor.

Honesty, passion and uniqueness may well be marketing ‘buzzwords’ nowadays but even so, they must form the basis of your sponsorship engagement. As a consequence, if they are not elements of your sponsorship portfolio, people will not change their attitude or ultimately, their behaviour. This defeats the marketing purpose in the first place.

A big step towards making sponsorship engagement genuine is if it is made accessible and inclusive. – O’C&K

In my day, a question I always asked the AIB Bank sponsorship team, when we were evaluating a particular involvement was, “if we weren’t involved, would it make any difference”? Our advice now? – do the research and if your target audience doesn’t mind if you sponsor something or not – pull out. By the way, I’ve long been a supporter of the word ‘partnership’ rather than ‘sponsorship’ – but that argument is probably for another day.

Aidan and myself were talking at a student forum earlier today (BICS Forum), discussing the difference between sponsorship and fundraising. The main points we made about sponsorship is that a) it is a joint marketing activity and b) it is a partnership (see slide below), where the partner, the rights holder and the audience become completely interdependent over a sustained period of time.

engaging sponsorship model

Our mantra, in this regard, is that it is always more than ‘just about the money’.- O’C&K

Unfortunately, to this day, sponsors use events just to raise their profile and are disappointed when research shows apathy towards their brand, amongst the targeted public. Brands must demonstrate the ‘why’ of their involvement and ‘how’ it is relevant to people. Otherwise, it is an engagement opportunity lost and at worst, a waste of time and money.

Logo exposure is NOT sponsorship.

As already alluded to, in its simplest form – sponsorship has two objectives: changing people’s attitude (or perception) and thereafter, people’s behaviour. Smart sponsors know that placing a logo on a shirt or pitch-side hoarding does not contribute to either of these objectives.

The word ‘leverage’ is used to describe what a brand does to make a sponsorship work towards achieving its business objectives. Good leveraging focuses on aligning and connecting the brand with the target market and most of all – it adds value to people’s experience. It is easier for brands not to leverage their sponsorships because it costs less and it appears very measurable (eyeballs, opportunities-to-see etc.), and that’s where the ‘numbers’ people win (and the brand loses).

When a sponsorship is creative (online and offline) and strategic (based on business objectives) it becomes the most flexible, and in our opinion, unparalleled marketing medium there is.

Here is a list of questions that a sponsor should ask before deciding to engage:

  • Is the target market relevant to my business objectives and will we have we direct access?
  • Could we get similar exposure without this partnership or what unique exposure will we get?
  • Is there a natural ‘fit’ for us and will the audience care, if we sponsor it or not?
  • Are competitors involved and if not – why wouldn’t we do it?

The sponsorship game is changing.

As we meet with more and more clients, who are planning events, we are stressing that they must create a seamless, multi-channel experience around their event, that is measurable.

Event owners are struggling a little bit with the advent of technology. The rights-holders (and their agencies) are required to develop integrated communication campaigns that facilitate ‘sharing’ online. Fans / supporters / viewers are demanding more ‘ownership’ through interactivity of their team.

Rights owners must facilitate this change and relinquish the old model of considering the fan base to be a ‘wallet’. They must treat them more as brand partners (e.g. Leinster Rugby). For sponsors, this is a very welcome development. Now they can integrate their own involvement within the narrative and, as mentioned above, drive interdependency and eventual brand affinity.

In fact, the involvement is even more measurable as website visits, Instagram uploads or app usage for instance, can be measured in detail. The provision of content has also become a welcome ‘value exchange’ element of a partnership.

How about guerilla marketing and sponsorship?

Guerilla marketing is a form of marketing and not one that should be ignored. The difference is that it uses unconventional advertising methods to differentiate a brand amongst others. Many ‘signed-up’ sponsors see it as a cheap way to cash-in on an event etc. In our eyes, an existing sponsor should be on top of their game anyway and thereby make the ‘pretenders’ look like an add-on.

This type of marketing can be as simple as car stickers or promotional gifts being handed out but, just like all forms of marketing – it needs to be fresh and memorable. Let’s face it, any advertising needs to be seen to be effective. So what guerrilla marketing focuses on is, it been seen in a different way especially by being public and in the right place to surprise and to build hype. The one caveat is that it must not annoy.

It should also be remembered that this form of marketing activity still only serves to raise awareness. A brand needs to follow it up by providing people with an added value experience. This is where the ‘signed-up’ sponsors should be able to win the battle for hearts and minds. Through the sponsorship, they have a captive audience –  if they leverage it correctly.

Tips and Timesavers.

The most important thing about sponsorship is that all parties involved; the brand, the partner and the audience, must gain value from the activity.

Rights holders:

  • Don’t mix up the financial shortfall of the event with the potential value of the sponsorship
  • Customise your sponsorship introduction letter and proposal
  • Look for a long term investment and not ‘go-away’ money
  • At the first meeting – stop selling and listen to what the sponsor is looking for
  • Provide the sponsor with ‘leverage’ ideas, based on your experience of the event
  • Do not assume that you know what the sponsor’s business objectives are
  • Remember – sponsors don’t care about you – they care about your audience


  • All sponsorship decisions should be based on business objectives
  • Ensure that all internal disciplines have access to the sponsorship
  • Agree a budget for leverage (1:1 is good), or you should not get involved
  • Be creative and strategic and measure your leverage activity
  • Agree with the rights owner what success will look like for all parties
  • Ensure that the sponsorship ‘fits’ your overall marketing strategy
  • Check that the timing is dovetailing rather than overlapping other sponsorship activity


From both the rights holder and the sponsor’s point of view, the most important element of any partnership is the audience. It is only when the sponsor and the sponsee collaborate on leveraging, for the benefit of the audience, will the ‘deal’ be sustainable.

People often ask us should in-kind sponsors be treated in the same way as cash sponsors and our answer is always – yes! But whatever type of sponsor you are or have, keep engaging with all parties as inertia will kill any relationship dead.

“We hope you have enjoyed our marketing tips and timesavers blog” – Aidan & Jim.

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Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we can grab a coffeet, cheers.   Jim – O’C&K

One response to “Sponsorship Engagement won’t be effective if left to chance.”

  1. Great explanation about the realities of sponsorship. Thanks!

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