Sponsorship: Getting Back to Basics


Sometimes, we spend so much time designing a sponsorship proposal — how it looks, how it feels – that we overlook the obvious. Did you design a glossy architectural wonder or did you create a document that offers a prospective sponsor a way to solve one of its most pressing marketing challenges?  Were you offering a solution? Easing their pain? Providing ROI? Or were you so focused on selling a sponsorship that you forgot to make sure that you were, most importantly, trying to solve a problem or challenge for your prospective sponsor?

At the recent ICAS convention, more than 50 event organizers were immersed in the basics of sponsorship for an information-packed afternoon. The special half-day seminar included presentations from some of the most successful sponsorship professionals in the air show business: Dino Richardson from MCAS Miramar, Amanda Hayes with the Aviation Nation Foundation, Bill Roach with Wings over Houston, Angela West from the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends, and Phil Pacific with ADC Group. This diverse group represents Navy/Marine Corps, Air Force and civilian shows, all with robust sponsorship programs that keep their corporate partners coming back for more year after year.

The basic principles of sponsorship are the same whether you’re trying to secure a sponsorship for a school program, an air show for 10,000 people or a motor speedway event for 150,000. No matter how you define it, the sponsor’s goals come first.

Sponsorship is typically one component of a company’s overall marketing plan, but you want all the multi-faceted touch points of a sponsorship working in conjunction with other elements, such as advertising, direct marketing, and public relations. Whatever the goal of your sponsor, the sponsorship should be something that creates a memorable experience for the fan that will last long after the event or performance.

Direct Interaction with the Consumer or Customer

A vice president of a Procter and Gamble brand once said that a banner at an event has a basic value. But, if in addition to that banner, the sponsor could put a coupon for one of the sponsor’s products directly into the hands of a customer, the sponsorship would have even greater value. And, if in addition to the coupon and the banner, the sponsor could actually serve samples of his product to air show spectators, the sponsorship would be more valuable still. And, if in addition  to the banner, coupons and sampling, the sponsor could get one of the performers to put his logo on the wing of a performing aircraft, then that would be even better and have greater value to the sponsor. The point is that sponsors seek multiple avenues to reach out and touch their customers and prospective customers. The more opportunities you provide, the more likely that you’ll get that prospect to say yes or your existing sponsor to come back again next year. 

Defines or Enhances the Brand

For a time, the Milwaukee Air Show had a seven-figure, multi-year deal with TCF Bank, a financial institution that was new to the Milwaukee market. Instead of being perceived as another “big box” bank, the marketing executives decided that aligning the bank with the air show as the title sponsor would achieve its goals; introduce the bank and its benefits to the market at an event that drew large, passionate crowds. In some cases, prospective sponsors will be interested in your event because it provides extensive coverage at a particular time.

Generates B2B Opportunities

While some businesses are focused on the person coming through the gate, others have a very select niche like Oracle. Team Oracle wants to ensure regional technology executives have a first class, personal experience supported by the sales team and the charismatic Sean D. Tucker. Meanwhile, FedEx uses hospitality chalets to entertain current or potential clients with its sales team from the local area. For any of these programs, the bottom line is driving more business, signing contracts, and cultivating relationships for future business. Importantly, these sponsors have little interest in total air show attendance. They just want to make sure that their invited guests have a high-end, highly-memorable, hassle-free entertainment experience.

Generate Sales

In today’s economic climate, more and more sponsors want to know how you can help move the needle or improve their lead generation and sales. At MCAS Miramar, long-time sponsor Ford Motor Company not only showcases the newest models, but specifically tracks lead generations and sales directly tied to the air show. Saab and Hyundai also use air shows for test drives and lead generations. For Saab, air shows have generated more “qualified” leads than any other program. For years, ICAS demographic surveys have demonstrated that our events host unusually well-qualified audiences. The challenge for event organizers is to translate that demographic power into sponsorship programs that produce results. For Ford, Saab and Hyundai, the secret has been test-drive programs to identify the strongest leads.

Determining Value

Creating value in a proposal is the key to any successful pitch, but is value in the eye of the beholder or — in this case — the sponsor? Yes, to some extent, but a property can strengthen its pitch using third party valuations such as those offered by IEG or Intemark (contact information below). Too often, air shows base the value of a sponsorship on budget needs rather than a fair value of the opportunity. It’s impossible to reasonably determine value unless you inventory the property’s assets: tangible and intangible. A sample of tangible assets: banners, tickets, program books, mailing lists, sampling, measured and non-measured media. If your hospitality tickets sell for $150.00, then the tangible value of that part of your sponsorship package is simply a $150.00. The first time you make a list of these assets and the values, you’ll typically be disappointed that the figure isn’t as grand as you expected. This is where intangibles come into play.

Intangible assets provide not only the bulk of the value, but the most unique value in your analysis. Do you offer exclusivity? How prestigious is your event? What is the potential for networking and generating media? What’s your event’s track record?

It’s also best to draw comparisons to other events in your area rather than to another air show across the country. Does the Strawberry Festival draw more people than your air show? Do you have a more affluent audience than the Strawberry Festival? Can you offer an environment with less clutter? Can you create more opportunities for activation?

All these factors contribute to determining value of your event…both its tangible and intangible value. 

A Handshake, Not a Handout

Once you’ve finished your category research and inventoried your assets, it’s time to write a proposal. In smaller markets, some event organizers say local businesses still want to see a proposal that offers “tiered” options.  As a general rule, this is to be avoided if possible as it leads to sponsors “cherry picking” the benefits they want and compromising your ability to get full value for the entire sponsorship package. The sponsor starts selecting the benefits it deems the most important and then sets the value based on the new shopping list. This usually doesn’t bode well for the event or the sponsor in the long run.

Instead, create a basic proposal that’s customized for the sponsor or at least for that category of sponsor (automobiles, banks, cell phone service provider, supermarkets, etc.). This way, you can leave the bulk of the proposal the same, but offer something unique that pushes the sponsor’s buttons and offers a solution right up front.

While you can spend money on elaborate proposals, most businesses want a simple one-page proposal, especially if it’s emailed since many companies have blockers on unsolicited attachments. Bring out the bells and whistles once you secure a face-to-face meeting where you can dazzle the decision makers with a business opportunity rather than extending a hand out for a donation.

These are only the initial steps on the sometimes frustrating path to securing a sponsor. Once you get the elusive in-person meeting, there is considerable prep for presenting your solution, contract negotiations, execution of the sponsorship and a fulfillment report.

Selling sponsorship requires a dedicated, laser-like focus by someone on your staff, committee or team. IEG often says it takes 12 rejections to get a yes, so allow plenty of time, attack multiple targets, network in the community and be persistent!

Bonus #1: A Few Relevant Definitions

  • Sponsorship: In 1982, IEG, a leading sponsorship industry consulting organization, defined sponsorship as, “A cash and/or in-kind fee paid to a property in return for access to the exploitable commercial potential associated with that property.”
  • Property: Your air show!
  • B2B: Sponsorship shorthand for business-to-business, programs that use an event like an air show to give businesses an opportunity to talk with representative from other businesses.
  • CPM: Cost per 1,000 impressions
  • Activation: Beyond the rights fees or sponsorship payment, the additional money spent to promote the sponsor’s involvement as a sponsor. Also known as leverage.
  • ROI – Return on Investment

Bonus #2: How to Add Additional Value to your Sponsorship Opportunities

  • Category exclusivity
  • Event naming rights
  • Cause promotion/cause overlays
  • Cross Promotions
  • Media guarantees with corporate identification
  • Unique hospitality opportunities
  • On-site exposure; sampling, product demonstration, informational
  • Corporate identification on-site
  • Association with performer
  • Media opportunities
  • Mailing lists
  • Specific demographic/research information
  • Program advertising
  • PA announcements
  • Passes/tickets
  • Flight/special access
  • Online opportunities
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Deb Mitchell
Deb Mitchell is a former broadcast journalist who ran the NAS Oceana Air Show in Virginia Beach, Virginia for several years and helped create the Air Show Buzz website.