Sponsorship is radically changing. The business of branded content, web content sponsorship, product placement and branded experiences has taken the discipline of corporate sponsorship to a different level of engagement with the consumer. Having observed many transformative deals unfold this year, here is my take on what’s working and how to succeed in these transitional times:
1. Get the sponsors’ employees into the act. This trend is everywhere, from the U.S Curling Team to symphonies to theatre companies. By using imaginative ways to give the sponsor’s employees a role helps them feel like stars. Of course you have to make sure it doesn’t jeopardize your quality, so don’t let employees give a keynote or sing a solo. Think walk-ons or behind the scenes experiences that’ll help employees take a break from their routine and indulge their sense of adventure.
2. Pull it all together. Sponsors who do just an event deal, and don’t look for media, sampling, opt-in online promotions and some form of print are wasting their money. That means you need an integrated campaign delivering a specific target audience with multiple impressions and experiences.
3. Take visual risks. As the society becomes more and more visually oriented, all communications need to appeal to the eye. Proposals, memos, and final reports all need to be fun to look at, easy to digest at a glance, and should express the brand or property the sponsor will be aligning with. To move to the top of the pile, it should all be eye-popping.
4. Know the new deal appeal: authentic or extreme. For new entrants into the market, or new properties currently in development, it must be either extreme, or authentic, which means it has instant appeal because it connects emotionally with audiences. An example of extreme is Target’s Vertical fashion show where the cat walk was Rockefeller Plaza Building’s façade. Fashion models secured by tie lines defied gravity by walking down the face of the skyscraper. The event drew huge crowds and media mentions to boot. Authentic is more broadly defined, but it includes things that seem to evolve naturally from a community culture, that make people secure, connected, and proud. Boeing sponsored a Latin Jazz festival and captured exit responses that revealed audience members felt “respected” by the sponsorship.
5. Bring fresh ideas to the table. Remember that you are attractive as a brand ally because you offer something truly unique, authentic, as well as something turn-key. Stay open to new ideas. It’s one thing to have your act together with your proposal under one arm and your market value calculated to the penny, but sponsors are looking for colleagues as much as the right deal structure. Besides, your competition has a nice proposal, too. But can they help the sponsor be inventive? Do they have your deep insights into the behaviors and preferences of the audience segment you reach? Seek to understand the sponsor’s brand imperatives first and then you can make smart suggestions.
In light of today’s business climate, it’s a good idea to walk into relationships ready to make a difference in the sponsor’s business. No matter what else might change, sponsors will always find that appealing.