One of the most popular columns that we ever did in American Track & Field (1994-2016), was Marketing 101. It is a great beginning column for schools looking for meet sponsors in cross country and track and field.
The truth is, track & field sponsorship is archaic. This column should help you begin to figure out who to approach locally. The Oracle was one of the finest advertising professionals of the last century. Have you seen that show, “Mad Men”? Well, the Oracle was an actual Madison Avenue adman.
Dakota Lindwurm, 2022 Boston Marathon. Notice the bib sponsor (adidas) for Boston, which is an extremely popular sponsorship and brings big money for Boston, photo by Kevin Morris / @kevmofoto
Marketing 101-Taking Care of the Sponsors
-by The Oracle
You’ve done your research. You’ve analyzed your meeting regarding what you have to offer to sponsors. Now, how do you find those sponsors?
There are two kinds of sponsors; national and local. National sponsors are companies who do business in your community, either dealing directly with consumers: airlines, telecommunication companies, banks, or retail chains, for example, or through dealers selling such products or services as automobiles, sporting goods, insurance, soft drinks, and pharmaceuticals.
Local sponsors might be banks, local supermarkets, sporting goods retailers, hospitals, dairies, and hundreds of other possibilities.
There are no clear-cut lines between national and local sponsors. Cell phones can be a local or national sponsor, maybe both. In the automotive category, you might have as a sponsor a single car dealer, an area dealer group, or the manufacturer itself, either directly or through its regional management. Usually, you can only have one of these, but if they’re selling the same model, it might be possible for all of them to put together a sponsorship package. Local and regional managers of large companies often have good-sized budgets for local advertising and promotional activities.
In other words, almost any business or service is a possible sponsor.
How do you get in touch with potential sponsors? One meeting organizer I know says, ” All of our best sponsors have come to us. We’re an important part of the community, and people know about us.”
But you can’t count on sponsors coming to you. It is true that from time to time, you may get a phone call from an advertising or public relations agency inquiring about your event on behalf of one of their clients, but it’s a lot more likely to happen if you’ve been making presentations to those agencies to show them what your event has to offer.
You can also raise consciousness among potential sponsors by networking through local organizations and groups. As I’ve said in a previous column, every meeting director should have a 10-15 minute basic talk or deck presentation which he (they) and his (their) staff members can deliver to local audiences and which has enough flexibility to be adapted to each audience’s interests.
And don’t hesitate to make cold calls if you see the opportunity for a perfect fit with your event and a potential sponsor. Of course you’ll have to research the sponsor’s advertising and marketing objectives and programs, and you’ll want to ask around to find out the right person to contact. But that’s what networking is for…isn’t it?
The most important sponsors you can get, and the ones you should go after first of all, are the local media. Having a local newspaper, TV station, and radio station as sponsors assures you of more than publicity alone. It also helps you sell to other sponsors who, naturally, are looking for all the media exposure they can get. Media sponsors can also provide all sorts of tie-ins and promotions, where you can achieve a sort of win-win-win situation for your media partner, your other sponsors, and your event. Media ads and marketing staffs are really good at this sort of multi-involvement activity.
When you’re organizing your sales efforts, make a list of all the business categories you might want to have as sponsors. Here are some of the most common ones: Media, of course; Communications–cell phones, telephones, etc.; Sports tie-ins–shoes, sporting goods (for other sports too); Financial–banks, stockbrokers, etc.; Retail–supermarkets, home building supplies, electronics; Health and fitness; Insurance; Medical; Travel–airlines, car rentals; pharmaceuticals–drug companies, drugstores; and Automotive. Also, believe it or not, one good place to get ideas for categories is to leaf through the Yellow Pages. You can also check out Google for sponsor ideas. (Some of you won’t know what Yellow Pages actually is).
Although most sponsors will want, and expect, exclusivity for their categories, sometimes you squeeze two sponsors into the same category, or by dividing the category into two or more subdivisions. One meeting director who had a local bank as a sponsor was approached by a national bank with no local branches that wanted to sign up credit card customers. The meeting director of course asked the local bank if this would be alright, and the bank had no objection. Result? Extra income!
One thing you should never do is take on a sponsor who wants to change the nature of your event, or compromise its integrity. Take a good look at each sponsor’s advertising and marketing programs. If you don’t like what you see, don’t hesitate to say “No.”