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FOR SPECIAL EVENT SPONSORSHIPS, IT'S NOT JUST the budgets that are getting bigger. The expectations are, too.

“Gone are the days when a company simply sponsors an event solely because of a charitable tie-in,” says Mary Tribble, founder of event production company Tribble Creative Group in Charlotte, N.C. “Companies now look to cultural, sporting and charitable events as marketing vehicles that can help them reach their customers. They expect a return on their investment in a very real way.”

At press time, Tribble's team is at work on WordPlay Saturday, an annual family-oriented festival in Charlotte that promotes reading. “Although we have produced this event for five years, this is the first year we've gotten involved with the sponsorship marketing of WordPlay Saturday,” Tribble says. Fast food giant Wendy's will provide cash and in-kind contributions including half a million themed tray liners in area restaurants, 100,000 themed bookmarks, coupons and advertising.

“This aggressive campaign has allowed us the opportunity to reach many more potential attendees than we could on our own,” Tribble notes. “In return, Wendy's will enjoy promotions provided by print media and radio sponsors, brochures, and on-site exposure to families. Wendy's efforts to expand its Kids Meal program fit nicely with the audience that is attracted to this event.”


Creativity in developing exposure for sponsors is critical, event professionals agree, because the task of finding sponsors who are willing to put up cash is getting harder. “Since monetary sponsors are tougher and tougher to come by, the idea of pursuing in-kind sponsors has become attractive for corporations still wanting to have their name present,” says Dave Merrell, head of An Original Occasion event planning and catering. But he doesn't see this as a problem: “Any company that can defray costs that usually would be out-of-pocket costs for the entity throwing the event would be a potential sponsor.”

The payoff for sponsors making donations of product is, of course, the chance to build their brand — another growing trend. “A liquor sponsor may offer product for no [explicit] recognition, just to get their brand noticed,” according to Rebecca Coons of Extraordinary Events, event producers with offices in California, Florida, Nevada, New York and Texas. “It's also a way of associating a product with an event, that is, [to] support or create affiliations that are subliminal or supportive of a philosophy or ethic.”

The key to serving the sponsor, Tribble says, is to establish a partnership. “In the past, some sponsors would write a check, send in their logo and walk away,” she notes. “Today, they are looking for all kinds of promotional tie-ins, whether that means tagging their advertising schedule with event promotions, providing samples or giveaways at the event, or using the main event as a springboard to create ancillary events geared at their clients or employees.”


Tony Conway, CMP, partner in Atlanta-based Legendary Events, also stresses the importance of partnering with sponsors, and that means honest, complete communication. “I had an organization ask me to help with sponsorships, and I obtained some very high-dollar corporate sponsors only to find out that the entertainment that was being considered was very risqué,” he recalls. “If I had not let the sponsors know in advance, I could have had some very unhappy sponsors.”

Event planners must give their sponsors VIP treatment. “Spend the time in assigning specific volunteers or staff to do nothing but cater to the sponsors,” he advises. “Make sure they are treated very well; this just helps in the future.”

Conway adds that a true partnership means looking beyond the immediate event and toward the long term. “It is most disappointing to a sponsor to help one year, then read about another sponsor involved the following year if the [original sponsor] was never even given the opportunity to be part of the event the second year.”


When Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Panache Party Rentals considers a sponsorship, president and CEO Kelly Murphy looks beyond the event itself. “We tend to go in for the long haul,” she notes. “There are several events we have been involved in for the last ten years. Others might be a bit newer, but we have started at the inception.”

Panache, which specializes in high-end linens, sponsors some 40 events a year, almost half of which are high-end social events and the rest industry meetings. “We look for the higher tier in the sponsorship program such as ‘presenting’ or ‘host’ or ‘decor,’” she says.

Providing her company's products at such events is “the best source of advertising,” she says, “because people get to see and touch what we do.”

RESOURCES: An Original Occasion, 323/467-2111; Extraordinary Events, 818/783-6112; Legendary Events, 404/869-8858; Panache Party Rentals, 954/781-5335; Tribble Creative Group, 704/376-1943


Sponsorship spending in North America by type of property
1998 1999 2000 2001*
sports $4.550 billion $5.100 billion $5.920 billion $6.510 billion
entertainment tours and attractions $675 million $756 million $817 million $893 million
festivals, fairs, annual events $578 million $685 million $740 million $777 million
causes $544 million $630 million $700 million $769 million
arts $413 million $460 million $548 million $599 million
TOTAL $6.760 billion $7.631 billion $8.700 billion $9.548 billion
* projected
Source: IEG Sponsorship Report, Chicago

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