Small firms can get good publicity and create valuable goodwill by sponsoring a local team, event or good cause - and it doesn't have to break the bank, as business writer Naomi Marks reports
Sponsorship is often considered the domain of big business, but there are plenty of excellent opportunities for small firms. These might include sponsoring a local sports team, art exhibition, business competition, school project or recycling initiative.
"Sponsorship is a mutually beneficial relationship between two organisations, a rights owner such as a sports club, and a fund provider - the business," explains Jackie Fast, sponsorship manager and managing director at Slingshot Sponsorship.
"While the rights owner usually benefits from goods, services or funding provided by the business, the funder can benefit in myriad ways," she says. "The return on investment won't always translate directly into pounds. But while measuring increased sales is important, benefits such as brand awareness, showcasing opportunities, customer loyalty, lead generation and goodwill all need to be considered too."
Your return on investment
Sponsorship can generate substantial publicity for a relatively small investment. "It's like using the strength, funds and audiences of two organisations to develop your product and build your brand awareness," says Fast.
She cites the example of a florist sponsoring a local football team by buying the team's kit, on which it prints its branding. The florist gains visual awareness for its brand, and builds a feel-good factor thanks to its association with the local team. It may also find networking opportunities at matches, and opportunities to showcase its productsat prizegivings.
Decide who to sponsor
If you want to find sponsorship opportunities, you need to consider who your target audience is. "That's not necessarily who you already sell to, but it could be who you want to start selling to or who you want to start engaging better with," explains Fast.
Next, you need to consider what you want to achieve. "If you want to build brand awareness, you need to look for opportunities to display your logo, or if you are launching a new product, find opportunities to showcase the product," says Fast.
Approach organisations that have access to this target market. These might include charities, trade organisations and non-profit bodies. Sometimes these organisations have a sponsorship manager; otherwise, write to the head of marketing setting out how you think you can work together.
"Ideally, you want the partner to have similar goals to your own," advises Fast. "Then work with them to create a plan of activities, operating to a set budget. You need to create a win-win situation."
Track the results of sponsorship
Where possible, you should measure the benefits of sponsorship. In some areas, such as lead generation and sales, this is much easier than measuring uplift in brand awareness for example.
"Bear in mind your return on investment won't always translate directly into pounds," concludes Fast. "Sponsorship is a long-term relationship, and as such many of the benefits come in the long term."
Written with expert input from Jackie Fast of Slingshot Sponsorship.