Leveraging Sponsorship: A win for all?

Sponsorship marketing appears to be based on a major win-win rationale. In New Zealand today, there are many causes – both social and health related – supported through sponsorship by many businesses. It’s not philanthropy or altruism, but based on an understanding by companies that linking with charities or good causes can be mutually beneficial. That said, there could be potential pitfalls associated with merging social and corporate objectives.

Why be a sponsor?

Non-profit organisations permanently face the on-going battle with the need to raise revenue. Society is constantly asked for donations to support a plethora of causes. This can result in donor fatigue, which may lead to potential donors reducing their commitment to charitable causes. Academic and practitioner research suggests that many consumers appreciate and support sponsorship programs. Research indicates that successful sponsorship programmes can result in favourable consumer attitudes towards the organisation and ultimately has the potential to affect purchase decisions. Sponsorship has also been shown to have a positive influence on consumers’ perceptions of corporate reputations after a company has engaged in unethical behaviour. These results highlight the need for businesses to align themselves with appropriate causes that match their consumer base, and are of high fit.

Developing a partnership has gone from charities seeking out companies, to companies in quest of charities. For example, in the USA, Visa went through a strict selection process when choosing a cause to support. Visa contacted five charities and asked them to “pitch for their right” to be involved a sponsorship joint venture. The winner was a children’s charity, which was able to convince VISA that it had the best credentials to develop an active partnership.

Who’s doing it well?

BP Oil has been supporting Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLNZ) since 1965. BP felt that with most New Zealanders living within an hour’s drive of the coastline, the beach was a big part of New Zealand’s culture – and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that! Today BP provides funding for Inflatable Rescue Boats, which are used in over 50% of all rescues. This properly planned and well-executed alliance is a success due to their long affiliation, BP’s positive corporate image and SLNZ’s increasing financial support. Check out their latest campaign with .99, BP & SLNZ at www.clickforyourclub.co.nz.

Sponsorship can also have an internal marketing benefit. For example; Avon stated that sponsorship created a halo effect, which helped relationships not only with its customers, but also with its sales force, as the staff had an increased level of pride in representing the company due to the firm’s focus on donating to breast cancer research.

How to be a good sponsor…                             

Marketers walk a very fine line when adopting sponsorship and implementing an integrated marketing campaign. If a business doesn’t say enough about their charity links, consumers may perceive that companies are hiding something, and if they say too much they may believe the charities are being exploited by the big corporations. It makes the promotion of such schemes one of the most delicate jobs in marketing.

Caution must be used right from the beginning when looking to adopt a sponsor to ensure that the most appropriate partner is sought – the ‘fit’ is fundamental. This will enable successful and transparent relationships between the company and the organisation. With this in mind the relationship between the firm and the cause should be structured on a normal commercial venture basis, and encourage organisations to develop social objectives as well as market-based objectives to maximise their relationship. In doing so the value and equity for both parties can be measured.

Sponsorship can be used as a specific branding tool; a consistent and believable contribution to a charity will build brand image and brand equity. Therefore, it is imperative that every company is scrupulously honest in its sponsorship communication strategies. To ensure total sincerity, companies should have teams from the involved organisation to evaluate and approve advertisements and other communications before they are made public. It is also paramount that marketers apply considerable time and ingenuity when designing communication strategies.

Companies must recognise that, although the concept of sponsorship is laudable, its misuse can lead to disastrous results; businesses looking to adopt sponsorship should exercise care and discretion when developing strategies in this area. Companies need to understand that they will be held to the highest standard when they are promoting products in association with a non-profit organisation. Put simply, each company needs to dedicate its efforts in ensuring that the relationship with sponsorship is cause-enhancing, rather than cause-exploitative. If this is achieved, sponsorship in the future can really be a win-win for all.

Author: Lauren Watling (TV Producer)