Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

Why Sponsorship Still Matters In These Tough Economic Times

Guest post by: Gail S. Bower | Read her blog

Earlier this year Northern Trust Bank took a public drubbing for proceeding with the second year of its five-year commitment to PGA Golf because it received TARP funds. According to a statement by the bank’s CEO, no public dollars funded the sponsorship, and the fiscally sound bank went forth with a program its leadership clearly values. How to jump-start sponsorship cover imageNorthern Trust participated in TARP at the government’s request, the statement noted, not because it needed the money. (You can read more about the effect this event had on sponsorship in my new guidebook How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times.)

I respect Northern Trust for honoring its commitment and for stating clearly its position in doing so. Corporate sponsorship is a marketing vehicle that gets results. When properly executed companies of all sizes benefit from incorporating sponsorship and event marketing into their business and marketing strategies.

After that incident other banks actually refused TARP dollars to avoid government and public scrutiny of their business decisions.

But some banks and financial firms were not so forthright. The New York Times reported on various corporations’ “‘stealth spending'” for event marketing. These companies are paying five- and six-figures to entertain clients, sans branding and identification of any kind.

I have a problem with the lack of transparency—with the sneakiness of the whole thing. But I endorse entertaining as a legitimate way to build relationships with clients, employees and vendors.

Take for example, Terry’s El Mariachi Supermarkets a Dallas-based chain of 13 stores that embraces the multi-cultural city it calls home. Terry Yu, the owner, invested $175,000 in a suite at the Dallas Cowboys’ fancy new stadium to reward workers and vendors whose support and loyalty have helped grow his business. He told the Dallas Morning News about what a “great investment” the luxury suite has been for him to provide a perk to staff and suppliers. (One of the first NFL franchises to broadcast in Spanish, the Cowboys have a large fan base among Texas and the Southwest’s Latino population, primarily from Mexico. So, imagine what a great perk this is.)

If entertaining employees and vendors works for Terry Yu, imagine how well it works for larger companies.

As a corporate sponsor, there are only three ways to go in these times:

  1. Discontinue sponsorship and be clear with stakeholders about that decision.
  2. Acknowledge that particular sponsorship investments meet your goals and provide value towards achieving business objectives. Be clear with the public, the media, and politicians about that decision and about why you are involved with sponsorships. Don’t engage in “stealth spending.”
  3. Be bold. Acknowledge that sponsorship works and determine new ways to do it that are not only acceptable for the times but that raise the bar. Champion a cause with strong brand alignment and enlist your clients in a day of service or in a cause marketing campaign to support your charity. (A February study on consumer perceptions on American corporations revealed that corporations that invest in a nonprofit organization or cause will win the favor of those consumers by 41 percent.)

Then shout it from the roof-tops. And build your business at the same time.

For those working with corporate sponsors, be sure your communications, both internally and externally, are supportive of corporate partners. If you uncover anti-corporate sentimentality, bring it to the surface and allow people to discuss it. Educate without being dismissive. Create parameters and policies that the staff, board, and other stakeholders will feel comfortable upholding.

Gail Bower is President of Bower & Co. Consulting LLC, a firm that assists nonprofit organizations and event/festival producers with dramatically raising their visibility, revenue, and impact. To learn more about her new guidebook, which provides a whole chapter on ways to enhance internal and external communications around sponsorship, visit Her blog is

What do YOU think about this post? Comments welcome.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .


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