Why big brands sponsor Little League (and why you might want to, too)
In this first post in a series on community marketing, columnist Megan Hannay dives into the benefits and corporate motivations for local sponsorships and offers some ROI measurements sponsors may be missing.
Whether you’re a local business looking for more walk-ins or a startup launching in select regions across the US, your marketing team needs to access people who live, work, eat and play locally to your target city.
Sponsorships of events and nonprofits provide this way “in” to a local community. They’re personal and relaxed, and they’re the ultimate silo-free marketing option, with SEO, PR, branding, networking and social media benefits for sponsors.
In fact, in a 2015 Brandmuscle study (email registration required), 80 percent of local marketers polled were satisfied with event sponsorships, and 71 percent felt the same about supporting local nonprofits. This is compared with a 65-percent satisfaction rate for traditional media and an average of 67 percent satisfaction with Facebook and Twitter.
But! Like any endeavor that seems too good to be true, this intro hides a hidden cost: local sponsorships can be a total time suck.
Many of Brandmuscle’s respondents reported that in spite of their high satisfaction rating, very little of their overall marketing budget went towards events and organizations because these marketing vehicles were too time-consuming and costly.
Yes, it’s easier to order an ad or place a blog post on Twitter than it is to coordinate local sponsorships, especially from another city. But there is a way to go local on a budget, or at least within measurable parameters.
How big brands measure sponsorship success
Approximately one-third of sponsorships in our ZipSprout sponsorship database involve the sponsor’s presence at the event, typically at a table or booth. That’s a lot of employee time AFK!
So I interviewed some of the most frequent sponsors in Raleigh/Durham, NC, to see how these prolific donors to local Little League teams, races and holiday parades justified the money and employee hours that sponsorships often require.
I found that there are three primary reasons large brands sponsor local organizations:
1. For corporate culture
(ROI — Highly difficult to measure)
I spoke with one prominent brand that explained that their organization’s culture was so ingrained in the community that they had a “hard time saying no” to local sponsorship requests. (This brand declined to be named in a blog post that revealed parts of their sponsorship strategies.)
Another local, Tim Huntley of Personalized Learning Games, told me that his company asks employees to choose charity opportunities; executives see sponsorships as a way for employees to feel personally empowered within the organization.
It’s difficult to measure community goodwill or a happy work culture — both are closer to “you know it when you see it” on the scale of quantifiability. While this level of philanthropic giving is the most idealistic, it may not be possible for businesses with limited budgets.
2. For local branding
(ROI — Difficult to measure)
I spoke with Christopher Danz, Marketing Metro Team Leader at Whole Foods Market, who said that the grocery chain’s health and wellness mission is highlighted in the events and organizations his team chooses to sponsor.
I also spoke with Hillary Hahmann, Carolinas Marketing Manager of PDQ restaurants. Like Danz, she told me that PDQ focuses on a target audience — in their case, families who live within a five-mile radius of their restaurants. But they leave sponsorship selections to local employees.
Hahmann added that PDQ measures the ROI of their campaigns more on gut than on numbers. Employees notice if the Little League team they’re sponsoring visits the restaurant after games, for example.
And Hahmann recently signed a sponsorship agreement with the Carolina Hurricanes NHL team. PDQ wants more than just a logo on a sign, she said, which is why PDQ signed on to sponsor in-game entertainment for the fans.
Organizations such as these are stricter with their marketing budgets; choosing opportunities that fit their target market is a priority.
3. For local marketing
(ROI — Best if measured before agreement)
Remember those Brandmuscle respondents who said local events were too time-consuming? My research, while more anecdotal than scientific, aligns with those findings, especially for brands that try to measure the success of local marketing initiatives with direct sales.
There is another way.
Danz of Whole Foods added that the processes he’s built out to take in sponsorship requests do measure potential organizations’ return on investment, particularly for sponsorships that aren’t as closely aligned with health and fitness. He measures return based on sponsorship benefits.
Is it possible to measure the return on local sponsorship dollars?
Yes, it is possible to measure the return, as long as you’re not measuring immediate conversions.
As multi-channel marketing becomes more of a norm, the idea of attributing a sale to the “last touch” marketing source is increasingly outdated. In order to understand the true value of local sponsorships, it makes sense for brands to consider counting the equivalency of marketing benefits earned through the sponsorship instead of direct sales from the sponsorship source.
This is good news for local organizations, which often offer multiple messages to a highly targeted audience.
When choosing local sponsorships, consider the value your marketing department places on:
- a social media impression among your target market;
- a local link in your target city;
- an email impression among your target market;
- a mention in local news; or
- a blogger mention.
Create a formula based on the value of these impressions, and measure potential opportunities against this rubric. The Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk, for example, offers a project sponsorship package (outlined below) that offers a press mention, an email newsletter distribution to 5,000 people and multiple social media mentions to 150K followers.
If your target customer is actively involved with the arts, and if your brand wants more attention in Los Angeles, then these offerings can be compared with other paid social shout-outs or PR efforts to determine whether $2,000 is a worthwhile spend. Ultimately, it may come down to your target audience.
As exemplified by PDQ and Whole Foods, a brand’s first step in community involvement should involve defining the best local audience for outreach.
How to choose sponsorships based on audience
I’ve written previously on how a brand’s back story can help determine its mission. But when your brand is serving various local niches, this mission can be developed into a unique approach for each region. Look into sponsorship opportunities specific to the regions you’re targeting, and see what marketing opportunities are available.
This is where local searches can become truly specific. Try using advanced operators in Google to search for mentions of your target region, along with a city name or ZIP code. Say you’re hoping to find local marketing opportunities in Dallas:
Not all of these 900+ opportunities will be viable options, but if you get more specific, you may find just what you’re looking for:
Community marketing puts a grassroots spin on local engagement. And it’s too successful to be a one-off approach. My next post will be a tutorial on finding local marketing efforts with digital reach, at scale. Stay tuned.