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Marketing: The why of sponsorship

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Cite as: (2008) 82(6) LIJ, p. 94

Sponsorship gives firm access to potential clients as well as garnering prestige.

In any law firm in the country the lines between what constitutes sponsorship and what constitutes a donation is blurred.

What would ordinarily be described as a donation gets lumped into the sponsorship budget and actual sponsorship opportunities can frequently be overlooked because firms manage them as donations.

The difference between them is straightforward.

A sponsorship is something that benefits the firm and is done with that in mind (or it should be).

A return for the investment in the sponsorship is expected. A donation is done for the recipient only – it’s charitable. No return expected. Sometimes a benefit comes, but it’s not the plan with a donation. It’s a goodwill gesture only.

Most firms have sponsorship programs to position themselves in the market. Primarily, this means two objectives are served.

The first is about access. The aim is to get in front of potential clients and reinforce the loyalty of existing clients.

On this basis, a firm should seek sponsorship opportunities in things that will draw an audience of potential clients, or provide the ability to impress existing clients. That’s why major events have corporate areas – and that’s why big business pays to get into them.

If you’re not there, you have to find ways to access your potential market in other ways. It can be cost efficient if a sum of money puts you in the ring with people likely to need or want your service now or soon.

The second objective is a kind of “infection”. That is, you align your firm with a specific event, program or cause (as a sponsor) so that some of the “vibe” of what or who you’re sponsoring rubs off on the firm.

This can be used to put your firm into a different league and reposition it if that is what is wanted. Or it can be purely for bragging rights – because you know the sponsorship will impress your clients.

Sponsorship arrangements

Sponsorship agreements can get complicated.

The simplest are akin to the purchase of a package deal. There is a set price (or range of packages with prices attached) and the package has a number of rights attached. These commonly include logo placement rights, speaking opportunities, inserts in conference satchels, naming rights for events (or parts of them) or prizes and mentions in publicity.

More complicated sponsorship arrangements include contra deals (for example, you give us legal services and we’ll give you logo placement rights). If you see the words “partnership” in any sponsorship proposals be aware that can be a double-edged sword. It can also be a euphemism for “complicated sponsorship arrangement”.

Sponsors should expect to get the “return on investment” they want. For some it’s about writing business, for others it is recognition. Whatever it is, you need to work out what result you are after and then expect the organisation seeking your sponsorship to advise you on the best way to achieve it.

You should expect follow up reports on how the event/program went – for example, the attendance or the target audience it reached.

You want actual figures. You want to know if your sponsorship got noticed and you should expect the organisation seeking your sponsorship to conduct an evaluation and provide feedback to you on how well you went.

How to make it work for your firm

Sponsorship is not a passive strategy.

This means you need to take into account the following:

  • Planning. Have a plan which should be considered before signing up to any sponsorship. This would include who will attend from the firm (if an event), what aspects of the firm will be promoted via the sponsorship, how it will be followed up and how success will be measured.
  • Presentation. Don’t just hand over your firm’s logo and firm brochures. Get someone to be a bit creative – make the link clear between your firm and the sponsorship. Take the opportunity to stand out in a controlled context. Do something special.
  • Working it. If the sponsorship is an event such as a conference, then you and your colleagues should be working the room (or rooms) and getting around the other attendees. That’s why you signed up to the sponsorship. Make sure you have a briefing on who is attending and make sure you and your colleagues practise your networking lines. Know what (or who) you’re looking for and focus on asking questions.
  • Multiply. The more from your firm involved the merrier. You will all have different strengths and reasons to work together and support each other in meeting people and making use of the sponsorship. Get everyone involved and work like a team.
  • Take clients. If it’s appropriate, use the opportunity to squire clients. Be selective about which clients you choose – make sure they will be interested and they are worth the investment. Be a good host – but don’t strangle them.
  • Scheduling. Whatever the sponsorship opportunity, make sure your timing is good. That means you should as much as possible organise your firm’s response to a sponsorship so it does not become a massive burden (for example, it coincides with Christmas, or tax time or other flashpoints in your year). And don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take to plan and do a sponsorship properly.

ALICIA PATTERSON is the Director of House Communications. She was previously the LIV Head of Marketing and can be contacted on ph 8611 8188 or http://www.house-communications.com.

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