When asked to identify the three most essential parts of a successful sponsorship, my response is easy: audience, audience, and audience.
Both sponsors and properties must ensure a strong connection between their respective audiences to succeed. This connection is the basic foundation and provides the biggest opportunity for great sponsorship results.
However, in several recent conversations with buyers and sellers, I’ve heard that both would tolerate low audience fit. In my experience, low fit is no fit and introduces the strong possibility of a sponsorship arrangement that leaves both the buyer and seller wanting more.
An example comes to mind from college football. About a decade ago, GEO Group, an operator of for-profit prisons, wanted its name atop Florida Atlantic University’s football stadium. It wasn’t that college football fans were purchasers of for-profit prison services; instead, the company wanted to make a “gesture of goodwill” since its employees were FAU grads and/or Boca Raton residents. Audience fit was not even a consideration. There may have been a few municipal or state officials in the audience who could procure GEO’s services, but audience fit was virtually non-existent, and the deal failed before it got off the ground.
Fast forward to today, I see sponsorship sellers soliciting brands that have little to no connection to the sellers’ audience. Maybe the company owner has a personal interest in the brand and just wants to be associated with it. While this frequently happens in the sponsorship world, the buyer often spends a lot of money for a minimal return. Since these deals generally yield poor results, they do not serve the seller’s long-term interest either.
On the buy-side, I meet sponsorship managers who create sophisticated formulas that reflect their strategies and serve to screen out good deals from bad ones. These formulas look for properties with excellent reputations, strong media, or category exclusivity. I wholly support this approach to “scoring” sponsorship – to a point.
In my opinion, here’s where the formulas fly off the rails: “low audience fit” is scored low. In other words, if all you are looking at is the property’s fantastic reputation, plentiful media, and exclusivity, the low audience fit score gets lost. The formula will support this deal. When deals like this happen, they typically result in mediocre results because there weren’t many actual consumers in the audience to begin with. It’s like giving a brilliant musical performance at an empty concert hall.
Low fit should be a disqualifying event and not combined with other considerations.
Buyers should ditch their formulas if the property’s audience does not share significant connecting points with the buyer’s customers. And sellers should not waste their time sending sponsorship decks to buyers whose customers do not overlap with the property.
So, to build a sponsorship on a solid foundation, my motto is “low fit is no fit.”