Despite acknowledging the value of sponsor summits, less than half of properties actually conduct them, according to an informal IEG SR poll of sponsors and rightsholders.

They are missing out on an important method for adding value to the relationship for both parties, say those who are involved in sponsor get-togethers from both sides.

“I can’t think of a better sounding board than a collective group of sponsors, all sharing best practices on how to successfully leverage a property of similar investment interest,” said Earle Smola, manager of brand design and event marketing with tool and hardware manufacturer The Stanley Works.

Less than half of the roughly two dozen properties sponsored by Stanley host sponsor summits, Smola said. The company’s portfolio includes deals with pro sports properties spanning NASCAR, PBR and teams in the four major U.S. leagues.

“Summits are more important than ever in this tough economy, “said Chris Hibbs, senior director of sales & marketing with the NFL Chicago Bears. The team hosted its first corporate partner summit in ’07.

“It allows mid- and upper-level executives to learn what other sponsors are doing and walk away with ideas on how to get more out of their sponsorships,” Hibbs said. “It helps them justify their spend to people at the top of their organization.”

“Sponsor summits are the epitome of what relationships between properties and partners are all about: communication and information sharing,” added John Brody, senior vice president with Major League Baseball’s sales & marketing division.

If helping sponsors do a better job of activating deals and justifying expenditures aren’t enough reasons to host summits, the meetings can serve another valuable purpose: use as a sponsorship sales tool.

“Sponsor summits are something we spend quite a bit of time talking about when we present a new business opportunity,” Hibbs said. “It’s not just about assets, but what it means to be a Bears partner. We can demonstrate that this is the kind of thing we invest in to make the relationship better.”

Some properties also invite prospects to their sponsor summits to show them what they will receive as a corporate partner.

Designing The Optimal Summit Experience
Those who have planned and participated in summits note that the meetings need to strike the right balance between education/information and networking/relationship-building.

“This is not a boondoggle,” Brody said. “Our meetings are jam-packed with information sharing and important components to the 2010 marketing season.

According to one industry veteran, speaking from experience in a sponsorship sales role for a NASCAR Sprint Cup team: “The hardest thing to do is to make the meeting a nice thank-you for sponsors, but also have significant content. A certain percentage of attendees just want a boondoggle, while others want to learn everything they can.

He recalled being reprimanded for starting a working breakfast at 7:30 a.m., a time the team owner considered too early for sponsors.

While NASCAR teams, pro sports leagues and other deep-pocked properties have historically hosted sponsors over multiple days, many have cut back summits to one-day events due to reductions in corporate travel budgets.

Most summits start with a ‘state of the union” presentation by property staff that includes new developments, trends and other relevant information.

The opening presentation is typically followed by sponsor introductions, as well as comments by each sponsor on their marketing objectives. That is usually followed by networking sessions to allow sponsors to discuss potentially working together on cross-promotions and other activation efforts. The summit typically ends with bonding activities.

Those activities differ from event to event, but often include meet-and-greets with athletes, musicians or other notable personalities associated with the property, behind-the-scenes tours and other unique experiences.

For example, the Bears offer attendees the chance to run onto the playing surface at Solider Field as they are introduced over the public address system. Participants also receive a customized jersey as well as a framed photo.