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Why Properties Should Host Sponsor Summits

Part of the invitation from the Chicago Bears to the team's annual sponsor summit held last month.

Properties of every type and size have much to gain from hosting sponsor summits.

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.

The Stanley Works, Tel: 860/225-5111
Chicago Bears, Tel: 847/295-6600
Major League Baseball, Tel: 212/931-7800

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Sponsor Summit Best Practices

Schedule it away from other events. Properties should try to host summits at least several months prior to an event, season kick-off, etc., to ensure that partners have enough time to develop new cross-promotions or take advantage of other sponsorship opportunities.

For example, the Chicago Bears this year moved the team’s summit from May to March after receiving feedback from sponsors asking for more lead time prior to the NFL season.

“They asked us to host the summit earlier in the year to receive more time to develop ideas and discuss best practices,” said Chris Hibbs, the team’s senior director of sales & marketing.

While the team found the earlier timing of the meeting challenging because the NFL schedule had not been confirmed, the sponsors’ preference trumped that obstacle, he said.

The Hampton Classic hosts its annual summit two months prior to the late summer event.

“The timing is good for sponsors that have signed on early because it gives them time to develop new programs, but it’s not too early for sponsors that have come on late,” said Shanette Barth Cohen, executive director.

Focus on content, not sales.
Although properties can use sponsor summits to educate partners about new sponsorship inventory, they should be careful not to turn the event into a selling opportunity.

“There is a danger that summits will be perceived as a way to sell additional assets: it’s very easy to set them up as a sales pitch, and we are conscious not to do that,” said Lawrence Aldridge, senior vice president of corporate alliances with The Walt Disney Co.

Aldridge, who re-engineered the entertainment giant’s summits after taking his current position three years ago, asks partners what topics they would like to see addressed at the meeting.

That feedback has led to discussions on Disney’s environmental practices and the impact of bloggers on consumer purchase decisions, said Aldridge, who invited several “mommy bloggers” to discuss what they do and their influence on their readers.

Promote attendance by key property personnel.
Properties should include their CEOS, executive directors and other key stakeholders in the summit. Their involvement demonstrates the importance of the meeting and the sponsors to the organization.

“We always have the CEO and general manager address the group as one of the first things we do; hearing from the top is important,” said Hibbs.

Support the summit with valuable takeaway documents.
Organizers should provide participants with copies of presentations, contact information for all attendees and other important data.

The Hampton Classic uses its sponsor summit to distribute its sponsor guidelines, which contain a wealth of information sponsors need to have.

“People ask questions like ‘What will my table look like?’ The guidelines have pictures of empty and decorated booths, information on insurance and a checklist of all the things they need to know,” Cohen said.

Click here to view The Hampton Classic Corporate Sponsorship Guidelines document.

Accommodate B2B sponsors. Sponsor summits go a long way in helping business-to-business sponsors make contacts with other sponsors, and properties should accommodate their special needs.

At the same time, properties should make sure media companies and other B2B sponsors don’t dominate the meeting with pitches to other sponsors.

That’s a situation The Hampton Classic found itself in several years ago with a media partner.

“We don’t have time on the schedule for media companies to pitch air time. Other sponsors would stop showing up,” said Cohen, who remedied the situation by allowing the media companies to distribute sales information at pre-arranged locations.

Respect their time. Summits should be one- or two-day affairs that require no more than a one-night stay for those who are traveling a long distance. A half-day meeting often can suffice for local properties.

Some events have opted for less formal get-togethers than full-blown sponsor summits.

That’s the case with San Francisco’s Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Festival & Parade, which hosts small groups of sponsors at informal luncheons. The festival invites sponsors that share mutual interests, such as retailers and vendors.

“I don’t see any reason to have a forced meeting, said Peggy Kennedy, president of Kennedy Event Marketing, which sells sponsorship for the property. “We look for sponsors that have a natural affinity and try to find ways to enhance what they are doing.”

Invite related agencies and third-parties.
Representatives from sponsorship, promotion, PR and other agencies that help manage and execute a client’s sponsorship should be part of the dialogue.

Consider an independent moderator. Properties should consider bringing in an outsider with knowledge of sponsorship. The expert can help heighten the importance of the event and help facilitate discussions that may not be possible with just sponsors and property staff.

Offer online access to summit presentations. Properties should consider supporting live summits with a web broadcast to accommodate attendees who may not be able to make the meeting in person, Smola said.

Smola also recommends that properties create online forums where sponsors can access contacts at other companies and share ideas.

Follow up with an action plan. Properties should provide participants with a menu of activation ideas, lists of promotional inventory available through other sponsors, and summaries of each partner’s plans and objectives to make post-meeting follow-up easier.

The Stanley Works, Tel: 860/225-5111
The Hampton Classic, Tel: 631/537-3177
The Walt Disney Co., Tel: 818/560-1000
Kennedy Event Marketing, Tel: 925/830-9940


What Sponsorship Summits Should Accomplish

What Sponsorship Summits Should Accomplish
Properties can use sponsor summits to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Update partners on relevant property news, audience research and new sponsorship opportunities
  • Discuss property’s added-value elements and new benefits
  • Educate partners about their cosponsors’ objectives, promotional plans, time frames and distribution channels
  • Facilitate sponsor cross-promotions
  • Share best practices on sponsorship activation and measurement
  • Immerse sponsors in property’s culture
  • Introduce sponsors to property contacts with whom they are likely to interact

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