What is Sponsorship Activation?


I didn't know that it had a name. I always thought that sponsorship just included companies doing things to make their sponsorship stand out. It turns out that activation is doing exactly that - doing something more to make sure your sponsorship stands out. That's a pretty basic explanation but really it's that simple.

Here is a more formal definition according to Optimy:

"Sponsorship activation is the intention of independently promote and advertise, from a sponsors’ point of view, towards a specific marketing opportunity. Such process is formed by the tactical activities that the sponsors devise to exploit to the fullest and by the marketing rights derived from the sponsorship. Think of it like a way to ”switch on” your sponsorship."

I have not had a ton of experience with being a sponsor but when I have I know that I always had this feeling that I needed to do more to stand out. I had an opportunity to be in front of a bunch of people I wouldn't normally be able to so I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity.

From the other side, as a planner that works with sponsors at events, I can tell you that there are so many opportunities missed by sponsors. Sponsors spend their hard earned money, their marketing dollars, to be seen but don't take the opportunity to make sure they are being seen. Then they get upset with sponsoring events because they don't see any return on their investments.

So many missed opportunities

I am going to give you an example from years ago. This wasn't an event I was working on but I was trying to catch the attention of the planner in charge. I stopped by the event to check it out and he asked me to take a walk around the golf course and to let me know if I thought anything was missing. That was it, there was no leading me to what he was looking for. Just go take a walk and let him know what is missing.

I enjoyed a stroll around the golf course. This was a CPGA event so there were lots of people around. Golfers, caddies, spectators. Lots of people golf clapping when someone would tee off. The course looked good. There were some great views around the golf course. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. There was food. I was starting to panic. I had nothing to report. Then...I got to the 18th hole. And there it was staring me in the face.

Sponsor signs, sponsored seating areas. And tons of people standing around the seating areas, literally around the sponsored areas, watching the golfers.

There was a VIP section to my left. It was roped off. "For guests of..." was what the sign said. There was no one there from the company, there were no chairs, there were no guests in the VIP section.

To my right, another VIP section. This one was tented, right at the 18th hole. there were some chairs. There was a table with fruit platters and bottles of wine. There were 2 company staff in the tent with their feet up on the table and only talking to each other. Still no guests in the tent.

And yet, there must have been at least 20 people standing around the two VIP spaces. MISSED OPPORTUNITY!!!

I didn't know near as much about sponsorship as I do now but those missed opportunities were staring at me with bright red blinking lights.

These companies paid a lot of money to have their name associated with this golf tournament. And they did nothing to activate their sponsorship. The one company tried with using the tent and providing food but totally lost all credit when their staff sat with their feet up just talking among themselves.

How would you activate your sponsorship?

If those had been your companies that had sponsored those spaces what would you have done to activate the sponsorship? What would you have done to make sure that everyone knew who sponsored the VIP area at the 18th hole?

Here's what I would have done:

  1. Filled the space with comfortable chairs - better than just a folding chair.
  2. Had trained staff on site who were ready to talk to anyone and everyone who walked by. Just make conversation, no sales-pitchy stuff. Golf talk.
  3. Provided every client and potential client with VIP passes to the event.
  4. Had food and beverages available for anyone who stopped by.
  5. Provided a golf hat or shirt with our logo on it to everyone so they would remember us when they went home and every time they used it after that.
  6. Had a contest running in the space so that I could gather their contact information.
  7. Followed up with everyone who stopped by our space after the event to get to know them a bit better and to see if we were able to help them in some way.

Instead what these companies did was throw money at an event and hoped their logo on a banner, on a sign and in the program brought them business. How do you think that worked out for them? Think they sponsored a similar event again? Nope. But guaranteed they blamed the event for not driving the attendees to them, they didn't get enough exposure. They had plenty of exposure, they just didn't do anything to be seen.

Now that I have worked with sponsors on a different level. I understand not only activation but also that sponsors require a lot of hand holding if this is not something they do all the time. Most sponsors are open to activation they just don't know what to do or how to do it.

As a planner, I feel that it is part of my job, to help each sponsor maximize their sponsorship and the way to do that is to help them create an engaging activation at the event. There are so many ideas out there. So many great ways to catch the attention of the attendees. Yes it does mean that as the planner you are spending more time but in return you get very happy sponsors who come back year after year. As the sponsor, you are spending more money but if you don't, the money you spent on sponsoring the event in the first place is a potential waste because you're just hoping someone might remember your name. Make them remember you!

Julia O’Grady has big vision, fresh ideas and a proven track record in the events industry. She and her team work hard to exceed client expectations and push ITM Events to achieve greater heights. A driven entrepreneur, Julia also manages the business side of ITM Events including human resources, finances, marketing and writing grant and sales proposals. In taking a high level approach to event management, Julia is able to visualize a project from inception to successful execution. She attracts valuable sponsors by offering meaningful opportunities to engage with participants. Julia uses her keen analytical mind to create incredible events that maximize the available budget. When Julia isn’t planning unforgettable events, she loves travelling the world with her family, staying active, and enjoying fine food and martinis.

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