By Willem van Lynden, Director of Sales & Marketing, Boost Capital

Viewers watching the start of the Wimbledon tournament today could be forgiven for thinking it’s a sponsor-free event. The All England Lawn Tennis Association, which runs the competition, demands sponsorship be discreet, and only visible where one would expect to see the relevant brand – IBM on the scoreboard, Slazenger on the balls, and manufacturers’ logos on the players’ all-white kit.

But these big companies still recognise the power of sponsoring events, even if their names aren’t plastered everywhere. And smaller businesses are also learning that using their money – and name – to support sports teams, local festivals, arts institutions, awards galas, and charitable causes can be a great form of advertising for their business, as well as a morale boost for employees.

Why sponsor?

Isn’t sponsorship an exercise in massaging the boss’s ego for little material return? Not if you do it properly. A fundamental aspect is knowing what you want from the tie-up so that you can measure how effective the exercise is proving. Marketing giant Mediacom cites a series of things to consider when pondering a sponsorship deal:

• Identify what you want to achieve, and what would be an effective measure of success. Pick out what’s most important – hospitality opportunities, boosting your brand, the chance to do some good locally, engaging staff – to give yourself the best chance of reaching that goal, and recognising when you’ve done so.
• Integrate your sponsorship efforts into your business’ overall marketing plan to ensure a cohesive approach to the promotion of your firm.
• Decide what message you want to send out, via what medium – social media, old-fashioned signage, packaging, information disseminated by your partners – and then manage the conversation in real time, reacting to events. Always show how passionate you are about your relationship with your sponsor.

There are other things to consider. You’ll need to negotiate whether you get sole naming rights to the event itself, a team or venue, say, the stadium where a rugby team plays. Or will you share billing with other sponsors? Do you want to have some involvement in any related awards events, presenting prizes, or with your company name on the trophies? Perhaps you’re in it for the opportunity to entertain clients or suppliers. If so, choose carefully, as you’ll want an engaging spectator sport or event. Also, evaluate whether any of the individuals you’re sponsoring might be valuable to your brand as ambassadors. Or might there be the chance for your staff to get directly involved with the sponsored entity to further cement the relationship?

Who to sponsor?

Some people think that only dynamic, sexy companies fit the sponsorship mould. This is plainly untrue – airlines sponsor football teams, and tech firms backed the London Olympics. What have their businesses got to do with sporting brilliance? Anyone can be a sponsor, but deciding what to support is another matter.

A starting place is to find out the range of sponsorship opportunities available. From small theatre companies to up-and-coming sports stars and social care groups for the elderly, these are just some of the individuals, events, and organisations small firms could support through the UK Sponsorship Database or the Sponsor Finder website.

Think about allying your company values with those of the person or body you’re sponsoring – a business producing accounting software, for example, could be a good match with a charity encouraging numeracy and literacy. Alternatively, you might pair yourself to an entity that’s supported by a similar demographic to your customer base – cricket teams often attract sponsorship from financial services firms because the sport is still mostly watched by the kind of middle-aged, middle class men who are likely to invest in their products.

But be wary of linking yourself to something that may result in reputational damage. Some years ago, a mobile phone company was considering sponsoring a cancer charity, until it was pointed out debate was still raging about possible links between mobile phone masts and cancer. That deal was hastily dropped.

How much? And is it all about money?

Obviously, small enterprises haven’t got the deep pockets of big names such as Red Bull, Barclays or Coca Cola. But research suggests bigger isn’t always better in terms of making the desired impact. Ponder how you might be a sponsor with the minimum of cost. Could part of your product or service form a proportion of the sponsorship package? For example, a design business could revamp a sports team’s logo in exchange for some branding on their kit. If you’re a food producer, your fare could be part of the buffet at a local event, with your name included among the sponsors.

If you are spending cash, the outlay needn’t be huge. The Sponsor Finder search engine has adverts ranging from £23,000 to sponsor one Suffolk football team, to a competitive motorsports driver asking for between £100 and £500 per rally. Arts lovers need only stump up the cost of theatre hire and costumes to become the sponsor of a Sheffield-based Gilbert and Sullivan society. The possibilities – and sums – are broad, and seemingly endless.

The feel-good factor and CSR

Aside from increasing your brand recognition, and providing the management board with a few choice invitations, sponsorship can also boost staff pride, and imbue employees with a sense of enthusiasm, and team spirit. It could also feed in to any corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda you’ve devised for your firm.

A lot will depend on what you sponsor. If it’s a good cause, then workers may be supportive because the money is being spent on something socially useful, and worthwhile. If you link yourself to a sports team or athlete as they get onto a winning streak, the excitement around this could prove infectious in the workplace. Conversely, if staff feel the sponsorship is wasteful, without purpose, or plain boring, then the impact could be overwhelmingly negative.

Get employees on board before you commit to a sponsorship deal. Canvas opinion about possible targets, perhaps giving your team the final say on a short-list of two or three candidates. And, as said, get them involved with the sponsored entity after the contract’s signed. They might volunteer for a charity, train with a sports team, or get preferential rates for a festival or arts event. If you get it right, sponsorship could bring huge benefits to the business, your team, and the organisation you’re supporting, too.