Last Friday I attended the second annual LIVE Conference Awards Gala which marked the end of a grueling two-day national student business competition. My agency has had the pleasure of being the creative partner of this one-of-a-kind conference since its inception almost 2 years ago, and from our involvement with the experience, I’ve learned 2 very important things:
- Student organizations like the Management & Economics Students’ Association (MESA) who pilot innovations like LIVE Conference are breeders of tomorrow’s most promising business leaders.
- Sponsoring a great organization or initiative could be one of the smartest moves you make for your growing business.
Two years ago, some colleagues of mine had asked for my help to launch an ambitious vision they had for a new breed of undergraduate business conferences. They needed some online firing power and I, reluctantly at the time, had accepted the honour, offering the services of my agency in exchange for potential exposure. Little did I know that that decision would ignite a long string of relationships and successes that would help us get to the point where we are at today – with the good fortune of being able to imagine ourselves doing what we love full time.
From our involvement with LIVE Conference 2006, we met one of our best clients who has not only personally provided an ongoing stream of projects for us, but has also referred us to a handful of other great clients. Additionally, our success with working with one of the co-chairs encouraged even more positive word-of-mouth, consequently spreading the good word to all her subsequent new business contacts. From these two buds alone have grown several long and fruitful branches of success that have helped us reach many new milestones throughout this past year (how’s that for an overly-developed metaphor?). We recently closed off our fiscal year with a nearly 200% growth rate from the previous year. Though other factors played a role in our growth as well, many of our successes trace back to our sponsorship of LIVE.
Yes, there’s a point.
Requests for sponsorship are not uncommon in any industry, especially not for creative agencies. Often times, growing agencies hardly have the man power to support sponsorships because it means sacrificing man power from client work which inevitably pay the bills (and the men and women that provide the power). However, I encourage you all to sidestep this [reasonable] excuse and consider for a moment the often-unseen benefits that can arise if you play the cards right.
If bad PR is still good PR because there’s no such thing as bad PR, then good PR must be awesome PR (just follow the logic…). Exposure from sponsoring a successful initiative will put you in the good light with the other corporate sponsors (read: potential clients), which, as our story has shown, can bring many promising things.
Here are some other benefits of sponsoring:
- Gain access to new audiences.
- Have full creative control over the work being delivered.
- Get a testing ground for new technologies and/or strategies.
- Have the opportunity to contribute to a cause you believe in.
- Meet great people.
It’s not all good…
While I’m encouraging that growing agencies give sponsorship a try, I should also warn that sponsorships can go sour if you’re not careful. The sponsored party can gain a bad reputation which then passes onto you. The sponsored work could take an excessive amount of time and labour that is far beyond what was forecasted and planned. Or, worst yet, after all the hard work, the project you’re sponsoring could fail and never see its launch date.
These are all risks you take when sponsoring, and some risks will be more prevalent than others depending on the party you’re working with. Do your homework and carefully consider all angles of the deal. Free work is tough, but free work for nothing will hurt you considerably.
Survive your sponsorship
Doing pro-bono work isn’t easy. Trust me, I know. So to help you make the most out of your sponsorship experience, I’d like to offer 3 nuggets of advice that I’ve gained from my experience:
- Pick a relevant cause. The more relevant the sponsored cause, the more potential benefits there are. Pick something that reflects the values you and your company believe in and also something that connects with your line of work. This ensures a more natural transition from your sponsored work to future paid work.
- Do it yourself. Cost is always going to be a big issue. If you can’t afford to pay your team to do work that brings in no revenue, then do it yourself (if you’re capable of doing it). Putting in the hours to support a sponsorship deal is no different from putting in the hours to network with clients to acquire accounts - it’s all part of the business development role that accompanies your entrepreneurial responsibilities.
- Give a little, get a little. Your sponsorship should be as much about giving as it is about getting. As part of your consideration of whether or not to sponsor something, measure the value of the return – whether it be exposure, relationships, or anything in between. It’s also not uncommon to look to sponsor projects that offer you opportunities to learn and do new things that you normally can’t do with paying clients.
With a new outlook on sponsorship, my agency now looks specifically for great new organizations and causes to sponsor every year. In fact, through the connections made at LIVE, we also extended our arms to the American Marketing Association, who we happily work with as part of the interactive team.
So the moral of the blog post is this: as contradicting as it may sound, sponsorship can be a profitable move. Play your cards right and you’ll gain not only in revenues, but in relationships, opportunities, and good will too. For us, we got all of that plus the pride of being the creative partner for the leading national undergraduate business conference in Canada.
Not too shabby for a growing agency!