Sponsorship Activation, It’s Easier Than You Think

Whether you are in cause, sport, municipality, education or festival sponsorship the reality is the same: sponsorship = activation. Period.

Still thinking of sponsorship as putting a logo on a building, wall, invitation, bottle of wine? Then you are missing 90% of the sponsorship world. Putting logos on stuff is definitely part of sponsorship, but it isn’t the most valuable part…or the most fun and it DEFINITELY isn’t the most lucrative.

The best way to make your sponsors happy is to make your audience happy.

Stop and re-read that last sentence…I’ll wait 😉

Your audience (attendees, fans, social media followers and program users) should never have to endure sponsorship. They should see value in what the sponsor brings to the table and actually enjoy it.

Sponsorship Activation, Kicking it Old School

My wife and I recently went to a 5K race. The race was a fundraiser for a specific charity. We went to the event because we were training for another event on the same course and were treating it like a practice run. We came with our running group (25 people) all of whom were doing the same thing.

None of the event organizers asked us why we were there or why we signed up, so they assumed that we were there because of the cause. The race was scheduled to start at 9:00 AM so we warmed up, stretched, ate and went through our ritual for a 9:00 AM start time.

The race didn’t start at 9:00 AM. Speeches did. And they went on for over 45 minutes. Then there was a parade with bag pipes, then the national anthem…then another speech.

My wife and I left the event at 10:15 having not run the race (and so did most of the people we came with) and, as it turns out, a few hundred other runners!

We checked out social media to see if there was more information about the event, maybe we misunderstood. The hashtag for the event was packed with complaints. Complaints about the event, how badly organised it was and, worst of all (in my opinion) tons of complaints about the sponsors who spoke forever about products that nobody in the crowd cared about.

The event didn’t just flop but it actually damaged the reputation of the charity and the sponsors.

How did this happen? Bad sponsorship activation.

The sponsorship seeker may WANT the audience to care about their cause but that doesn’t mean that the audience does. If you guess wrong at what your audience wants, you have some angry sponsors on your hands (and some angry attendees too!).

What is Sponsorship Activation?

I think of sponsorship activation as a way of “switching on” your sponsorship. It isn’t just doing what you said you would, it’s actually about achieving the outcomes of your sponsors. Just giving sponsors a place to deliver a speech may seem like a good activation idea, but not if your audience hates them for it!

Activation is where audience goals and sponsor goals come together in a way that achieves the outcomes of both parties. The sponsorship seeker gets to charge a premium for all of the assets associated with the activation opportunity, delivering the triple win that everybody wants.

The Secret to Sponsorship Activation Revealed

Step One:

Ask your audience what they love about your event, program, team, space, festival etc. Ask them what they hate. Ask them what they want more of and less of, then ask them the questions outlined in our post all about gathering useful audience data and follow the steps there.

Step Two:

Tell your prospective sponsors what you heard from your audience and ask them for ideas to solve those problems, add more value and give them more of what they love.

Step Three:

Ask your sponsors what outcomes they are trying to achieve. “Title sponsorship” is not an outcome. Neither is an exhibit booth. An outcome is something like “we want to increase the size of our email database by 12%” or “we are looking for warm leads among XYZ population.”

Now, create an opportunity that solves a problem of your audience (or gives them more of something they love) and attach your sponsor’s goal outcomes to that opportunity.

For example:

What if your audience wants networking opportunities? Then work with your sponsor to create a space and a contest to encourage networking! If your sponsor wants to grow their email database, then run a contest to drive people to your sponsor’s email sign up in order to come to a free VIP networking event. Don’t guess at what your audience wants, you have to be 100% sure.

Since your audience told you that they want networking more than anything else, you know they will respond to the opportunity and will actually show up.

If we reflect back to the event in my example above, a brilliant activation idea would have been a “competitive stream” where runners get access to a warm up area and a start time just for them. The “family stream” gets to connect to the cause more deeply and enjoy family activities while the competitive stream can come, do their thing and go home (all for a premium, of course).

The best part of such an activation idea is that it would have let the event organizers segment the audience (runners vs non-runners) and deliver a group of runners to sponsors who sell products to those people, leaving the event organizers with more revenue, happier attendees and happier sponsors.

Looking for Some Sponsorship Activation Ideas?

The best part about activation-focused sponsorship is that it’s easy! The sponsorship seeker doesn’t have to come up with any ideas at all. Just ask your audience what they want, then ask your sponsors what they are trying to achieve and bring the two together. There is no better source for activation ideas then your audience and your sponsors, no guesswork needed.


Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.

After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.

Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn