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Four Cornerstones to Building Successful Partnerships

What do the largest music festival in the world and one of the most popular fairs in the country have in common? Strong, bold, successful partnerships.

Two renowned entertainment venues – Summerfest and Wisconsin State Fair – were joined by their presenting sponsors at the Sponsorship Mastery Summit to discuss the origin and ongoing development of their best-in-class partnerships.

The conversation among our four dynamic panelists explored how they maintain close alignment and strive to raise value for each partner, as well as their customers and attendees. It also highlighted the following four key elements for successful sponsorships anywhere.

Everyone Must Win

From the beginning, when an event or organization seeks out a prospective partner, everyone involved should be guided by the following question: How will all stakeholders benefit?

If you can’t clearly and specifically articulate the positive impact on the sponsoring brand, its customers and other target markets, the sponsored property, and the property’s fans, audience and followers, the partnership has little chance of being worthwhile.

Asking how everyone involved will win is a great anchor to the first meeting between property and sponsor. It ensures discussion of goals and objectives, activation ideas, and the metrics that should be used to determine success.

The idea that “everyone must win” was true for session panelists Jen Puente, Chief Marketing Officer for Wisconsin State Fair Park and Rebecca Kruse, Senior Manager, Local Marketing for UScellular, the fair’s presenting sponsor. One of the reasons their partnership has been so effective is that it helps meet the fair’s mission of keeping ticket prices as low as possible while allowing UScellular to put its money where its mouth is in terms of demonstrating commitment to the local community. Additionally, the partnership provides unique benefits that reward subscribers and create brand envy among customers of competing wireless carriers.

Different Partners Need Different Things

Sponsorship will never be a one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s imperative that sellers begin with an understanding of a prospect’s market position, life-cycle stage, etc., when beginning to design packages that will meet a brand’s needs.

One of the compelling reasons why American Family Insurance became the presenting sponsor of Summerfest in Milwaukee was its position as a challenger brand. As a company in an ultra-competitive category with a number of larger, free-spending competitors, American Family seeks affordable ways to amplify its voice and “out shout” the competition, according to Sherina Smith, Chief Marketing Officer for American Family Insurance and Main Street America. Sponsorship allows it to level the playing field versus some of the biggest advertisers in the country.

Larger or more established brands would likely prioritize experiential opportunities and other benefits further down the purchase funnel than the awareness and consideration that American Family seeks

Failure to assess where a sponsor stands means sellers risk missing the mark with proposed assets, rights and benefits.

Lead with Yes

It is critical that events and organizations approach partners and prospects with an open mind and a willingness to get creative. Take the approach that you are a marketing agency and the brand is your client.

For example, when American Family told Summerfest that it needed the partnership to provide benefits year-round beyond the event itself, the property developed the Let the Music Play grant program that awards grants to Milwaukee nonprofits and schools that offer music-based programming as part of their curriculum. Now in its fourth year, the program has become a key brand builder for both the insurance company and the property.

As Sherina said, “Our collaboration really transcends organizational boundaries.

We allow ourselves to think broadly, not be trapped into traditional solutions, and be more creative in how we bring things to life from an innovative perspective.”

Leading with yes doesn’t mean never saying no. It’s about being solution-oriented and coming to the table with workable alternatives if a sponsor’s specific request can’t be accommodated. An unwillingness to do this is a big red flag to sponsors that perhaps they should look elsewhere.

Transparency and Clarity Will Carry the Day

As in any relationship, being open with your partners—even vulnerable—will go a long way to establishing trust, commitment and willingness to work through inevitable challenging times.

Sarah Smith-Pancheri, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Summerfest producer Milwaukee World Festival, neatly captured this idea—and the reason sponsorship is a unique marketing medium—with this comment: “People who work in events are passionate. Our people want to be considered part of a sponsor’s marketing team and will run through walls if they know the right direction. We will deliver, but we need to know where you want us to go.”

Equally important to brands sharing their objectives is having a mutual understanding and shared ownership of success metrics. This is especially important when outcomes don’t match expectations.

Being able to have honest conversations about why particular goals weren’t met and what can be done differently going forward is key to continuing the relationship and growing it into a long-term partnership.

The relationships between Summerfest, Wisconsin State Fair and their partners are incredibly powerful. They have transformed the guest experience, created community impact, and delivered value for both parties. The relationship between them is ongoing and interactive. If you need help taking your partnerships to the next level, we can help! Reach out to us at info@sponsorshipmastery.com.

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