Sponsorship: don't bite the hand that feeds you

Sponsorship: don't bite the hand that feeds you
Do you ever feel like everyone wants your sponsorship, and that it's just never enough? Robert Bruce explores why you shouldn't bite the hand that feeds.

Do you ever feel like everyone wants a piece of you? That everyone wants your time or ideas (or cash) for no payment, and that it’s just never enough? 

In my line of business the most noticeable lack of gratitude comes from events (big or small) looking for sponsorship. 

As background, a major event (sporting, music, community, motor racing or charity event) might sell tickets for $30 – $100 each. If an agency like mine can generate some cash sponsorship for them, it can be the equivalent of them selling hundreds or maybe thousands of tickets without using up any capacity or spending any marketing budget to make the sales. This means they can sell even more tickets and make even more money. No brainer, right? It’s money for jam.

Events normally just need to accommodate some humble requests like branding on site, promotional staff, social media plugs and maybe some free tickets for staff or customers. Sure, there is some administration around sponsorship but in truth most events are massively overpriced relative to what they offer and should be thankful for any support they get at all, cash or otherwise.

What I have learned from working with dozens of events is that sponsors are something all events have to have but who no one wants to deal with or look after.

Events need to look at things from another angle. If you are a brand or marketing manager from a big company or an agency director holding the purse strings of a big corporate, you have enormous choice about where you spend your marketing budget. You can put it into below the line, above the line, print, digital, social, experiential, PR, advertising, media, bus shelters, billboards, bus backs, or maybe (just maybe) event partnerships and sponsorships. With some of the above investments the results are clear: you put an ad on during Shortland Street and you are certain to hit X hundred thousand Kiwi couch potatoes. Put a billboard on the Southern Motorway and you will hit X thousand motorists crawling their way to work. But event sponsorship is so much harder to measure, which is why event managers or owners should be so much more flexible and realistic about their pricing. 

Brand managers are always asking me, "How has this sponsorship solved my marketing problem? How has this sponsorship investment (not to mention leverage investment) returned sales greater than the cash outlay?" Events that can show evidence of how it will make a solid return on investment for a commercial partner are set, and can charge what they want. But I’m yet to see a great example of this in this country.

Until the day of enlightenment when events can hand-on-heart show the return on investment from sponsorship, my tip for event managers is to be grateful for any cash that comes your way and try actually thanking the agency, broker or client who is spending it with you – aka, the hand that feeds you.

Robert Bruce is the founder of experiential marketing agency SublimeNZ (now part of Professional Public Relations), and a regular contributor to Idealog. Contact him at

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).