Sponsorships now part of media mix

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Marketers and media planners increasingly are seeking innovative sponsorship opportunities in an effort to reach their target audiences. In response to this demand, media agency Carat North America in August created a new business unit called Carat Sponsorship Solutions. The unit works with media planners at Carat’s various agencies—including Carat Interactive and Carat Business & Technology—to create sponsorship opportunities in sports, music, entertainment and other events.

Prior to establishing the unit, Carat, like many media agencies, developed sponsorship opportunities within its account planning groups at its agencies on an individual client basis.

"Sponsorships are typically planned separately from the media planning strategy," said Diane Karle, senior VP-managing director of Carat Sponsorship Solutions, who was a VP at sports marketing agency IMG before joining Carat. "Sometimes, marketing groups [on the client side] will plan sponsorships and evaluate sponsorships on their own, then hand it over to an agency.

"If they’re not being planned together, you’re losing efficiencies," she said.

Structuring sponsorship teams

Under the new structure, the sponsorship unit will work hand in hand with Carat planning teams to identify each client’s business and marketing goals and evaluate effective sponsorship opportunities as part of the overall advertising strategy.

"Exclusivity ranks very high for most companies," Karle said, pointing to one of the factors Carat considers when evaluating sponsorship opportunities.

Other important factors in choosing sponsorships are brand awareness (of the event), media exposure, hospitality elements and opportunities for product exposure, she said.

Media planners at other agencies agree that sponsorships are an increasingly important area for b-to-b clients as they look for ways to reach business decision-makers and influencers.

Sheree Johnson, senior VP-director of media services at NKH&W, Kansas City, Mo., said each sponsorship opportunity depends on the client and its marketing goals. For some traditional b-to-b marketers, sports opportunities make sense if they are relevant to the target audience and align with the demographics of the decision-makers, she said.

For example, NKH&W worked with shipping company Yellow Freight to create a NASCAR sponsorship. That made sense because of the appeal of sports car racing to transportation decision-makers, Johnson said.

For client FMC, an agricultural chemical manufacturer, NKH&W created a sponsorship around a field testing program in which growers went out to a field to view the results of treating crops with AIM, an FMC herbicide.

"It runs the gamut from value-added sponsorships with the media—such as sponsoring a seminar or a trade show—to non-media and sporting events," Johnson said.

MetLife’s integral sponsorships

One b-to-b advertiser that has made wide use of sponsorships, both online and offline, is financial services provider MetLife.

"Sponsorships are an integral part of our marketing strategy," said Eileen Conroy, MetLife’s VP-marketing communications, cross products and e-business.

MetLife’s institutional business, which sells insurance and financial services to businesses, has sponsored industry events, Webcasts and print opportunities as a way to reach HR and business professionals.

"What’s been exciting about the trade media is the opportunity to extend beyond the print ad," Conroy said.

For example, MetLife is the exclusive sponsor of Workforce magazine’s Optimas HR awards program, and it has participated in exclusive sponsorships of several Webcasts targeting HR professionals. Last month, MetLife sponsored a cover-wrap for Fortune to introduce a new retirement and savings program. MetLife’s ad agency, FCB New York, worked on the sponsorships.

Conroy said the advertiser looks for exclusive and innovative sponsorship opportunities that allow it to reach its HR and decision-maker audiences with high impact. But there’s room for improvement, she said.

"We’d like to see more creativity and more exclusive opportunities," she said.

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