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You Don't Have to Sell Your Soul

Marketing Partnerships, Not Event Sponsorships, Can Turn your Wish List into Reality Without Turning your Parks into Billboards.

By Mick Jackowski

It's a familiar problem. Your parks and recreation department budget is shrinking or staying the same, yet the number of quality services you are expected to provide is ever increasing. You have that wish list of projects that could make parks and recreation a shining star in your community, but your department is understaffed and overworked just trying to keep up with day-to-day operations. Now, you can actually get your dream projects funded from companies that do business in your area through marketing partnerships. This concept is not to be confused with its better-known cousin, event sponsorship.

A multitude of parks and recreation agencies utilize event sponsorship, which is defined for this article as corporate support for your specific events or programs in return for tangible benefits to the company. Some communities that do not pursue these funding opportunities are afraid that if they enter into sponsorship agreements, they will have to put giant billboards throughout their parks and facilities.

This does not have to be the case. In fact, more companies put less value on signage and would prefer less intrusive benefits where they can develop good relationships with citizens in the community. Consequently, fewer and fewer companies are looking for signage when they work with parks and recreation agencies. However, even without the need to erect large corporate placards, event sponsorship is more time consuming and cannot create nearly the amount of cash revenue for your department that cooperative marketing partnerships can.

Cooperative marketing partnerships are one of the fastest growing alternative funding methods being used by municipal parks and recreation agencies across the country. It is defined as partnering your entire parks and recreation department with a company that does business in your area. The negotiating leverage your department creates by bundling all of your facilities and events together into one exclusive package makes the opportunity much more attractive to members of the corporate community. It is for this reason that the revenue sum of marketing partnerships is much greater than all of your event sponsorships combined. Companies want to be exclusively associated with your entire department, and are willing to pay a premium for it. This is also the reason why large, nonprofit athletic organizations, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), bundle their own sponsorship opportunities.

Here are few of the advantages that marketing partnerships have over traditional event sponsorship:

Less Work

Instead of looking for sponsors for each of your events or programs on an individual basis, a single marketing partnership can provide financial support for all of your events. This lightening of your workload allows you to redirect your staff to handle other responsibilities.

Less Commercialization

Because this comprehensive relationship is more of a partnership instead of a sponsorship, many companies are less interested in placing huge, permanent signs on your grounds. They would rather develop good relationships with citizens who frequent your facilities and events. For example, this can be done through temporary information booths that can be removed after the completion of various events or programs.

More Cash, Less Product

In many small sponsorship arrangements in parks and recreation departments, much of the corporate investment is given as in-kind or trade, such as advertising or product. Although providing these benefits is a nice gesture, your budget needs more cash. By working with a company in a department-wide partnership, you can insist and will receive cash instead of trade.

More Revenue Than You Imagined Could Be Possible

Combine all of the revenue and trade you receive through your current sponsorships and multiply that by four. On average, that is the minimum you can expect your revenue to increase if you change your strategy from using event sponsorships to developing marketing partnerships. Again, this is due to the premium that companies will pay to be one of the recognized exclusive marketing partners for your entire department. However, be careful. If your department does not have ample background in marketing and sponsorship, you may be leaving money on the table. A company's initial offer may be far below its actual worth in the market. Outside expertise can often be helpful during the procurement and negotiation stages to ensure you receive fair market value. These services can often be obtained for little or no cost to your department.

Closing Tips

Regardless of whether you utilize event sponsorships or marketing partnerships, it is important to create a policy that details the types of relationships that will be pursued and the benefits that will be provided or excluded. More importantly, the process of creating this policy ensures that everyone, from council members to staff, is on the same page so misunderstandings do not occur later.

It is also important to note that a marketing partnership does not mean that your agency would be required to use the product or service of the partner. If you wish, this exclusive relationship can only be for marketing benefits and does not have to involve your purchasing department. Remember, you call the shots, not the company. You do not have to provide a benefit with which your department does not feel comfortable. Most companies would like marketing exclusivity in their product or service category, and are comfortable working with you to determine what other benefits can be provided. The more benefits you can provide, the more funding you will receive.

Dr. Mick Jackowski is Chief Strategist with GreenPlay, LLC, a parks, recreation and open space management consulting firm. He can be contacted at or (303) 439-8369.

From Alaska Recreation & Park Association Newsletter: Issue No. 83 August 2001

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