Jimmy John’s and NASCAR.

McDonald’s and the Olympics.

Taco Bell and Major League Baseball.

Papa John’s and the National Football League.

With consumers increasingly difficult to reach given the fragmented media landscape, sponsorship has inherited a more accepted and important role in corporations’ marketing mix.

“Traditional media just doesn’t cut it as it used to and sponsorships provide an opportunity to tap into the key passion points of consumers,” says William Chipps, senior editor of the IEG Sponsorship Report.

And quick-service restaurants, from national names to regional brands, have been unable to resist the sponsorship tug.

“QSRs oftentimes skew to distinct demographics and that allows both parties in a sponsorship package to get right at the heart of who they’re after,” says Rick Jones, head of South Carolina-based FishBait Marketing.

The quick-service restaurant category has historically been active in the sponsorship arena, partnering with the likes of sports teams, festivals, and civic entities, many of which relish the cash and exposure quick serves can bring to the partnership.

Stephen Emerick, director of corporate sponsorship for the Boy Scouts of America, has shared various talks with leading quick-service brands, viewing restaurants as a complementary match for his 101-year old organization.

“Dining is generally associated with family and we’re a family organization. That shared synergy is appealing,” Emerick says. “We think restaurants can help us promote scouting and give our troops spaces to congregate.”

Unlike media buys that are viewed as overt and explicit commercials, wherein corporations have control over content, sponsorships drive at something greater by indirectly connecting with consumers under the halo of goodwill. According to figures from GroupM, a global investment management operation, sponsorship growth is expected to outpace both advertising and sales promotions in 2011, with sports, entertainment tours and attractions, and associations and membership organizations expected to reap the greatest gains.

“If you want to reach eyeballs, then a TV spot might be the way to go, but if you want to promote products, reach targeted audiences, and gain one-on-one touchpoints, sponsorship can be that vehicle,” Chipps says.

In her opening address at the IEG Sponsorship Conference on last week in Chicago, IEG chairman Lesa Ukman cited a recent study reporting that 92 percent of mothers wanted to buy a product that supports a cause.

“When sponsors can put their products next to things people care about, they can increase the attractiveness of their products and drive engagement,” Ukman told the crowd of more than 1,000 marketing and sponsorship professionals. “Brands are judged by the company they keep.”

According to Chipps, annual sponsorship spending has risen 19 of the last 20 years, a sizable sum that shows just how entrenched sponsorships have become in today’s marketing programs. And yet the nature of sponsorship agreements remains an evolving mix, both sides of the arrangement consistently learning how to extract maximum value from the relationship and measure ROI.

“At the end of the day, this is a financial transaction and both sides need to figure out what they need out of the relationship and what assets each partner can bring to the table,” Chipps says.

Sponsees, for instance, are touting their opportunity to help restaurants promote specific offerings, such as new menu items or value offerings, as well as supplementing media buys with other integrated packages.

“I think restaurants are looking at their business, particularly weaknesses such as stagnant dayparts, and creating partnerships that allow them to drive in qualified traffic. Those seeking corporate partners know this and are trying to hammer home this point,” Jones says.

On the restaurant side, many brands continue seeking category exclusivity in their sponsorship deals, which not only heightens the agreement’s status but also locks out competitors.

Quick serves are also championing their ability to offer promotional support, such as cups and window clings, as a key asset they can bring to the table, sometimes pulling in co-op dollars from a soft drink provider to produce a greater benefit.

Sponsorship takes learning on both sides and it needs refreshing as well as assessment, Ukman reminded IEG conference attendees, but it remains a clear avenue for companies to connect with their customers in a sincere and heartfelt way.


Story and photo by Daniel P. Smith

Caption: IEG chairman Lesa Ukman addresses the more than 1,000 attendees at the company's sponsorship conference in Chicago last week.

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