We asked Stevie Jones of leading running brand Brooks Sports to weigh in on how sponsoring brands perceive the relationship between sponsors and events. Jones is the Manager of Event Marketing for Brooks, which supports dozens of races of all sizes across the U.S. each year. If you’ve ever wondered what a major brand looks for when deciding whether to partner with an event, read on for some illuminative insight.
What would you like event staff/race directors to know about your decision-making process for selecting event partners?
Jones: Some of the biggest factors we consider when deciding which races to partner with are the overall quality and reach of the event – meaning, how many runners is the race reaching, and how great of an overall experience are those runners having? How is the race organization giving back and supporting health and wellness in its community? Are there ways we as a brand can integrate a partnership into some of our other strategic initiatives? All that aside, there are factors we consider when vetting a new partnership opportunity that are completely out of the event’s control, which means that sometimes we turn down great opportunities at no fault of the race. Sometimes great events end up being non-starters for us purely based on their placement on the calendar or location. We prioritize our bandwidth and resources for the partnerships we have, which can sometimes create conflict for new opportunities. Our goal is to make sure we are able to go above and beyond our commitments in every partnership and deliver a best-in-class experience for runners, which sometimes means we are working with fewer events but doing more to support them.
When an event is presenting to a potential sponsor or partner, what details should they be sure to include?
Jones: What might seem like a no brainer but is frequently overlooked are the core basics of the event meaning the date, location, # of runners, and distance. You would be surprised how many sponsorship requests come through where I immediately have to go google where/when the event is. Beyond that, I would recommend events take the time to research a bit about the companies they are pitching to – what are their goals and values? Position the pitch to be about how the event will specifically support aspects of the company’s goals and brand values. Maybe it’s community outreach, employee involvement, or reaching a target audience. I would also recommend moving away from a set tiered sponsorship offering (bronze, silver, gold). When I see that, I assume that I’m one of a dozen emails sent that day soliciting sponsorship, it makes me feel as though there wasn’t much time spent on thinking about who they’re sending it to, and it’s probably been a long time since they’ve considered how to innovate and improve their sponsorship offering.
Industry surveys show that events are having a harder time gaining support from companies and brands right now. What’s your take on this and do you see it improving in the next six-12 months?
Jones: I see it improving in the next 6 months, the data is pointing to record participation in the sport of running, and brands who had to hunker down and protect their cash flow over the last 12+ months are likely coming out looking to reach new customers. I don’t expect securing sponsorship to get any easier, but I think that great events with great opportunities for sponsors will be able to find brands to work with.
Can virtual events be viable for sponsor support, or is it harder for them to demonstrate ROI?
Jones: If the last 12+ months have demonstrated anything, it’s that a “virtual event” can mean a variety of different things. A physical event that pivoted virtual (take Pittsburgh Marathon for example) can still deliver a lot of value in sponsorship, particularly to the brands it already works with. Events that are new and purely virtual, even if coming from a well-reputed event organizer, are harder to drive sponsorship value from. In those cases, finding sponsorship with non-endemic sponsors who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the event’s audience would be my recommended approach.
If an event is struggling with its sponsorship pitch, any advice or resources you’d suggest?
Jones: Find a peer in the industry and see what you can learn from each other. Hear how they pitch their race(s) and share how you pitch yours. Offer honest feedback and be ready to hear honest feedback. From there, just try to get as many reps in as possible, and don’t let rejections discourage you. The more pitches you can make, the more likely you are to find a “yes.”