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Successful corporate sponsorship

The event was a runaway success. The ninth annual ING Miami Marathon, which took place Jan. 30, drew its largest turnout with more than 21,000 registered runners representing 50 states and 79 countries. Though not quite at the level of its sister event, the ING New York Marathon, with 45,000 runners, the Miami marathon continues to grow at an impressive rate and may very well one day match New York in terms of size and numbers.

It takes nothing less than a monumental effort to successfully pull off such a large-scale event. The logistical issues alone can be nightmarish. And while the event’s organizers can teach those of us in business a thing or two about leadership, delegation and communication skills for managing successful projects, I’d like to table that theme for a future column. Instead, today’s column will focus on another facet of the recent marathon which we can likewise apply to our own strategic planning process as we continue to look for ways to promote our brand and grow our business. I’m referring to the almost symbiotic relationship between an event and its corporate sponsors.

A sponsor is an individual or, more commonly, a business that supports activities and events, either financially or through the provision of products or services, for the purposes of reaching specific business goals. Unlike a benefactor whose support of an event is not contingent upon personal or professional gain, sponsors expect to quantifiably benefit from the events they support. When properly matched, events and sponsors can reach their respective goals more efficiently and effectively than many other conventional means of branding, such as advertising and direct mail, making sponsorship a viable option for small businesses looking to selectively grow their brand while cautiously climbing out of the proverbial hole caused by the recent recession. The key to success, though, lies in the matching.

Consider the Miami Marathon. ING is a global financial institution offering banking, investments, life insurance and retirement services to its customer base. In particular, ING wanted to establish itself among Hispanics -- an historically under-indexed demographic when it comes to life insurance because of associated social and cultural taboos. The match between ING’s business goals and this event lies in the parallel they draw between being prepared and “physically” fit for a marathon, and being prepared a “financially” fit for life. Additionally, two out of ING’s three U.S. marathons -- Miami and New York -- take place in high-profile cities with large Hispanic populations. This type of mission-specific association and targeted demographic exposure makes for a powerful brand promotion experience.

The more the relationship between an event and its corporate sponsor makes sense to them, the greater the possibilities for synergy and cross promotion of the brands. For example, as an advocate of the sport of running, ING developed an interactive online community where running enthusiasts can congregate to share experiences and information to help each other achieve physical fitness (training, nutrition, etc.). Running enthusiasts are welcomed to join the ING Runner’s Nation via Facebook or Twitter. Each of their three marathons have a dedicated website with resources and information targeted to anyone interested in the marathon itself, not necessarily ING products or services.

Though these sites do not serve primarily as a source for product placement or advertisement, the value for the sponsor is in the brand recognition and its association with a relevant, successful event.

As for the Hispanic demographic with the historically low index for life insurance, ING used the Miami Marathon as a springboard to launch a highly-interactive website,, that allows Hispanics to better understand the importance of life insurance.

While sponsorships at this level require a significant investment of time, money and resources, there are corporate sponsorship opportunities appropriate for small businesses with a limited budget. To maximize your brand experience, consider the following:

n Understand why you want to sponsor an event. As a small business owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your organization’s mission and vision are in line with the event you want to sponsor. This shouldn’t be about satisfying one’s ego. It should be about selecting an event that best fits your company’s goals.

n Set quantifiable goals. Deciding on whether or not to sponsor an event is a pure business decision. Set a budget and stick to it. Calculate your desired return on investment based on the benefit you can derive from establishing a presence at the event. Be specific. If you expect to generate new leads from the event, predetermine how many. If you expect to increase sales, set a target percent.

n Create goodwill. Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Some of the advantages that corporate sponsorships offer over conventional branding methods is the boost to your corporate image that comes from the goodwill you generate at the event. This intangible benefit should also be a contributing factor to the type of event your business should consider sponsoring.

Keep in mind that successful corporate sponsorship entails more than just the placement of an ad or the mass mailing of a direct mail piece. It’s about developing relationships and creating synergy, two keys for success in any business. If you’re considering sponsoring an event as a way to promote your brand and grow your business, take the time to find the right match. The results could far exceed your expectations.

Manny García-Tuñón, executive vice president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami, can be reached at