Apples and Oranges – sponsorship vs. traditional media

different concepts - orange between applesI was inspired to write this blog post based on a recent call with an agency.   The genesis of the conversation involved the comparison of a fully integrated sponsorship opportunity with a traditional media buy.  It went something like this “when we compared the opportunity with a media buy, it wasn’t even close…” I won’t get into detail, but if you’re looking for a certain CPM or GRP, I think it’s time to rethink Sponsorship and what it means.  

Next time you’re thinking about Sponsorship vs. traditional media – think about Sponsorship differently.   Think about what your consumers are passionate about and how you can join the conversation?  Think of Sponsorship as a multi-faceted tool that can not only be leveraged through the Marketplace, Medium and Message, but also to amplify your media, PR, digital and other marketing channels.

Depending on the kind of agency you’re dealing with, they could be a catalyst (e.g. sponsorship marketing agency) or a roadblock (e.g. media buying agency).   PR/promo shops tend to be somewhere in the middle.  Of course I’m generalizing because some agencies are amazing and get it, while others not so much.  Sponsorship Sellers – my recommendation is to start the conversation with the client and take direction from there. It’s tough for an agency to fully understand or value the Sponsorship opportunity when they don’t have the 360 degree perspective of the company/brand, like the client would typically have i.e. how can a media agency value employee engagement; B2B cross-promotions with other sponsors; or vendor pass-through rights?

Sponsorship is not a media buy.  Sure, you can generate some great exposure through media assets included in an integrated sponsorship, but if you’re deciding between a media buy or Sponsorship, you need to take a long hard look at what you’re trying to achieve.   If the Sponsorship is purely a vehicle to create top of mind brand awareness, then you’re going to pay a big premium for those impressions (I’m sure any property would gladly take those easy-to-earn and low maintenance dollars).    If you view Sponsorship marketing as a strategic tool that lends credibility, creates content, and engages multiple stakeholders (I could keep going), then you know Sponsorship is vastly different from other forms of traditional marketing.

Here’s an easy to digest (and communicate) take on the three major reasons why brands typically invest in Sponsorship marketing  – and why it has the potential to be so much more than a media buy.   There are a few more, but these are the three most common:

Sponsorship 3Ms

Marketplace:  this is a tactical application that includes sampling, trial and awareness, and other forms of one-to-one consumer interaction in a captive environment.  Festivals, fairs, participatory events and other properties that typically have longer breaks offer more value than traditional live sporting events (e.g. hockey or football games) since fans on average are there for a longer period of time and looking for activities to keep them engaged.   Example shown below is a creative and relevant “marketplace” engagement that added incredible value to participants during Tough Mudder (Toronto, ON).  Samsung Canada’s (Home Appliance Division) sponsorship of the event took home an SMCC award of distinction in the small budget category.

Samsung Tough Mudder Toronto

Medium: This could include signage, videoboard spots, digital media, advertisement in the programme, logo on who knows what, etc.   Tier-1 professional sports properties have an advantage here based on their broadcast muscle i.e. they can enhance the value of the impression through the broadcast (think Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBA finals or the CFL’s Grey Cup, which reaches nearly half of Canada) vs. local events, arts & culture who don’t have the benefit of a big broadcaster and ratings, and rely on the quality of their live audience.   “Medium” example shown below: NHL partners with rinkboards (a.k.a dasher boards), scored huge during the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals (US ratings below)

Stanley Cup Finals

  • The Final averaged a 3.3 household rating and 5.76 million viewers on NBC (Games 1 and 4-6) and NBC Sports Network (Games 2 and 3), with the deciding sixth game earning a 4.7 rating and drawing 8.16 million viewers.
  • Overall, the household rating was up 83 percent over last year’s Final between Los Angeles and New Jersey, while viewership was up 91 percent.
  • Most-watched Cup Final since viewership records were first kept in 1994.

Message: The most powerful of the three M’s (and it applies to all properties – arts, entertainment, cause, sports, etc.). This is what you should be paying the premium for.  This is a combination of intellectual properties rights, associative value, exclusivity and other intangible value that comes with a partnership.   Note – the total value of the message will vary depending on how you choose to activate the partnership and how you choose to engage the audience.   If you create relevant, added-value content for fans, you’ll get their attention and ultimately their participation and engagement in return.   This is the foundation for building a creative and relevant story or marketing concept that will ultimately tie everything together and deliver the highest return on investment.  Examples shown below: most of these you’ll be familiar with, but they all drive tremendous intangible value in terms of associative value and credibility (e.g. Kia & Australian Open); emotional connectivity (P&G & Olympics / CIBC and CBCF); creativity and inspirational brand alignment (L’OREAL & Luminato).


Think about your Mom; people in your life affected by cancer; your community and hockey, etc. – all powerful messaging that people can relate to.  This is where the true power of sponsorship lies – finding that memory, moment or connection that people can identify with  is the foundation for a great Sponsorship program.


  • Great post Tyler and you’re so right – but most sponsor-buyers will still want to know media value and until we can move them beyond that, we have to give them whatever it takes to get the deal done.

    • Thanks Fiona -keep the comments coming… Media is definitely still a key component to a lot of sponsorship deals. It’s that “warm and cozy” asset as outlined in my top 20% post; and one of the three main Sponsorship Ms featured in Apples and Oranges. Selling beyond the “media assets” will give you a better chance of differentiating your property from traditional media. So many variables in this business so your experience and intuition will help you succeed in each situation per your comment. Cheers, Tyler

  • Well done Tyler, I missed this one on the original go around and Chris Reed passed it along to me today. This is so well articulated and accurate. Thanks!

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