This summer’s political conventions were breeding grounds for controversy. Starting last spring, with Donald Trump poised to take the Republican Party nomination, activists began pressuring companies to boycott the Republican National Convention. As a result, companies that have long sponsored both parties’ conventions scaled back their sponsorships significantly.
Coca-Cola, which in 2012 shelled out $660,000 to the GOP convention, this year offered up only $75,000 — an 88.6 percent decrease. JPMorgan Chase, Walgreens and UPS all opted out of sponsorships entirely.
And as the Olympics fervor wound down, Speedo and three other brands dropped their sponsorship of Ryan Lochte following the swimming champ's drunken night out with the boys, in Brazil.
Related: Events Cost Money. Here Are 3 Ways to Secure Sponsorship.
All of moves by these brands were valid: The ramifications of a poor sponsorship can be highly destructive. Sponsoring an event focused on Trump or Lochte might signal to customers that your brand’s values align with his. If that rubs them the wrong way, they might abandon you entirely. After all, consumers want to do business with companies that align with their personal values.
So, what should your business look out for when seeking profitable, productive sponsorship experiences? Here are the top three criteria you should fulfill with your next sponsorship event (along with a few red flags to avoid):
1. The right target audience
Sponsorship is a lead magnet, so you need to make sure you’re meeting your target leads where they are. Red Bull, for example, has been careful about managing its sponsorship activities, choosing events with an element of danger but ensuring that they always resonate with the brand’s cutting-edge, quirky band of followers.
Luckily, most events are already catering to a particular niche, so do your research and start matchmaking. Doing so will pay dividends.
Related: The Best Ways to Do Market Research for Your Business Plan
Consider the sponsorships that link to sporting events: Studies by Performance Research have shown that sponsors of Formula 1 enjoy increased brand awareness from customers, and more than half of fans surveyed have said they would choose a sponsor’s product over a non-sponsor’s.
Aligning with good causes can also be tremendously valuable. According to the 2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Study, 89 percent of U.S. adults surveyed said they would switch brands to support a charity.
2. The perfect package
If an event is worth sponsoring, its organizers will be willing to offer a customizable package to suit your brand. The best event for you is one that gives you and your customers an exclusive, original experience. Your company's name won’t just be one on a list with others; the package will include specific benefits that suit your brand and budget.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If an organizer is rigid and doesn’t seem to care, that’s a red flag that the event might not give you the return you’re after.
Gaming conference PAX Prime is a star organizer when it comes to providing unique packages. When Doritos and Mountain Dew stepped up as sponsors for the event, PAX created a QR code treasure hunt with Guidebook, engaging more than 6,000 participants and gaining each brand new fans.
Getting the right sponsorship package can also be crucial if you’re hoping to gain a competitive edge. For example, in 2014, Reebok secured a sponsorship with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Though controversial at first, the sponsorship was ultimately a win for Reebok, as it established a connection with a cutting-edge sport and obtained exclusive rights not available to other sponsors and competitors.
3. Post-event leverage
A great sponsorship opportunity is one that keeps working for your brand long after the event is done. Seventy percent of marketers in one survey agreed that the need to validate results after events had grown since 2014. Look for events that offer an exciting post-event plan via live stream, social and other marketing channels.
Related: Measure the Success of a Marketing Campaign Through the Product and the Brand
One of the biggest perks of sponsoring events is that it earns you access to databases of information. Make sure you bug organizers for as many mailing lists and distribution tips as you can.
In this context, the American Diabetes Association recently teamed up with Tagkast, a lead-collection platform, for its “Tour de Cure,” a series of fundraising cycling events. The partnership not only allowed the association to measure the success of each event and drive qualified traffic to its site, but it provided consumers with an interactive event experience, involving real-time sharing of user-generated content.
The American Diabetes Association saw a surge in Facebook likes and Twitter followers as well as a new database of contact information from visitors wanting to stay in touch.
All told, global sponsorship spending increased by 4.1 percent in 2015, and is expected to continue its rise. Sponsorship packages have become more exciting and customizable, and post-event data is increasingly valuable. If you're a company mulling this sort of move, don’t miss out on the mammoth opportunities sponsorship can bring, but make sure you first do your research. Remember your target audience. And let your brand do the talking.