Although there is general consensus among sponsors and properties that partner summits are highly valuable for everyone involved, there also is the impression that they are the domain of well funded, blue-chip properties and as such either out of reach or inappropriate for smaller organizations.

Indeed, an informal survey by IEG SR reveals that while a majority of national properties, pro sports teams and other large organizations host sponsor get-togethers, most regional and local properties do not.

But corporate and property marketers who are involved in summits say all properties should find a way to gather their sponsors together to discuss ways of maximizing their shared interests and investments, even if the gathering is a bare-bones affair.

While nice surroundings and fun activities are enjoyable, the basic purpose of summits is simply to introduce sponsors to each other and get them thinking and talking about ways they can work together to mutual advantage, a goal that can be accomplished in a conference room over coffee and cookies if need be.

“Bringing sponsors together is extremely effective–it gives them the opportunity to learn how to leverage their sponsorship in ways they might not have thought of,” said Tom Wade, the PGA Tour’s chief marketing officer.

“One of the best assets a property can offer is the company and business network it keeps,” said Michael Lynch, senior vice president of partnership marketing for Visa U.S.A., Inc. “Summits give sponsors the chance to sync up with others in the property’s ‘family’ to create meaningful cross-promotional programs, in turn making the property that much more valuable.”

The benefits of summits can be impressive. Nearly every property that has hosted a summit can share a success story that came from such meetings.

For example:

• The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn. this year developed a new joint promotion among its sponsors to boost traffic to the sponsor village it hosts at events. While sponsors previously conducted individual drawings to generate traffic to their exhibit booths and displays, the property and its sponsors now hold one drawing that awards prizes from all sponsors.

“It’s been fantastic; we’ve done a better job of driving traffic to our sponsor village, and the idea came directly from our sponsor summit last year,” said Ted Morris, the NGB’s vice president of sales and marketing.

• A summit put on by promoter Capital Sports & Entertainment resulted in AT&T, Inc. teaming with Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. around their sponsorships of Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The computer chip manufacturer outfitted AT&T’s on-site experiential exhibit with AMD-equipped laptop computers.

• The same sponsor gathering was the impetus behind Heineken USA, Inc. working with AMD and Gibson Guitar Corp. on a promotion around the Austin City Limits event. An off-premise Rockstar Weekend text-message sweepstakes dangled the chance to win laptop computers and Gibson guitars.

• New PGA Tour and Champions Tour sponsor LendingTree, LLC will roll out its activation programs next month, including a rewards program with prepaid ticket provider Utix Group, Inc.

The online lending exchange was introduced at a tour summit to Utix, which produces the prepaid PGA Tour Ticket-to-Golf card. LendingTree will offer the cards to its mortgage customers, granting them access to more than 2,000 golf courses in the U.S.

• The AVP Crocs Tour closed a sponsorship deal with Hilton Hotels Corp. after inviting the company’s representatives to attend the property’s meeting of existing partners.

“We use our summit to sell our sport to potential partners,” said Leonard Armato, AVP CEO and commissioner. “Hilton came to our event and the next year they became a sponsor.”

Local Property Proves Summits Can Work For Small Organizations
The Naperville Park District–a public body that oversees parks, golf courses and other recreational areas and programs in the fourth largest city in Illinois–has successfully used sponsor gatherings to build relations with its corporate partners.

The district initially launched its summits to educate sponsors about the property, but the focus of the annual meetings has evolved over the past several years to offering ideas on how the property and cosponsors can help partners accomplish specific marketing needs.

The district’s two-to-three-hour meeting includes a state of the union address based on feedback from sponsor surveys. It also includes “speed dating” sessions to introduce sponsors and facilitate dialogue. “We want to challenge them to work together as businesses,” said Erin McNulty, the district’s corporate relations manager.

Those efforts have paid off: Following a summit discussion, Darfler Realty, Inc.; Jackson Moving Services, Inc.; and MAF Bancorp, Inc.’s Mid America Bank last summer developed a joint promotion around their sponsorship of the district’s outdoor movies.

Small properties should not be intimidated by sponsor summits, McNulty said. “Talk to your sponsors and find out what is working and what isn’t working with their sponsorships and then address those issues. The value in doing that is huge even if you don’t have all the answers.”

The district hosts its summit in a conference room supplied by one of its sponsors. “It’s not a major investment, and it’s worth it if a sponsor comes back and renews,” McNulty said.

Hampton Classic Uses Summits To Accomplish Multiple Objectives
The Hampton Classic horse show and its partners also have benefitted from participation in sponsor summits.

For last year’s show, apparel and accessories company Fendi North America, Inc. was looking for on-site space to host a private fashion show and luncheon. At the sponsor summit, the property’s executive director Shanette Barth introduced Fendi personnel to reps from Prudential Financial, Inc., which had a hospitality area for roughly 350 people.

Prudential offered use of its space to Fendi, which in exchange agreed to organize a separate fashion show for Prudential guests, Barth said.

The Hampton Classic summit, like many others, also provides an opportunity for the property to update partners on logistical information such as deadlines and procedures for submitting banners and guest lists, Barth said.

The summit also serves as a retention tool. “A lot of sponsors have been with us for a long time, and the summit has become a reunion,” Barth said. “That’s great for us, because the more people are personally invested in our event, the more likely they will continue with our program.”

Barth now uses the summit as a sales tool. “I mention the sponsor workshop when I talk to prospective partners. I tell them they can interact with other sponsors before the show. Their eyes light up; it’s amazing.” The event now explicitly includes participation in the summit as a benefit in its sponsorship sales materials, she said.

Rather than hold the meeting in the Hamptons, the classic hosts it at New York City’s Tavern on the Green, thus making it easier for sponsors and their agencies, many of whom are based in Manhattan. The meeting starts around 9 a.m. and includes presentations by the property, sponsors and industry experts. The meeting typically ends by early afternoon, Barth said.

The horse show grants Tavern on the Green on-site signage at the classic and other benefits in exchange for use of the facility, Barth said. “They provide breakfast, lunch and audio/visual services. We don’t pay anything.”