In today’s day and age, the importance of sponsor summits has been well documented. In short, the meetings provide an invaluable opportunity for properties to build relationships with sponsors, and vice versa.

The three primary goals of sponsor summits:

  • Update sponsors on audience research, sponsorship inventory, new programming and other relevant news
  • Share information on successful activation programs
  • Foster collaboration between sponsors, including cross-promotions and business-building opportunities

To no surprise, sponsors overwhelmingly endorse the meetings.

“Everyone is so busy that it’s hard to pull yourself out of your own world. Having the opportunity to network with colleagues outside of your company is very helpful,” said Dawn Turner, sports & entertainment marketing manager with American Airlines.

Most sponsors point to networking and cross-promotional opportunities as the key benefits.

“An integral part of summits is the opportunity to meet partners that share a common interest and work on cross-promotions. Summits are invaluable, and something that every property should be doing,” said Paul Joliat, director of sponsorship and marketing with Sun Life Financial.

While most properties host summits, many still do not. Case in point: Two of the NHL teams Sun Life sponsors do not host summits, said Joliat, noting that the teams instead host small groups of partners at games, golf outings and other events.

“It is surprising that some properties don’t host summits. They’re a big opportunity for properties when it comes time for renewal.”

Below, IEG SR highlights three ways properties are taking summits to the next level.

Position meetings as an upfront
Music festivals take a page from the network TV industry by using summits to highlight new inventory and showcase talent

The Essence Music Festival presented by Coca-Cola, the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and other music festivals use summits to showcase new inventory and promote talent.

Case in point: The Essence Music Festival takes an upfront-like approach to its annual sponsor summit. That may be no surprise: the festival is owned by Essence Communications Inc., a unit of Time Inc.

“We are a media company first, and we use summits to unveil programs we plan to launch, reimagine or expand upon, as well as add some sizzle with talent,” said Staci Hallmon-Bazzani, Essence Communications’ national sponsorship director

For example, the music festival’s Nov. 27-28 summit featured musicians as well as speakers from the event’s empowerment experience. That included a keynote presentation by Reverend Al Sharpton, a performance by Bridget Kelly and presentations by blogger Bevy Smith and stylist and brand expert June Ambrose.

On the new inventory front, the festival uses post-event sponsor surveys to gain feedback on sponsorship assets. Digital content and social media were at the top of the list in 2012, said Hallmon-Bazzani.

“We took the top five topics and prioritized to deliver real solutions.”

Tips On Hosting Sponsor Summits
Tip Takeaway
Schedule summit away from other events Host three to six months in advance of event to provide time for execution
Focus on content, not sales Provide relevant content with tangible takeaways
Promote attendance by key personnel Attendance by CEO demonstrates the importance of sponsors
Consider an independent moderator Independent moderator can facilitate dialogue and information sharing
Invite outside experts Offer insights into business trends and other relevant content
Facilitate sponsor cross-promotions Align like-minded sponsors with each other
Provide takeaway documents Share contacts, copies of presentations, etc.
Invite relevant agencies Invite agencies that work on the sponsorship
Include entertainment options Give sponsors an opportunity to network and bond
Respect sponsors time Stick to a schedule

Host awards programs
Properties use awards to highlight successful activation programs and encourage sponsors to take their partnerships to the next level.

A small but growing number of properties are using sponsor awards to highlight successful programs and share best practices. 

That is the case with the Essence Music Festival, which rolled out an awards program last year. The festival distributes the awards at a reception the night before its one-day summit.

“Our number one goal is for partners to see the depth of how other sponsors activate,” said Hallmon-Bazzani.

The festival came up with the idea for the awards after a sponsor asked how it could “own” a portion of the event without having presenting status, she said.

“We created the awards program to show partners how they can have a strong franchise and extensions around the festival.”

The music festival this year distributed five awards: Sponsor of the Year (Verizon); Fan Favorite (My Black Is Beautiful/Procter & Gamble Co.); Best 360-degree Activation (Ford Division); Best Use of New Media (Coors Light); and Best Multiple Category Activation (The Coca-Cola Co.).

Employees in Time Inc.’s marketing, digital and PR departments determine the winners of four of the awards, while festival attendees vote on the Fan Favorite award through the festival’s Facebook page.

While the Essence Music Festival hosts the awards show prior to its sponsor summit, the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks last year restructured its entire summit with the Most Valuable Partner Awards,  an event modeled after the Academy Awards.

The three-hour event features a walk down a red carpet, an opening musical number, humorous videos and the award presentation.

The D-backs—which revamped the summit to drive activation and boost participation among C-level executives and other decision-makers—already has seen success from the new format. The team earlier this year partnered with Apollo Group, Inc. to create the $100,000 School Challenge, a program that awards $5,000 grants to schools in Arizona. The program is presented by the University of Phoenix.

“They said ‘let’s do something in the education category.’ Our K-12 system is lacking funding, so we created the $100,000 School Challenge,” said Cullen Maxey, the D-backs’ executive vice president of business operations.

The Most Valuable Partner Awards also has prompted other sponsors to double down on activation, he added.

“The old days of me droning on a panel at a sponsor summit are gone. This is a great way to motivate people.”

Enhance content with outside speakers.
Properties add value by offering in-depth content from outside experts

While many properties enhance summits with presentations from outside speakers, the need for topic-specific content and tangible takeaways has taken on increased importance.

Two popular topics: measurement and social media.

“Speakers that talk about measurement get everyone’s attention. It’s a topic that’s integral to everyone’s success,” said Sun Life’s Joliat.  

In addition to measurement, Penske Racing enhances its two-day summit with presentations on sales, marketing, crisis management and other topics relevant to sponsors, many of which are Fortune 500 companies. Prior speakers include reps from Facebook, Inc. and Google Inc. as well as former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who spoke about the political climate.

“We want people to leave the session with knowledge they can apply to their business,” said Jonathon Gibson, Penske’s vice president of marketing & communications.