Since launching a new sponsorship sales strategy late last year that replaced pre-set packages with tailored offers, Illinois’ Rockford Park District has posted a 20 percent increase in revenue.

The district oversees parks, golf courses and other recreational areas and programs in the city of Rockford and other communities in a multi-county area northwest of Chicago.

The new strategy has resulted in the district exceeding its cash revenue goal for ’10 six months early, which is even more noteworthy given its location in one of the most economically besieged areas of Illinois.

“We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, and it’s been a very difficult time in our community,” said Denise Delanty, the district’s marketing and communications manager. “Needless to say, we are excited about our increase in revenue.”

New partners include area locations of restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings and Edward Jones Investments, as well as the Greater Rockford Veterinary Medical Assn., Rasmussen College and Bryden Motors, an auto dealership in nearby Beloit, Wis.

Rockford Park District launched its new strategy to better meet the needs of marketers amid economic challenges, Delanty said.

“In a difficult economy, companies aren’t going to take a sponsorship just because it’s a feel-good opportunity. They want tangible results.”

The district now focuses on identifying each prospect’s marketing needs and creating custom solutions based around those needs, rather than trying to sell packages full of signage and other standard benefits.

“When presenting cookie-cutter packages, many times prospects would say, ‘This is great, but half of the benefits don’t pertain to me.’ In this economy, we have to show them how a sponsorship will benefit them, not try to sell something they don’t want,” Delanty said.

The district sits down with each prospect for a needs analysis.

“In the first meeting, I’m no longer trying to sell them something; it’s all about getting to know their marketing goals and their target demographic,” said Tonya Vernon, the district’s corporate partnership manager. “We then put together a package that revolves around the things they talked about.”

The new approach has helped the district sell larger packages, Delanty said. For example, Edward Jones purchased multiple assets spanning concerts, a wine tasting event and a golf outing.

“When you do a needs analysis you find out if a company is interested in a number of facilities and events instead of just one.”

The district kicked off the new partnership program by reassigning Vernon from the Rockford Park District Foundation to its marketing department. One of her first charges: identifying existing assets and uncovering new ones.

As a result of that initiative, the district has developed new sponsorship inventory, including ID for the Greater Rockford Veterinary Medical Assn. on bags used at its dog parks, and first-time signage on the Splash Blaster attraction at the Magic Waters water park facing a major highway. The signage was purchased by Chicago Rockford Int’l Airport.