While it might not be a top-of-mind category among U.S. sponsorship sellers—particularly those without children—a growing number of properties are gaining new revenue from state-administered 529 college savings programs.

At least five such plans are using sponsorship to promote the tax-free investment vehicles, signing ties with properties ranging from fairs to college athletic conferences to NASCAR races.

For example, Virginia College Savings Plan earlier this year signed a three-year partnership with the Colonial Athletic Assn., a tie that includes title of the men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments.

VCSP—which sponsors on behalf of the Virginia 529 brand—also is close to signing title of the annual athletic program rivalry between the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), sources said.

The sponsorships build on an existing portfolio that includes title of September’s Virgina 529 College Savings 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond Int’l Raceway and cosponsorship of the State Fair of Virginia and Virginia High School League.

Outside of Virginia, the Indiana Education Savings Authority sponsors a handful of properties on behalf of its CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan, including the Indiana State Fair and the NFL Indianapolis Colts.

Two Primary Goals: Visibility And Education
State-run 529 programs largely use sponsorship to accomplish two goals: Build awareness and gain one-on-one marketing platforms to educate consumers about the financial products.

“We are a relatively new industry,” said Mary Morris, CEO of the Virginia College Savings Plan. “When people see Virginia 529, I like to think they know what it means, but in reality many don’t.”

VCSP uses sponsorship to highlight the tax benefits associated with the plans, as well as to let people know funds can be used at a wide array of schools by consumers of all ages.

VCSP activates its NASCAR race by setting up booths and interacting with consumers over the three-day race weekend.

“It gives us a great opportunity to talk to people, including people who are in our program,” Morris said. “We can find out what they like and what they don’t like.”

VCSP, which bills itself as the largest 529 plan in the country based on assets held, has put more focus on sponsorship and other types of marketing partnerships over the past two-and-a-half years.

“We’ve moved from more traditional media and marketing campaigns to sponsorships and other types of partnerships that allow us to gain media coverage and the ability to talk to consumers in a one-on-one environment,” Morris said.

Below, IEG SR offers tips on selling sponsorship to state 529 college savings programs.

Provide statewide reach. Where possible, properties should try to bundle in media inventory and other assets that provide exposure across multiple markets.

For example, the Indiana Education Savings Authority’s partnership with the Colts affords exposure in 26 cities throughout the state through involvement with the team’s community outreach tour.

“The tour draws a diverse group of people in geographic markets that we don’t typically get to,” said Jodi Golden, IESA’s executive director.

VCSP took title of the NASCAR race in part to gain TV exposure during the event as well as through the Sprint Cup race the following day, said Morris, noting the savings plan receives exposure during the Sprint Cup race via signage and its logo on the track’s infield.

Offer targeted platforms. When making a pitch, properties should offer platforms that provide direct access to families. For example, IESA sponsors a children’s zoo exhibit at the Indiana State Fair, while VCSP sponsors a family seating section at Richmond Int’l Raceway.

Drive Web site traffic. The majority of state 529 savings plans track marketing success by tracking visits to their Web sites.

Properties should work with sponsors to develop promotions and other activation elements that accomplish that goal and include special codes or other means to identify which visitors came to the site as a result of the sponsorship.

Know who to approach. When pitching a state education organization, sellers should go to the top: executive directors and CEOs.