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Try A S.M.A.R.T. Way To Turn Sponsorships Into Partnerships

Sports Business Journal, November 29, 2010

By Steve Seiferheld

Sponsorship is a funny thing. Properties and brands are generally on the same page regarding the components of a sponsorship. Both sides know how much signage, in-stadium promotion and media the package includes. They understand what activation opportunities exist. Generally, the inventory is documented and clear.

But does the property know what the brand’s sponsorship goals are? Could the brand effectively communicate its goals to the property? Does the brand even know its goals?

For a partnership between brand and property to truly succeed, the brand must have well-defined goals associated with the partnership. The property must be in tune with those objectives and guide the partnership to satisfy those objectives. One way to help ensure that all sides are working together toward these goals is to make certain the goals are S.M.A.R.T. Not just smart, but S.M.A.R.T.

What are S.M.A.R.T. goals? S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that represents five key characteristics all marketing goals should have. Here I lay out my S.M.A.R.T. goal definitions for you, replete with real-life examples where applicable.


Goals need to be articulated in a specific format. It’s not enough for a brand to say that its goal from a marketing partnership is to “increase sales” or “convert more customers.” Examples of more specific goals include “increase product sales by 5 percent among avid Yankee fans” or “increase conversion of leads generated at Padres’ games by 3 percent.” Objectives expressed in this format allow for easier evaluation of success/failure.


Not only do goals need to be expressed with specificity, but the details should provide a basis for determining whether those goals have been met. If objectives are not measurable, how can the property and sponsor ever begin to discuss the success of the partnership? In IEG’s Sponsorship Report (Oct. 4), Doug Gibeaut, UPS director of sponsorships and events, cites that UPS uses customer account numbers to track the return on investment of business-to-business hospitality. Not every brand has as clean a system as UPS, but nevertheless marketers need to plan in terms of measurement when setting objectives.

Note that a goal can be extremely specific yet not practically measurable. A car manufacturer may wish to generate an ROI of $1.50 (on each dollar spent) on sales of pickup trucks through its Texas rodeo partnerships. This goal is quite specific; can the manufacturer ascertain the exact ROI from just this partnership, while simultaneously running national and local marketing campaigns, not to mention dealer incentives? In this example, the car client may be better off with a goal geared toward brand awareness or (potentially) basic lift at retail.


For both sides to enjoy a successful, collaborative partnership, the brand and the property must see eye-to-eye on the goals. Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish brand is a sponsor of the NBA. In IEG’s Sponsorship Report (Oct. 11), Goldfish brand manager Neal Finkler mentions how well-aligned the properties are on objectives: “Childhood obesity is a big issue … As a snack brand, it made sense to find a partner with the same goal. The NBA has a health and wellness initiative called NBA FIT/WNBA FIT, which works well for us.” At minimum, a property needs to understand why the sponsor has chosen to engage in the relationship and allow the brand options for executing against its objectives.


It is vital that brands’ sponsorship goals are realistic on the part of both parties. Generally speaking, it’s not fair for Whataburger to expect its sponsorship of the Houston Texans to boost sales nationwide, nor is it realistic to expect awareness to double if the sponsorship consists of minimal financial investment. Goals have to be set so that the likelihood of achieving them is strong; the brand can always opt to include a “stretch goal” to provide extra motivation to the property. For instance, Whataburger may set a goal of “5 percent increase in retail traffic in the Houston DMA,” but if that number reaches a 10 percent increase, Whataburger contributes some incremental money to Texans’ charities.

Time bound

Of all the S.M.A.R.T. criteria, time bound seems to offer brands the most challenges. From conversations with clients and literature searches, I have been unable to identify even one example of goals that clearly express by when the objectives should be achieved (or at least measured). This premise is simple; goals need to express by when the achievements are to happen. If a brand and property have a five-year agreement in place, does any particular goal extend the life of the partnership? Or just one calendar year? Or just the course of a season? Don’t assume that both sides have an inherent understanding of the time period.

None of the aforementioned S.M.A.R.T. goal characteristics are overly complicated; in fact, on their own they seem rather simplistic. But putting together objectives that meet all criteria takes hard work on both sides. More specifically, it means discussing each other’s strategic plans, resources, and expectations. It means devoting time to the process. It means being transparent. It means being true partners.

I suggest putting goals down in writing. Touch base every month or quarter to ensure the goals remain the same. If they don’t — and realistically, we all know objectives change — take the time to make sure the revised goals have been thoroughly discussed and similarly established.

The best part of S.M.A.R.T. goals? When you have them, they make you look SMART.

Steve Seiferheld ( heads the custom research division of Turnkey Intelligence.