In her opening address to the more than 1,200 delegates at IEG’s Inspiration conference, IEG founder and president Lesa Ukman laid out four keys to ensuring that an organization’s sponsorships are inspired. They were: influence, involve, innovate and immerse.

Many of the speakers at the conference subsequently demonstrated how they were taking their partnerships to the next level in ways that reflected Ukman’s themes.

Influence
• Around its sponsorship of the NFL Seattle Seahawks, Qwest Communications Int’l, Inc. reaches out to all high schools in Washington with a program that ties its sports marketing efforts to its commitment to corporate social responsibility, noted Rich Karlis, the company’s director of corporate sponsorships and events.

“It also takes a major market program and makes it a grassroots community program,” he said.

On behalf of Qwest, the team sends a letter to high school athletic directors, asking them to nominate an athlete to devote 40 hours of community service within their hometown. In return, Qwest and the team host the student athlete volunteers at a Seahawks game, including a pre-game brunch featuring talks on leadership from team and company execs and a star athlete guest speaker.

At halftime of the game, the student athletes are brought onto the field and Qwest makes a donation of $500 to each of the charities the volunteers worked for, and the Seahawks donate $5,000 scholarships to the two top volunteers in the program who went over and above the minimum service required.

The company has introduced the program into its sponsorships of the NBA Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns.

• In addition to promoting its craft-brewed beers, New Belgium Brewing Co. uses its ownership of the 11-stop Tour de Fat to share its corporate commitment to environmental stewardship, said Meredith Giske, event marketing manager.

“We go to great lengths to make sure we are the premier sustainable festival,” she said. “Our stages use solar generators, so we are completely unplugged. All of our cups are made of corn resin so that about 95 percent of the waste that’s created at the festival is composted and recycled. We also ask that our vendors not bring anything that can’t be recycled or composted.

Involve
• When Miller Brewing Co.’s Icehouse brand became presenting sponsor of The Rock Boat cruise for music fans, it was careful about how it introduced itself to the passionate community that had grown up around the property, said Mark O’Brien, Icehouse brand manager.

Instead of having fans learn about the deal through a public announcement, the brand’s marketers first joined the property’s active online message board.

In addition to letting the target audience know about the deal, the Icehouse team discussed possible promotions and on-site activities and solicited feedback from fans, giving them a say in what the brand planned to do.

The company also tapped into activities already hosted by attendees. Hearing about an annual onboard toga party, Icehouse marketers contacted the organizer offering to sponsor it.

“We embraced the people who were a big part of the experience for everybody and then they sent out the message that, ‘Hey, these guys aren’t just coming in and selling us beer. They get us,’ ” O’Brien said.

• At NASCAR Nextel Cup races, Unilever U.S., Inc. takes its activation efforts to fans who camp out in designated RV areas, said Nancy Davis, the company’s building brands with customers manager, who oversees sponsorship of the Evernham Motorsports team on behalf of nine food and laundry brands.

“In addition to taking recipe samples to the campers–who can number 100,000 at the larger races–we give out flags that have our brands, the drivers and the car on them,” she said. “We then come back and if a camper is flying one of our flags, we’ll give them a gift as a thank you. It’s a great one-on-one marketing program and gives us great brand presence.”

Innovate
• Prepaid wireless service Boost Mobile went beyond the norm in its sponsorship of the Vibe Game Club College Tour, which brought hip hop music events and video game demo areas to 20 historically black colleges and universities last fall.

Working with copresenter Motorola Inc., Boost Mobile hosted a Game behind the Game forum that offered students a chance to learn about career opportunities in non-traditional areas such as music, gaming and publishing.

“We wanted to interact with young people on something that is relevant to them, and of course the topic of what they are going to do when they graduate is extremely relevant,” said Daryl Butler, Boost Mobile’s senior manager of events and sponsorship.

“But we also wanted to go beyond what they could find out in their school’s placement center and give them some insights on taking the unconventional path. We were able to connect them with people who work for cool and relevant brands such as ESPN The Magazine, Bad Boy Entertainment and Sean John.

• Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc. seized an opportunity to expand its business through the company’s official NASCAR sponsorship. In addition to purchasing rights in the drive-through restaurant category, the company locked up the frozen burger category as well.

“We saw an opportunity to merge the loyalty we already have with our customers, tie it to the NASCAR brand and move into a new area for us,” said Keith Sirois, Checkers president and CEO.

“When you become involved in a sponsorship like this, you have to look at it from every angle and ask, ‘How can we get the most out of it?’

“Our vice president of marketing, Rich Turer, looked at all of the RV farms around the races, where everyone has a barbecue and they grill all weekend long–and then looked at the frozen ham- burger patty business and saw the Bubba Burgers brand was a $40 million-a-year business–and promptly negotiated the frozen burger category as part of our deal.”

Checkers announced the launch of its co-branded NASCAR frozen patties in February.

“We’re not looking to get $40 million, but all we put into this was a little energy in the design of the package and the approval of the product inside, so we’ll be happy with a little piece of that,” Sirois said.

Immerse
• Bare Naked Granola is still earning results from its immersion into adventure racing, even though it no longer sponsors the events produced by promoter Genesis Adventures.

The company insisted when it signed on to sponsor adventure races in New England that its Web site, through which it sells product, would be the exclusive host of race results.

Adventure racers were directed to the site and while they checked their times were offered a 25 percent discount on granola purchases.

For the small company’s relatively small investment, it received thousands of dollars in orders from racers, said Jon Fontane, vice president of adventure and endurance sports for Penfield Marketing Group, who sells sponsorship for Genesis Adventures.

Although Bare Naked dropped the sponsorship before last year to concentrate on gaining national distribution, the company still placed third behind the property’s two series title sponsors in a post-season participant survey that Fontane conducted.

• As part of its sponsorship of NASCAR’s top series, Sprint Nextel Corp. utilized its technology to offer race fans unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to their favorite sport.

The company has introduced a number of products and services that allow fans to listen to all communications between drivers, pit crews and spotters, as well as receive stats and other information.

“When we brought our FanScan audio service online, the capacity quickly sold out,” said Charlie Domalik, vice president of CRT/tanaka, the wireless giant’s PR agency for the Nextel Cup sponsorship. “We kept adding and adding capacity and it kept filling up and selling out in terms the number of people that could be on the service at one time. It’s been a huge hit.”