It is always less painful to learn from the mistakes of others than to learn from the school of hard knocks. Then why do so many municipalities go to the school of hard knocks instead? In the past several months, the Partnership Group – Sponsorship Specialists™ has been working with several municipalities trying to get them to understand the importance of a professional sponsorship program versus an “ad hoc” approach. As the leading sponsorship consulting firm in Canada to municipalities, we understand municipalities and their struggles with sponsorship. Between us and our competitors (not to mention our collective successful clients), there is a vast array of knowledge, experience, and capacity. Yet, some municipalities prefer to go to the school of hard knocks and make the same mistakes others have made because they seem to believe they can do the same things again and achieve different results.
Daily, we watch municipalities with which we work be successful in sponsorship. Municipalities as large as Toronto and Ottawa have seen huge ongoing success. Small communities such as Taber, Canmore and Minnedosa have also seen good results. Then there are municipalities such as Swift Current, Oshawa, Regional District of North Okanagan, Regina, Kelowna, and Whitehorse that undertake the due diligence to develop effective and comprehensive plans to move forward. These have all sought advice, or are clients of our firm or one of our competitors. Their success comes from learning from others. They know which paths to take and which not to take. They are and will continue to be successful.
Then there are the others—those municipalities that “just don’t get it.” They say, “Oh we have named a couple of buildings and all went fine” (until renewal time and no one came back). Ah, but often those municipalities sold their naming rights for too little and also gave the rights away in perpetuity! Then there are those that sell their naming rights for such low prices that they reset the bar for other institutions in the marketplace such as post-secondary institutions, causes, or sport organizations that had been selling naming rights at true market value. The city grabs the first offer it gets and lowers the naming rights bar for everyone, hurting all the others in the community. And the city can’t figure out why there is animosity. Then there are the towns and cities that say they know what they are doing and assign the already-overworked parks and recreation department staff to be sales agents for sponsorship without any training! And of course, the expectation is “How hard could it be? We have great stuff. They will line up to buy what we have.” One municipality in Canada used to have its sponsorship department in the communication department (which is fine) but it was actually a division of the crisis management communications department! Now that’s positive thinking!
I watched Winnipeg hire a traditional advertising agency to develop its sponsorship program. The agency produced some really pretty glossy brochure and packages (sort of like having your GP handle your brain surgery). They said, “The city is for sale.” The results have been abysmal in my opinion. In a previous administration and with different staff about six years ago, the City of Calgary blundered as well. An investment with a firm that was to identify and value all the saleable assets and then sell sponsorship cost the municipality over $250,000 and yielded less than $100,000 in return. And the city never got the asset inventory! It is critical when a municipality (or any organization for that matter) decides to get into the sponsorship game, that it be done professionally and with a reputable firm that can deliver what is needed, from a qualified agency rather than a brand marketing or adverting agency.
Hopefully, as municipalities in Canada continue to grow the sponsorship pie in Canada, they will do the due diligence and get in the game professionally rather than from a side of the desk. I often remind chief administration officers and city managers that they never question undertaking a feasibility study to add a new road or building. Why then would they not undertake the same due diligence for a major revenue stream to determine their potential income?
These are just one person’s thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well. Please add your thoughts or comments below. Thank you for reading and your feedback.