The Difference Between Sponsorships and Partnerships

The Difference Between Sponsorships and Partnerships

Last week, I wrote my TMC on the difference between salespeople and solutions providers as it relates to sponsorship and advertising sales differences. (You can find the article in our TMC Archives.) I promised this week I would address the difference between the terms “sponsorships” and “partnerships.”

Yes, there is a difference between these two terms. But the actual difference is often not delivered to truly differentiate them, but rather the terms are used too liberally. Back in the days of the Chretien government, sponsorship became a nasty word. In the mid-90s, there was the sponsorship scandal in reference to the government sponsoring programs and events to promote federalism in the wake of the 1995 Quebec referendum. So as a result, ever since, many organizations (especially governments and government agencies such as Parks, DND, etc.) have avoided the word “sponsorship” because of the bad connotation. So, innovative marketers had to come up with another word and “partnerships” arose from this (as did others like corporate engagement, community investment, and so on).

The term partnership emerged to positioning itself above the “low-life marketing” offered by a sponsorship. Many properties, and even brands, put themselves in an ivory tower, claiming their deals were not sponsorships, but partnerships. This is where I start to gag! Many of those “high and mighty” properties claiming to do partnerships over sponsorships are actually just delivering sponsorships. Heck, some of them are really just selling advertising.

Here is the definition of a partnership: A partnership is an arrangement where parties, known as business partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests. The partners in a partnership may be individuals, businesses, interest-based organizations, schools, governments, or combinations. Organizations may partner to increase the likelihood of each achieving their mission and to amplify their reach. A partnership may result in issuing and holding equity or may only be governed by a contract.

Here is the definition of a sponsorship: A cash and/or in-kind fee paid to a property (typically in sports, arts, education, health, entertainment, or causes) in return for the commercial potential associated with that property.

Here is the industry-specific difference in simple terms.

A sponsorship is truly a marketing channel. In actual fact, the full term for a “sponsorship” is “sponsorship marketing.” The goal with an investment in a sponsorship by a sponsor/brand and a property is a marketing undertaking. The goal is to position or market that brand to an audience through a property. Alternatively, that brand could market itself simply through a PR or advertising campaign. The key here is that, when it is specifically a marketing and communications objective, it is a sponsorship.

When a property and a brand undertake a deal that is bigger than simply a marketing and communications initiative, then it is a partnership. A partnership is a fully-integrated business model that crosses over multiple business units and could include such elements as a product purchase, employee engagement, or community investment along with the marketing and communications message. It is about both organizations achieving their missions and amplifying their reach. It is more than just a marketing and communications undertaking. A partnership is NOT just another word for a sponsorship when you want to make it sound more sophisticated. It needs to meet those criteria. In my experience, the best sponsorships are part of an overall partnership.

For insights, feedback, and tips on managing your sponsorship program during the COVID-19 recovery period, and post-COVID-19, check out our videos page on the Partnership Group – Sponsorship Specialists® website.  There are several short clips, some longer ones, and full-blown webinars on COVID-19 and your sponsorship programs. Access is 100% free.

Please continue to practice social distancing, stay home when you can, stay in touch with others, and stay healthy.

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  1. I love seeing this topic in the TMC! If only some of the uneducated organizations would read it. “I don’t care what you call it, we just need money” is a statement I here far too often in our industry!

    Do you have a partnership that you have offered consulting on that evolved from a partnership into sponsorship?

    Thanks, as always, for the insights!

    • Happy Canada Day Josh… and thanks for the post and feedback. Hey I always look at those “uneducated organizations” you reference as an opportunity to teach and support. The TMC is there for them and many different channels like workshops and books etc. Not all will take the opportunity to learn, but those that do will benefit. I always say that our role is to teach and educated but if the student is not ready, that is their loss. But many organizations truly are adapting and growing.

      A really good recent example is where it was conference that was selling sponsorship opportunities that were marketing based. Mostly sampling and branding and speaking opportunities for key sponsors. But it was all about the marketing and audience reach and touch points for that sponsor.

      Over time the conference found out that sponsor’s staff wanted to get more engaged in the conference. So they looked for ways for the conference to further engage the staff. They added some staff to planning committees and on site volunteer opportunities. As a result the conference increased their volunteer base which was critical for them and also got additional insights and perspectives in planning by having these corporate staff on their planning committees. For the sponsor; they had more engaged employees which were more satisfied which resulted in less turnover and higher productivity. As well they garnered a higher presence at the conference by having their staff engaged throughout versus just in a booth or breakout session.

      I hope that example helps.

  2. Thank you, Brent! Happy Canada Day to you as well.
    That is a great point! We are here to help guide and educate. If representatives or organizations don’t want to be students, that is their problem haha!

    That is a great example and it definitely helps. Partnership can be a much deeper, more integrated relationship. My favourite word, RELATIONSHIP!

    • Awesome


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