Grassroots are greener for sponsors

An effective way to bypass the Olympic hype and get communities to love your product is to sponsor grassroots events.

By Kim Skildum-Reid
Director Skildum-Reid Consulting Sydney, Australia

It's happening. Just like Atlanta, and Barcelona before that - we are entering Olympic overkill.

Still three years out and they are everywhere. The Olympics, its sponsors, ambushers, every sporting organization with links to the Olympics and their sponsors, are permeating our social psyche with images of "excellence", "discipline", and "competition". All admirable traits, to be sure, but how much is too much? At what point does all this elite-ness descend into a melee of confused marketing messages?

No question about it, major, televised sport can work well for sponsors, but clutter is always an issue. This type of sponsorship requires a lot of time, effort, creativity, and financial support to stand out from the crowd.

There is another way to go that is attracting a growing number of corporations: Grassroots sponsorship.

It is not nearly as sexy, and you are unlikely to get that warm, glowing feeling that often accompanies seeing your logo on television, but it does work for many companies large and small all around the world.

What is grassroots sponsorship?
A straightforward way of explaining it is that it has to do with events and other activities in which your customers and their families are the key participants and which take place in their community.

The biggest difference from other sponsorships is that instead of talking to your marketplace thousands, even millions, of people at a time, you are communicating with them five or 10 to 50 at a time.

You are talking to them at a level where they truly understand that without you - the sponsor - their child's football team, their netball league, or their small town festival would not happen. And you are talking to them at a level where there is real acceptance of the idea that you care about what they care about.

What results are possible?
The fact that the sponsorships are local in nature doesn't mean you can't get big results. 90,000 children a year register for Little Athletics in their communities. There are over 100,000 participants in the 4,120 registered Landcare groups across the country. And 600,000 people in Australia play in the 600 local basketball associations.

The key is designing a sponsorship that shows that you care about your end consumers, without talking down to them. For instance, one American telephone company has created 165 grassroots golf tournaments in their region, with winners earning spots in a PGA pro-am, adding value to and creating interest among their core target market.

No doubt, the phone company built databases and promoted their product, but the hook was that these events were for real people, not professional golfers.

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