Sponsorships Pay Off For Firms

April 18, 2003
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MUSKEGON — Huntington Bank’s $50,000 sponsorship of a tall ships festival in Muskegon follows a growing tendency among corporations to put their marketing funds toward non-traditional venues.

To Huntington Bank, signing on as the title sponsor to what is now known as Huntington Harborfest Muskegon represents an opportunity to tie in with what many expect to become a major regional event in West Michigan this summer.

Huntington plans to leverage that regional appeal as a tool to promote the bank across West Michigan and the Muskegon, Grand Rapids and Holland banking markets, said Tim Taylor, Huntington’s community bank president in Muskegon.

“Clearly and obviously we are a regional player. We have a large commitment to West Michigan,” Taylor said. “Part of what we want to do and say to other organizations is ‘this is very important for us to promote ourselves from a regional standpoint.’

“This is exposure, for sure, to the masses,” he said.

The sponsorship of Huntington Harborfest Muskegon, formerly called the Tall Ships Challenge, coincides with the same role the Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bank has taken on with tall ship festivals planned for this summer in Cleveland and Toledo. The vessels are coming to Muskegon on Aug. 8-10. The event will feature at least a dozen tall ships.

In exchange for the financial support that secured the exclusive title sponsorship, Huntington will receive the benefits of name recognition and exposure on all of the promotional materials relating to the event and exclusive privileges aboard one of the vessels to entertain guests.

That kind of privilege provides a business development opportunity for Huntington through existing and potential commercial customer, Taylor said.

“We want to be able to say ‘thanks’ to our customers and let our prospects know we’re serious about winning their business,” he said.

The title sponsorship also fits with Huntington’s goal of positioning itself as an “essential partner” with the businesses and the communities where it does business, Taylor said.

“It’s important for us to be viewed as an essential partner that steps up when necessary and there’s the right opportunity,” Taylor said.

The Huntington sponsorship is by far the largest signed yet for Harborfest Muskegon, said Joanne Hatch, director of the Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is coordinating the event.

Harborfest Muskegon, which drew 100,000 people to Heritage Landing when it was last staged in 2001, plus an estimated 250,000 to the Muskegon waterfront when the vessels departed, is seeking to raise $175,000 in corporate sponsorships to meet its $500,000 budget, Hatch said.

In seeking corporate support for the event, Hatch has become accustomed to the changing dynamics involved in formulating sponsorships.

Years ago organizations could appeal to the philanthropic side of a business for support. Now they need to demonstrate what’s in it for the sponsor and craft arrangements that enable a company to maximize its exposure, she said.

“Today we know they’re not going to do that on a philanthropy mode,” Hatch said. “Corporate America is beginning to see these events as a really good venue for them to bring their products to people.”

Sponsorships and partnerships have become an increasingly important element of planning for annual festivals, as organizers seek to further tap corporate resources for help in staging and expanding their events as costs increase each year, and corporations look for new ways in which to promote their goods and services. A festival offers the sponsor a unique venue to promote its products to a relatively captive audience, as well as the opportunity to generate goodwill in a community by providing support for a popular event.

One good example is also in Muskegon, where DaimlerChrysler last year signed a three-year, six-figure deal with Summer Celebration, a popular annual summer festival at Heritage Landing.

Executives at DaimlerChrysler in Auburn Hills reported that the sponsorship last year generated both showroom traffic and vehicle sales for the company’s dealerships in the area, Summer Celebration Marketing Director Pat Driscoll said.

A survey of festival visitors conducted during the event last summer found that many attendees would back the sponsors that back the event. More than 80 percent of respondents said they would “most likely” or “absolutely” do business with a corporate sponsor that helped to stage Summer Celebration.

“If you do it carefully and do it in a way that people understand the importance of those sponsorships, they’re going to approve what those corporations are doing and they’re going to want to do business with them because of it,” Driscoll said.

After staging a successful event two years ago, organizers of Huntington Harborfest Muskegon are facing a tougher time in securing corporate sponsorships this year because of the sluggish economy, Hatch said. But using the lessons learned in 2001, organizers have so far successfully secured $125,000 in corporate sponsorships by becoming more attuned to what a company is seeking to achieve through a sponsorship.

“We learned a lot,” Hatch said. “We learned how to provide perks and privileges for sponsors that makes them want to do it.”               

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