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Sponsorship strategies aren’t magic


By François Royer Mireault, Marketing Strategist & Elevent Board Member

Drafting a new sponsorship strategy is hard work. It’s usually done in response to a crisis in an organization. For instance, your company may be establishing a new 5-year strategic plan and looking to rebrand. Or maybe the company is under pressure from new competitors. Whatever the circumstances, drafting up a new sponsorship strategy often requires making meaning out of a mess[1].

Strategy means discovering the most promising opportunity for your resources. Strategy is an investment. It is not led by an idea, a trend or a technology. It means doing hard work now to make the job easier later.

What does strategizing look like? Strategy can be broken down into three parts: the diagnosis, the strategy, and the action plan[2]. You start by forming a point of view about your current situation (=diagnosis). You then develop a response to that situation (=strategy). Finally, you allocate your resources accordingly (=action plan).

The following are potential pieces of the puzzle:

Business & Marketing

5-year strategic plan

Marketing & communications plan

Brand health reports

Culture insights

Customer insights

Product insights

Digital audit

FFOM of the organization

Positioning matrix


Budget overview

Portfolio analysis

Property evaluations

Competitive review

Trends review

Interviews with the team


Raw Inputs

A simple statement with two or three objectives and the key results.



Prioritize your audiences.

Ideally use the same definition as the marketing and communications team.


Your themes or an important message for your audience from your organization.


High-level criteria for selecting a property.

What makes you say yes?


A high-level calendar or the desired rollout for activities.


The communication ecosystem or the preferred channels or environments.

Clear Thinking

Budget re-shuffle

Search for properties


Creative brief




Team (training or hires)

New internal partners

New production partners



Automation tools

Online filtering system

Evaluation framework

Post mortem templates

Email templates


External policy

Internal policy

Board presentation

Concrete Outputs
Skipping steps 1 and 2 to dive into the action plan will lead you to a dead end and have your team arguing about creative ideas before you understand who you want to speak to and what you want to say to them. If you’re a small organization, skip the parts that seem unnecessary or that won’t add value to the process. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach. You can easily trade the competition review for in-depth interviews with your team. You can grab a coffee with the VP Marketing and agree on three to five brand directions if there’s no documented strategic plan.


Strategy isn’t magic. It takes focus. Toronto Pearson International Airport found sharp strategic focus in a complex ecosystem of stakeholders.

In 2016 and 2017, Toronto Pearson felt it was spreading itself too thin. It wanted to do more with its sponsorship and donations program. An external study found that it could make the greatest social impact with people who have been in the country for three years or more and who no longer receive support from social services agencies.
Focus on helping later-stage newcomers gain the skills, connections, and opportunities to be meaningfully employed in communities around the airport and beyond.

Group sponsorship initiatives & activations under a branded umbrella: The “Propeller Project” made it easier for communications to rally the troops around a single mission.

Leverage the airport communication channels and document the process through digital content (mostly videos & photos).

Support new programs such as Scientists in School (CivicAction’s Escalator Program), 6 Degrees (by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship), and ACCES Employment.

Establish an External Champions Council comprising 20 local business and community leaders.

Measure results with simple KPIs: number of projects, money invested, number of residents impacted, and qualitative partner feedback.

An airport has hundreds of options for its sponsorships and donations strategy. It has countless audiences and stakeholders to please. Focusing resources on the most promising opportunity (such as helping later-stage newcomers) is a bold move that will make the daily operations of the program much easier. Toronto Pearson started with a clear diagnosis through external research. They formulated a strategy that narrowed down the audience, the message, and the touchpoints. They then developed an action plan that could be measured with simple KPIs.

Good strategy might make you feel uncomfortable. Good strategy requires trying new things or saying no to familiar options. The process might require writing a 200-page deck of input. But the output should be simple and direct (e.g. it could be summarized in an email).

Rely on data as much as pilots rely on their instruments. Examine and discuss information with your colleagues, but challenge the numbers. Talk to your team, contact your partners, speak with customers, attend events, and read comments on social media. Then, think outside the box.

A shift in sponsorship strategy most likely means shifting budgets that some people hold dear, changing the team’s composition, or developing new communications channels. Getting everyone excited about a new direction requires more than a PowerPoint presentation. It might take many meetings and presentations. But doing the hard work now will make it easier later.


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[1] Mark Pollard, 2018

[2] Good Strategy/ Bad Strategy (Richard Rumelt, 2011)


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