Mike Blumenthal and Megan Hannay take a Deep Dive into sponsorships as an opportunity in local marketing.
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Mike: Hi, Mike Blumenthal here. Mary Bowling is still on vacation. Welcome to Deep Dive into Local. I want to welcome Megan Hannay of ZipSprout. This week we’re going to be talking about sponsorships as an opportunity to increase branding in local.
So, I know that your business, ZipSprout, focuses on this, and I know you’ve given this a lot of thought. You’re a very thoughtful person, I might say, but you need to give us an overview of some of your thinking about how sponsorships can be integrated into local marketing.
Megan: Sure. So, one thing I see a lot in blog posts and in industry articles that advocate for doing local right, is…you know, there’s usually like a paragraph or two, like, “Hey, do some local sponsorships.” And it’s kind of…it seems like it’s a great idea, but often it’s not really dug into. And I think a lot of companies, a lot of clients who come to us or just people I talk to in the industry are like, Yes, I know, I should do local sponsorships, that’s the thing. But they don’t really have a breakdown of what that looks like, you know, what it means for either a small business or for a larger business who operates in a lot of different cities, what it really means to do local sponsorships and how to really tackle it in the most effective way. So, I thought I would take a dive into that.
Mike: Great. So, why don’t you give us some idea on both the types of places you might look for sponsorship, and how they might differ between a small business and a national company, and how you might actually implement a strategy.
Megan: Sure. So, I would say let’s start with small businesses because I agree that the tactics and the way you go about it would be very different for different types of businesses. If you’re a small business, you’re really in a great position, you probably don’t need to hire a company like ZipSprout because you know everyone in your town hopefully. You know, if you’ve been around for a few years, you know a good number of people, you know what the local little league teams are, you know the PTAs. But, I think where it can break down with small businesses is really knowing what is a cost effective way to get local — basically local branding and local marketing.
What we find is that if you are a local entity you can really use some of your connections to reach out to people that sometimes we have a harder time reaching out to. So, parent-teacher associations can be a great way if you’re a B2C business that really targets families. A lot of times PTAs are run by a parent who’s very busy, might have a full-time job, it’s kind of hard to get in touch with them. But if you can, if you know them, if they come to your business, usually for a few hundred dollars you can do something great with a local PTA. You can get up on their website, but you can also get branding at their meetings. You can come to their meetings and talk about your business, you can hand out fliers, you can participate in some of their events. And it’s a great way for just a few hundred dollars or a thousand dollars often to market your business to a lot of local families.
Mike: So I would say there’s two issues, one is many small businesses are already doing this. They’re already providing the sponsorship. But what they’re not doing is leveraging it for the offline-online benefit that could accrue to them. Given that Google is now looking more broadly at how to rank a business, this is an area where mentions of the business online … so I think, also in addition to this simple sponsorship and a period of meetings, they just want to be sure for example, that they’re mentioned on that entity’s website, or that they are mentioned in the newsletter, and that there is an opportunity for people to find them through the digital side of it, not just their name on the program.
Megan: Right. Or the bulletin or something.
Mike: Or the teaser and pull it. You just want to make sure it makes it online. So that Google can learn of your good will.
Megan: Yes. And I would say that something that whether you’re working with a PTA or another hyper local entity like a little league, you can definitely ask about that. Don’t be embarrassed. We work with the local organizations all the time and I think people are happy when you’re sponsoring them, when you’re showing interest in giving them money. They’re happy to help market your business and in the ways that work for you. So, if you can usually send them over your logo in their correct size, or even sometimes they’ll blast you on social media. And we have a lot of times where local organizations will put something up on the website, they’ll put something up on social media, but if we don’t tell them what to put up, they might put the wrong link or they might put a logo that maybe is an older version, something they found online. So the best way to do it is just to say, well, what is the best way I want to market my business? What are some great photos that I have? What is my up-to-date logo? Where would I want the link to go on my website? What is the best page? And just communicating that information when you’re doing a sponsorship.
Mike: Right. I think communicating the fact that you don’t even need a plaque anymore. I mean, I used to run a retail business, I had a wall with dust-covered plaque sitting there, and it’s like save the money. And just get mentioned on their website or getting mentioned in social media be a lot more valuable to everybody.
Megan: Yes, and that’s the thing, too. As you can really work with a lot of local organizations have PDFs or things on their website that say, “This is the sponsorship, you can have package one, package two, package three, and this is what it includes.” And those are really … it can change, it’s negotiable if you’re like, “Yes, I don’t really need, I don’t need that t-shirt. You know, you don’t need to give me 10 t-shirts for my employees or you don’t need to give me that plaque, but what I would really love is some more social media shout-outs. Is there something we can work out?” And often there is, or you know, if there’s a festival and you could have a booth but you’re unable to go to that festival, you’re unable to send employees to be in charge of that booth, you can say, “Hey, what can we do instead? How else can we do the sponsorship?” And I think, you know, more often than not it’s completely fine and completely okay.
And yes, I would say for local businesses just identifying those local entities, a lot of times if you work with a lot of local non-profits, they often have multiple events throughout the year, and that can be another really great way to get your business out again and again throughout the year. It’s to find out who those local organizations are that have a lot of events. Because we find that events are a really great way to get local marketing and local branding.
Mike: And so, I think that’s pretty good coverage of the small business side. How does it change as the business becomes multi-location or even, you know, cross-regional or even national?
Megan: So, if you’re working with a larger, multi-location business, or maybe even a business that’s national and doesn’t have brick and mortars that operates online but provides services in local areas. It can often be a lot more difficult because you’re looking to find local organizations that not only fit your price range or have the marketing benefits that you’re looking for, but that also meet your target demographic in a particular area.
So when you’re looking in a particular city, I’d probably start with a particular city, and really try to find some of the local entities that if there’s an event. For example, a local parade or something — do the participants in this event meet your target customer base? But I would also say don’t go too narrow. So we’ve sometimes worked with the clients who are like, okay, my target customer base is a person that makes this much money, that is female between 35 and 54, and is very specific about what they’re looking for. And sometimes going too narrow and looking too specifically for local events, you’re going to find that the only things that you can find that might fit within that range — first of all, they can be very hard to find, and second of all, it is expensive.
So, we kind of advocate for going a little bit more broad. I think some of the best ways to do local sponsorships, if you are more of a national or multi-location business, is to find those entities that reach to a lot of people in really interesting areas. For example, one place that we found that’s really great is half marathons or marathons. You’re reaching a lot of people. Usually people who participate in half marathons or triathlons are a little bit more well off. So if that’s your type of customer, those are great places to look. But they’re also reaching a broad range of people, and you don’t have to be so specific about demographics.
Mike: So what about looking for not for profits that have both a national and a strong local presence? So, say for example, literacy volunteers or the one my daughters currently works for, No Kid Hungry, which has a really strong national presence, but also goes into local communities, puts on events in local communities, often with local … significant local assistance. So, it would strike me that you might be able to identify some of these businesses, some of these not for profits that have that national-local structure, and then devise a plan that would speak to both the needs of the national and the local aspects of it.
Megan: Yes. So, there’s a few things there. It really sometimes depends on the organization and how locally they go. There are definitely some organizations — at ZipSprout we work a lot with Girls On The Run. They’re an amazing organization, they’re all over the U.S., and they work with teenage girls and middle school age girls to help them train for races, for running races. And they really have local chapters all over the United States to the point that they actually have local websites all over the U.S. So every website is a different place.
I would say that organizations that are more national and their local events might be listed on their national website, but they don’t have a local web presence, they can still be really great for local branding. But if you’re really trying to show Google that you are local to, you know, Richmond, Virginia — if their website is a bit more national, you might not be sending those local signals. So, that’s just something to pay attention to if that’s something that matters to you.
If you really are just looking for the on-the-ground branding and marketing, then yes, those can be great organizations as well. But generally the way that we search is just by starting in a particular location and searching for events, nonprofits, and associations that are occurring within a particular region. And sometimes we definitely do pick up on national entities that are doing things locally as well.
Mike: I wonder sometimes if the idea of maximizing these efforts for Google isn’t the ass-backwards way of looking at it. That, as long as you’re doing it, and as long as you are making sure that you are getting both a digital and an on-the-ground presence out of it and maximizing whatever self-interested marketing message you want to maximize … you know, what Google does is what Google does. They’re going to notice it, we know that, but it’s very…and I think it very…it sort of might skew these things in a weird way to put that as a priority.
Megan: Yes, I agree with you. And I think in about five years people will be worrying much less about SEO in terms of where exactly, who exactly is linking to my website. Because I think as we talked about in the recent This Week In Local, I think Google is learning ways and they’re constantly looking for ways to take real world signals and put them into the digital marketplace. So in that case, yes, it’s really great for — especially for a national organization that really wants local signals, wants to show, not only in their community but also Google. Because really first it is about showing the community and Google will pick up on that, I think eventually.
Yes, it really is about just kind of being there. And then in that way I think some of the local branding things can be really great. We have clients who will ship their banner to local events. It cost a few bucks but they put up the banner at a local parade, it’s in photos, it’s part of that local entity. And I think that’s a great way for national business to show some presence. And I would say that there are some companies, national companies, that are actually doing a great job at this already, and you just kind of see them everywhere.
Mike: Some examples?
Megan: Yes, Dick’s Sporting Goods is actually really, really good at it. Whole Foods Market does a great job, and they actually have people at each Whole Foods store or at least people in charge of each Whole Foods region who are in charge of local sponsorships. And the same with Dick’s Sporting Goods, and also Wells Fargo is actually a really good one that they particularly reach out. They have a budget for each store, for each location, and they find local sponsorships in that area.
Mike: Just don’t open an account with them.
Megan: Yes, exactly. Well, I think .. .you know, interestingly enough I think it did … I talked to some people at Wells Fargo, actually recently after some of that — their trouble happened with the accounts opened that were not done with permission. And they said, according to them, that it actually having their local sponsorships helped them because even though it was a national scandal, some of the people that they were supporting locally were like, “Hey, you gave us money, we’re so loyal to you.” So, obviously not a good idea to have shady business practices just in general, but I would say a great way to — the best way to build customer loyalty I think is, or one really great way is to give money to their kids’ little league team. So, it’s a great way to really reach the local community.
Mike: Yes. So any other tidbits or ideas that you think would be helpful to people?
Megan: I would say one thing that we’ve been experimenting with, and I’m really excited about, and I think there’s a lot of potential for is actually working with local bloggers. I did blogger outreach back like seven or eight years ago when I worked for a social media agency. I feel like it had its really big moment, and then I think a lot of new things happened including seeing Google updates that scared people away from heavy blog outreach for a while. But I think one of the cool things about finding local bloggers, like if I’m really doing a push in Milwaukee and I want to attend some local events or I maybe have sponsored some local events that I can’t attend. We’ve actually done things where we’ve said, “Hey, Milwaukee-based person with a website, why don’t you go to this event, no commitment, we’ll just give you these tickets. If you want to write about the event, if you want to write about the person who sponsored it, that’s great.” You know, obviously, mention that they are a sponsor, but it’s kind of a really good way to meet someone locally to kind of do the whole triangle, to really reach out to a person, to reach out to an organization, and to really show that you’re building a local presence in a place.
Mike: So how careful are you to alert the blogger about FTC requirements in terms of publicly noting the nature of the relationship?
Megan: Yes. I would say that definitely they need to. And another thing is we’re actually not paying them to do anything, we’re not telling them that they need to write about it, and…
Mike: But even the free tickets, does that not create an obligation for them to mention the quid pro quo?
Megan: Yes, I think it does. And we tell them it came through ZipSprout, they don’t need to do a follow link or anything or they don’t need to really link back at all. So, I think they will mention that it is sponsored, yes, and that’s important to note as well.
Mike: Well, so, how long have you been in business and what do you see the trajectory of your business being in this space?
Megan: So, ZipSprout has been around for a bit over a year now, and I would say the trajectory, where it’s headed is kind of where the industry in general is headed which is much more into local branding. I would say the really exciting part about working on the ground with local sponsorships is just that we get to see all of the benefits of local sponsorship that a lot of both local and national businesses aren’t taking advantage of, insofar as like, “Hey, you get mentioned in our email newsletters.” So, knowing that, let’s create a promo code for their email newsletter that goes just out to these specific people so that we can really reach these people that are in this unique audience, or let’s create an article unique to this community to go on their Facebook page.
Mike: Which raises the whole question of how do you measure success of these things?
Megan: Yes, we’ve been using a lot of tracking. So like tracking promo codes, tracking links on Facebook posts using Bitlys and UTM codes and stuff like that. But I would say there is a bit of infrastructure to set up. But I would say, in the long run, the really cool thing about doing local sponsorships, whether you’re doing it on a small scale or on a large scale, is that it’s a full-circle marketing opportunity. So you’re able to do everything from the social media side to the SEO side, to the email newsletter side to really covering the entire area, as well as actually having feet on the ground, as well. I think it’s an interesting juxtaposition to ad tech, which has its place as well, but it’s the purely digital ad space. So, I say try both!
Mike: I think that’s a great summary, full circle … the idea of full circle marketing that you’re taking offline and online off, and creating both a humanistic as well as a digital relationship between all the players.
Megan: Yes. I’m excited to see where it goes as well.
Mike: Cool. Well, thanks for joining us, we really appreciate you being on Deep Dive, and hope to see you soon.
Megan: Yes, thank you Mike. Yes, thank you.
Mike: Take care. Bye-bye.