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Creating Effective Sponsor Summits

Dawn Turner's picture

Since a number of seasons are coming to a close in the next few months, I thought I would touch on the ever-popular topic of sponsor summits. Most, if not all, of the properties I have worked with over the years have scheduled sponsor summits with their partners at regular intervals. They may not happen on an annual basis, but most of them work to gather partners together at least every other year. I am big fan of sponsor summits and have found most of these events to be both useful and unique. This month I want to offer a few best practice tips for properties that might be looking to either start hosting summits or rethink their existing plans.

If you have read my columns regularly you know I am all about relationships, so it shouldn’t surprise you when I say the best part of attending a sponsor summit is getting away from the daily grind of the office and spending quality time getting to know both the property representatives and other partners.

I have found the best sponsor summits are the ones that mix business with pleasure. Making sure business is a focal point ensures partners get the green light to attend, but it is the other activities that really set the stage for how interactive and engaged everyone becomes. I have found most summits to be either part of a property’s existing event (training camp, spring training, all-star, etc.) or a destination that is regionally pertinent to the property. The ones I deemed to be most successful had an effective mix of business meetings and dinners/other destination-specific events, which made for some fun memories.

The best way I have seen business incorporated into summits is via an actual meeting with a few presentations. Since brand reps are oftentimes too busy to interact with each other on a regular basis, we do appreciate the opportunity to learn how our peers in other categories are working with our properties. Hearing what did and did not work with each other’s brands is important for all of us to consider as we move forward. I mean what use is there in making the same mistakes or not capitalizing on something that is a proven success? In some cases we may even find ways to work with fellow brand partners on future activations. (Music to any property’s ears!)

The worst way I have seen business incorporated into a summit is when properties schedule a business meeting to try to up-sell their partners on new opportunities. I consider this both unnecessary and inappropriate. In this instance I would recommend scheduling individual meetings (outside of a sponsor summit) with properties to educate them on the benefits of these new opportunities.

Another scenario I have seen backfire is when one ownership group owns two properties that have conflicting category partners. During the one summit I attended where this occurred I had the privilege of listening to my counterpart at a competitive company bash my company right in front of me. Talk about uncomfortable and awkward. I was definitely not happy when I heard the comments, but I did manage to stay quiet and smile because I didn’t want to make the scene any worse that it was. I also knew this person did not know who I was or where I was from. It definitely made the property contacts very uncomfortable because I got a lot of those shifty eye looks that seemed to say “sorry.” Even if this situation had not occurred, I would still say that listening to a property I do not have a relationship (and cannot due to a competitor owning the space) with is a waste precious time.

Timing is another important consideration. We all know everyone is busy, so I personally recommend hosting a sponsor summit around a month after the season (or event) ends. This gives everyone on the sponsor side a chance to review what they accomplished, and more than likely hits before they have thought about their activation plans for the following season. Most importantly, this gives the property time to regroup after what is usually a grueling time preparing and executing season-long events.

One of the biggest questions I have seen around summits is how long they should be. In my experience it is unrealistic for brand representatives to be away from the office for an extended period of time, so I would suggest that three day/2 night summits tend to be the most productive. Any longer and you may lose attention, and any shorter is not worthwhile. Of course if the destination is a day’s trip away, I would recommend extending it out to four days/3 nights to allow ample travel time.

When I am in the office I find that the daily grind keeps the creative side of my brain at a distance, so my best creative moments tend to arise when I am away from the office. I am quite sure I am not the only person that feels this way, so I would think all properties would see hosting a sponsor summit as an investment in the activations their fans experience each year.

I do hope you have found this column helpful as you consider either hosting a summit or contemplating attending one in the future. Remember, when planning a summit you should follow these recommendations in order to have a successful, engaging event year after year!

Do:
1 – Host the summit approximately one month after the season (or event) ends
2 – Mix business and pleasure
3 – Incorporate at least one business meeting within the summit
4 – Allow ample opportunities for partners to mingle and get to know each other
5 – Host the summit at a location that is considered off-site to both the property and brand partners

Don’t:
1 – Schedule a summit during the middle of a season (it is best if partners get 100% of your attention!)
2 – Make it all business or all pleasure
3 – Mix two sets of partners together if ownership owns two teams (the recommendation is for each team to host its own summit)
4 – Try to up-sell your partners during a summit
5 – Schedule the summit more than 3 days/2 nights or 4 days/3 nights (if additional travel time is needed)

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