A Sponsorship Program That Keeps on Giving

Designing an appropriate sponsorship program for a client can be a challenge.

On one hand, you know your site and your audience better than anyone, so you are in a great position to recommend a highly effective course of action. On the other hand, working closely with the client to get a firm handle on their goals and objectives, their take on your site, their ideas for interacting with your audience, and, of course, their budget can be the most effective way to build a solid, long-term relationship.

In other words, if you hand a proposal down to your client from on high, you are making a BIG mistake.

So let’s talk about some options you might have in designing a long-lasting sponsorship program.

One approach you might consider is the kind you see on the sponsored content areas of ClickZ. You work with a client to discern what kind of audience they are seeking to attract. You determine what kind of content that audience really needs hopefully something with a logical tie-in to the client’s product or service. You put together an editorial calendar, which will keep that audience coming back for more. And from a creative standpoint, you work to design their branding and message into the page (not into the content itself, but adjacent to it).

You might want to take ClickZ’s approach a little further though, and make a sponsored content area a mini-portal for the client. Instead of just ads and logos, include links to headlines, new developments, product and service areas, FAQs, newsletter sign-ups, and so on. Give the readers many, many ways and reasons to take a wander over to the sponsoring site.

Another approach is to emulate the kind of sponsored area approach that you will find all over Excite a portal that used to be a good search engine, but has devolved into a showcase of sponsored links. They can be a rich source of examples for us lowly site publishers.

Take a look at the travel section, for instance. Obviously, it’s focused on people who need travel information. The first section is called “Reservations by Preview Travel.” Three simple links: Reserve Air, Reserve Car, Reserve Hotel. Very simple. Very easy. (And Preview Travel probably paid a zillion bucks for it!) You don’t need much in the way of explanation there because that’s all they do.

The next section, again contained in a little box, is called “FareFinder,” not surprisingly sponsored by Preview Travel. Next section: Carfinder. Sponsored space. Single function. Won’t get zapped by the ad-buster software. Next: Manage your Miles by MaxMiles.

The good thing about this example (and I’d encourage you to surf around Excite to look through others) is that it offers discrete sponsorship opportunities that are highly appropriate for the space they are in. Travelers DO need to reserve airline tickets, rent cars and book hotels, so this works.

The downside is that Excite has made it a content-free zone. All you have on that page is a collection of sponsored links through which, if that’s what you’re looking for, you could traipse through any of the wannabe sites that litter the GeoCities/Tripod/TheGlobe landscape.

Were this your site, you might want to have some interesting articles, tips, photos and other items of redeeming value to bring readers back to again and again. Nevertheless, it’s a model you can use to stimulate your imagination.

Putting our money where our mouth is, ClickZ has a few sponsorships out there that have worked for us.

If you look on the right side of MediaPost’s home page, you will see that ClickZ has a fixed ad that fits quite nicely into its form factor. MediaPost has an audience of 11,000 media planners most of whom are on the traditional side of the fence who need to be brought up to speed on online issues. So to build the ClickZ brand with this audience, we have an ongoing placement on its home page and the top ad of the weekly mailing.

Costly? Yes. But that’s a highly desirable audience that we want to get in front of, so what the heck.

I’d love to see more real-world examples of this kind of sponsorship. So if you have seen some cool sponsorships, please email me with the URL and any background information you might have. I’d like to take a look myself.

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