How to Evaluate Sponsorships


Just as video never really “killed the radio star,” social and digital media has not supplanted in-person events in the marketing mix. It’s human nature to want to connect in-person with favorite brands, celebrities, and artistic/like-minded individuals. As a result, corporate events and sponsorships continue to represent a significant percentage of the marketing budget. And, as always, where dollars and budgets go, measurement must follow.

One of my favorite resources on measurement sponsorships is “A Guide to Measuring Event Sponsorships,” written by Bruce Jeffries-Fox for the IPR Measurement Commission. I encourage you to download and read all 26 pages. However, knowing how short on time anyone doing events probably is these days, we’ve provided you with our own “Cliff Notes” version of Fox’s paper:

Start by agreeing on goals

As always, we start with the goals. Be clear from the start about what the desired outcomes are and what success looks like for your event. Fox suggests that all events’ outcomes can be categorized as follows:

  1. Activity Metrics that are measured by attendance tracking or number of handouts taken: attendees’ favorability towards the event, volume of media coverage received and/or share of event hashtags.
  1. Outcome-related measured by: message recall and retention, changes in cognition such as awareness and understanding; changes in motivations, attitudes, and opinions about your organization, products or services; and behavior such as stated intentions to buy or becoming a sales lead.
  1. Sales-related measured with: lead or sales tracking.

Deciding what type of outcome your sponsorship expects to achieve will determine how you measure it.

Get clarity on your target audience and what type of event is most appropriate

Fox classifies events as:

  • Sports events, typically sponsored by several companies.
  • Cultural events, e.g., museum shows, concerts, and TV specials. Sponsors may be a single company or multiple companies.
  • Community events, e.g., music, theater, and sports, usually linked in some way to the city or town in which they occur.
  • Charitable events, e.g., United Way drives hurricane relief.

He suggests that successful events share the following 3 key characteristics:

  1. They interest your target public. Your event should interest your target public in order to maximize efficiency in reaching large numbers of your target. It also demonstrates that you and they share common interests, which is vital to furthering your relationship and increasing your target’s likelihood of doing business with you.
  2. They are a good fit with your organization. If an event seems out of character or contrary to the reputation of your company, it may lead to confusion among your target public about who you are and what you stand for. As a result, the event will probably not have the desired impact. Research can help you assess whether the events you are considering fit with your company.
  3. They cultivate desired perceptions and behaviors.

Existing vs. original events

You will need to decide if you wish to use existing events, such as trade shows, sports events, or develop original events. There are several considerations when making this choice:

  • Existing events have the benefits of audience data, known costs, and relatively small labor requirements. Unfortunately, they also tend to be expensive and your organization may well be one of many competing for attention.
  • Events you develop yourself can be less costly and, of course, you will be the sole sponsor. But they require much more labor on your part. Further, it is more difficult to assess the likelihood of attracting large numbers of your target public because you lack audience data.

If you’re still in the event development phase, Fox suggests using a survey of your target audience to determine if an event under consideration is a good fit.

Measuring event effectiveness

Once you’ve decided on an event, Fox suggests you ask the following 4 questions in order to evaluate its effectiveness and efficiency:

  1. How effective was the event? To what extent did the event impact the target public in the desired manner?
  2. Did the event change the targeted public in unexpected ways, whether desirable or undesirable?
  3. How cost-effective was the event?
  4. What was learned that will help improve future events?

It is important that staff developing and implementing events know at the outset that they will be required to answer these 4 questions with hard data and insights.

Leads analysis

According to Fox, organizations that use events to generate sales leads have straightforward metrics:

  • How many leads came in,
  • How many were qualified, and
  • What was the relative cost to get them?

Critical to this type of evaluation is the ability to capture as much information about the people who visit your booth or attend your event as possible. Ideally you would use a CRM system to monitor future purchase behavior. Depending on the nature of your organization you might also want to capture additional information, such as:

  • Which products appeal to which types of consumers,
  • Recall or recognition of key messages,
  • Source product awareness, and
  • Source of event awareness.

As with any measurement program, you need a benchmark to compare your results with. Fox suggests using other events and other types of marketing activities to compare cost per lead and cost per qualified lead.

In-event surveys

If you want to capture information about event attendees as a way of measuring effectiveness, the best technique is to conduct surveys while you’re there.

According to Fox:

“During many types of events it is possible to conduct surveys among those attending. Sporting events, concerts, and even professional conferences can be evaluated through this technique. Surveys are generally conducted via personal interviews. In-event surveys are particularly useful in determining whether your sponsorship of the event is being clearly communicated and if so, what impact this has on audience members’ perceptions of, attitudes toward, and interest in your company and products.”

The following table from Fox’s paper summarizes the types of data it is useful to collect and the purpose of analyzing these data:


Fox suggests that in-event surveys can reveal:

  • The types of consumers attracted by the event
  • The event’s efficiency in reaching the target market
  • Unaided and aided sponsorship awareness
  • Attitude and perceptions of company or products (unaided and aided)
  • Changes in attitudes and perceptions of company or products
  • Recall or recognition of key messages
  • Purchase intent (compare to similar purchase intent levels among total target market to help assess event’s impact)
  • Changes in purchase intent

After performing these analyses, be sure to revisit the various communication-related and sales-related objectives you formulated before the event and determine the extent to which the event achieved these objectives.

Post-event surveys

If you can’t conduct your research while the event is taking place, or if you want data on the longer-term recall of your messages, the solution is a post-event survey. According to Fox:

“Even if you have conducted an in-event survey, a post survey provides excellent points of comparison, facilitating evaluation of the event’s impact. One unique feature of post-event surveys is that they provide a measure of the proportion of your target public in a given geography that became aware of your event and your sponsorship, and whether or not they attended. Often this awareness leads to changes in attitudes, perceptions, etc. among those who did not attend. It is appropriate to include these people in your effectiveness evaluation.”

Note that a critical question needs to be added to the post-event survey to identify whether the respondent attended the event, was aware of the event but did not attend, or knew nothing about the event. This question allows you to compare the data among these key groups and through these comparisons determine the event’s impacts. If your event was effective, perceptions will be more positive and supportive behavior more likely for those who attended or heard about your event (vs. those who did neither). These findings should be even more pronounced among those people aware of your sponsorship.

Be sure to build into your survey questions the ability for respondents to talk about any attitudes or perceptions that you don’t expect or even desire to cultivate. If you develop your event carefully then any unintended results are likely to be positive, but it is always good to check for undesirable results.

If your event is a trade show where participants visit multiple exhibits sponsored by different companies, a post-event survey allows you to compare the effectiveness of your booth vs. those of your competitors.

Be sure to re-visit your various communication process-related, communication effects-related and sales-related objectives formulated before the event and determine the extent to which the event achieved these objectives.

Pre-post surveys

The ideal measurement process for events uses survey research before and after an event, according to Fox:

“The purpose of conducting two waves of surveys, one before and one after the event, is to gain a better measure of the event’s unique impact, over and above things happening in the environment. For example, if your target public is exposed to a favorable and widely-published article about your company before your event or unrelated to your event, this may boost some of your variables (e.g., attitudes and behaviors). A pre-post study allows you to discount your data appropriately.”

The typical pre-post study design involves simply polling a random sample of your target market before and after your event. The “after” respondents may or may not be the same as the “before” respondents. Poll enough people in both waves to analyze your data by three groups:

  1. Those who attended,
  2. Those just aware, and
  3. Those neither attending nor aware.

Your analysis should first look for pre-post differences between groups 1 and 2 (those attending or at least aware of the event). Then look for pre-post differences in group 3 (those neither attending nor aware). This latter group serves as your control, showing you the impact of things going on in the environment completely unrelated to your event. If you see differences here, they should be subtracted out of any differences you see in groups 1 and 2 in order to get a clear assessment of your event’s true impact.

Pre-post panel The downside of using different respondents in the pre and post studies is that you cannot know for sure how much of the apparent differences on your important variables (e.g., attitudes, behavior, etc.) are attributable to your event vs. differences among individual respondents that have nothing to do with the event. A pre-post panel, in which the same individuals are in both the pre- and post- waves, addresses this problem.

According to Fox:

“This is accomplished by asking first-wave respondents if they are willing to be re-contacted after the event for another, much briefer survey. Those who agree to be re-contacted become your “panel.” Continue to poll pre-wave respondents until you have enough panel members to permit pre-post comparisons for those who attended and did not attend your event. In the pre wave be sure to ask panel members who are aware of your upcoming event whether or not they expect to attend. The post survey interviews your panel plus a small group of non-panelists who neither attended nor were aware of your event. This latter sample is your control group.”

For your panelists, the post survey will be briefer than the pre wave because you will have already collected demographics, product ownership/usage data, etc. You need to include only those questions related to your objectives regarding attitudes, perceptions, and purchase intent. Compare differences in pre and post responses regarding your objectives for those who attended your event vs. those who did not attend.

Comparing pre and post responses for these two groups indicates the extent to which attending the event influenced your publics’ attitudes, perceptions, and behavior. Interviewing the same individuals pre and post means that differences can be more validly attributed to the event itself, compared with a post-only study.

Sales conversion surveys

If you want a far more accurate quantification of the actual sales potential of an event, you should consider doing a sales conversion survey.  According to Fox:

“These surveys are typically used to measure the quantity and dollar value of sales resulting from leads generated by an event. They are also used when an event includes giving away trials of your product or service. The survey’s main objective is to determine the rate at which these leads or trial users eventually begin purchasing (or recommending) your product, and to determine the extent to which your event influenced this rate. However, such surveys also provide a means for assessing other things, such as attitudes, perceptions, degree of influence of your event, the level of post-event follow-up by sales personnel, etc.”

Sales conversion surveys can measure:

    • The quality of attendees, i.e., their level of category involvement
    • The types of individuals most likely to convert from trial to purchase
    • The rate at which leads and trial users convert to sales
    • Length of time between trial and purchase
    • What is most appealing and unappealing about the product?
    • The types of experiences that lead, and do not lead, to sales
    • Attitude and perceptions of company or products (unaided and aided)
    • Changes in attitudes and perceptions of company or products
    • Event’s impact on moving consumers through the purchase process
    • Purchase intent (among those who have not yet purchased)
    • Changes in purchase intent (among those who have not yet purchased)

Lead Tracking

With the introduction of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems like Salesforce,  following a lead from an event through to purchase has become almost standard operating procedure for most organizations. Fox advocates for lead tracking over a survey approach because:

“A lead-tracking system analysis is similar to a sales-conversion survey in that both are concerned with sales rates. The unique feature of a lead tracking system is its ability to comprehensively determine conversion rates. Surveys, on the other hand, usually draw samples of populations rather than taking a census, resulting in a “margin of error” when attempting to project results to the entire target market population. The challenge with setting up lead-tracking systems is that they require tight coordination between computer databases typically designed for different purposes and maintained by different groups within your organization. Making them interact is often a major challenge.”

Media coverage analysis

Media coverage and/or buzz is generally a side effect of sponsorship, but in some cases may be the raison d’etre for going to the event in the first place. Witness the parade of new products announced at the Consumer Electronics Show or SXSW that have yet to be fully developed. For them, buzz is what matters most. However, unless you are a major sponsor, don’t expect the media to pay much attention. Some media outlets now flat out refuse to mention sponsors at all, refusing to give them what publications consider “free advertising.”

In our next issue of The Measurement Advisor, we’ll get into the measurement of events other than sponsorships. In the mean time, Fox covers much more material than I have summarized here, so I encourage you to read his entire paper, “A Guide to Measuring Event Sponsorships.” ∞

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