New classes, imaginative programming, top-notch equipment and stimulating social events are all ways to motivate your members. But how do you pay for these motivators?
At Franco’s Athletic Club, we know that innovative programming is vital to member retention, so we include it in the budget every year. But in recent years, we have found it increasingly difficult to cover the expenses of programming for our growing membership. As one example, our catered member appreciation event, which started with 500 attendees and eventually grew to 2,000, was fast becoming cost-prohibitive. If we wanted to continue with such events, we had to get sponsors and business partners.
One strength of the fitness industry is that it caters to a very desirable market. According to “Fitness American Style,” a study commissioned by IHRSA and conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide, 85% of health club members are computer savvy; 79% go to the movies and listen to music; 47% have college or advanced degrees; and 28% are involved in community and political affairs. In other words, your members are active, intelligent and socially aware—just the kind of consumers most businesses want to reach.
With this in mind, we decided to recruit businesses to sponsor almost everything we do. By approaching both local and national companies that could benefit from marketing to our members, we have managed to establish relationships with several big-name corporations, including Ritz-Carlton, Sandals Resorts, Coca-Cola Company, Outback Steakhouse, Prescriptives Cosmetics, Walgreens, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gateway and American Express. Why are these “heavy hitters” not only willing but anxious to work with us? Because they understand the marketing power and influence of our club.
Understanding your member demographics is crucial to formulating your approach to potential sponsors. Who are your members? Are they married, single or divorced? Female or male? Do they have children? How many? What age groups do they fall into? Gather this information by including demographic questions on member applications.
To identify the businesses that would benefit from marketing to your members, you must know your membership demographics. When I tell businesses that Franco’s has a membership base of 14,000 with a daily traffic flow of 1,700 people most of the year and 2,000 people in the summer, that the average household income of our members is $70,000, and that 55% are women, I definitely command attention!
When approaching potential sponsors, you need to introduce your business in a professional way. Your marketing package should include the following:
A Letter of Introduction. Introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your business and the program or event for which you are seeking sponsorship. This is a good place to include some basic membership demographics.
The Proposal. Get right to the point. When you can fill in the blanks below, you are ready to write your proposal.
The Agreement. Write up all the details and expectations of the arrangement. Include specifics, such as:
- What time must the sponsor arrive for setup?
- When should the product be received?
- Who is responsible for printing the sponsor’s promotion pieces?
- How will the promotion pieces be distributed?
- Where does the sponsor send the product (or check)?
Support Material. Enclose copies of materials from current or past advertising campaigns—for the same event, if possible—to show how sponsors’ names are featured.
Promotional Package. Include promotional materials that showcase your facility. This is no place for club flyers—when you deal with professionals; you need to look like a professional. I recommend hiring an advertising agency to put together a package that includes professional photography.
Follow-Up Materials. Once an agreement has been reached, be sure to send a confirmation letter with all the details. After the event, write a thank-you letter.
Call the business and ask for the marketing director. Introduce yourself and say you would like to send a marketing package and proposal.
Where do you find potential sponsors? Your best contacts are your members, since they are already familiar with your club and its programs or events. Make it your business to know your members’ business. Your advertising representative, if you have one, should also be able to provide you with contacts.
By making different types of partnerships available, you allow businesses of varying sizes and resources to get involved. You can pair some of the opportunities together. For example, one company could be both a product sponsor and a financial sponsor. When you are dealing with big national companies, be sure to allow lots of time for your proposals to go through the proper approval channels. Consider the following possibilities:
Product Sponsorship. When we offer a special program or event, we like to give all the participants a gift. We suggest that sponsors who provide a free product also include a promotional incentive to generate traffic back into their businesses. For example, we recently partnered with Subway in a competitive event. In addition to providing a coupon for a free sub sandwich to the top 100 finishers, Subway gave all participants a buy-one-get-one-free coupon.
Financial Sponsorship. Maybe the main thing you need from a sponsor is money. To get financial sponsorships, you have to offer more than just advertising exposure. One possibility is allowing financial sponsors to interface with your members. Invest in an eight-foot table that can be skirted and placed in a highly visible area of your club, and use it for spotlighting sponsors’ products. We contacted Prescriptives Cosmetics and requested a $1,000 sponsorship (as well as 350 gift packages). In return, we offered the company on-site promotion and permission to sell its product line at the event, inclusion in all our advertising, and the opportunity to set up appointments to return to the club for makeovers and product sales. The response was overwhelming—the company quickly committed to partnering with us for three more events!
Restaurant Donation. At the beginning of each calendar year when we do our event and program planning, we determine our catering needs for the year. We then approach four or five restaurants to partner with us on these events. We ask each restaurant to commit to three or four events ranging in size from 200 to 1,800 people. (Most of our events draw an average of 200 to 400 people.) In exchange for the donation, we offer two complimentary memberships (approximate value = $1,500) for each restaurant to give to upper management, and include the donor in all event advertising. We also allow the restaurant to place a promotional coupon in one of our member mailings.
Equipment Sponsorship. You might want to get sponsors to pay for equipment for various programs. We asked an estate planning group for $2,000 to purchase 200 chairs for our seniors program. In exchange, the sponsor was invited to make a presentation at our next senior event and include a promotional incentive in the mailing of our monthly member calendar, which goes to 5,000 households. In addition, the sponsor’s name was placed on the back of each chair. Since estate planning is a very high-cost service, only one of our members needed to enroll with the sponsor’s group for it to break even.
Grand Prize Sponsorship. For our special events, we contact hotels, resorts and spas to solicit grand prizes. We promise inclusion in all the event marketing, and then we outline exactly what that includes and specify the monetary value (e.g., 60 thirty-second spots on WWL radio = $5,000; print ads = $4,000).
One year when we were looking for a grand prize for a special event, our account representative contacted Sandals Resorts, one of her accounts, and offered the company the opportunity to be included in all our event-related radio spots in exchange for a three-day, all-inclusive vacation package valued at $3,400. Sandals agreed. What a fantastic prize!
Businesses that are new in town are great to work with, since they usually have tight budgets and you can offer them excellent, relatively inexpensive exposure. You could ask a local spa to offer a “Day of Beauty” valued at $500. In return, you could include the spa in all your event marketing and provide a booth for it to promote its services to your members.
When you approach potential sponsors or partners, remember, you are not asking for a donation but presenting a wonderful marketing opportunity. Your goal is not to solicit one-time sponsors, but to establish ongoing relationships with partners who will want to continue doing business with you. For you to be successful, your partners must be successful. Matching your programs with the right businesses is crucial.
Don’t act apologetic or imposing. Just share your confidence and excitement for the program, and, most important, ensure your future partners that they will see a return on their investment.